Friday, December 29, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 29.12.17

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.

Cataluña and Spain
  • There are some, of course, who think that Rajoy will benefit in the rest of Spain from the Catalan mess he helped create. Click here on this.
  • Spain is on course for more than 80m tourists this year, way up on last year's record figure. The concern, of course, is that some of these will go (back) elsewhere if and when terrorist concerns diminish.
  • Other visitors are rather less welcome, though Spain seems to handle the challenge very well.
  • One of the minor incivilities of the Spanish is that - unlike me! - they don't return café newspapers to the rack. Forcing one to ask for the paper resting beside a coffee cup on one of the tables. Still mildly irritating after 17 years, even though the response is invariably polite. Independentismo, I guess. Or selfishness, as we call it . . .
  • Rather more seriously, this is an article from El País on the thorny issue of 'historical memory'. There's a translation at the end of this post.

The EU
  • According to the author of the seond article at the end of this post, Germany is making Europe more unstable. Selfishness is not confined to the Spanish, it seems. As if anyone ever thought it was.

The UK
  • Two interesting sentences read in the past few days. Both jive with my beliefs:

- There is a bizarre Remainer myth that Leavers are obsessed with the Second World War and with recreating the British Empire that Churchill cherished. Yet no one who supports leaving the European Union thinks Brexit is an imperial or martial project.
- The bonds of class have weakened to the point where age is now a more reliable guide to voting behaviour and that is without even mentioning national identity, which has changed both Scottish and British politics beyond recognition.

The Spanish Language
  • I just checked on the RAE's definition of independentismo. The response:- La palabra Independentismo no está registrada en el Diccionario. La entrada que se muestra a continuación podría estar relacionada: independentismo[sic].  And the definition of the different(?) word applies only to countries or regions. I must have meant individualismo. Which the RAE defines as: Tendencia a pensar y obrar con independencia de los demás sin sujetarse a normas generales. Of course, it depends what country you're in as to what the normas generales are.


  • Liverpool will pay their new (Dutch) defender c. €200,000 a week. I guess it makes sense to someone.

Today's Cartoon



The forgetfulness that doesn't end: Gregorio Marañón and Bertrán de Lis

In Spain, historical memory is conspicuous by its absence. It is no longer oblivion but, as Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz would say, something worse - the denial of memory. And the historical memory that I now demand is not the memory of either of the two Spains that froze hearts, but a memory that integrates everyone's memory and illuminates our past so that our today and our tomorrow will be different.

The Law of Historical Memory is one of the least read and most cited texts of our legislation. In its statement of purposes, it invokes "the spirit of reconciliation and concord that guided the Transition", that spirit which gives meaning "to the most fertile constitutional coexistence model that we have ever enjoyed". It also states that the time has come for "Spanish democracy and the living generations to recover[?] forever all those who directly suffered the injustices and grievances inflicted on them, whether because of one or other political or ideological reason or because of religious beliefs." And, finally, it establishes that this Law must inspire public policies directed towards knowledge of our history.

I read, years ago, an article on the historical memory by the excellent writer Manuel Rivas, in which he wondered why historical memory awakens so much hostility on the Spanish Right, and claimed the democratic memory is identified with a search for the remains of those murdered by the Francoists. It reminded me of a recent article in which he almost reproduced that earlier one.

The author distinguishes between historical memory and literary memory, inclining towards the latter, because it encourages "the lived and the imagined". This subordination of the effort to discover the truth, which is the essence of the social science of History, in favour of what he describes as a "remembered present," is dangerous. In the words of another great writer, Rosa Montero, "To remember is to lie", because "memory is a conjurer, a magician expert in slight-of-hand". Nor is it defensible that the democratic memory be reduced to a search of those murdered by only one side.

I belong to the generation that produced the Transition, and I always active in democratic opposition to the dictatorship from progressive positions. Why does historical memory awaken hostility in a sector of the Spanish Right?

The democratic republic of 1931 was destroyed in 1934, when a part of the Spanish Left did not accept the result of the general elections and provoked a revolutionary coup d'état. In 1936, after the assassination of Calvo Sotelo, the military rebellion broke out, and the government renounced the monopoly of force by arming trade unions and political parties. This decision, which conflicted with the essence of the Rule of Law, had tragic consequences. From that moment, both fascists and their companions, like the socialists, communists and anarchists, committed thousands of murders, so many that today it is difficult to find a Spaniard on both sides who does not have in their family both someone who was murdered and also, although the oblivion here is understandable, murderers or accomplices of those crimes. These generalized massacres are complicated if we remember that the anarchists were not only killed by the fascists but also by the communists.

On my side, my maternal grandfather was 70 years old in 1936 when he was violently removed from his home by militiamen, in front of the terrified look of his young children, to be shot against the wall of the Aravaca cemetery. He belonged to a liberal family that, in the nineteenth century, had known exile, persecution and also shootings by absolutist governments. I have to thank my mother for not telling me about this event in detail, and avoiding any resentment on my part. When he died, already very old, I discovered among his papers the official list with the names of the murderers, and I decided to destroy it.

My paternal grandfather, one of the three founders of the Group at the Service of the Republic, when Calvo Sotelo died, wrote to his friend and Minister of Public Instruction, Marcelino Domingo, "The vile, the infamous murder of Calvo Sotelo by the Republic guards, of those who have not yet been convicted, by which the Government gives the impression of incredible leniency, shames us and infuriates those who fight against the monarchy. Spain is ashamed and outraged. This cannot be. All of us who were the past have to be against what's happening today. We are not the enemies of the regime, but are those who struggle to bring it about, not fascists, but the liberals of always, and that is why we speak like this now." Months later, after having been taken to the HQ of the secret police, which which he left in fear and without being able to say a word, the government of the Republic made it easier for him, together with Ramón Menéndez Pidal and their respective families, to leave Spain because it was not in a position to defend their lives. He remained in exile for six years and his assets were seized by the Franco government, which also stripped him of his university chair and his position in the Provincial Hospital.

The terrible period of the War was followed by almost four decades of dictatorship. As the poet wrote "time engenders decades . . . though that admirable unit of measurement, which Livy used to tell the story of Rome, seems disproportionate to describe the life of any of us." In effect, that period of time, which increasingly will seem to us, in historical terms, shorter, truncated the lives of many Spaniards.

Despite the time that has elapsed, it seems that we cannot talk about our assassinated and our assassins without an emotion that brings with it the temptation to forget the murdered and their murderers. Let's be who we are, one and the other. However, there is a real civic urgency for Spaniards today to finally assume the horrors of the civil war and the forty years of dictatorship without separating some victims from others, understanding what happens when hatred takes over our coexistence. That same hate which has reappeared in Catalonia dividing the Catalans with the same Cainite feelings that the Transition wanted to overcome.

The historical memory, when approached partially by the heirs of one of the two Spains, constitutes the biggest obstacle to the definitive implementation of Azaña's "Peace, mercy, forgiveness" - a forgetting that is not forgetfulness but reconciliation.

Gregorio Marañón is a member of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.


Germany is making Europe more unstable

Should the biggest and richest country in Europe try to solve the continent’s problems? Germans shudder at the thought. Last time we tried leadership, it ended badly, they say, with a distinctive mix of self-righteousness and smugness.

In the postwar decades, West German politicians’ role was to be contrite, generous, obedient and patient. The United States led the West. West Germany ran western Europe jointly with France. Originality in foreign policy was discouraged. The main exception was “Ostpolitik”, eastern policy, in which West Germany used softly-softly tactics to weaken the Soviet grip on eastern Europe.

Yet all over the continent burning questions demand answers from decision-makers in Berlin. Regarding the leadership of Europe, France is weaker than Germany but more ambitious. President Emmanuel Macron wants to turn the eurozone into something like a country, with common economic and financial policies. France will accept German leadership in this but Germany has to shoulder the bill. Germany, still lacking a government since the September election, has no answer.

Germans revile Donald Trump’s administration but are unwilling to accept the consequences. Europe, bigger and richer than the US, should start taking care of its defence. But at what cost and at whose behest?

German politicians are unwilling to tell their voters that European security means dealing with the xenophobic kleptocracy in Russia, which instigates conflicts abroad to distract from stagnation and failure at home. Yet German public opinion loathes the idea of confrontation with the Kremlin, despite abundant evidence of attacks on the political system, including bribery, cyber-intrusions, espionage and subversion of both the far left and far right.

Also on the to-do list are a common European counter-terrorism strategy, which will mean slaying German sacred cows on how data is transmitted and stored, and a proper European strategy on migration. Germany also flinches from confronting authoritarianism in Poland and Hungary. It struggles to articulate a view on Brexit.

For now, the excuse is political deadlock. Coalition talks restart in January but serve only to highlight the vacuum at the heart of Europe. Angela Merkel, once invincible, is gravely weakened. Even if she manages to form a government she will be a lame-duck chancellor.

The German political elite has grasped part of the problem. Sigmar Gabriel, the foreign minister and a bigwig in the Social Democrats, likes to talk about how Donald Trump’s “America First” policies make the world a more dangerous place. What he and his liberal-minded counterparts fail to grasp is that they are pursuing a no less solipsistic approach. Whereas the American president drenches his foreign policy in bombast, politicians in Berlin pursue a “Germany First” policy but clothed in hypocrisy. When it comes to Russia, China or Iran, the German instinct is to put big trade deals first and allies second.

A striking example is the proposed Nord Stream 2 pipeline across the Baltic Sea, which will bring Russian gas to Germany, bypassing east European friends and allies such as Ukraine. The project is clearly political: the aim is to entrench Russia’s role as Germany’s main energy supplier. Yet German politicians insist that the project is a purely commercial one and angrily reproach critics for “politicising” the supposedly neutral business of international gas deliveries.

As Jamie Kirchick points out on the Politico website, what Germany is doing here is ruthlessly pursuing its national interest, cheap gas, while ignoring the wider European considerations of diversity in energy supplies. It is pursuing a nationalist, unilateralist policy, dressed up in the language of non-intervention.

German introspection, coupled with economic clout, is a dangerous combination. Failure to make a decision is itself a decision and can make matters worse. In short, Europe’s biggest country exports instability. East European countries are increasingly worried by German irresponsibility. Earlier this month I spent a week in Berlin with a dynamic Lithuanian delegation that is trying to wake up German opinion. Our most effective argument was not trans-Atlantic solidarity (a hard sell in the Trump era) but an appeal to German historical responsibility.

Yes, Germany feels guilty towards Russia because of the traumas of the Second World War. But Germany should surely accept even greater responsibilities towards the countries of eastern and central Europe, consigned to the meat-grinder by the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939. It was in these countries, not Russia, that the Holocaust resulted and it was these formerly peaceful independent states that became the captive nations of the Soviet empire. It would be odd if Germany again conspired with the Kremlin to do down the countries in between, especially when they are now, in economic terms, vastly more important than Russia. Poland alone is double Russia’s size as a trade partner.

The greatest contradictions are on the German left, which decries imperialism and other wickedness but seems not to notice that a real-life empire in its eastern neighbourhood is busily re-establishing a hegemonic grip on former colonies. If any western country treated its former imperial subjects the way Russia treats Ukraine, then progressive Germans would be up in arms. Similarly, German liberal opinion ought to detest the way in which the Putin regime promotes gay-bashing, sectarian and ethno-nationalist causes, both inside Russia and abroad.

A new Ostpolitik, stressing solidarity and responsibility, is urgently needed. But for too many Germans, bashing the distant evils of Trump’s America is so much easier.

No comments: