Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Absence Of Compromise

John Carlin is a writer and journalist. The son of a Scottish father and Spanish mother, he lives in Barcelona, has been a regular contributor to the newspaper "El País" for several years and, in 2011, had a book published that was entitled "Rafa, Mi Historia": the Rafa in question was Nadal. His specialisms are sport and politics, and he is often well worth reading for views on Spain which retain a degree of non-Spanish, i.e. British, perspective.

On the "El País" English web page, there is an article* by him which, though it oddly seems to have been translated for him, applies that perspective to the nature of compromise in Spanish politics: or rather, its absence. A key point he makes is that there is no actual word for compromise in the Spanish vocabulary. There is the word "compromiso", but this is what the language-training fraternity like to call a false friend. It can mean agreement but it doesn't have the nuance implicit to the English compromise. It is more often used to mean obligation or commitment, both of which have a greater sense of finality.

John says that the words - verb and noun - which come closest are "pactar" and "pacto": to pact or a pact. But even these lack the subtlety of compromise, and this becomes evident when considering dictionary definitions. They are essentially the same except for the Spanish "pact" meaning an agreement which both parties are mutually bound to observe, while compromise means agreement through making concessions: give and take, in other words.

He then goes on to consider how cultural development prevented compromise from becoming the concept that the British (and others) understand. He attributes this to the Catholic fundamentalism that endured from the time of the final end of Moorish occupation in 1492 until the Franco era. There were periodic political disruptions to this, such as with Ferdinand VII's abandonment of male succession (which sparked off the various Carlist Wars) and during the Second Republic. But once Franco was installed, the fundamentalism thrived once more, courtesy of the Falange, a complicit church and Opus Dei, founded in Spain in 1928.

The point he makes, therefore, is that culturally Spain failed to discover the ability to compromise. The prevailing mentality was one which left no room for manouevre. There was right and there was not right. The Inquisition was key to this for centuries. It was a thought police in a way that the Falange was to become. And added to this was the Vatican. For as many centuries, it looked upon Spain as the true keeper of the faith, more so even than Italy, and this had a great deal to do with the "Catholic Kings" - Isabel and Ferdinand - who reigned when the Muslim occupation came to an end and who were (she more than he, or so it is reckoned) great supporters of the Inquisition.

The timeframe that John cites is important for another reason. Key moments in Spain's history started with 1492 (Columbus as well) and passed through the War of the Spanish Succession (with the consequent dismantling of the Crown of Aragon and the repression of the Catalans) to the quashed Liberal Constitution of 1812 (quashed by Ferdinand VII) to the humiliations of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines at the end of the nineteenth century and finally to Franco. Through all this time, authoritarianism, absolutism and militarism generally prevailed: there was little room to brook arguments and so little by way of give and take.

All nations live their presents and futures through their pasts, but Spain does this more than most. The milestones of the centuries haunt the country, and there are constant reminders of them. And allied to the history is the thinking: there is one way and not another.

Recently, I compared German consensus politics with the desires, so often expressed, by current Spanish and Mallorcan politicians for consensus. I concluded that article by suggesting that talk of consensus was cheap. There may be honourable attempts at breaking the mentality of the past, but consensus comes with its inherent compromise. The German model is one by which politically it is accepted that there are boundaries that will not be crossed in breaking down the philosophy of consensus. In Spain at present, efforts at consensus are driven by motives of political power, and sharing power doesn't mean the same thing as compromise. The pacts are, because of the dictionary definition, agreements that are mutually binding. Until, that is, someone breaks them. Or until one of the ideologies contained within the pacts comes to dominate and is allowed to dominate by others who are desperate to have power, yet shroud this in talk of what the citizens have demanded.

John Carlin believes that Spain's politicians would benefit from learning the meaning of compromise. The question is: Can they?


No comments: