Thursday, August 18, 2016

In Search Of Mallorcan Nationalism

Més are starting a great debate. Another great debate. Coming hard on the heels of the great debate on tourist numbers and the notion of sustainability comes one even closer to the hearts of Més: nationalism.

As observed with the tourist numbers debate, timing is everything. That one was launched a year to the day that the Balearics registered a combined population of more than two million for the first time. The timing for this second debate has a different context. There is little happening politically in the Balearics because of the holidays. In which case, why not fill the void with the opening exchanges of a great political debate?

One also suspects that the timing has everything to do with events towards the end of June. The general election took place getting on for two months ago. There will have been sufficient time to come up with a response and to start the process for the next election (not, with any luck, another general election but the regional election in 2019).

The June election was a chastening experience for Més. The party decided to form an electoral alliance with Podemos (and the far less relevant United Left). This was a fraught alliance. Podemos, the far stronger of the two in terms of votes at the December election, insisted on filling the top three positions on the "list". The anticipation was that the number of seats in Congress would increase from the Podemos two to three. Més, not represented in Congress, felt hard done by. In the end, Podemos relented. The Més man, Antoni Verger, could be number three (if only for two years out of the four of the legislature). It made no difference. They still only won two seats.

In theory the alliance made sense. Based on December's poll, there would have been a combined vote of over 150,000 (around 40,000 more than Podemos on its own had secured in December). It would have been sufficient to have guaranteed a third seat in Congress. The practice was different. The combined total rose by only 6,000. It was impossible to say where voter sympathies lay, but a crude conclusion was that Més had seen its almost 34,000 votes in December wiped away.

There was some justification in drawing this conclusion. A new grouping (SI) had been formed shortly before the election. Its key theme was sovereignty for the Balearics. With increased support for the animal-rights party (which is hard to distinguish from other left-wing groups), inroads were made into the Més vote. SI made much of the fact that had Més not made an alliance with Podemos, it would never have been formed. It objected to an ostensibly Mallorcan (Balearic) left-wing nationalist party sharing a platform with a party (Podemos) created from intellectual circles in Madrid. Its message unquestionably had an impact.

This is the background therefore to why Més are starting the nationalism debate. They badly need to regain some lost credibility.

The basis for this debate is a document entitled "A draft for country: National construction in the Balearic Islands" - the use of the word country (país) is instructive in this regard. A symposium, based on contributions, is due to be held some time next year.

The questions being addressed are fairly open. One asks what the role is of nationalist parties and what it should be. Others refer to associations with Catalonia and the "Catalan nation" and to the impact of globalisation and immigration on nationalist ambitions. A further one is perhaps the most revealing. "Have we idealised our history?"

One answer to this question would be that they most certainly have. It would be a response largely from the right-wing, though not exclusively. To give an example, there are elements within Podemos which are supportive of a Catalonian referendum on independence, but they support this not for nationalist reasons but because of a principle of self-determination. It is the latter which guides their thinking more than nationalism per se.

In a way, the debate that Més want might seem curious. Is it evidence of a party seeking justification, of a party wanting to find out what (and who) it represents? Is it looking for some reassurance after that election result, some confirmation that it speaks for a significant constituency in Mallorca and the Balearics? To come to the question about an "idealised history", does the narrative of victimisation at the hands of, for example, the Bourbons three hundred years ago really carry great weight with contemporary society?

There has been precious little evidence of any groundswell of agitation for greater sovereignty. There is plenty of evidence that points to support for regionalism, and this is a very different issue. It is one that promotes regional identity and regional interests and owes little to thoughts of nationalism. It is one which dominates Balearic political and societal philosophies.

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