return to nē49

by Joan Clos
mayor of Barcelona

1999 is drawing to a close and we stand on the threshold of 2000, an emblematic number, one that is laden with the best intentions and, at last, just around the corner. We are approaching the end of a particularly intense year, marked, among other events, by anniversaries that were highly significant and - historical coincidences aside - representative of a persistent will.

Twenty years of democratically elected town councils, two decades of progress and aspirations during which municipalities and cities, in protecting the interests of their citizens, have grasped the most profound and immediate values of the most vital and everyday politics.

Twenty years of the Statute of Autonomy, with a major step forward for Barcelona being made recently in its development with the approval of the Municipal Charter, but with unfinished business remaining, such as the territorial organisation of Catalonia, which is equally essential for the city, the metropolitan area and the region as a whole.

The centenary of the birth of Josep Tarradellas, a president who put dialogue and consensus before differences and who skilfully directed the transposition of historical legitimacy to a democratic framework and who saw Catalan nationalism and municipalism as travelling companions on the way leading to a strong and balanced Catalonia.

And the 750th anniversary of the privileges granted to Barcelona by James I, an event that marked the beginning of the city's municipal government and that is the subject of commentary and analysis in the Central Section of this month's issue of BMM.
Barcelona was formally incorporated as a municipality in 1249. It was the Barcelona of the Council of the One Hundred, with extensive powers and substantial influence outside its boundaries, and entitled to mint coinage and establish diplomatic relations. Barcelona had gained the confidence of the country's ruler through the faithfulness and trustworthiness shown by the city's inhabitants.

Underlying this circumstance was a city that was taking shape as such and the will to promote the organisation of cities as a power to counteract the might of feudal lords. In this way, cities were progressively incorporated throughout the country as bulwarks of royal power against feudal power. From 1249 on, Barcelona's political weight grew and it extended its protection to other municipalities. This gave rise, however, to two consequences that were just as or even more important: the consolidation of a feeling of belonging - to city and a nation - and the continuous reinforcement of the sense of citizenship - something quite different from the sense of being the subject of a king or a feudal lord. Barcelona became a spearhead and the driving force behind a new way of understanding the relationship between citizens and authorities. The Council of the One Hundred is rightly recognised as one of Europe's first democratic institutions.

The Barcelona of that time already had the role of capital and at the same time transmitted the values of civic-mindedness and urbanity in the widest sense of those terms and as characteristic traits of urban reality. We can draw parallels between those circumstances and the present. A present in which Barcelona aspires, more than ever, to act as the capital of Catalonia.

Barcelona wants to continue representing, leading and defending Catalonia, carrying out all the functions of a capital city. Barcelona accepts all of its obligations to the region as a whole; this is an essential responsibility. But in order to live up to that responsibility, we require confidence. Barcelona is at the service of Catalonia, but it demands recognition, effective support, loyalty and ambition, room to fulfil itself and be creative.

Over the centuries, when Barcelona has progressed, all of Catalonia has been able to progress. Barcelona is now at a peak and that is the sort of capital it wants to be: the best one possible. We want to be the capital and we want solutions. Without solutions, leadership by our capital city will not be the leadership that we all aspire to.

Our city has set an example of the ability to govern, of consensus and commitment, but also of demanding that which rightfully pertains to us, not because of privilege but in all fairness and for the benefit of the city itself and all of Catalonia.

As we approach the new century and the new millennium, now so close that we can almost touch them, Barcelona is laying claim to its status as capital city. It is doing so while reasserting its defining values and it is determined to put them into practice. Dialogue, trustworthiness, civic-mindedness, coexistence, solidarity, democracy, concepts that point up the difference between the history that we found already written down until only recently and the history that we are now in the process of building. The difference between what we have now granted to ourselves and the end of a decade - the 1930s, remembered in these pages in the review of the century - the end of a civil war and a long period of darkness that oblige us to learn from the past and build a future founded on liberty, the well-being of our people and the region's progress.