Courtesy Reuters

Andorra

The Passing of Europe's Last Feudal State

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FOR more than two years the five thousand inhabitants of Andorra, all mountain peasants, have been stirred by a bitter conflict with their co-Princes, the Spanish Bishop of Urgel and the President of France. The conflict reached its climax when the people rose in rebellion against the "sovereign authority," and France sent an "army" of sixty or more gendarmes into the country. This occupation held a tragic significance for the Andorrans because it meant that a neutrality (i. e., freedom from invasion) which they had enjoyed since 1278, had been broken. Many of them feel that for the future there will always be a note of irony in the name which they give to their country: "The Free and Neutral Valleys of Andorra."

But the events had a deeper import than the surface conflict in a tiny and all but forgotten state. They heralded the fact that Europe's last feudal state was

in process of dissolution as such. And they may be regarded as constituting an incident in the historic process of French frontier rectification, which reached its high point in the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) but which, from the French viewpoint, has never been completed.

Andorra, sometimes called a Republic and sometimes a Principality, is neither. As a state it is Europe's square peg. It is feudal and does not fit into the twentieth century political picture at all -- a thing which most people who attempt to classify it forget. It gives homage to two co-Princes. It has an internal government consisting of the First and Second Sindics, more commonly called the President and Vice-President, and a Council General or administrative parliament of twenty-four members.

The Andorrans say they received their independence from Charlemagne; and Andorra may well have been one of the buffer states which he and his sons created when they established the Spanish March. But the Bishops of the little Spanish town of Urgel, which lies just to the south of the Andorran frontiers, have had certain claims on Andorra for at least eleven centuries. In 839, when the Bishop Sissebuto dedicated his cathedral at Urgel, Count Senyofredo of Urgel, by consent of the Emperor Louis, Charlemagne's son, placed Andorra under the jurisdiction of the Bishop and his successors.

The Count of Urgel seems to have reserved certain rights which a few centuries later a French nobleman, the Count of Foix, considered himself to have acquired by reason of marriage with the House of Urgel. There was a dispute with the Bishop and finally, in 1278, a war. The war ended in the same year with the signing of a treaty known as the Pariatjes, or Pairages, whereby the Count and the Bishop were to have exactly equal rights in Andorra, each bearing the title of lord or co-lord, not of co-Prince, which is an innovation. The lords had authority to collect certain revenues, to administer justice and to command the armed forces. They stood in a protective relation to the country. Andorra did not belong to any lord or lords, and much less to any state.

The position which France seems to have taken in recent years that Andorra is part of her patrimony violates both the spirit and the letter of the Pariatjes. Indeed, the relations between Andorra and France stood completely severed for nearly thirty years when the French revolutionary government renounced all claim to Andorra on the grounds that it could not recognize or accept titles of nobility, as implied in the relationship. In 1806 the Andorrans voluntarily petitioned Napoleon to stand once more in the relation of protecting lord to Andorra, and he consented. Thus in the final analysis such privileges as France exercises in Andorra come to her from the people.

The people desired the protection of France as a counter-balance to possible aggressions by Spain. The Bishop of Urgel, on the other hand, until very recently had had the support of the Spanish Government in checking excessive French activity in Andorra. The arrangement served admirably to preserve Andorran neutrality for nearly seven centuries. It was only after the Spanish Republic withdrew its support from the Bishop that the neutrality was broken.

Andorrans have always made a distinction between the respective rights of the people and the lords. They have historically claimed independence in internal affairs except as to those prerogatives specifically recognized to the lords by the Pariatjes. A gradual accumulation of rights, powers and forms of procedure are their most binding law, called customs and usages. These are unwritten but have been handed down from generation to generation verbally. This is distinctly in the Catalan way. Even in neighboring Catalonia certain customs and usages have to this day the force of law. And Andorra is of the Catalan family.

The safeguarding and application of the customs and usages are vested in the Sindicatura and the Council General, whose members must be caps de casa, or heads of families, who are the owners of land in sufficient quantity to be considered responsible and worthy persons. Originally this body was the Council of the Land -- Consell de la Terra -- composed of prohoms representing the land, not people. To the present moment it has still been exactly that, although at a point in its history its organization was somewhat altered and its name changed. All this is a survival from feudal days when delegates in councils of state or law-making bodies represented the land.

There have been many conflicts between the people and the lords as to their respective rights. The lords, as the administrators of justice, pretend to have the last word in defining the respective rights of themselves and the people. They have the appointment of the law tribunal composed of three henchmen -- all non-Andorrans. Two of them are the lords' personal administrative representatives, known as the Veguers, who, sitting as judges, pass upon the validity of their own executive acts and legislative decrees, as they did recently when they attempted to depose the government for "disobedience and disrespect" toward the lords. All this is as though one of the parties to a suit should at the same time be judge and jury and have at his command the machinery for enforcing his particular viewpoint.

The story of this conflict is long and complicated and will not be related here. But briefly the people claimed the right to grant certain concessions, to establish their own postal system and telephone lines, to conduct their own schools, name their own notaries and pass upon the qualifications of Andorrans to hold office. The lords, through the Veguers, issued orders and decrees in a contrary sense. When the people refused to obey them, France, by previous agreement with the Spanish Bishop, sent its gendarmes.

At this point Spain intervened. The Minister of State, Fernando de los Rios, issued a note pointing out that the rights of the co-Princes in Andorra were exactly equal. The incident had the important consequence that Spain once more renewed relations with the Bishop of Urgel, recognizing him for the future as its diplomatic representative for Andorra. He will represent Spanish influence there as a counter-balance to the influence of France. For even though Spain has no legal claim to Andorra, it is all too obvious that it must have an interest in this state which forms part of its international boundary. The Spanish intervention has resulted in the withdrawal of the gendarmes.

Andorra's present troubles are really the growing pains of Europe's most isolated state emerging from its feudal cocoon. Until a few years ago it had remained untouched by the new currents of progress that flowed and eddied beyond its mountain walls. However, a power company, having obtained rights to establish in Andorra an important plant for supplying electricity to the Barcelona industrial region, brought in machinery and a thousand laborers. It brought money and trade. It gave Andorra its first highway, traversing the country, replacing the old mule trail. The highway brought people. The Andorran panorama began to change. New interests were created. Feudalism began rubbing its shoulders with its arch-enemy, capitalism. Soon a dramatic conflict between these two historic forces was under way -- and for the last time in Europe.

An outcropping was the youths' revolution of April when two hundred Andorran youths descended upon the House of the Valleys, or state house, where the Council General was in conclave, and demanded the right to vote and to attend its sessions. Up to this time only the caps de casa had held that right. Official public meetings were unknown. All was secrecy. Now Andorran youths who have reached the age of 25 years have the vote, while those who have reached the age of 30 are eligible to hold public office. The sessions of public officials will be open hereafter -- except to strangers. Thus the nature of the Council General has already been changed. For the future, it represents the people, not the land. It is no longer feudal.

Viewing the Andorran problem as an incident in frontier rectification, we may consider two geographical facts. In the extreme northwestern corner of Catalonia lies the Vall d'Aran, which opens on France and is cut off from Spain by snow during long winter months. Conversely, Andorra drives a wedge into Spain, opens upon Spain, and in winter is isolated from France. France would consider her boundary much better articulated if she could have both these lands. The one forms an integral part of Catalonia, while the other is Catalan by race, language, custom and historical attraction. Now, France is not at all reassured by the ambitious program of expansion which is part of the Catalan movement. The Catalans have never forgotten that much that was once Catalonia was taken from them by France. Nor have they, after all these centuries, abandoned hope of getting some of that land back. At this moment they are reaching out for the sympathy of the southern French provinces by a cultural appeal, the chief point of which is the revival of the Provençal, Languedoc, Gascon and other Occitan languages, all next of kin to the Catalan. The intensification of Catalan activity in the Catalan-ruled Vall d'Aran is an advance toward France. Catalan penetration into Andorra would be another. To counteract these movements France has pursued its own policy of penetration into Andorra.

Nor is it to be overlooked that Andorra has a strategic importance as providing France with a new gateway through the Pyrenees. The control of gateways through the Pyrenees is of high importance to France in view of the Mediterranean question. Most observers agree that in case of a Mediterranean war France would like to move troops to and from Morocco via Spain. Again, France does not ignore the fact that Andorra, left to itself, could be a dangerous center of enemy activity. Nor is Andorra without its economic importance in French eyes, for it is rich in timber, water and iron. Finally, French capital, controlling the power company, is interested there.

The extremer phases of French activity in Andorra would seem to have been checked by the firm position taken by Spain, who has made it clear that she has an equal interest there with France and that the balance of power must be maintained. It is therefore likely that Andorra's continued existence as a quasi-independent buffer state stands guaranteed under the increased vigilance of her two big neighbors.

But it is inevitable that Andorra shall lose that feudal character which has made it a living museum of Europe's past: inevitable that it adapt itself more and more to the ways of its neighbors. Its internal régime offers the greatest immediate problem. New conditions demand that the haphazard government of the past, which took a complete vacation during nearly six months of the spring and winter, be changed for one more efficient. Can these peasants rise to the emergency with sufficient promptitude? If not, further intervention by the co-Princes is likely. Just what kind of intervention, cannot be foretold; but observers and even some Andorrans are already discussing the suitability of the naming by the lords of a governor to act until such time as the people offer proof of a capacity to govern themselves along modern lines.

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