Monday, October 02, 2017

Catalonia: Spirit Of The Beehive

In July 1909 there was an uprising in Barcelona and other cities in Catalonia. Workers revolted against being called up as reservists for Spain's war in Morocco. This developed into a revolt against the military, against colonialism, against the church and against Spain. The Guardia Civil fired at demonstrators on Las Ramblas. The Spanish government declared a state of war. The army was sent in. Troops were moved from cities such as Valencia because the local soldiers refused to shoot at their own people. Up to 150 civilians were killed; there were eight army and police casualties. Five ringleaders were executed. There was widespread condemnation of events in Europe. The king, Alfonso XIII, stung by the foreign reaction, dismissed the prime minister, the Mallorcan, Antoni Maura. The whole episode lives in the memory as Tragic Week, Setmana Tràgica.

There are any number of historical examples which can be drawn on to explain the tragedy of Catalonia, a play of epic proportions that has been enacted over centuries, one without end, constantly repeating its plots, shifting in time and context. On Sunday, over 800 people were injured. There were at least no deaths. There will be no executions. King Felipe will not dismiss Mariano Rajoy. Contemporary times require contemporary outcomes, but contemporary times inspire even greater reaction. Gil Scott-Heron was not right: the revolution is televised. It is captured on phones. It is on social networks. The condemnation comes from societies who can witness for themselves. The mute words of Europe's politicians aren't needed, albeit that they should be. What occurred on Sunday was a tragic event for Catalonia, a tragic event for Spain.

Victor Erice's 1973 film The Spirit of the Beehive took as its symbolic theme the emotional disintegration of Spain during the Civil War. This symbolism was captured by one family's experiences. Families were split and divided. In the Franco years there was silence that repressed these emotions, prevented the experiences being reconciled. So much symbolism. Families in Catalonia divided. Catalonia divided. Spain divided. Emotions high as disintegration - that of Spain - is unveiled amidst scenes of police brutality, of the Mossos pitted against the forces of the state, reluctant to turn on their own people, of firefighters in cordons attacked by these same police.

Invoking legality and the Constitution no longer suffices. Deeds have been done. Blame can be attached and will be attached. In the recent past, had Mariano Rajoy acceded to Catalonia claims made by Artur Mas for greater autonomy, especially of a financial nature, Sunday would never have happened. Rajoy's unwillingness to show favouritism in the unending tragedy of Catalonia inspired Sunday. Mas was not a radical. He became so. He passed the baton to Carles Puigdemont, abetted by a more extreme left. I am reassured that my assessment is correct. A friend who has lived in Barcelona for almost forty years and who lectures on politics said in an email that had Mas received a "few more shekels", all of this could have been avoided. The economic affairs minister, Luis de Guindos, attempted to play the autonomy and financial cards. But it was too late.

It used to be all about autonomy. Independence wasn't, even ten years ago, something that Catalonia's people were agitating for. Support for it ran at about 12%. On Sunday there was 90% yes. The referendum was obviously a fiasco. It couldn't have been anything else, given the removal of ballot boxes, the suggestions of double voting, the fact of illegality. The result will of course be questioned, but the numbers are almost irrelevant. Puigdemont has a mandate.

How ever greater was this tragedy when one thinks back a few weeks. In the same city that had experienced terror and where there was - for some fleeting moments -a unity of Spain and Catalonia and of monarchy and republicanism, there were now the scenes of the Guardia Civil reminiscent of Tragic Week. What in God's name was Rajoy thinking? He has served up independence. He has aroused international sympathy. He should go. He has to go. He cannot be the one to attempt to plot the way from here. Felipe won't do it. Someone else must.

And what of Spain in the eyes of the world? That carefully crafted Marca España brand has been wounded along with the 800. Greater damage has been caused than that by terrorists. The brutality had echoes of 15-M and the evictions from the squares. The gag law was brought in to prevent repetition, but it was irrelevant. With or without that law (a Rajoy law), criticised for being inherently anti-democratic, what happened on Sunday would still have happened.

A Tragic Sunday, and now it is essential that sense prevails. If not, the spirit of the beehive will fester. It has been allowed to develop. For a few shekels more, it would not have done.


Son Fe Mick said...

Thanks for explaining some of the issues and background to yesterdays bizarre events in and around Barcelona. What was the government thinking by sending in ship loads of riot police. It seems that the majority of the worlds problems are caused by politicians.

andrew said...

Shocking and sickening stuff, Mick.