Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 17.10.17

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
  • The current Spanish government is good at both turning screws on others and generating bad PR for itself. Simultaneously, in fact. Yesterday it both effectively confirmed the imminence of direct rule over Cataluña and oversaw the jailing of two Catalan activists on charges of 'sedition', as well as the prosecution of the head of the regional police force on the same charge. All with the support of Brussels, of course.
  • So, as Don Quijones puts it here, Spain has its first political prisoners – and martyrs? - since the Franco era.
  • As we wait on further depressing developments, here's the BBC on Why Cataluña Wants Independence. And here's Wiki with more of the region's rebellion-filled history.
  • The local economy: The BBC again:- With no sign that Spain’s worst political crisis since the failed military coup in 1981 will come to a swift resolution, businesses are still leaving Catalonia. Already 541 businesses have left. As I wrote last week, there was no need to use police force. Money talks. And the Catalans are renowned for their commercial nous and their common sense. Possibly even some nationalists among them.
  • Spain's Image Abroad: While it might be true that the folk in Madrid are doing their very best to damage this, it's also irrefutable that foreigners – even in the most developed countries – have a cockeyed, 'romanticised' view of the country. To which they doggedly stick in the face of contrary evidence. Antonio Muñoz Molina takes these folk to task in a thought-provoking article in El País, appended to this post.
  • Iberian Fires: These are now raging in both North Portugal and in at least 2 regions of NW Spain – Galicia and Asturias. As in the terrible year of 2006, fingers are being pointed - especially by cost-cutting politicians - at pyromaniacs. How true these accusations are is unknowable but I confess to some doubts.
Talking of inept/duplicitous politicians . . .  Here's a nice Guardian article on developments in the UK at least. I like the concept of cutesification – the shrinking of any debacle, no matter how big, to ensure it fits within the confines of a short studio discussion.

And still on the theme of ignorance and incompetence, here's Richard North again on the British political and journalistic classes:- One can imagine that, if we do drop out of the EU without a deal – and that looks increasingly likely – it will all come as such a shock to media and politicians alike. But saying "I told you so", will not be enough. To avoid real suffering, somehow we need to get through to these stupid people, before it is too late. If you read North in ignorance of his Flexit-Brexit stance of several years, you'd be forgiven for thinking he's long been against the development. What he's really against, though, is the crass stupidity of those negotiating it, especially those - such as Farage - who push for a 'hard' Brexit, following the failure to reach a sensible accommodation with Brussels. And who can blame him?

Finally . . . Here's a great example of Northern English culinary fusion – A bacon and egg sandwich on white bread, with a side salad of rocket and peppers. Fantastic. I haven't had white bread for years but, for a bacon sandwich, there's nothing better. Especially if accompanied by a glass of wine:-

And here's an interesting looking - but unknown - Argentinean wine, apparently named after me:-

I should explain that David is my first name and that I use it whenever in Spain I'm asked for my name, as this is the first forename on my ID documents. Which is usually taken by Spaniards to be my only forename, while Colin is taken as the first of 2 surnames. I've given up trying to educate them on the system outside the Hispanic world. Ironically, the request for my name and phone number almost always come from shopkeepers who will never call me in any circumstances. Least of all when the product I've enquired about is back in stock. Or something is ready for me to collect. It's just one of those Spanish customs that no one queries. Like banks asking for your ID when you're paying a motoring fine.


In Francoland: Antonio Muñoz Molina

Both Europe and the US love what they see as Spain’s quaint backwardness so much that they feel insulted when we explain to them how much we have changed

It happened to me on the last night of September in Heidelberg, but it has also happened quite frequently in other cities in Europe and the United States, and even here in Spain, when talking with foreign journalists. 

At various points throughout different eras, I have been forced to explain patiently, and with as much clarity as possible for educational purposes, that my country is a democracy, while undoubtedly flawed it is not any more seriously flawed when compared to similar countries. I have gone to great lengths to name dates, mention laws and changes, and establish useful comparisons. In New York, I had to remind people, who were full of democratic ideals and condescension, of the fact that my country, unlike theirs, does not accept the death penalty, sending minors to prison to serve life sentences, or torturing inmates in secret jails.

Sometimes outside Spain, one is forced to teach a history or geography lesson. Until not too long ago, a Spanish citizen had to explain that the Basque Country is not even remotely like Kurdistan, Palestine, or the Nicaraguan jungle where Sandinistas used to protest Somoza the dictator, all in spite of being aware that the odds were that he wouldn’t be listened to. We had to explain that the Basque Country is among the most advanced territories in Europe, with one of the highest standards of living, and that it has a degree of self-government and fiscal sovereignty considerably higher than any state or federal region in the world. The answer used to be, at best, a polite but skeptical smile.

A great deal of educated opinions, both in Europe and the United States, and even more so among the academic and journalistic elites, would rather hold a bleak view of Spain, maintain a lazy attachment to the worst stereotypes, particularly about the legacy of the dictatorship, as well as a bullfight-like propensity to civil war and bloodshed. The cliché is so captivating that is unapologetically held by people who are convinced they really love our country. 

They want us to be bullfighters, heroic guerrillas, inquisitors, and victims. They love us so much that they hate it when we question the willful blindness upon which they build their love. They love the idea of a rebellious, fascism-fighting Spain so much that they are not ready to accept that fascism ended many years ago. They love what they see as our quaint backwardness so much that they feel insulted if we explain to them how much we have changed in the last 40 years: we don’t attend Mass, women have an active presence in every social sphere, same-sex marriage was accepted with astonishing speed and ease, and we have integrated several million immigrants in just a few years, without outbursts of xenophobia.

The other night in Heidelberg on the eve of the notorious October 1, in the middle of a pleasant dinner with several professors and translators, I had to explain that once again with a forcefulness that helped me overcome my despondency. A German female professor told me that someone from Catalonia had assured her that Spain was still “Francoland.” I asked her, as nicely as I could, how she would feel if someone said to her that Germany was still Hitlerland. She felt immediately insulted. With as much calm as I could manage and in an educational tone, I clarified what no citizen from another democratic country in Europe has ever been forced to clarify: that Spain is a democracy, as worthy and as flawed as Germany and as far away from totalitarianism; even more so, if we look at the latest election results achieved by the far right. 

If we are still in Francoland, as her Catalan informer said, how is it possible for Catalonia to have its own educational system, parliament, police force, public television and public radio, and an international institute for the dissemination of Catalan language and culture? Acknowledging the singularity of Catalonia was a priority for the new Spanish democracy, I told her that the Generalitat, the Catalan regional government, was re-established even before voting on the Constitution. What an odd Francoist country, one that suppress Catalan language and culture so much that it chooses a Catalan language film to represent Spain at the Oscars.

Anybody that has lived or is living outside our country knows about the precariousness of our international presence, the financial strangulation and the political meddling that have so often thwarted the relevance of the Cervantes Institute, the lack of an ambitious, long-term foreign policy, and a national framework agreement that doesn’t change with every change in government. Spanish democracy hasn’t been able to dispel age-old stereotypes. Basque terrorists and their propagandists took good advantage of that for many years, precisely the years when we were at our most vulnerable, when the most murderous gunmen were still being granted asylum in France.

Therefore, the Catalan secessionists have not needed much effort or a sophisticated media campaign to turn international opinion in their favor, the so-called “narrative.” They had succeeded even without the dedicated cooperation of the Interior Ministry, which sent forces from the National Police and the Civil Guard to appear as extras in the bitter spectacle of our discredit. Few things make a foreign correspondent in Spain happier than the opportunity to corroborate our exoticism and our brutality. Even the renowned Jon Lee Anderson, who lives or has lived among us, is deliberately lying, with no qualms he is aware that he is lying and aware of the effect his lies will have, when he writes in The New Yorker that the Civil Guard is a “paramilitary” force*.

As a Spanish citizen, with all my fervent Europeanism and my love of travel, I feel hopelessly doomed to melancholy, for a number of reasons. One of them is the discredit the democratic system in my country receives due to ineptitude, corruption and political disloyalty. Add to that the fact that the European and cosmopolitan world where people like me see ourselves and which we have so painstakingly worked to appear to be a part of, always prefer to look down upon us — no matter how carefully we try to explain ourselves or however assiduously we learn languages, so that they can better understand our useless explanations.

*I have to admit I've always thought that the Guardia Civil was a military-ish institution. Probably because they live in large barracks and, moreso, because I've been told several times by Spanish friends that they are.


Maria said...

Yes, we've come a long way from Franco, but not far enough. The mindset of permanent bureaucracy writ in stone still persists. We show we love Europe not just for the euros it sends us, but as a way of putting our past behind us and trying to show everyone how modern and democratic we can be. In truth, though, there are many, especially older folk, who still believe Europe stops at the Pyrenees. There are many who still believe in the Spanish way of doing things, which is not always very different from the pre-1978 way.

And yes, the Guardia Civil is a military force. It belongs to the Ministry of Defense instead of the Ministry of the Interior, like the Policía Nacional.

Colin Davies said...

Thanks, Maria. You Returners often seem harsher on Spain that we 'Residential Tourists" as we're called, at least down South, according to Lenox Napier.