Thursday, September 25, 2014

A New Moors And Christians Battle?

It was a strange old day in the Congress of Deputies on Tuesday. The shameless Rajoy announced the withdrawal of the abortion law reform and the justice minister, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, architect of the reform, was left high and dry and so promptly resigned. If this was a matter of controversy and for dissent, there was a decision by Congress that wasn't. Unanimity prevailed. They all agreed. The fiestas of the Moors and Christians will be nominated for inclusion in the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Familiar as we are with the annual set-tos involving Moors and Christians in Mallorca - Pollensa, Sóller most notably - the mock battles and other forms of celebration of fights between forces of Christianity and Islam take place across Spain. There are reckoned to be some 400 towns and villages which indulge in a spot of Moor versus Christian, and the Spanish Government wants Unesco to recognise the whole lot of them.

The historical basis for the Pollensa and Sóller battles differs from many other Moors and Christians clashes. They are both of the sixteenth century and as such are removed by some three hundred years from epic battles that were part of the "Reconquista" and which, through their re-creation, are among the best known on the Spanish mainland, such as the Moors and Christians of Alcoy in Alicante when Saint George supposedly put in an appearance and scared off Moors who were engaged in a right old bundle with James I of Aragon, famed of course for his conquest of Mallorca, something which Santa Ponsa's version of the Moors and Christians recognises.

Santa Ponsa is, therefore, from what one might describe as the classic era of Moors versus Christians warfare. Pollensa and Sóller are from a wholly different era. The Reconquista was over, and the Moorish incursions that they represent were of a time when the Ottomans were battling to dominate the Mediterranean. Dragut, he of Saracen piratical fame in Pollensa, was very much more than some opportunistic pirate. He was the supreme commander of the Ottoman navy. While the people of Pollensa proudly celebrate the victory of Joan Mas, it has to be said that events in Pollensa in 1550 barely register in the long list of very much more important battles in which Dragut was involved.

One snag with the proposal for Unesco recognition is, therefore, the fact that there is a lack of historical consistency as to the origins of the fiestas. Congress, though, is wrapping them all up together in arguing that they are a "playful tribute" to the different cultures which does not emphasise the victories of one side over the other. Congress also argues that the fiestas' tradition needs to be safeguarded, though given that the fiestas in Mallorca (as an example) have never been in ruder health, it is difficult to understand what they need to be safeguarded against, and the same applies to mainland fiestas like that of Alcoy, which was declared as being of international touristic interest by the Spanish Government as long ago as 1980. There are other fiestas which have been declared as being of international, national or provincial touristic interest.

Or does one detect in this a concern that political correctness might disrupt the fiestas' tradition? Perhaps so, but if there is any politically correct move to somehow do away with the Moors and Christians, it is keeping pretty quiet. Nonetheless, it might be noted that there are events which involve elements which would be considered offensive to Muslims, such as burning a stuffed image referred to as Mohammed and throwing it from castle battlements.

Congress insists that the fiestas are a deeply rooted tradition and that public awareness of them demands their safeguarding. This may indeed be the case, but Congress must also surely be aware that the Reconquista model of the fiestas, as opposed to the Ottoman model, resonates with the history of the Caliphate, albeit that the Caliphate had disintegrated well before, for example, Jaume I was assisted by Saint George. There are those, one fears, who would be bound to look to make political capital or more out of a Unesco recognition, despite Congress's legitimate belief that the fiestas are only playful tributes. Indeed, there may well be those who consider the very nomination provocative.

Unesco may, therefore, find itself in an awkward position. It is evenhanded in making its awards across all sorts of cultures, but this diversity might be deemed to be an obstacle in accepting the nomination for what, let's face it, does represent the triumph of one side over another. If it felt that it was in a dilemma, then there could be a way out. An award for a whole host of fiestas with their competing historical origins might be considered to be too broad. Tricky.

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