The debate on Galizan independence often goes down to historical minutia, where one of the most absurd anti-independence claims is that of “Galiza has never been an independent country before”. Leaving aside for a second the fact that this would be irrelevant because, within that logic, many contemporary countries would not “deserve” to exist today, it is also totally false for our case. History teaches a thing or two, and one of them is the necessity for the constant struggle and reaffirmation of one’s ideals if they are to be accomplished. National independence more so.
Galiza’s distinctiveness in relation to its neighbouring territories is an ongoing reality that can be traced back to pre-historic times, whether in the form of territorial organisation, anthropological and ethnographic customs, language or culture. That is to say, in all those elements that, when put together, make up a people and ultimately a nation.
As documents go, that singularity took definite political form with the establishment of the Gallaecia province within the Roman Empire in year 298, roughly the same area that will become the – allegedly – first kingdom of Europe after the fall of said Empire. Indeed, the Galizan Kingdom (Suevian Dynasty) is established in 409, enjoying the mastery of its own destiny until 585, regained in 911, partially lost in 1230, somewhat regained after that and, well, to make a long story short, lost for good when Galiza was occupied in 1486, eventually becoming a Spanish colony (a few years short of Columbus’ trip to the Americas).
Still, Galiza never ceased to be a Kingdom on its own – at least on paper – until 1833, when Spain moved towards the creation of a highly centralised State following the French model, therefore removing all vestige or national or regional autonomy – again, at least on paper.
Funny thing is that the Spanish centralisation imitated France, the same country that had invaded the Iberian Peninsula under Napoleon (1808-1814), the same famous historical character who sent the Spanish army into disarray thus encouraging the formation of civil militias. Funnier even is that it was in Galiza where the then almighty French tasted defeat for the first time. In other words, a foreign war favoured the retreat of Spanish troops from Galiza and made us regain our somewhat lost pride by taking matters into our own hands. After expelling the French the Xunta (Galizan Government) was established and in 1812 Galiza’s self-rule is proclaimed. For a wee moment we wanted to be, we were, free once more. Yet, Galiza was too weakened to resist the subsequent return of the Spanish forces.
Still, something had inevitably changed and when the new Spanish regime, in that centralisation spree and tax-raising madness, kept on pressing the wrong keys, the spark was already there.
On April 2nd, 1846, and after a long period of social and political unrest, Galizans eventually rose up as they were “Fed up with being a colony of the [Spanish Royal] Court”.
Some historians argue this was a “mere” response to the abusive tributes and disagreements with the conservative Spanish First Minister, where many Galizans were still loyal to Spain (including commander Miguel Solís, who was not even a Galizan-born), but that argument does not account for how the Galizan Liberation Army was organised and the Republic of Galiza proclaimed in the city of Lugo on that day. Indeed, Spain had to immediately dispatch its army in full force, including infantry, heavy artillery and cavalry.
What happened in 1846 was an uneven but obvious open military conflict between two opposing parties representing different national interests.
So as history goes the Battle of Sigüeiro (April 13th) sees a first Galizan victory, a glimpse of hope for the underdogs. On the 15th representatives from a number of localities meet in the capital city of Compostela and establish a provisional Galizan Government, a new Xunta, with Pío Rodríguez Terrazo as President and Antolín Faraldo as secretary. Solís is appointed as Captain General (sole commander of all Galizan armies) on the 22nd.
However, the Battle of Cacheiras (23rd) is decisive for the Spaniards and their far superior firepower. The 8,000-strong Galizan army is defeated and seeks refuge in Compostela, resisting until the end while trying to prevent the pillaging of the city, something the Spanish troops had been promised with should they be victorious. And they were.
On the 26th Solís, commander Vítor Velasco and 10 other officers were taken to the town of Carral where they are executed. Hence why they are called “The Martyrs of Carral”, hence why we remember and celebrate these days as a cornerstone of contemporary Galizan history, an episode of enormous collective dignity and valour that would pave the way for all further political organisations and movements claiming for a sovereign Galiza in the years to come.
But that is another story.