Interesting to see the great promoter of politics as theatre – Tony Blair – being out-hammed by the President of Iran, Mr I’madinnerjacket.
Today, like yesterday, is a public holiday here in Spain. So, as ever, this notoriously noisy country has sped to the other extreme and become a graveyard. No pile-drivers, no roaring trucks, no screeching cranes, no bawling neighbours and virtually no traffic. Even the dogs have taken a break from their incessant barking, presumably because there’s no one having the effrontery to use the pavements. As the sun is shining here in Galicia while it pours down everywhere else, it’s bliss to be alive. Unless you’re daft enough to take the road to the beaches.
The EU Commission – as part of its campaign to force airlines to meet their legal obligations – has published a list of complaints from respective countries. The UK heads this with around 6,000. Despite Iberia’s poor reputation, Spain is bottom of the list. More accurately, it doesn’t figure at all since its total was nil. This is because the Spanish government simply didn’t bother to comply with the instruction to pass on its number. Perhaps because it’s said to be around 18,000. What complaints? What customers?
Galicia Facts & Perspectives
A local author has re-published a book in which she claims Christopher Columbus was born in my township of Poio, across the river from Pontevedra. She says the confusion about his nationality stems from the fact that politico-religious factors of the time forced him to hide that he was both Jewish and Galician. And she insists he thought and wrote in Gallego, for example in the annotations to his charts and the like. Plus he gave local Poio names to the places he discovered, such as San Salvador [de Poio]. Maybe she’s right.
Finally, another short 3 year compilation, this time on the sensitive subject of RACISM . . .
It’s frequently said that the Spanish are not racist but that they detest gypsies. In truth, the Spanish probably would be more racist if the immigrants already here were spread more widely throughout the country. On the other hand, the almost-daily reports of drowned Africans who didn’t make it alive it to the Spanish coast surely provoke at least a degree of compassion.
A spot of bother on the Sports pages today. The trainer of the Spanish soccer team was yesterday recorded suggesting the following to one of his players, in respect of a black member of the French team - ”Tell him ‘I’m better than you. I shit on your whore mother, nigger shit. I’m better than you, nigger.’”. But no problem, It was ‘only a bit of jocular motivation’ so we are not to take it too seriously. And, in fact, most newspapers don’t. One interesting aspect of this – though hardly the most important – was that the form of ‘you’ used by the trainer was ‘usted’, which is so formal, respectful and inconsistent with the rest of the diatribe that it almost makes you believe his story. Unless it was irony, of course.
The soccer race row rumbles on. Today’s papers report that only one Spanish journal and one brave person in the ‘football community’ have rejected the coach’s defence that he is not racist and that his comments were just a bit of fun. The captain of the Spanish team has gone even further and said that anyone who thinks the coach is a racist must be mad. This view is endorsed by the outraged sport commentators who point out that, whereas the French press has been quite muted, the British tabloid press has been rabid on the subject. Since these are known to be scabrous organs, they must be wrong, so what’s all the fuss? I never thought I would be siding with the British tabloid press, on the one hand, and sympathetic to political correctness, on the other, but ….. hang on a minute!
The trainer of the Spanish national football team has again dipped his toe – or possibly rather more – into the turbulent pool of race relations. He is now reported to have commented on the ‘colonial history’ of the English team. After the pure sophistry of his last efforts at defence, I am keen to see how he justifies his latest gratuitous comment.
Different cultures, different perceptions. Some observations on the clash last night between England and Spain:-
While the UK media regard the main issue as the racism displayed both before and during the game - by the trainer and the crowd respectively - this is a non-issue for 90% of their Spanish counterparts. The main take for them was the abject performance of the England team and the clear superiority of the Spanish eleven. The main subordinate issue was the madness of Rooney. Indeed, one paper went so far as to award the highest performance marks to the English trainer for taking Rooney off before he self-combusted.
One reason for this dichotomy is that the [rather more serious] Spanish media despise the UK tabloid press and regard any issue of importance to them as ‘sensationalist’. Their gut instinct is to reject it out of hand. One feels some sympathy for this, generally speaking.
Another, rather more serious, reason is that Spain appears to be now where the UK was about 30 years ago in terms of attitude to racial taunts and empathy with their effect. Here, a very acceptable defence to any suggestion of insult runs along the lines of – “It was all in good humour. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Don’t get upset….. Now you’re being hypersensitive and obsessive”. This helps to explain why both the Spanish trainer and the local media can’t understand why anyone reacted to him calling Henry “a shit of a nigger’. And why they were even more nonplussed about the entire UK media dismissing him as beyond the pale for later saying ‘I have black players round to dinner. They tell me there is racism in the UK whereas there is none here. And I know how the British treated people in their colonies.” As far as almost everyone in Spain is concerned, it was more than enough for him to say “Hey, it was all a bit of joke about Henry, to motivate my players. Let’s forget about it”. So, to keep on asking him questions smacks of a vicious witch hunt.
With the honourable exception of the left-of-centre El Pais, none of the national or local papers reported or commented on the disgraceful monkey-chanting of last night’s match. However, all the papers did report that the UK Football Association had formally complained to the international football authorities about the same thing at the previous night’s match between the junior teams. This was too much for both the ‘Presidents’ of the two stadiums, each of whom denied that there had been any racist chanting at all. Maybe they will change their mind when they listen to the soundtrack of the games. Or perhaps their lawyers have told them that making monkey grunts every time a black player touches the ball doesn’t technically qualify as racist chanting, unless a monkey is the claimant.
To bring this sad blog to a close, perhaps the wisest thing said about the affair was that both the dire quality of English football and the appalling behaviour of the Spanish fans should ensure that it will be a long, long time before they play each other in another ‘friendly’ match. And for such small mercies, O Lord, we are eternally grateful. Whichever country you come from, it was truly a night of shame. How ironic that this is a tabloid cliché.
Well, a much wider range of comments on the race issue in today’s Spanish press. Most impressively, several senior politicians – possibly aware now of the damage to Madrid’s Olympic ambitions – have expressed the sentiments to be expected of them. And it is even reported this afternoon that the Spanish football authority has finally expressed regret. At the other end of the spectrum, there are commentators who take the view that it didn’t happen; or, if it did, it was provoked by the British media off the field and Rooney on it; and that it was only a joke; and from a small part of the crowd; and the British are racists too, for calling the French ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’; and the orchestrated reaction of British politicians, especially Mr Blair, is a conspiracy to destroy Madrid’s competing bid for the 2012 Olympics. In between these two extremes, there have been some thoughtful columns and letters from people who have clearly grasped the full significance of the affair. One writer touchingly admitted that it had acquainted him with the ugly truth that he was a latent racist. So, perhaps some good will come out of it in the end.
As John Hooper pointed out in The New Spaniards, although the Spanish think they aren’t racist, they certainly are. This is because they’re currently stuck in what we might call Phase 1 of Race Relations. This is when you believe that, just because you didn’t really mean to upset anyone, no words you used could possibly have caused annoyance. Phase 2 is when you accept that certain words are loaded and don’t use them. This is Spain’s next phase and it is anyone’s guess when it will be reached. At the moment, most everyone here still thinks like the Spanish national soccer coach who’s just been fined for insulting a black Arsenal player; he is furious at what others consider a paltry fine from the Spanish authorities, on the grounds that he is ‘certainly not a racist and never intended to hurt anyone’. Phase 3, of course, is when you use objectively innocuous words and someone decides that he or she is nonetheless upset and so you are guilty of a crime. The UK appears to have arrived at this point and one must hope that Spain never does. If I still lived in England, it could well have been an offence for me to have written this.
A friend has told me about a sign near the Royal Palace in Madrid which reads something like ‘People with bags should be careful as there are gangs of Moroccans and Romanians operating around here’. At least, it does in Spanish. In the English version no mention is made of nationality. “Racist, us? Nunca!’
Today is the last day of the Galician general election campaign, with voting taking place on Sunday. ‘Don Miguel’ Fraga appeared on national TV this morning and, when asked about his insulting remarks, gave the standard-missing-the-point-Spanish reply of ‘It was just a joke. No one should be upset as I didn’t intend to hurt them’. You may remember this stance from when the [equally unrepentant] Spanish soccer coach was tackled about racist remarks he’d made about Thierry Henri of Arsenal a month or so ago.
Spain likes to think of itself as a non-racist country, albeit on the basis that whatever you say can’t be racist if you really don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. I was reminded of this attitude today when I saw a cartoon about the Ceuta/Melilla problem in El Mundo. The caricature of a black African could have been commissioned by Josef Goebbels.
In 2 weeks’ time, the Spanish football federation will hold a conference designed to assist in eradicating racism from the sport. Right on cue, the trainer of a major team – referring to a weekend incident involving a black player – has offered us this gem - ‘The only people who spit are those who’ve just come down from the trees.’ Doubtless, he’ll now give us the usual excuse that it wasn’t a racist comment, as he didn’t intend it to be.
Stop Press: The explanation given for the alleged racist remark reported above was he was merely talking about bad manners and meant that anyone, black or white, who spat had really just come down from the trees. Funny but I just can’t recall this analogy ever being used in respect of white folk. But maybe Spain is, as they say, different.
In the Alice in Wonderland world of the Welsh police, anyone and everyone is investigated at the slightest suggestion of a 'racist' remark. This not only includes you, me and the occasional TV reporter but also the British Prime Minister himself. For, truth to tell, he has been written to about some disparaging aside he's alleged to have made. I wonder, firstly, how the crime statistics are moving in Wales and, secondly, if I am guilty of a 'race crime' merely by asking this about a nation's police force. And would my 25% Welsh blood be an adequate defence?
Interesting reading for Brits is the sight of UK government ministers falling over themselves to stress it’s no longer considered racist or politically incorrect to question whether unlimited immigration and blind multiculturalism have been an unqualified success for the country. These are the same people, of course, who screamed ‘Racist!’, whenever the last government tried to question liberal orthodoxy. The implausible excuse given for this massive change of heart is that something must be done to take the wind out of the sails of the far right extremists. Nothing, then, to do with public concern at immigrant numbers in the last 2 years being more than 40 times in excess of government forecasts.
The Spanish like to see themselves as non-racist. But, as someone once commented, it’s easy to be tolerant when you’ve nothing to tolerate. Immigrant numbers have been rising quickly in recent years and, for the first time, concern about immigration has now replaced unemployment as the number one worry for the populace. In third position is housing, with terrorism falling to fourth.