Friday, March 01, 2013

Thirty Years Of Trouble: Regional government

Thirty years ago, while Britain was gripped by the Deirdre-Ken-Mike love triangle, was listening to David Bowie's "Let's Dance" number one and was gearing itself up for the any time soon re-election of the vanquisher of Galtieri, the Balearics were celebrating their autonomy. On 1 March 1983, the statute of autonomy came into effect and three months later the islands were to have their first president, Gabriel Cañellas.

The granting of autonomy to the Balearics was one of the last of a series of legislative acts that created the Spanish regional governments in the late 1970s and early 1980s (the north African cities of Ceuta and Melilla were to follow some years later). The islands' autonomy, as with regional autonomy in most other parts of Spain, hadn't initially been envisaged when the post-Franco Constitution was drawn up. Those regions with historical claims to some form of self-government - Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia - were the focus of the move to this devolution. Once the Andalusians started pressing their claims as well, the impetus began by which all the regions were to become autonomous.

1983 was, in a way, the final move in a process that had started 52 years before. A statute had been drafted in 1931 in line with a desire of the government of the Second Republic to bring about regional autonomy. This statute was never effected. Apart from the obvious intervention of war, there were any number of factional differences that made it nigh on impossible in arriving at genuine agreement. One of the biggest differences of opinion was between the Mallorcans and the Menorcans. The latter were wary of Mallorcan "centralism" and were also more of a mind to join in with a Catalonian statute of autonomy.

Though the draft statute was approved, even if it was never implemented, it is instructive to see that in 1931 there was the opposition that there was. The Ibizans were reluctant supporters of autonomy, while several municipalities in Mallorca were against it. These included Marratxí.

While there were, naturally enough, celebrations in 1983, they obscured underlying divisions, ones that hadn't essentially changed since the 1930s. Thirty years on, they are still observable. The journalist Chema Ferrer is one who has highlighted these divisions. Ahead of this year's Balearics Day, he suggested that rather than there being a fiesta, it would be better if there were a wake and that the statute of autonomy was buried like the sardine is traditionally buried at Carnival time. He questions the very notion of a Balearic identity and condemns a recent political slogan - "four islands, one land, no border" - as being a fallacy. The Menorcan writer, Ponç Pons, is another who takes issue. He has changed the slogan to "four islands, four worlds".

Thirty years of autonomy have not removed pockets of resentment in the smaller islands of the Balearics. This is a resentment of Mallorcan supremacy and what are considered to be the advantages that Mallorca has and receives. The people of the four islands, surveys tell us, identify far less with the Balearics than with their respective islands, and this sentiment is stronger in Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera than it is in Mallorca.

The Balearics as a region is something of a contrivance, a geo-political convenience. While intuitively I favour regionalism and while I have repeatedly questioned the purpose of island councils, such as the Council of Mallorca, I can see there is more sense to these councils, which did after all pre-date regional government, than there is to a regional government. Because what can truly be said has been the achievement of thirty years of autonomy and of regional government?

I mentioned Marratxí before, because the opposition of that town to the 1931 draft statute has some echo today. President Bauzá, characterised as being against regionalism, is the former mayor of Marratxí. The charge that is levelled against him is that he would allow autonomy to wither in pursuing an unstated campaign against regionalism that lurks within the Partido Popular nationally. Even if the charge is accurate, it shouldn't be forgotten that the Zapatero administration had begun to question regionalism because of its cost.

Regional government was conceived as a way of keeping Spain together, but this had in mind the troublesome Catalans and Basques. Thirty years on, and where are we? Still faced with two troublesome regions. As for other regions, like the Balearics, which have no history of being troublesome, one has to ask whether regionalism has really been worth the trouble.

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