Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Reluctant Anniversary: 1715 and all that

There was a demo in Palma on Saturday evening. Not far from the yacht club, the royal one that is, they were protesting against the occupation. It has lasted three hundred years. In all this time there have also been three hundred years of resistance, said the poster. The fight continues, the poster added, these same announcements adorning the banner held by those leading the protest. For the most part they seemed like earnest young men with beards and glasses. Their number was not great. The local police looked on. By-passers sauntered by. Oh, it'll be another demo, these uninterested observers might have thought, while wending their way to the bars of La Llonja and Santa Catalina, possibly having taken advantage of Black Friday bargains. Of the protesters, there weren't sufficient to match the 300 years of both occupation and resistance.

This occupation, in case you are wondering, is that of the Bourbons and the Spanish army. Three hundred years ago, Felipe V, the first of the Bourbons, issued a decree as one of the series of Nueva Planta, aimed at dealing with what he saw as the sedition of the Catalans and their allies in the Crown of Aragon, of which Mallorca was one. On 28 November, 1715, this particular decree established the post of the Captain General, representative of the king, who enforced military rule of the island. Three hundred years later, resistance, such as it is, is to this very decree.

While the resistance was marching, the occupying force was holding a guard of honour. A Catalan press headline read: "The Spanish army occupies the centre of Palma and fills it with Spanish flags to celebrate the Nueva Planta decree." An accompanying photograph usefully revealed these flags that were lining the street of the Palau Reial, the palace itself being the current residence of the Council of Mallorca.

On the 300 years of occupation, 300 years of resistance Facebook page, there are posts that highlighted the guard of honour and also announced the march. It had 326 likes (as of Sunday) and had shown zero per cent upward like movement since last week. It also announced the commemorative act that was to follow the march. At 7pm on Saturday, they gathered at the headquarters of the Council. Among their number was its president, Miquel Ensenyat, who said that this was "a day of solemnity, which we remember and not celebrate".

The sponsors of the protest, organisations whose names appeared on the poster that is, included Arran, the left-wing Catalan independence youth movement, the successor to the Maulets, an organisation that tended to have more of a revolutionary fervour. Arran, as of two years ago, could count on no more than 700 or so members spread across Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearics.

The Catalonian drive towards independence has its historical roots in the same series of decrees that established the Captain General, but it is this history where similarity ends. Enthusiasm for independence in Catalonia is not matched in Mallorca. Here, it barely exists.

The protest march received little attention in the media. The commemorative act, on the other hand, received some. But then events involving presidents, be they the Council's or the regional government's, will tend to, regardless of the event. The guard of honour, meanwhile - a beefed-up changing of the guard of honour which takes place on the final Saturday of most months - merited some more attention. But not a great deal. The army might have been keen, but there appears not to have been general enthusiasm. On balance, it was perhaps wise to let the occasion pass without too much fuss. There were around 300 people; more than took part in the protest.

In a way, such an important date in the island's history deserved far greater coverage. But while there have been any number of events at local town and village level which have considered what happened three hundred years ago, 28 November, 1715 has been allowed to come and go with barely a murmur: they were far more concerned about the last bargains for Black Friday in Palma. Ensenyat was right in suggesting that there wasn't anything to celebrate, and this could be said for both "sides", such as they are. If you are representatives of the state, then you are hardly going to want to go around appearing triumphalist for something which occurred three hundred years ago. Mark the anniversary, let a band play here or there, and leave it at that.

That Saturday marked a 300th anniversary should say a lot. It was a long time ago. As such, its relevance is mostly as a matter of historical record. There are those who would wish to make more of it, those who continue the resistance and the fight. Their numbers, though, are minimal. History is not forgotten, it may not be totally forgiven, but this is not 1715.

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