Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Symbol Of Moderation: Catalan flag

The controversial law of symbols comes into operation on 20 January. If you need reminding, the principal reason for this law being implemented in the Balearics is to put an end to the display of the Catalan flag (the "senyera") on public buildings, typically town halls and schools. It is a law, according to President Bauzá, that is "common sense" and one which stops public buildings being used for ideological purposes. There are of course people who believe that it isn't common sense, that it is a form of censorship and is "typical of a repressive state".

This last bit, the repression, is the view of Silvia Cano, the general secretary of PSOE in the Balearics. PSOE, which nationally takes a pretty equivocal view of matters Catalan, is not normally to the fore in leading the defence forces of Catalan. It would, for example, prefer Catalonia to remain part of Spain. And indeed the Catalonian version of PSOE has said that there should be negotiations rather than the move towards independence and that the constant raking over the past does no one much good. A common-sense view perhaps, but of course not everyone agrees.

In the Balearics, things are seen rather differently. The law of symbols may well be a sledgehammer to crack a nut of alleged Catalan nationalism in the Balearics, but then the need for a sledgehammer has arisen because the nut has grown over the past year or so, fertiliser regularly having been supplied both by the dogmatic stance of the Bauzá government and by political groupings which have been only too happy to shovel ever more mucky stuff onto the nut of nationalism, seeing, as they do, the chance to oppose Bauzá and to grab at the populist opportunism that opposition to the law offers.

PSOE in the Balearics has never, in all truth, been that important a party when it comes to Catalan matters. It may have presided over administrations which have pushed for more Catalan dominance, but it has been coalitions partners which have done the pushing - the old Unió Mallorquina or the nationalist left of the PSM - while it shouldn't be forgotten that it was the Partido Popular (and its forerunner, the Alianza) which laid most of the groundwork for Catalan having become as dominant as it has: the old-school PP, that is, and not the current-day Bauzá version.

Thanks to the law of symbols, PSOE now finds itself with a golden opportunity to stake its claim as defender of Catalan and it is grabbing the opportunity with both hands, leading an opposition rebellion by calling on town hall mayors across the islands to defend freedom of expression and local symbols, i.e. the Catalan flag.

This rebellion has already started. Not surprisingly, Manacor was to the fore. PSOE representatives there only lent their support, as the motion to declare the Catalan flag an official symbol of the town had been driven by the PSM nationalists and Bauzá's one-time friend but now best enemy, mayor Antoni Pastor. Two other municipalities have done likewise - Costitx and Inca, the former with a mayor from what was the Unió Mallorquina and the latter with a PP mayor. PSOE, one gets the distinct impression, has been caught a bit on the hop by the centre-right having taken the initiative. Hence, it now seems to want to be seen to be leading the initiative, and four town halls it runs have indeed adopted the senyera.

Assuming that other town halls do follow the lead, and they are bound to, where does this leave the symbols law? Bauzá is quite clear that the towns will have to follow the letter of the law, but if town halls insist on making the flag their own official symbol, how can he impose the law? As there will be other PP mayors who, either against their wishes or because they actually believe in the flag being an official symbol, make similar declarations to those in Inca and Manacor, Bauzá runs an enormous risk if he now stamps down harder. There are mayors from his own his own party who are already fed up with him, and so if he insists on the letter of the law, the rebellion will not just be against the law banning the flag, it will be a rebellion against him.

Increasingly, one does have to wonder as to how well Bauzá's political antennae function, though he, quite legitimately, might wonder how tuned in members of his party were when the PP was being voted in. An anti-Catalanist agenda had been flagged up, so why should there now be this opposition from within his own party? Well, there is one good reason why, and that is that the law of symbols is an improvisation, as was the decree which cemented trilingualism into law. Members of his party may have misread Bauzá, but he has misread them as well, and now has this sledgehammer of a law to banish a symbol which, rather than being the flag of a largely non-existent Catalan nationalism is that of the moderate right. And also of, because it can't afford to be left out, PSOE as well.

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