Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Sahara In Mallorca

The Socialist Republic of Santa Margalida is a rare mass of leftism in the otherwise rarefied rightist atmosphere of Balearics Bauzáism. It is a shining light of right-on righteousness amidst the policy-lite indifference of thin regional government, one partially determined by Mr. Thin (aka Delgado); a beacon of social welfare that would glow in the night skies from the coastal obelisks of Can Picafort and Son Serra were the obelisks actually beacons, which they are not.

Santa Margalida isn't of course a republic, socialist or otherwise, but it does have a status, albeit one of a town with a town hall that stands obstinately apart from almost all other town halls on the island. Its isolation impels a sympathy for the dispossessed, the non-status and even the non-state. It reaches out across the sea to a different continent, to a land that the world has forgotten exists, to a would-be republic, the non-state of Western Sahara.

A former Spanish colony, Spain, for years under pressure from the UN to do so, abandoned Western Sahara in 1975. The consequence, one that remains unresolved, was confusion and disaster. Morocco to the north and Mauritania to its south and east went to war over this God-forsaken pile of desert. The two countries were engaged in conflict as well with the Polisario Front, the Sahrawi National Liberation Movement. It has long proclaimed there to be a Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and has been doing so from its base in Algeria. Mauritania has since ceased to press a claim on Western Sahara, but antagonisms exist between Morocco, which controls much of the country, and Algeria, which abuts on an eastern tip of Western Sahara, and the Sahrawi "government" in exile. A hoped-for referendum which might, once and for all, decide in favour of Moroccan claims over the country has failed to materialise.

Why Morocco would in fact want Western Sahara is anyone's guess. There may be oil off its coastline, but its exploitation is questioned. Otherwise, it has little or nothing going for it and is a massive drain on the Moroccan economy as it is. Desperately poor, riven by conflict, struck by atrocities and human rights abuses, it is an awful example of African tragedy.

Santa Margalida is a curious place. Once upon a time, it was the wealthiest town in Mallorca. It has an old status, that of a "vila" (or "villa"), one that was granted by the crown to legally chartered towns with their own rights. It doesn't mean anything nowadays, but Santa Margalida still boasts that it is the Vila of Mallorca, its residents "vilers". It has long, therefore, been different. Yet time has pushed it into the background, stripped it of a former status, glory and grandeur. Within its municipal limits, it has been superseded, in terms of recognition and awareness, by its principal resort, Can Picafort: what was once all but worthless coastal dunes and forest.

The town is archly traditional in a Mallorcan way. It boasts of having the most traditional and typical of all the summer fiestas - La Beata in September. It has, under the current town hall administration, revived an old harvest fair, one at which the "vilers" are expected to don traditional farming dress and then head to the fields and give crops a sound thrashing and machete-ing. Yet for all this tradition that borders on the stubbornly parochial, Santa Margalida embraces the unconventional. Perhaps because of embarrassment, it distances itself from its most famous son, Franco's banker, Joan March. Instead, it reveres Joan Mascaró i Fornés, one of Mallorca's foremost intellectuals, one who translated Hindu texts at Cambridge University and who could count George Harrison among associates drawn to the mysticism of India.

Which brings us to Western Sahara. On Friday, Santa Margalida will become a symbolic "vila" of the non-nation. The town hall has organised a day during which traditional music will be played and sweet tea, typical of the Sahara, will be served. It is all designed to raise awareness and specific awareness of the Sahrawi cause and of the exiled Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. On 26 February, it will be 37 years since the Polisario Front proclaimed its republic. A forgotten cause, a forgotten nation, the awareness-raising could only happen in Santa Margalida.

Of course, there could always be another motive, other than just awareness-raising. Mayor Miguel Cifre disagrees with President Bauzá on pretty much everything and is rarely slow to make a political statement of this disagreement. To which country did Bauzá go recently to try and drum up some potential trade for the Balearics? Morocco.

Any comments to please.

No comments: