Saturday, 22 November 2008

The Economist :: One last, brief point

It has been said here in Catalonia that Michael Reid, the editor of the recent special report on Spain in the Economist, was not received by several Catalan political leaders due to agenda incompatibilities. Not speaking to an Economist journalist preparing an in depth report is perceived here as a grave mistake, given the newspaper's profound influence on the opinion of high level decision makers in international business and politics.

However, shouldn't Mr. Reid and his report also be criticised on this point (along with several others, as in my "How much is enough?") for having failed to obtain crucial information and contrasting opinion to include in the report for a more precise picture of Spain in general and Catalonia in particular, as ought to be required by The Economist to maintain its usual consistently high standards?

Monday, 10 November 2008

How much is enough?

It is revealing to read the comments on the article titled “How much is enough?” in this week's Economist special on Spain. It shows just how polarised the discussions on Spain's devolution to its “autonomous communities” can be. Attacks on nationalism can be really quite fierce, as nationalism (always “regional”, of course) is seen as a threat to the Spanish nation's unity and cohesion.

This confrontation between perceived local nationalist parochialism and what is wishfully understood to be Spanish broad-minded liberalism, as seems implied in the Economist's article, lies paradoxically in Catalan nationalism's historical endeavour to change the political structure of Spain, and Spanish nationalism's constant obstinacy in imposing it's unitary national identity (i.e. uniformity), while subduing that of Catalonia. It is obvious, thence, that the Spanish political mainstream, whether Socialist or PP, (never mind the old Francoists) has always been, in this sense, politically conservative and culturally unitary, opposing today's politically liberal and culturally diverse, multifarious milieu, whether local or global.

Herein lies the difficulty of Spain for the past 300 years. This Spain that has for centuries been unable to consolidate as a nation beyond the regions of Castilian culture (i.e. Spain not including Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia), even “by whichever means necessary”, be these outright war, attempted cultural and linguistic obliteration, or economic and fiscal seizure, is still today attempting to secure its uniform identity. The article mentions that “Catalan and Basque nationalism are creations of the late 19th century”. This is true, not only of Catalonia but also Spain, France, America, etc., if one accepts “nationalism” as described by orthodox modernists, such as Marxist philosopher Eric Hobsbawm or functionalists such as Ernest Gellner. But if one is to consider current trends of study, nationalism is not only a “modern” (i.e. 18th & 19th century) phenomenon, but it also has pre-modern origins, as described by Anthony D. Smith's thesis of ethnosymbolism. This is made clear by the history of Catalonia and its struggle for self-rule and its political activism, the history of which goes back a long way (see my Catalan Independence and Political Activism: A very brief history).

A closed, parochial society?

The parochial nationalism that is unable to adapt to post-modern society, with its radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language, is not in fact Catalan nationalism, but that of Spain. Catalonia, with its distinct singularity, has long been at the forefront of social, cultural and economic advancement, not only in Spain, but also in Europe. It is the most open society in Spain, with 13.5% of its population coming from abroad. Catalonia has long welcomed migrations: between the 16th and the 18th centuries, many French migrated there, escaping from religious strife and civil disturbances. During the last quarter of the 19th century and the whole of the 20th, Catalonia had a net influx of migrants. As of the late 1950s, while southern Europe, including Spain, was 'exporting' labour to the north, Catalonia was a net 'importer', like the UK or Germany. Between 1950 and 1975, the population of Catalonia grew by 75%, from 3.2 million to 5.6 million. In the first years of the 21st century, the foreign-born population has grown from 181,596 (2.9% of the total) in 2000 to 939,321 (13.1%) in 2006.

This obvious attraction felt by many hundreds of thousands of migrants does not say much for this image that some hope to sell of a closed, parochial society. Indeed, some months ago, Spanish (non-Catalan) tourist business leaders tried to put over the idea that having our own language somehow hurt our tourist industry. However, the Spanish 'region' that receives most tourists is in fact Catalonia, with 15 million visitors, 25% of the total received by Spain (2006, the last year for which official figures are available), followed by the Catalan-speaking Balearics, with 10.2 million foreign tourists. In other words, two regions with protectionist Catalan-language policies are the most successful in drawing foreign visitors.

Devolution or Federalism? Independence!

The Economist's article describes the estado de las autonomías as a successful process of devolution, and that there have been more and more transfers of powers over the last 30 years. But here lies another paradox: these transfers are no more, and are in fact less, than those that were stipulated by the 1979 Statute for Catalonia. The 2006 Statute was passed because it was clear that the process supposedly governed by the previous one had come to a standstill. Worse still is the fact that the date by which the financial arrangement for the new Statute was to come into force has come and gone, with the Spanish government still stalling on the issue.

Furthermore, devolution is, as described by Wikipedia...
“... the statutory granting of powers from the central government of a state to government at subnational level, such as a regional, local, or state level. It differs from federalism in that the powers devolved may be temporary and ultimately reside in central government, thus the state remains, de jure, unitary.

Any devolved parliaments or assemblies can be repealed by central government in the same way an ordinary statute can be. Federal systems, or federacies, differ in that state or provincial government is guaranteed in the constitution. Australia, Canada and the United States have federal systems, and have constitutions (as do some of their constituent states or provinces).”

The latter is, in my opinion and that of many Catalans, what should have been legislated after the Franco regime, but which was not for fear of the centuries-old demands of unitary uniformity by Spanish reactionary conservatives and the military. This was, after all, what had essentially led to Franco's military uprising and the Spanish civil war: the Catalans had been given an inch and had tried to take a mile. The democratic government of the nineteen-thirties had in many ways devolved more than today in the democratic give-and-take.

And there lies the question: How much is enough? Well, enough is what the citizens decide they want, isn't it? That is the whole point of democratic rule. The Catalan parliament voted for the new Statute by 90% of its members, and it was approved in referendum by the citizens with a clear majority in favour. But still the Spanish government procrastinates with its application.

If the Spanish powers-that-be are not yet ready to accept this, after thirty years of democracy and three hundred years of imposition, there isn't much point in carrying on with their ground rules. Independentists move, therefore, that Spain's solution, for both the Spanish and the Catalans, is Catalan independence.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Catalan and the European Union

The European Union is made up of 27 member states, with an aggregate of 23 official and working languages. Catalan is not one of them, although its speakers are granted certain linguistic rights: they may use Catalan in written communication with the Council of the European Union, the Commission, the Economic and Social Committee, the European Parliament and the European Ombudsman, as well as in the Committee of the Regions.

Catalan is spoken in three member states: Spain – in the Balearic Islands, Catalonia, Valencia, Aragon (in La Franja, a strip neighbouring Catalonia) and in Murcia (in the town of el Carxe); France – in the Pyrénées-Orientales department (known as North Catalonia); Italy – in the town of l'Alguer (Alghero). It is also the official language of Andorra, a small non-EU country in the Pyrenees.

However, although spoken by some 9.1 million European citizens the language is not officially recognised by the EU. Does this mean that there are different linguistic rights accorded to different citizens of the EU, depending on their mother tongue? It cannot be argued that this is an issue of economic rationale, that this is a so-called minority language: Catalan is spoken by more European citizens than either Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Slovak or Slovene, and about as many as Bulgarian or Swedish. All of these are recognised official and working languages in the EU, but not Catalan.

This is not democratic: Catalans are not a minority, we are a discriminated, colonised people.

Join the Facebook Cause to Defend Europarl.cat, stop europarl.cat from being closed down and get the official Euro-Parliament website translated into Catala.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Björk Declares Independence

On the 2nd of this month, indie webzine Pitchfork published an interview with singer, musician and actress Björk. Björk is Icelandic and still keeps her country in mind, even though she is an international megastar with a manifest, unquestionable multicultural and multidisciplinary style. She is the daughter of a union leader and a politically active mother. You could hardly identify anyone further from the image of provincial nationalism or right-wing jingoism. She does not, however, renounce her roots.

The interview focuses on her album Volta and particularly on her latest single Declare Independence, whose video ends with Björk bearing the flags of Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. Pitchfork asks Björk about this…

It's Greenland's flag and the Faroe Islands' flag. Iceland became independent from Denmark 60 years ago. We were a colony for 600 years, and we were treated really badly, as all colonies are. And Greenland and the Faroe Islands are still part of Denmark. The song was partly written to those countries. In Iceland's newspapers, there's always some talk about the Faroe Islands and Greenland wanting independence, and Greenland seemed close, but then they found a lot of oil, and Denmark doesn't want to let that go. If you were to go into a local bar and ask about Greenland and the Faroe Islands, people get very feisty. People are very supportive of Greenland and the Faroe Islands getting independence. I think that Greenland and the Faroe Islands have looked a lot to Iceland as an inspiration, the way we set up our bank systems, the way we became more and more independent.

And I thought it was hysterical to say to your friend who is having a lot of problems with his girlfriend, to just say 'Declare independence and raise your own flag.' Maybe it's just my silly sense of humor. But it's definitely written to Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

For the full interview, click here.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Spain's Past: A rude awakening

An open letter to the Editor of The Economist on their article on the Spanish Historical Memory Law

Dear Sir,

Re. your article on the Spanish Historical Memory Law, I certainly hope Franco is turning in his grave. I am absolutely sure that many others are also turning in their unidentified roadside graves, along with those who were summarily tried and executed by military tribunals. The latter are still recorded as being criminals, and their descendants have suffered all sorts of discrimination through the years. In fact, this is one of the candent issues not dealt with by the Historical Memory Law: that these victims are not cleansed of the implications that having been found guilty by a military court brings. The Law may be to the satisfaction of Spain's prime minister, but it only qualifies the hearings as “illegitimate”, and nothing further. It does not explicitly annul the trials, leaving the victims’ descendants to bear the costs and burden of going through the administrative bureaucracy of having each hearing made void in order to clear their forbearers’ names. This is still worse for those whose sentences were not execution, and who have lived through a life of discrimination, including not being able to claim war pensions because they fought on the “wrong” side. Likewise, the widows of those who have since died, along with those of the executed, have never been able to claim war widows’ pensions and many have suffered consequent impoverishment. You mention that El Pais implies that the victims never lost their dignity. Is there any dignity in a life of discrimination and being forced into destitution?

Where in Italy or Germany, the authorities would not even dream of maintaining statues and other monuments to Mussolini and Hitler, throughout Spain one finds statues, memorial plaques, street names, etc. commemorating Jose Antonio, the founder of Spain’s equivalent of the Nazi party, many right-wing generals who supported Franco’s rebellion against the democratic government, as well as others paying tribute to Franco himself. These are not “few”, as you say in the article: just look up calle or avenida Jose Antonio or Francisco Franco in Google Maps. And that’s just street names. Can you imagine just one “Hitler Ave.” or a “Dr. Mengele St.” in Germany, or a “Mussolini Sq.” in Italy?

As to the repeal of the Francoist laws you mention, about time say hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens. The fact these laws still exist after over thirty years of democracy, and that the governments that have come and gone have not found it convenient to repeal them because of the so-called “pact of forgetting", just goes to show the lack of understanding that some parties have of the deep, long-lasting pain suffered by the victims of the Spanish Civil war, brought about by an army uprising aligned with the fascist Axis powers the Allies fought later, and the dictatorial regime following that.

To paraphrase the Armenian guide you quote in your article on Turkish and US policy, “Our objective is not to attack this or that political party. It is to ensure recognition of the victims of the first total war of the 20th century, that of the Axis upon the people of democratic Spain.”