Pere Joan Tomas Sogero: “Legends of the Emperors’ Homeland: Ancient history, modern and contemporary history of Andorra”

pere-joan-tomasPere Joan Tomas Sogero, Honorary consul of the Russian Federation in the Principality of Andorra:

Essay “Legends of the Emperors’ Homeland”

As the legend implies, Andorra was established by the emperor Charles the Great. According to ancient stories, 5 thousands full-hearted habitants of mountain glens, who were from the place where Andorra is located now, lent their inestimable support to the emperor’s forces that were fighting intense battles against Arabic cavalry. In 805 Charles the Great declared independence for the citizens of Andorra and promised his protection during the battle against the Moors.

Charles the Great’s decree of Andorra’s foundation is hosted in the national archive of the Principality. Although not all historians are united in the opinion on the document’s originality, citizens of the Principality consider it a genuine and important evidence of their ancestry as a sovereign nation.

According to an archeological finding, it is proved, with all scientific certainty, that the pioneer settlements of the ancient people on the territory of modern Andorra dated back to 2000 years B.C.

It is also known that during the following era of Roman conquests, endless wars were fought between Hannibal’s forces and different tribes. One of the tribes mentioned were “Andosins” who were ancestors of the present Andorrans. Roman roots are clearly defined in some toponymic names and etymology of the language.

The period from the 5th century, when Andorra still remained under Visigothic kings’ rule, up to the 12th century, when the sovereignty of Catholic Church, represented by the bishop of Urgell (Catalonia, Spain), definitely came to stay in the Principality, was signified by development of Roman art and architecture. Power of the bishop was taking root bit by bit in Andorra, owing to donations and territorial assignments from landowners, feudal lords and counts of Urgell. The rights of the bishops of Urgell were always recognized by the Vatican and the Roman Curia.

According to medieval use, rights and duties of Andorrans in relation to their suzerains were affirmed in “concordata”. For example, in the documents, dated 1176, it was stated that Andorrans had to pay a chief-rent (100 denarius every other year) during the rule of the bishop Arnau de Preyshens. Andorrans also had to send one soldier from every household in the case of an armed conflict. This duty was signed by 838 heads of the families who helped to count the number of citizens of Andorra in those times. The number is around 2298 people. These legal and military duties, as well as Andorrans’ rights, were being approved by bishops during those centuries.

The bishops of Urgell did not have their own army (as they still don’t), therefore Andorrans themselves were the only armed power of the Principality. In order to change the situation, the diocese entered into the agreement with the Caboets feudal family according them the duty to protect Andorra in case of invasion. In return, Caboets, who had taken the oath of loyalty and obedience to the bishops, received liege rights and property privileges in Andorran valleys.

One of the main hardships for the Catholic monarchy of Urgell concerning their rights over Andorra, was during the period when two noble families of Caboets and Castelbo became relatives. Families began to lay claim to power in the Principality. Concerns of the clergy were not unreasoned. In this complicated situation, the bishop had to make an agreement with both families and to convey to them the right to Andorran valleys in return of the oath of loyalty. A chain of matrimonies between Caboets and Castelbo led to the beginning of the Counts de Foix dynasty in 1208. De Foix became relatives with the Bearn dynasty in 1257. As a result the unity of four families appeared (Caboets – Castelbo – Foix – Bearn). The Count Roger Bernat III consolidated the power of all four dynasties in his hands. He also broke the oath of loyalty by refusing submission to the bishops.

The period of furious quarrels between Andorrans and outsiders began. The king of Aragon, Pedro III the Great, took the side of the bishop while Jaime II (the king of Majorca, Rosellon and Catalonia) took a stand in favor of the counts de Foix. Further, Pedro II of Catalonia became an intermediary and forced the Bishop Pere de Urtx of Urgell and the count Roger Bernat III de Foix to come to an agreement. Both of them had equal rights and became co-Princes of Andorra according to the agreement. “The first Paréage” was signed in Lleida on 8 September 1278. It codified an agreement between the Count de Foix, Roger-Bernard III, and the Bishop of Urgell, Pere d’Urtx, establishing their joint rule over the territory of Andorra.

The most important period in the history of Andorra started from the moment of execution of “The first Paréage”. This document had a triple legal focus. Juristically, it contracted the consent of two liege owners about mutual demands for the valleys of Andorra. Politically, on the one hand – the diocese recognized the right of the Counts de Foix to take an active participation in government of Andorra, on the other – the Count waived sole powers of authority which he had been achieving by armed stand-off.

This legal act vested both co-Princes with the right of «merum imperium» (absolute power). “Merum imperium” is the highest concept of governmental feudal power after the royalty. The document also fixed the amount of duties and chief-rents, including military duties that were collected from Andorrans.

“The first Paréage” clarifies “questia”, a contribution from the Andorran population, and its amount until the 20th century. This toll was paid in turn to the bishop and the count every year. The sum of payments to the bishop was also specified, 4 000 sou (unit of currency of that period). The count, during his turn, had a right to specify the amount of the toll paid annually.

Another power of authority, recorded in “The first Paréage”, of both co-Princes was the mutual right to hold court. Concerning the military duty of Andorrans, it referred equally to both co-Princes. The only exception was during an event when a conflict between the Count and the Bishop of Urgell appeared.

In 1282, the Pope Martin IV legitimated “the Paréage” at the request of the Bishop of Urgell. After some time, on 6th of December 1288, the second “Paréage”, which amended the content of the first one, was signed. For example, neither co-Prince was allowed to build castles and fortifications in Andorra without a prior agreement of the other party. They also were not allowed to commission their clerk. The last regulation was enforced until the end of the 20th century.

In spite of the fact that the first and the second “Paréage” were agreements between two private parties, these documents are considered as a prototype of “the first Constitution” of the Principality of Andorra. We might also say that institutionalization of these documents formed the basis of the so-called Principality of co-Princes – a politico-legal form of national government organization that still exists.

By choosing the form of government, Andorrans started to develop the government authorities. They desired and needed institutional arrangements for the purpose of society formation. In 1419 the Earth Council was founded. It was a predecessor of the General Council or the Parliament. It is deemed to be one of the oldest in Europe. Men of Andorra, but only the heads of the most powerful families, were vested with the right to elect their Council representatives.

In the 15th century, when Henri of Navarre ascended the throne by the name of Henri IV, the right of coregency over Andorra transferred from the Counts de Foix to the French monarch.

Andorra, that traditionally did not take part in military conflicts, safeguarded neutrality during the War of the Spanish Succession in the early 18th century. Nevertheless, after the French revolution in 1789, Andorra appeared to be lodged between two states at variance – France and Spain. French revolutionaries refused to follow the “Paréage”, because it was feudal in nature in their opinion. Coregency was discontinued. Tax payments were stopped. French-Andorran relations were ruptured. In 1806, Napoleon resumed feudal relations and all rights of coregency over the Principality of Andorra for France. The prominent historic figure became a co-Prince, of the country which is situated in Pyrenees Mountains, once again.

In 1855 rich and powerful landowner, Guillem de Plandolit, led a “New reform” movement. The reform was approved by the bishop of Urgell, so a comprehensive institutional reform was planned and conducted. The “New reform” allowed greater participation from the ordinary citizens of Andorra in government. As a result, the State council (the Parliament) numbered 24 deputies who, in their turn, elected a “syndic” (speaker of the Parliament) and “detentores” (executive branch representatives). The reform was adopted without any changes by the French co-Prince Napoleon III three years later.

Analyzing this historical period today, we might say that Andorra had been an isolated country with a rustic lifestyle and harsh living conditions until the 20th century. Co-Princes, who did not pay any attention to government control, supported feudal behaviors in the fields of executive and legislative powers that were more common in the Middle Ages than to reform periods taking place in other countries.

One of the evidences of Anrorra being an isolated country, which has been overlooked and almost forgotten, is the fact that the first co-Prince, who visited Andorra, was the President of France, Charles de Gaulle, in 1967. Andorrans, who appeared to be quite patient, had been waiting for such a high profile visit for six centuries. Due to the named isolation of Andorra, some historical events of the first third of the 20th century are especially meaningful, because it is necessary to analyze them to understand the historical evolution of the country. The country is small by size, but aims sincerely for progress and modernization.

In 1914 the first highway road construction was finished. The road connected Andorra and Spain, more specifically – La Seu d’Urgell. The city where the bishop’s residency is situated. A modern road was paved up to the pass of Pas de la Casa at the border of France in 1933. For the first time in its history Andorra obtained reliable road communication with neighboring countries.

In 1928 the government of Spain organized postal communication with Andorra. So did France three years later. Andorra was no longer an isolated country. The first electricity production devices were installed in Andorra in 1929.

Speaking aside we must mention one historical episode related to Boris Skosyrev, citizen of Russia. On 6th of July 1934 this curious character who had come to Andorra from abroad, promised to make Andorrans rich by turning their backward agricultural country to modern and wealthy power. By using his great persuasive talent, Boris gained support from one of the powerful members of the General Council, Pier Torres Riba. Pier Torres Riba, in his turn, persuaded the rest of the Council members to elect B. Skosyrev for the king of Andorra, by the name Boris I.

The most interesting fact – this Russian was ruling in Andorra for one week! Andorrans, who are sharp, but a bit naive, soon realized what a mistake they had made. How easily they were hoodwinked by the smooth talking Russian.

The king was obliged to leave the country. On 14th of July 1934 Spanish Civil Guard unit entered Andorra and delivered Boris Skosyrev to Barcelona then to Madrid from where he was deported to Portugal. His future is unknown. The story of Boris Skosyrev is a quite curious moment in Russian-Andorran relations which are deeper in historical matter than most people think.

In 1935 the General Council, following the pace of modernization and extension of relations with other countries, especially European, issued permission to the first radio station, named “Radio Andorra”, to broadcast. Currently, there are around ten commercial radio stations, one state-run television and four daily periodicals.

The same year the Provisional government of Andorra was formed. The General Council was completely reorganized and the Parliament became an exclusive legislative body. The separation of powers was taking place. At the same time it was announced that initial drafts of the Constitution had begun. Freedom of political views, of conscience and press was formalized in legislation.

It is noteworthy that during the periods of war in the 20th century (the First and the Second World Wars and the Civil War in Spain) Andorra was able to safeguard neutrality. Nevertheless, it is known that, despite the neutrality of Andorra, the German army branch, gestapo and Franco’s Civil guards unit were located for some periods in the Principality. Foreign military presence did not result in any serious collisions.

It is interesting that Andorra was left behind, because of its isolated location, when The treaty of Versailles was signed. As a result, Germany and the Principality formally had still been in a state of war until 1958, when the peace treaty between the two countries was signed.

The death penalty existed in Andorra up to the middle of the 20th century. On 18th of October 1943 execution by firing squad was enforced in the case of some Gasto. It was the last death penalty that took place within andorran territory. Violence of the ceremony during an enforcement of a death sentence became the reason why the capital punishment was annulled. It corresponded with the changing andorran society that was becoming more and more civilized in such matters.

Economic expansion and serious changes began in the country during the 1960s. Quality of life increased dramatically. Along with trade and tourism development, sports facilities (initially for mountain skiing) were installed, the social security system was established and a telecommunications network was installed which connected the whole country. The voting age was lowered to 21 for men, and in 1970 the right to vote was granted to women. Nowadays, the voting age is 18 for both men and women.

In 1973 the first meeting of both co-Princes occurred. This was the first time since the 13th century. The President G. Pompidou and his colleague, the bishop Joan Marti I Alanis, were welcomed with enthusiasm by the Andorran citizens. During their visit, the co-Princes conducted negotiations in the presence of representatives of all branches of the Andorran government. Since then, meetings of co-Princes became more regular.

Against the background of Andorra’s increasingly noticeable participation in foreign affairs, the year of 1980 was marked by the beginning of significant political and legislative evolution of the country. We might recall the most important events, such as the definitive separation of legislative and executive powers and accession of Andorra to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

On 14th of January 1982 the first Government of Andorra, headed by Oscar Ribas Reig, was formed. It predetermined the whole chain of important political and legal events, such as the signing of the Framework agreement with the European Union in 1990 or the Penal Code approval in 1992. Adoption of the Constitution of Andorra became one of the most notable events in the centuries-long history of the country. The Constitution was adopted on 14th of March 1993. The main law, signed by both co-Princes – François Mitterrand and Joan Marti I Alanis, completely legislated the sovereignty of Andorran people.

Andorra established its first diplomatic mission in the world as a full member to the United Nations. It was a direct consequence of the sovereignty of the country. For the first time the head of the government of Andorra, Oscar Ribas Reig, delivered a speech at the session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, moreover his speech was in Catalan language – the official language of the Principality. Marc Forné Molné, who succeeded O. Ribas Reig in the post of the head of executive power, carried on a fine tradition of using the Catalan language as a language of peace, culture and progress at high-level world forums.

The other notable moments of recent years are the establishment of the Andorran Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the beginning of the new National television («Televisio d’Andorra») broadcasting in 1995 and the opening of the University of Andorra in 1997. The period of astounding changes has been continuing with the founding of the Court of Audit and accession to the Eurozone in January 2002. Andorrans pin big hopes with this period that still lasts.

Currently Andorra is in good economic, political and social “health”. One of the main sources of income in Andorra is from tourism. More than 11 million tourists visit the country annually. They are attracted by the landscape and nature found in the country, alongside the various opportunities for skiing activities. Thermal springs, mineral water treatments offered in Caldea spa center, a rich selection of dishes for gourmands and Andorran cuisine lovers, a wide range of products and services at low prices, all also contribute to making Andorra a world-class resort of the highest quality.

Soon after the adoption of the Constitution of Andorra on 14th of March 1993, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was established. Since then the Principality began its entry into the world family of nations. The first step was taken with admission to the UN (28th of July 1993). Young Andorran diplomats have been aiming to build bilateral relations with other countries since 1993. Diplomatic relations have been established with more than 100 countries. Relations with our neighbors, Spain and France, have developed and become stronger. Andorra has also become a full member of the most powerful international organizations: the Council of Europe, OSCE, UNESCO, etc. International co-operation has become an essential part of our foreign policy.

Today Andorra has nine foreign embassies and permanent missions – in Spain, France, Portugal, Great Britain, Austria, Belgium and also in Strasbourg, Geneva (Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office and other international organizations), New York (Permanent Mission to the United Nations and Diplomatic Mission in USA and Canada).

Andorra is an inconspicuous country on the world map, but with great opportunities. Inhabitants of Andorra are proud of their centuries-long traditions. At the same time, they are warm-hearted, friendly and welcoming to foreign guests. Men and women, living in this high-mountain valleys, are open to modernity, progress and other countries of the world.

Look here for more details about the author Pere Joan Tomas Sogero

See also Andorra la Vella history

See also Escaldes-Engordany history

See also Political system of Andorra