Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 19.7.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • And so it continues . . . Is there any official in Spain who can keep his/her hand out of the till?
  • Another confrontational step has been taken by the Catalan regional government. The head of the regional police force - Los Mossos - has been replaced by a fervent nationalist. I guess this increases the chances that its officers will obey Barcelona rather than Madrid. But who knows? And then there's the national (and military) Guardia Civil above the police force. Fun and games.
  • Here's an El País article - in English - on what it calls the salary trap brought about by the recent employment law reforms of the PP government.
  • Here's another re-cycled list from The Local - Charming Spanish towns you might have missed.
  • And yet another  - 11 Spanish words English needs. Possibly. Btw . . . I think the last list was only 10. Some evidence of this comes from the (old?) URL:

The English Language: This article includes the sentence: The Generalitat has pursed the Mossos to call for citizen rebellion. The verb 'pursed' is then used 2 or 3 more times. Anyone know what it means? Or what it should be? Surely can't be 'pursued'.

Below this post is the full article about the French-Anglo rivalry I cited yesterday. And a review of the book from The Times. The author - RT Howard - is said to be a francophile . . .

Here in Galicia, 20% of trials are said to be cancelled because of the non-appearance of witnesses, the accused or even the lawyer for the defence. This can't help efficiency. On the theme of local courts, ours in Pontevedra was rather shocked last week to hear one of our big narcotráficos say to a witness that her 'day would come'. He then went on to ask: What I have done didn't do much harm. Why should I apologise? And to say that he knew of bribes paid by his fellow traders to the politicians who formed the predecessor of the current PP party. I'm sure he does.

On a smaller crime scale, a local man arrested for illegally practising as a dentist[sic!] also confessed to having operated as an unlicensed taxi-driver. Nothing if not versatile, then.

Finally . . . If you were thinking of buying a cheap granite house up in our mountains, you've probably missed the boat. We have 1,700 defunct villages, in which the top price for a house not so long ago was a mere €40,000. But, with the end of La Crisis, this has now reached €200,000. Somewhere.

Today's cartoon:-

The wife and I had a holiday here once, before the war. course, we didn't have the tank with us that time.

The French are jealous of Brexit. They don't have enough history to do the same  RT Howard

Always highly symbolic of our sense of nation, the English Channel today represents an ever-widening political chasm. On the one hand, Theresa May has pledged to honour the outcome of last year’s referendum and restore Britain’s role as an independent nation-state.

But in Paris on May 7, President Emmanuel Macron celebrated his election victory to the sound of the EU anthem, instead of the Marseillaise, and has subsequently advocated deeper EU integration.
What lies at the heart of these radically opposed visions? Answering this is paramount as clouds grow darker over the Brexit negotiations and political storms gather.

An important part of the answer is that it is much easier for the average Frenchman to surrender his sovereignty to Brussels than for his British counterpart. This is because our own institutions have deeper origins and therefore command a greater allegiance: they not only have a much longer ancestry but they are inseparable from our evolution as a nation.  

It is easy to forget that France’s political and constitutional institutions are relatively recent inventions, concocted only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The convulsions of revolution in 1789 ruptured the historic link between the French nation and its institutions, and France has subsequently endured a series of constitutional experiments, many of which have been short-lived and unsuccessful.

Its current constitution, the Fifth Republic, was established only in 1958, and its ongoing 59-year lifespan shows, by French standards, a relative longevity. 

Our own nation, however, was spared the trauma of revolution and therefore became indistinguishable from its traditional institutions.

Both parliament and the monarchy have an ancient lineage, originating in the ancient constitution of Saxon times that was later cherished by parliamentarians such as Sir Edward Coke. This then evolved into the constitutional settlement of 1688 that has survived fundamentally intact to this day.
There is no clearer contrast between the two countries than the role of our respective national parliaments.

In France, prior to the revolution, a national representative body met only in 1614 and 1789. Subsequently , France’s national assembly had only a very restricted electorate and, for many citizens, local elections seemed much more important than national ones.

Until the advent of the Third Republic in 1870, it was constantly threatened and undermined by such dangers as plebiscite, plenary powers and vote-rigging.

Even then, true power often rested with unelected bureaucrats who provided some rocks of stability in France’s rough seas of semi-constant political chaos.

But wherever exactly these origins are traced back to, the cross-Channel contrast with the artificiality of French constitutional institutions is clear: with "unchangeable constancy", in Edmund Burke’s phrase, our own parliament has exercised its sovereign will across the ages with a consistency that others have been denied.

Parliament, like the White Cliffs of Dover, is an unmistakable and unique sign of our nationhood.

By contrast, the relative superficiality of France’s institutions manifests itself in all manner of ways: historically, the French have shown a more marked tendency for revolution and anarchism, not the rule of law; for "activism" rather than dialogue; for military coups – real as in 1851 or planned as in 1961 – instead of negotiation; and for extremism over moderation. There are no such parallels in our own island story.

This means that the French can today much more easily surrender their institutions to Brussels: should we do so, then we assign much more of ourselves, even our whole identity as a nation, than they.

This key difference between Britain and France illustrates the flawed foundations of the European federal project: how can different countries, with such varied traditions, move at the same relentless pace away from their particular and familiar institutions?

If Brussels want to enhance its powers and more closely integrate the EU’s member states, then it will continue to need real historical sensitivity.

But it is also a reminder of what can sometimes lie at the very heart of Europhilia: out of envy, some Europhiles might want to subvert another country’s traditional institutions by subjecting them to the new structures of European Union.

It is no coincidence that the French nation was built upon a collective fear, resentment and jealousy of "Perfidious Albion", and that today the success and longevity of our institutions continues to arouse the admiration and envy of many French citizens.

By recognizing this, we get a bit closer to understanding why some Frenchmen, including Emmanuel Macron and Michel Barnier, were so enraged to see Britain vote to leave the EU and why they now seem to want to wreck Britain.


Power and Glory: France’s Secret Wars with Britain and America 1945-2016  RT Howard

“We are doing no good here,” said Lord Beaverbrook to Winston Churchill as they stood in a garden in France in 1940 while the panzers drew near. “Let’s get along home.”

The anecdote is told by one of Britain’s great Francophiles, Major-General Edward Spears, but it captures the distrust and fear of betrayal that has haunted relations between France and the “Anglo-Saxons” for eight decades.

Such is the theme of Power and Glory, which RT Howard, an intelligence specialist, bills as the untold story of “secret wars” between France and its supposed British and American allies from 1945 until today. It was written before the Brexit vote, but it would be an excellent primer for anyone intent on pursuing negotiations with the French and the rest of Europe to the point of mutual destruction.

In the author’s telling, France was so traumatised by defeat in 1940, and by the subsequent loss of its colonial empire, that its leaders saw conspiracies everywhere and fought dirty to save their global status, unable to make any moral distinction between their enemies and their friends. From this flowed a catalogue of scandal, shame and failure, some relevant today, the rest long forgotten.

The book opens with a massacre in Damascus in 1945, when Syrians rose against colonial rule. The French fought back with shot and shell, but, to their fury, the British intervened, with American backing, to stop it. The faithless Anglo-Saxons were “plotting” to do France down.

A saner view holds that such idiotic repression destroyed moderate nationalism and brought to power the criminals in the Syrian Ba’ath Party. Would history be cleaner if French colonialism had had its way?

The “savage war of peace” in Algeria suggests not. The French killed 10 locals for every white person murdered in an outrage at the market town of Sètif in 1945, an irrevocable act of hatred. Decades after Algerian independence, race war still smoulders in the suburbs of Paris.

Worst was the loss of France’s empire in the east, blamed by the French on a lack of allied support in the decisive battle at Dien Bien Phu, in the northwest of Indochina, in 1954. This world-changing victory for Ho Chi Minh led to the long American war in Vietnam, with the French as cynical spectators.

Marshal Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, a war hero, said that defeat in Indochina would be the end of France as a great power. He was right, and in its decline nowhere could French and Anglo-Saxon interests coexist without covert battles, the author believes.

Howard tells a rattling tale, full of slapstick and bloodshed, of how France played a losing hand with grim determination. One chapter, straight from the pages of Graham Greene, recounts a duel between British spies and French officials in postwar Madagascar, peopled by mobs, rabble-rousers, stupid administrators and purblind expatriates.

The mess foreshadowed a great game in Africa. The rivals courted different dictators and set off tribal wars. Their competitive hunt for resources was often masked as a battle against communism. It is not an edifying story and it is enough to mention some countries involved: Congo, Rwanda, Nigeria, Gabon, Ivory Coast — a list of lamentation that speaks for itself.

The author is good on the vying power centres in Paris. Inside the Elysée, presidents from Charles de Gaulle to Jacques Chirac each had their shadowy “Mr Africa” who had carte blanche to push French interests. Other players scrabbling for overseas influence were the ministries of foreign affairs and defence, the giant state-owned arms and energy firms, the overseas development agency and the ineffable agents of the (ever-besieged) French language and culture.

Howard’s chapter on the Falklands War, while acknowledging the Sunday Times exposé of French technical help to Argentina, is a thorough dissection of how these interest groups almost prevailed over François Mitterrand’s pledge of support to Margaret Thatcher. The author cites a telegram from Sir John Fretwell, the British ambassador in Paris, warning that “the [French] arms lobby” wanted sales to Argentina of their Super Etendard jets and Exocet missiles at any price.

And while Britain was vulnerable, Whitehall officials found that Mitterrand “chose to move against us quite ruthlessly in the Community” and gratuitously threatened a crisis over British membership in Europe. Brexit negotiators take note.

Like Beaverbrook, the author is not inclined to give France the benefit of the doubt. I am not so sure. In hindsight, de Gaulle’s reason for saying “non” to British entry to the EEC in 1963 (Britain was insular, maritime and distinctive, he said) looks wise.

If you read the memoirs of Spears and of Anthony Eden, another Francophile, or the war diaries of de Gaulle, or even the diaries of Jacques Attali, who worked for Mitterrand, a more nuanced picture emerges of Anglo-French ties. It is of two old countries entwined and divided by history, trade and intelligence, who stumble, yet stay standing, in a world darkened by barbarism.

But perhaps that is not a message that is apt for our times.


Maria said...

To purse - to wrinkle, to contract, to round, to pucker, to tighten. Perhaps they meant that they tightened up the Mossos to make the top officials favorable to the referendum? Or perhaps they wanted to use purge, and say that they purged the Mossos of those officers unfavorable to the referendum. Someone went to the bottom of the barrel for this one.

Alfred B. Mittington said...

My dear boy,

Your mysterious phrase concerning Mossos and Purses goes back to the main headline on the front page of yesterday's El Mundo, which runs:

'El Generalidad (sic) DEPURA los Mossos y llama a la rebellion ciudadana'

I suppose 'purses' derived from 'de-pures', scrambled by Google spell check.

And somebody forgot to translate 'y llama'….

Al-ementary, mydearwatson…

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