Monday, April 15, 2013

300 Years Of Memory: Regionalism and Republicanism

There have been two anniversaries over the past few days, one of them a commemoration of an act 300 years ago, the other rather nearer to the present day, but both of them have significance for present-day Spain and can, in certain respects, be linked.

On 11 April 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht was signed. It brought to an end the War of the Spanish Succession and, while the treaty in theory created a unified Spanish state, it in fact laid the foundations for many of the problems that the Spanish state has endured ever since and still does. Under the treaty, the grandson of Louis XIV of France, Philip, the Duke of Anjou, was recognised as the King of Spain. He became King Philip V, the first Bourbon king and so the creator of the ancestral line to the current king, and it was he who was responsible for the so-called Nuevas Plantas, the decrees by which the old charters, institutions and privileges enjoyed by Catalan-speaking territories were removed.

One of the institutions that was done away with was one that had in effect been in abeyance since before the end of the fourteenth century, namely the Kingdom of Mallorca. This had come under the Crown of Aragon, and it was this "crown" which comprised various Catalan-speaking areas - Aragon itself, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and, most importantly of all, Catalonia. One says most importantly of all, because this is how it has turned out. The suppression of Catalonia's rights and privileges by Philip V lies at the heart of current Catalonian claims for independence. All the Aragon crown lands came under the rule of laws from Castile, and these laws included those to do with the use of language (Castellano and not Catalan). They were issued as retribution for Catalan opposition to Philip during the War. The Treaty of Utrecht explains a great deal about present-day tensions.

It also explains tensions on an international level. One at any rate. Under the treaty Gibraltar was ceded to Britain. Gibraltar's strategic importance (far greater than that of Menorca, which was also ceded to the British) explains why the Spanish have always wanted it back. It had been captured by a combined British and Dutch force in 1704. Utrecht defined it as British and as a British possession in perpetuity.

The more recent of the two anniversaries occurred on 14 April. This marked 82 years since the formation of the Second Republic when another Bourbon king, Alfonso XIII, was forced into exile. The Republic was to end in total disaster. It failed for all sorts of reasons, not least because it became the context for factional violence led by anarchists and communists. Yet, had it not become a potential puppet for the Soviet Union, had it not been the pretext for Franco's uprising, where might Spain be now?

It wouldn't be a monarchy, that's for sure. But it would have had many more years of settled democracy. The Republic favoured freedom of speech, ruined under Franco. It favoured freedom of association, which arguably meant that unionism, once democracy was re-established, was to be more fervent than it might otherwise have been and which arguably has also meant that political parties suffer from a certain immaturity that they might not have, had they been allowed to flourish from the 1930s. It also favoured regional autonomy, which was not to become a reality for almost fifty years. And this of course is the main link with Philip V and the Treaty of Utrecht.

82 years do not mark a notable anniversary, but in recent years the remembrance of 14 April has grown stronger across Spain and Mallorca; Pollensa is one of the towns on the island with the strongest Republican sentiment. And various events of very much more recent history have done little to douse the revival of Republicanism.

A year or so ago I would have said that the monarchy was still very much the glue that held Spain together and that Republicanism was just an old ideal of a minority on the left. A lot has happened over the past year, though, to make me wonder. The Catalans seem determined to press ahead with their referendum, one that, were independence to be claimed, would rip up the provisions made by the original Bourbon king. And the current king has his well-publicised problems, those largely not of his making but of his son-in-law.

In Spain you can never forget certain anniversaries. They are ingrained in the national psyche. And while they remain so ingrained, they can always be more than just remembered.

Any comments to please.

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