Thursday, September 22, 2016

What's In A Community?

"Comunidad" or "comunitat", if this is your co-official language preference, has the same meaning as the English "community". The words have each followed the same linguistic path from Latin "communitas" with divergences such as the Old French "comuneté". In terms of human society, it is one of the most powerful words and concepts to have come from Latin. It is the sharing of something in common - a place, a belief, a value, an identity, a government.

When Spain moved into its democratic, post-Franco era, it placed community at the centre of this democratic renewal. Regions, such as the Balearics, officially became communities. In English, because it aids better understanding, it is convenient to refer to the Balearics as a region. A community, in wider social terms, is more understandable in being applied, say, to the British or German communities in Mallorca or to all sorts of other communities. They are on the internet, there is a farming or banking community, a gay community.

All of them are defined by having something in common, as is a political community. But English can stumble somewhat in acknowledging community as an actual political entity. Hence, why region is a convenience. Not, however, that it is inaccurate. The Balearics is still a region, just as Catalonia or Andalusia are. But they are more than this. They are communities. Their official political denomination is "comunidad autónoma" - autonomous community - and their constitutions are enshrined in their statutes of autonomy.

The Balearic parliament has been engaged in a debate into the "state of the community". Linguistically, a trick might be said to be being played here. State has its dual meanings of condition and "nation". A debate into the state of the nation that is the community, that of the Balearics.

To what extent is there a Balearic community? Is the term a form of artifice, a kind of deception to portray the sharing of things in common? A political expedient, therefore, to engineer a sense of common identity? There is undoubtedly greater power in conveying cohesion through community, a greater sense of purpose than merely being an anonymous, if autonomous, "region". But how real is it?

Historically, if one goes back far enough, there was no community. Primitive societies would not necessarily have allowed it anyway, but in the Balearic archipelago there was separate development and evolution. Ibiza entered the Classical World far earlier than either Mallorca or Menorca. Its Carthage association saw to that. Much later, Ibiza was to express its separateness through the identity of architecture, transported to Mallorca only by degree, such as to Cala d'Or.

At the time of the Catalan conquest, Ibiza and Formentera submitted to the Catalan aristocracy in the form of the Bishop of Tarragona six years after the assault on Mallorca by Jaume I. Menorca and its Muslim community accepted the sovereignty of Aragonese nobles two years after the Mallorca takeover. The island wasn't to definitively be "Catalanised" for a further fifty or more years. The events that created a Catalan society in the Balearics are revered mostly in Mallorca. 1229 and all that do not carry the same weight elsewhere.

In far more contemporary times, Menorca held out as a Republican stronghold during the Civil War. In the years immediately before the war, Ibiza and Menorca had great reservations about tentative moves to establish autonomous government for the Balearics during the time of the Second Republic. Both feared that it was a move to give Mallorca dominance.

When mass tourism arrived, the mass mostly descended on Mallorca. Balearisation, the development of the coasts, was predominantly a Mallorcan phenomenon. The magnet for tourism society was Mallorca. It became a global byword in ways that neither Ibiza nor Menorca did. Ibiza experienced its own curious evolution, that of hippy colonies.

While there are common linguistic connections, there are also differences. These are most evident in Menorca, the legacy of British and French influences. Likewise, these occupiers bequeathed architectural styles, at variance with those, say, of Ibiza.

The president of the Council of Mallorca, Miquel Ensenyat, speaking on the occasion of Mallorca Day, referred to the original institutions of autonomy - the islands' councils (with the exception of Formentera, which wasn't to get one until much later). These councils came before the formation of the autonomous community and so the founding of regional government. Ensenyat stressed the importance of the councils in responding to the idiosyncratic needs of the islands.

With that one word, idiosyncratic, Ensenyat spoke volumes. Something peculiar to the individual islands. Specific differences, be they cultural, economic or political.

When surveys are undertaken of identity, they reveal overwhelming identity with the specific islands rather than with the Balearics: this sense of belonging is greater away from Mallorca. So is there genuinely a "community"? Maybe Nel Marti (Més per Menorca) summed it up during parliament's debate: the complete absence of mention of "his" island.

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