Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Notorious Son Of Santa Margalida

There are few more fascinating individuals in Mallorca's history than Joan March. Arguably he is the most fascinating of all. Yet this fascination does not make him revered. Quite the contrary, he is mostly reviled.

The reasons for this dislike are well-known. He was associated with Franco. His fortune, certainly the roots of it from his young days, came from smuggling, while there is good evidence to indicate that he was still involved in smuggling quite some years after he had become a prominent businessman. Stories of intrigue and of doing away with people surround him, and there is also the question mark over his own death. Was the car crash an accident or not?

March was born in Santa Margalida. This association is something which the people of the town (most of them anyway) would rather didn't exist. It is an association, though, which has been given new life. Unknown to pretty much everyone in Santa Margalida, March had been named as an illustrious son of the town in 1956. This only came to light when a historian stumbled across the agreement drawn up by the town hall in that year quite by chance; the town's records are being digitised, and in the process the document was discovered.

One says that he was named as an illustrious son, but the document which did so was filed away and forgotten about. March was nominated with this title but it was never actually bestowed upon him. Despite this, the discovery that he was going to be named an illustrious son and the existence of the document which confirms this have caused a fuss in Santa Margalida.

The town hall's ruling administration comprises members of a local coalition - Suma pel Canvi - which is made up of independents and the PSOE socialist party and this in turn forms a coalition with the Convergència. The Suma people want the title to be withdrawn, the Convergència isn't so sure, while the opposition Partido Popular is keeping quiet on the subject.

The reason for Suma wanting the title withdrawn is March's Francoist background. Commonly referred to as Franco's banker, March, where Suma is concerned, was the man who financed Franco's coup and so also financed Nationalism and the repression of Republicanism.

This Francoist connection emphasises a point I made recently about the extent to which Franco still dominates Spanish life, and so March is a particularly sensitive subject for Mallorcans and not just Mallorcans from Santa Margalida. But is Suma making something of a March and Francoist mountain out of the molehill of a document everyone had forgotten existed? It isn't as if March was actually ever made an illustrious son, and the reason why he wasn't is perhaps more interesting and revealing than the document itself.

It would appear that this honorary title was a form of cash for honours arrangement. At the time, back in 1956, Santa Margalida town hall, strapped for cash, needed some financial help to build a new town hall. Who did it think of as a potential benefactor? Someone who was a financier and who would do nicely as an illustrious son. March, however, was not inclined to help with the financing. He claimed to have had his own financial problems at the time as well. The request refused, the town hall representatives thought better of awarding him the title but rather than just withdrawing it, the relevant document was filed, perhaps to be revived at some future date.

The desire for the current-day administration to have the honour withdrawn doesn't make total sense, as March never actually received it. Indeed, as the town hall's predecessors some fifty-odd years ago had effectively attempted to bribe March (itself ironic as March wasn't exactly unacquainted with such a method), the current-day guardians of the town might feel rather embarrassed to admit to the attempted bribe.

It is understandable, given the Franco connection, that the Suma should wish to formally strip March of the title, but - and by no means wishing to sound like an apologist for March - one does have to wonder if the contemporary narrative as it is applied to him has airbrushed out less negative factors. He is a fascinating individual for many reasons. He was clearly a very powerful man, but to what extent might it be said that he was instrumental in the general development and well-being of Mallorca? He was, among other things, involved in shipping and the early electricity industry. He also founded the Banca March, and it was the existence of an established banking system in Mallorca that was a factor in facilitating the eventual boom in tourism.

Notorious son of Santa Margalida would probably be a more apt title, but it is notoriety that needs some nuance.

* The photo, pretty obviously, is from the cover of the book by Pere Ferrer about the most mysterious man in the world. Ferrer is not the historian mentioned in the article.

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