So President Sarkozy wants a Mediterranean Union, comprising the littoral states. I wonder which country would dominate this. Perhaps the same one which is struggling to come to terms with its loss of control of the European Union.
As I’ve noted a couple of times, Catholics in Spain are allowed to direct 0.7% of their taxes towards their church by ticking a box on their annual returns. Impressively, this right is to be extended to members of other religions in the following order:- 1. ‘Protestants’, 2. Moslems, 3. Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses, and 4. Buddhists. I wonder where this leaves the Scientologists and the Kabalists. Not to mention the rather more numerous Jews. One might have thought Spain had an obligation to give these early consideration, all things considered.
In a superb article in May’s Prospect magazine, the writer Julian Gough bemoans the dearth of good comic writing. The Greeks, he says, understood that comedy [the gods’ view of life] is superior to tragedy [the merely human]. But, since the Middle Ages, western culture has overvalued the tragic and undervalued the comic. This is why, he adds, fiction today is so full of anxiety and suffering. And he insists it’s time writers got back to the serious business of making us laugh, in the time-honoured tradition of Rabelais, Swift, Voltaire and, of course, Cervantes. Who am I to disagree?
Talking about making us laugh, here in Pontevedra, the socialist PSOE party and the Galician Nationalist Block have begun their negotiations around the electoral spoils. The only item of difference reported yesterday was that of the socialists’ preference for a bus lane in the town. Since the BNG has spent the last few years converting every single road in town into a one-way, single-lane thoroughfare, one can see why this would be contentious. Not to mention bloody difficult and expensive. But no doubt the town’s residents will welcome another 5 years of noise, dust and traffic disruption, if the socialists say they will.
The point was made by a columnist in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph that the Labour and Conservative parties in the UK are now both centrist parties, fighting essentially over the same ground. I suspect this can’t yet be said for the PP and the PSOE in Spain, each of which appears to pander more to their right and left-wing extremes. But perhaps a new model for the entire country will emerge from an unprecedented attempt to govern as a coalition in troubled Navarra. If this option ever gets off the ground.
Of course, one of Spain’s ‘extremes’ is represented by the increasing number of ‘nationalist’ parties. On this subject, here’s a brief note I read recently on the subject of nationality, as it’s seen in Spain. Apologies to the author, whose name I’ve forgotten:-
The nationality debate
In order to understand the political forces and debates in Spain, we have to consider two dimensions: the Right vs. Left dimension and the Nation State vs. Plurinational State dimension. The political parties' agendas and the individual citizens' opinions can only be understood when looked at on both dimensions. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Spain states that 1) it is a Nation and 2) that it is formed by Nationalities and Regions. This statement is a contradiction (since Nationality and Nation essentially mean the same thing in political theory) but it was an agreement that struck a balance between the political parties advocating the nation state and those advocating the plurinational state.
The territorial organization of Spain into Autonomous Communities of Spain is the administrative realization of this constitutional balancing act.
Historically, parties advocating the Nation State claim there is only one Nation and favour a state with a centralized government (with some degree of regional decentralization). Catalan, Basque and Galician political parties claim to represent their respective nations, different from the Spanish nation. These political parties share the belief that the Kingdom of Spain is a state formed by four nations, namely the Catalan nation, the Basque nation, the Galician nation and what might be called the Castillian-Spanish nation (for lack of better word, since they would call it simply Spain). Some of these parties often mention Switzerland as a model of Plurinational State shared by German, French, and Italian nationalities, while others advocate independence. Notice that these nations/nationalities are related to, but different from, the current administrative borders of the Autonomous Communities of Spain.
The current situation can be understood as the sum of two historical failures: 1) the Nation State parties were unable to build a unified Nation State such as France, the model that the political and territorial organization of Spain has followed, while 2) the "national resistance" movements (specially Catalans and Basques) were also unable to break free from the Spanish state.
So, there you have it. Politically, Spain is just one huge failure. Thank God for the booming economy. Not to mention the EU. Otherwise the place might be coming apart at its numerous seams. Again.