Lluís Companys i Jover is best known for declaring the Catalan Republic on October 6th 1934 for which he was arrested and imprisoned by the right-wing government during the black biennial of the Spanish Republic.
When the left-wing Popular Front came to power in February 1936, Companys was released and reinstated as President of the Generalitat throughout the Civil War.
Having been caught by the Gestapo in France, he was executed by a Francoist firing squad on October 15th 1940 and is considered one of the great heroes of Catalanism.
However, during his early political career he was much more of a left-wing pro-Spanish republican than a Catalanist so his legacy requires some explanation.
- I have written a brief biography below and for more information on this topic you can read the chapter, The Catalan Republic under Macià and Companys from my 2014 book, Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective free online
Early Life and Political Career
Born in Tarrós, a village in the municipality of Tornabous in the Urgell comarca, on June 21st 1882, Lluís Companys i Jover studied Law at the University of Barcelona, where he became involved in left-wing pro-republican politics.
Companys was elected to Barcelona City Council in 1917 as councillor for El Raval as part of a left-wing coalition, which included his own party the Partido Republicano Catalán, and then represented Sabadell in the Spanish Congress of Deputies in Madrid from January 1921 to September 1923.
During the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, Companys mainly worked as a lawyer representing trades unions, such as the Unió de Rabassaires, whilst remaining a member of the Partido Republicano Catalán, which gave its support to Alejandro Lerroux’s pro-Spanish Alianza Republicana.
Following Primo de Rivera’s fall from power in 1930, the federal republican Partido Republicano Catalán joined Francesc Macià‘s Catalanist Estat Català and the left-wing group L’Opinió in the broad left coalition that would become Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya in March 1931.
The Second Spanish Republic
In the Municipal Elections of April 1931, whilst the left won throughout Spain, Esquerra Republicana gained a clear victory in Catalonia, and after King Alfonso XIII was forced to flee Spain, the Second Spanish Republic was born.
To the annoyance of Francesc Macià, at 1 pm on April 14th 1931 after the election results were in, pro-Spanish Companys declared the Spanish Republic from the balcony of the Ajuntament de Barcelona and an hour and a quarter later, Catalanist Macià declared the Catalan state as part of the Federation of Iberian Republics and promptly crossed the square to take control of the Diputación of Barcelona, which was housed in what is now the Palau de la Generalitat.
Despite the differences between the two men, Macià named Companys Civil Governor of Barcelona and the first President of the Parliament of Catalonia, when it was constituted on December 6th 1932.
Throughout this period Companys was ERC deputy for Barcelona in the Congress in Madrid and in June 1933, he left the presidency of the Parliament of Catalonia to become Minister of the Spanish Navy under President Manual Azaña, but apparently wasn’t enthusiastic about the job and was replaced in September of the same year.
Back in Barcelona, Companys positioned himself as a natural successor to Macià in the run up to the Spanish General Elections of November 1933, which were won by the opposition dominated by the right-wing Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas (CEDA).
President of the Generalitat
When Francesc Macià failed to recover from appendicitis and died on December 25th 1933, Lluís Companys was elected to replace him as President of the Generalitat on New Year’s Eve.
Companys established a broad left-wing coalition government in Catalonia and began to implement agricultural reforms, which soon brought him into conflict with the central government in Madrid.
When former ally Alejandro Lerroux was asked to form a new government in Madrid on September 24th, he included three CEDA deputies in his cabinet and on October 5th a revoltionary strike broke out throughout Spain.
The following day, in what has become known as The Events of October 6th, Lluís Companys declared the Catalan State within the Spanish Federal Republic.
Hours later, along with other members of the Catalan government, Companys was arrested by General Batet and imprisoned in the warship Uruguay, which was anchored in the Port of Barcelona.
On January 7th 1935, they were transferred to Madrid and tried by the Tribunal de Garantías Constitucionales, which found Companys guilty and sentenced him to 30 years in prison.
Despite his imprisonment, Companys was still a candidate for the Front d’Esquerres de Catalunya coalition in the elections of February 16th 1936, which returned the left-wing Popular Front government to Spain.
A week later the amnesty arrived and Lluís Companys was released and soon reinstated as President of the Generalitat.
The Spanish Civil War
Fully aware of the threat of a coup d’etat, Companys named Captain Frederic Escofet as General Commissioner for Public Order and when the coup came on July 18th, it was repelled with the help of the popular classes.
However, this led to the anarchist militias gaining too much political power and anarcho-syndicalist mob violence getting out of control throughout the first months of the Civil War.
Companys and his government openly condemned the violent acts and helped nearly 10,000 Nationalists and clergy escape through the Port of Barcelona.
Lluís Companys headed the Generalitat throughout the Civil War and his job was made difficult firstly due to the confrontations between the communists of the PSUC on the one hand and the anarchists of the CNT, who were supported by the POUM on the other.
From 1837, the Generalitat had to deal with the challenge of the Spanish Republican Government, which had fled to Barcelona, and after the occupation of Lleida by Nationalists in April 1938, Companys wrote a heartfelt letter to Spanish President Juan Negrin complaining about the lack of collaboration between the two governments.
After the Francoist victory in the Battle of the Ebro, the offensive against Catalonia began and despite a valiant defence, the Spanish government fled first to Figueres then Girona and France on January 22nd 1939.
Companys and his government abandoned Barcelona the following day and the Nationalist army took the city on January 26th.
The Generalitat in Exile
Companys finally left Catalonia in early February and after passing first through Perpignan, arrived in Paris, where he met up with his wife Carme Ballester.
As President of the Generalitat in exile, Companys came under a great deal of criticism for his role throughout the Civil War, particularly for having allowed political Catalanism to be usurped by the communists.
However, one of his first acts in exile, in March 1939, was to establish the Fundació Ramon Llull, with linguist Pompeu Fabra and painter Pablo Picasso at its head, to protect the Catalan language and culture.
With the Second World War about to break out, Companys left Paris and set up home in the village of La Baule-les-Pins in Britanny but made frequent visits to Paris both for political reasons and to visit his son Lluís, who was in hospital due to psychiatric problems.
Following the capitulation of France to the Nazis in June 1940, Companys refused to flee to Mexico with his daughter and her husband in order to remain close to his son.
Arrest and Execution
Companys was arrested by the Gestapo in Brittany on August 13th 1940 and handed over to the Francoist authorities on August 29th.
Lluis Companys i Jover was tried by court martial on October 14th 1940 and found guilty of supporting military rebellion.
He was executed by firing squad at the Fossar de Santa Eulalia behind the castle of Montjuïc in Barcelona and apparently his last words were “Per Catalunya!” (For Catalonia!)
The Legacy of Companys
In 1943, Angel Ossorio, the lawyer who had defended him in the court martial wrote the book Vida y sacrificio de Companys (Life and Sacrifice of Companys).
In 1979, the first democratic Ajuntament de Barcelona after the death of Franco in 1975, renamed the avenue that runs from the Arc de Triomf to Parc de la Ciutadella, Passeig de Lluís Companys and in 2001 the Olympic Stadium was renamed Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys.
In 2005, a monolith was erected in the Fossar de Santa Eulalia where Companys was executed and there is an official visit to the site on October 15th, the anniversary of his death, every year.
The French and German governments have both apologised to the Generalitat for their role in Companys’ capture and execution whereas the Spanish Government have refused to pardon him and Companys is considered a war criminal under Spanish law.