Monday, June 16, 2014

Presidential Stubbornness: The hunger strike

Whatever one makes of Jaume Sastre's hunger strike over the Balearic Government's education and language policy, there can be no doubting his strength of conviction. People don't go without food for a month for nothing and so put their well-being and lives at risk.

There is an irony in the Sastre cause, and it comes in the form of some of those who support him. An activist for Catalan Lands independence, Sastre's political philosophy is, in this regard, the total opposite to that of some of them, such as those from the Partido Popular. But take this radical philosophy out of the equation and what one has, or so it would appear, is broad backing across the political spectrum for what he has gone on hunger strike to defend - Catalan and its role in education.

President Bauzá is being called upon to negotiate in order to put an end to the conflict that still engulfs education in the Balearics. Among those who have been doing the calling are Cristòfol Soler, who for a time in the 1990s was a PP president of the Balearics, and Jaume Cladera, the islands' first tourism minister under the PP's president Gabriel Cañellas, someone else who has been less than impressed with the current president's stance. Soler has made a point of supporting Sastre from the start of his hunger strike. The two men would differ completely on the issue of independence, but on language they are as one.

Though not vocal in being critical of Bauzá, Soler has clearly disagreed with him pretty much through the whole of his legislature. The differences lie not just with language but also with the philosophy of regionalism. Soler's PP of the 1980s and 1990s was firmly pro-regionalism and firmly pro-Catalan; Bauzá's PP appears indifferent to regionalism while having made little attempt to disguise its hostility towards Catalan.

Can one style this as a clash between the old and new guards in the PP? Up to a point perhaps, but there are plenty within the new guard of the current PP whose sympathies match those of Soler. Some have spoken out, though none has been as vocal as Antoni Pastor was. The mayor of Manacor, booted out of the party, may just possibly be the presidential candidate next year for the El Pi regionalist-nationalist party, having said that he will not carry on as mayor. That would provide a fascinating and hugely entertaining battle with Bauzá were the two of them to both be presidential candidates.

Increasingly, one has to ask whether Bauzá will indeed be a candidate. Is he in fact a liability? If he were to steer away from the controversies which he generates and focus the narrative on the core issues of the economy and employment, he might well be considered worthy of being given another go. But he doesn't allow there to be such a focus. His stubbornness might be applauded by some, but it can also be nuanced as the digging of an ever deeper hole. The public, generally speaking, don't back him over language or over education.

Having been let off the incompatibility hook by the Balearics High Court, Bauzá, rather than engage in some triumphalism at this victory, should take the opportunity to be magnanimous. He said after the PP's rotten performance in the European elections that the party had to be more "humble". He needs to take the lead, therefore. It was reasonable enough to criticise the opposition for having hounded him over a matter - the alleged incompatibility - that had been blown out of proportion, but it was not reasonable, in the context of newly discovered humility, to appear triumphalist. Magnanimity is called for, and it can include a willingness to embrace the concerns of Soler and others.

Bauzá has said he won't negotiate because there is someone who will, namely the education minister Joana Camps. Unfortunately, no one takes her seriously. It is not she who has sought the conflict or who drives it. Everyone knows who has and does. And this refusal to negotiate has now assumed a more serious dimension. It has been suggested that the conflict is now a humanitarian one, the consequence of Sastre's hunger strike.

It is a conflict which also has the power to go deeper, to be enduring and to create future problems. Lost in all of the arguments, lost in the hunger strike, lost in Bauzá's stubbornness is what the schoolchildren of the Balearics think. Try putting yourselves in their position and in conditions of their impressionability. They see a teacher willing to perhaps commit suicide over a point of linguistic principle. Tell me that this doesn't influence their future views and I'm afraid I wouldn't believe you.

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