Thursday, October 12, 2017

Flying Flags: National Day

Today, 12 October, is a national holiday. It is Spain's National Day, a celebration rooted, oddly enough, not in Spain but in Argentina. In 1913, there was the first Fiesta de la Raza - the festival of the race, the Spanish race. This fiesta grew out of what was already a celebration in Buenos Aires for Columbus. Today is symbolic in different ways - National Day, Columbus's discovery of an island that he thought must have been near China, the day of the Virgen del Pilar (Spain's female patron saint) and the day of the Guardia Civil. Given events in Catalonia, you couldn't conceive of a day that is more symbolic.

The old festival of the race became the Día de la Hispanidad - a global event in honour of Spanishness, with all its faded imperial glory. The 1913 fiesta was fifteen years after the terminal blows to Spanish imperialism that were inflicted by the Americans. The Caribbean and The Philippines would never be the same. One hundred and four years on from that first fiesta, it might be argued that this imperialism is once more faltering - Catalonia (some of it) wants away.

Amidst all the angst, posturing and navel-gazing surrounding Catalonia and its desire to leave the Spanish Empire, there is a subtext of a race nature. The Catalans, and it isn't the other way round, have been characterised by some commentators as racists. One should qualify this by saying that some Catalans have been characterised in this fashion, those who seemingly - so the argument goes - consider themselves superior to the Spanish. Racism and xenophobia have been allowed to consume the secessionist tendency: racism and xenophobia directed at an inferior race, the Spanish.

Where do such notions spring from? To an extent they are manifestations of a moral superiority founded on centuries of victimhood. Yet curiously, the same victimhood does not reveal itself in demands for independence in the likes of Aragon or the Balearics (despite what Més might think). If any region really has a claim, then it is Aragon, which did after all hold the crown of which Catalonia was once a part.

It also comes from perceptions of greater culture, greater sophistication, greater entrepreneurialism. Catalonia was fundamental to Spain's emergence as an economic power. It was not a region lumbered with idleness. It is not an Andalusia, with which there has long been an antagonism and one which, for a good period of the twentieth century, had strong racist connotations.

The Catalans, those who identify squarely with Catalonia as opposed to those who do not, are therefore a race apart: the un-Spanish Spanish. The Fiesta de la Raza is someone else's national day, someone else's race.

Yet really it's all about regional rivalries that extend way back when. History, to be honest, can at times get extraordinarily tiresome. But Catalonia and the Catalans aren't the only ones to perceive themselves as different. What is this Spanishness within Spain that is celebrated? Like other countries, it is a combination of old cultures, such as the Basques (who've been doing a reasonable job at keeping their heads down just lately) and the Galicians. Spain and Spanishness are thus historical accidents, conveniences, contrivances. But the same can be said for most countries.

While most of Spain will wave its flag today and line up against the treacherous Catalans, in the Balearics there is the mini-me of Catalonia. Independence-driven Catalans look upon the Balearics with a patronising and wonky Oriol Junqueras eye. The Balearics are good Catalans, when of course the great majority are no such thing. But the Balearics are cousins (inferior? cousins) for the fomenting. Division with Spain needs an outlet beyond the borders of Catalonia. The Balearics provide an outlet. Or at least a small minority might believe so.

There is of course division. We've witnessed it on the streets. On Saturday there was the unedifying but somewhat bizarre sight of a one-time Partido Popular president of the Balearics defending his stall with Mallorcan sovereignty literature. Cristòfol Soler is now a supporter of independence. The stall was attacked by Joan Font of Sa Fundació Jaume III: "We are Mallorcans, we are not Catalans." Mallorcans but also Spaniards.

Font has caused a bit of embarrassment for the university because he's a teacher there. The university wishes to declare its neutrality, which was why the dean of the philosophy and letters faculty, Miquel Deyá (a one-time director of universities for the PP), took down two independence flags, only to then be branded a fascist. Deyá was part of the education ministry when schools placed Catalan flags on buildings in defiance of José Ramón Bauzá. And now, Ciudadanos, whose leader has been willing Rajoy to adopt Article 155, are denouncing indoctrination of an independence nature in Balearic schools.

Division, but in truth only small. Which flags will fly in Mallorca today?

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