Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Sancho's Succession: The Council

Before the Council of Mallorca was the Provincial Deputation and before the Provincial Deputation was the Grand and General Council. Local government has a long history. The Grand and General Council was established by Sanç I (Sancho I), the King of Mallorca, in 1315. Prior to this, there wasn't, post-Catalan invasion, a unitary authority for the island, unless one counts the king. There was instead an advisory council of "jurors", whose remit went little further than what was then the Ciutat de Mallorca, aka Palma.

The Grand and General Council survived for four centuries. The fallout from the War of the Spanish Succession put paid to it. The establishment of the Bourbon dynasty, the main result of the war, led to the repression of Catalan-speaking lands, the dismantling of the Crown of Aragon and also of its institutions - the Council was one of them.

It was to be almost one hundred years before there was again a unitary body. This was the Diputación Provincial de Baleares, the Provincial Deputation. It came about as a consequence of the Liberal Constitution of 1812. Theoretically, this swept away the "ancien régime" as it applied to Spain and in a similar style to the French Revolution. One says theoretically because the practice was to prove to be very different. The absolutist Ferdinand VII sold out the liberals who had supported his restoration and the defeat of Bonaparte, and the resultant mess was to be the clashes that marked much of the rest of the century.

The Provincial Deputation did, nevertheless, remain intact despite all the constant upheaval. In a way its creation might have seemed illiberal in that it was part of a centralist state system. But it was categorised, along with other deputations in Spain, as one of the "liberal deputations", an institution for a brand of political thinking that was to only periodically actually dominate.

The deputation was subject to the whims of the constant chaos that characterised Spain. It also struggled because of the absence of genuinely democratic structures. Nevertheless, it was to play an important role in, for instance, promoting the independence of the municipalities and to advance the likes of urban and educational policies. For a brief time, circa 1873, it looked as though it might disappear under the draft constitution drawn up by the First Republic. There was a charter for a federal state, and the Balearics was to have been a state within a state. The coup which saw the restoration of the Bourbons put paid to any such notion, and so the centralist system of government was maintained.

Invariably short of cash, there was a movement in 1916 towards decentralisation and autonomy for the Balearics, with the deputation driving the idea forward. That didn't get very far either, not least because the all-powerful interests of Joan March made sure that it didn't. When the first dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera, came to power in 1923, the deputation was dissolved and then re-created with hand-picked appointees. Under Franco, it was moribund for some years not because it ceased to be but because the bureaucracy was so great that nothing could get done.

In the immediate aftermath of Franco's death, the deputation clung desperately to Francoist ways, such as by refusing to allow Catalan to be used. In 1979, it finally disappeared.

The Council of Mallorca is really the successor to the original Grand and General Council. It may occupy the building that the Provincial Deputation had, but in spirit it owes more to what was dismantled in the early eighteenth century. The spirit, however, doesn't come into play when it comes to how to revoke a distinction given to Franco by the Provincial Deputation. In 1955, Franco was awarded the gold and diamond medal. Politicians of today, especially Més, want this taken away. The problem is, though, being able to determine the line of succession of institutions.

The deputation was initially replaced by the Consell General Interinsular, the inter-island general council. The individual island councils were to then appear, as did the regional government in 1983. This inter-island council is part of the problem in trying to determine whether or not the Council of Mallorca and the other island councils are the true heirs of the Provincial Deputation. If the Council of Mallorca isn't one, then it cannot by itself revoke the Franco award.

The solution would appear to be for the four island councils to all agree to remove the award, which one would think should be a simple enough procedure. There are those who argue that the issue is ludicrous. The Council of Mallorca is quite obviously the (or a) successor, given that it owns buildings of the old deputation.

They'll doubtless get round to it eventually. Sanç I, all those years ago, couldn't have known what his legacy would be.

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