Monday, February 24, 2014

Persona Non Grata: Persona nonsensical

Can you name any well-known people who were declared persona non grata? If not, then let me offer you a few (well, three anyway): Kurt Waldheim (allegations of Nazi war crimes and so given persona non grata status in the US among other countries); Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain (the Italians booted her out in 1942 because she had sympathies with the Allies); Jörg Haider (the Israelis declared him non grata for fairly obvious reasons).

Persona non grata is used in diplomatic circles. The Vienna Convention says that a state may "at any time and without having to explain its decision" declare a member of diplomatic staff persona non grata, a declaration that usually leads to expulsion from a country. Persona non grata, by definition (diplomatic definition at any rate), has to apply to someone from another country. It cannot apply to someone from one's own country. Except in Spain, or specifically the Balearics, where it does.

When countries engage in a spot of non-grata-ing, there is usually a tit-for-tat response. You make our chap persona non grata, we'll make your chap persona non grata. So there. The Balearic Parliament has managed to introduce the same principle, substituting left and right for country X and country Y. Even by its pretty low standards, the parliament has plumbed even greater depths of stupidity by entering into a tit-for-tat non-grata-ing carry-on.

The background is of course oil, the subject which dare not speak its name with any modicum of measured debate, and the last place you will get any measured debate is the parliamentary playground. David Abril is the leader of the merged Iniciativa d'Esquerres (initiative of the lefts) and Els Verds de Mallorca (greens). This merged entity forms part of the Més per Mallorca coalition. Eco-socalism is an ideology to which David is partial and as such you would imagine - and you would be right - that he isn't overly keen on oil companies drilling ruddy great holes in the seabed near to the Balearics. As part of the parliamentary debate (if one can call it that) about oil exploration, David called for national energy minister José Manuel Soria to be declared persona non grata.

Having done so, the tit-for-tat started, the Partido Popular's spokesperson, Mabel Cabrer, calling for not one, not two, but three politicians from the left to also be declared persona non grata. They were, in descending order of importance, former prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, former president of the Balearics, Francesc Antich, and ex-minister for the environment in the Balearics, Gabriel Vicens. Why was she picking on this triumvirate? Because it's all their fault, this oil malarkey. Nasty, horrid socialists that they are. Nothing to do with us in the PP or with nice Sr. Soria. And in fingering Vicens, Mabel struck a deep wound in David's eco-socialist heart, as Gabriel is of a similar bent and a member of the PSM Mallorcan socialists, one part of the Més fraternity.

What neither David nor Mabel was able to explain was quite how persona non grata status might work in practice, especially where Antich and Vicens are concerned. As they both live in Mallorca, would it be the intention to force them into exile to Benidorm or somewhere? But of course, silly me, persona non grata doesn't really mean what it normally means (at least I don't think it does). It is a yah-boo, sucks to you, we're going to ignore you type of persona non grata; a sending to Coventry persona non grata, always assuming that Coventry doesn't invoke the Vienna Convention.

In fact, the resort to the non-grata mechanism is pretty common; so common that it is utterly meaningless. Just as an example, President Bauzá and agriculture/environment/transport ministerial supremo Gabriel Company both copped for some non-grata-ing from the train platform in Mallorca's Llevant region last year. This wasn't an actual platform because there are no platforms and there are no trains, which was the whole point; a group (the platform) in favour of the train that will not run from Manacor to Artà wanted Bauzá and Company to be declared personas non gratas, which presumably meant that they would get a frosty reception were they to set foot in Son Servera, Sant Llorenç or Artà ever again.

The calls in parliament were, as with other similar demands for persona non grata, pretty puerile and they also obscured whatever sensible discussion there may have been on the oil business. But as we know, there is very little that is sensible, just name-calling and tit-for-tat posturing in what - the parliament - is supposed to be the islands' premier debating chamber. That it is not, and so lamentable is its attempts at debate that perhaps the whole lot of them should be declared persona non grata.

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