Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Independence Of Anti-Tourism

It is perhaps easy to over-exaggerate the anti-tourism actions of Arran. Elements of the UK media - there's a surprise - have done so by their traditional resort to hyperbole. The Palma "attack" provided useful images to support the headlines. Without the flares and the smoke, those images would not have had the same impact. A great deal of "terror" can be spread with the odd flare.

Arran, it is understood, have some 500 members in total. Thirteen of these are said to be in Mallorca. Thirteen. Hardly what you would call, to borrow a current buzzword, "massification". The group denies that it is some sort of youth wing of the Candidatura de Unidad Popular (CUP), the far-left Catalonian political party. It is part of a broader left-wing independence movement. This hasn't stopped the CUP paying fines that Arran members have incurred.

Small the numbers are, but size doesn't matter if you get the publicity right: it's all about the flares. What must have narked Arran was the fact that it initially didn't get any. Despite José Hila having said that the town hall was unaware of what took place on 22 July, one finds that hard to believe. Whether it was aware or unaware, there was a gap of more than a week before the images of the flares flared up. Arran made sure of that.

The delay may have been strategic. The release of the images were on the back of news about incidents in Barcelona. For Arran, for the CUP and others within this independence movement, the Palma restaurant attack was evidence of fraternal and coordinated promotion of independence for the Catalan Lands. The flares of Palma extended a hand of warm greeting across the Mediterranean Sea to the brotherhood in Catalonia.

The anti-tourism protests cannot, therefore, be divorced from the politics of the radical, independence-agitating left-wing. Hila, and how some might now wish he was still mayor, has been the only politician from the left to recognise the Palma incident for what it was: an act of opportunism, the framework for which was the theme of the moment - tourism saturation. Hila, careful not to be seen to be critical of partners at the town hall, also said that there needed to be strong condemnatory statements. One took this as meaning that it wasn't for him, having recently relinquished the post as mayor, to issue such statements. Eventually, his successor, Antoni Noguera, said that 22 July was "reprehensible".

But Noguera and also the tourism minister Biel Barceló (both from the same party, Més) couched whatever condemnation they were willing to display with modification. Barceló shares concerns about saturation and massification, even if the type of protest is not the way to demonstrate these concerns.

Herein, however, lies much of the rub. The political narrative of saturation that has existed over the past couple of years in Palma and Barcelona has proved to be fertile ground for unrest. Arran have merely further politicised the already political. The tardiness of response to events in both cities speaks to political sympathy for the views if not the actions of the radical left. Barcelona's mayor, Ada Colau, eventually issued a condemnation. It appeared as though it almost had to be coaxed out of her.

Over the past twenty-four months or so since new, left-wing administrations emerged in Barcelona, in Palma and at the regional Balearic government, the narrative has advanced significantly. So also have the legislative tools for supporting this. It needs remembering that when Més came into government in 2015, the party was intent on reforming rentals' legislation that had made legal apartment holiday rentals impossible. Like PSOE, Més had been critical of the previous Partido Popular government because of its hostility towards apartment rentals and its unwillingness to countenance more liberal regulation. Més, in "anti" terms, had the hoteliers in their sights.

In Barcelona, the saturation theme pre-dated the elections. After the elections, though, issues in Barcelona transferred themselves to Palma and to Mallorca. Airbnb was top of the list. The narrative and the consequent legislation have therefore moved to a situation where housing, employment, the environment, the whole concept of sustainability, coexistence between tourist and resident have converged. The Balearic legislation wasn't initially going to be as complex or as restrictive as it has turned out to be. Barceló and others were caught out by Airbnb and the political arguments emanating from Barcelona.

To all this are now added the demands for independence plus a smattering of anarchy. In Catalonia these demands are real ones. In Mallorca they are a pipedream of some on the left. But this independence desire has ratcheted up the narrative surrounding tourism. It is this which Arran are tapping into. One can over-exaggerate what happened because of the lack of independence sentiment, but a tourismphobia, promoted however unwittingly by some of Mallorca's politicians, is less exaggerated. "We are all tourists," Barceló says in defence. Yes, and so also, strangely enough, do Arran.

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