Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Oh Happy Day

Today was a very good day for two reasons.  The first was that last night the Futbol Club Barcelona played a match against their arch rival Real Madrid in what is called here a “classic” – the confrontation in the Spanish league between Spain’s two most important teams.  I don’t subscribe to the pay channel where you could watch the game and I was not disposed to go out at night, alone, to watch it in a bar, so it wasn’t until late this morning that I found out that Barça had won 5-0.  That is a thrilling result for any Barça fan, but even more so this year after some impolite bragging and put-downs on the part of Real Madrid’s trainer and their star player (who isn’t nearly as cute as they say.  Has anyone ever looked at Xavi Alonso?  Now there is cute) just before the game.  Every now and then justice prevails.

The second and more important reason for this being a good day for me personally is that I finally, after much money, effort, and disappointment, passed the exam for my Spanish driver’s license.  In fact, I learned about the result of last night’s Barça game from the examiner while I was driving around the streets of Tortosa, trying not to run anyone over.  Getting a license here is nothing at all like getting one in California, and in a subsequent post I will describe the process.  Suffice it to say that I consider it a big accomplishment and I am thus very relieved, a little bit proud, and very, very happy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Catalan Independence

A few days ago, my stepson Manuel Serge sent me this letter, assuming I had already seen it, but thinking I would want to read it if I had not.  I had not.  And I was very happy that he sent it because it expressed my own sentiments but did it much more knowledgeably and eloquently than I ever could.  Susan DiGiacomo is an American who has lived in Catalunya for many years.  An anthropologist, she teaches at the University Rovira i Virgili, which is walking distance from where I used to live in Tarragona.  Too bad we never met!  I wrote to ask her if she would agree to my posting her letter on my blog and she graciously said yes, so with no further ado, here it is.  If you had any doubts about the wisdom or necessity of Catalan independence from Spain, perhaps this letter will reassure you.  If you didn’t know it was even an issue, read and find out why it is.

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500-0004
United States of America
Dear President Obama:
I write to you not only in your capacity as president of the United States, but also in your capacity as a former professor of constitutional law. In The Audacity of Hope, you propose shifting the metaphor through which we understand democracy in order to see it “not as a house to be built, but as a conversation to be had.” What the American constitution does, therefore, is to “organize the way by which we argue about our future.” Importantly, “Implicit in its structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or ‘ism,’ any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single unalterable course…”.
I write to you, then, because in the country in which I live and work, what is happening is precisely this sort of attempt to end conversation by arguing that the house is already built, constitutionally, and that no further debate is even legitimate. In a formally democratic European state, a completely politicized constitutional court, four members of which – including the chief justice – have served for years on expired terms of office, has taken four years to produce a decision using the constitution as a weapon to crush the legitimate national aspirations of a people and to set absolute limits, once and for all, on the powers of home rule defined in that people’s statute of autonomy. The European state in question is Spain. The country in which I live and work is Catalonia. Its statute of autonomy was approved no fewer than three times: by the Catalan parliament, by the Spanish parliament, and by the Catalan people in a referendum. What is happening here, then, is an assault on democracy. In the United States, when the will of the people is not reflected in the constitution, the constitution has been amended, a total of 27 times since the year 1791. What the Spanish constitutional court has done is to consider the Spanish constitution of 1980 untouchable, engraved in stone, and their reading of it is so restrictive that the democratically expressed will of the Catalan people has no place in it.
What is Catalonia? You will remember something about it from your visit to Barcelona many years ago. Catalonia is an ancient European nation with an equally ancient tradition of representative government. The document on which this form of government is based predates the English Magna Carta, and only Iceland has an older parliament. In the Middle Ages Catalonia was an independent polity, and later the Catalan-Aragonese Confederation ruled a Mediterranean empire that extended as far as Greece. During the 15th century, the dynastic marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile integrated Catalonia into “the Spains”, as the composite kingdom was known. But Catalonia did not lose its institutions of self-government until 1714, by force of arms, at the end of the Spanish War of Succession, when an absolutist monarchy came to power. It did not get them back for another 200 years, with the arrival of the Second Spanish Republic, but lost them again at the end of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. Despite this history, Catalonia continued to remain linguistically, culturally, socially and economically distinct from the rest of the Spanish state. With the death of General Franco and his dictatorial regime in 1975, Catalonia began to recover once more its political institutions and the powers of home rule home abrogated by the victorious fascists, to reconstruct its national story in its own voice.
How and why does the decision of Spain’s constitutional court affect me, since I retain my American passport although I am a permanent resident who lives and works here? It affects me because I have known Catalonia for three decades, since I came here to do anthropological research at the end of the Franco dictatorship and the beginning of the transition to democracy, when it became apparent that the transition would have no legitimacy at all unless the political autonomy Catalonia enjoyed under the Second Republic were restored. Because I experienced, as an anthropologist, the cultural and political resistance to the Franco regime and the beginning of the process of national reconstruction in Catalonia during the transition to democracy. Because with the passage of time I have become a professor in a Catalan university, where I teach my classes in Catalan. I have, then, things at stake in Catalonia’s future. Many things, starting with the language in which I teach and write, which is recognized in the Catalan statute of autonomy as having preferential status in Catalan public institutions including schools and universities. This language, my second first language, is now threatened by the decision of the Spanish constitutional court.
On Saturday, July 10, 2010 more than a million Catalans (according to the Barcelona city police, 1,100,000; according to the organizers of the demonstration, a million and a half; the total population of Catalonia now stands at just over 7 million) filled the streets in the heart of Barcelona, the Catalan capital, to reject the court’s decision to eviscerate the Catalan statute of autonomy and make our voices heard: “We are a nation. We decide.” After years of indignities, the court’s decision was the last straw and increasing numbers of Catalans see no other path to national survival except through full sovereignty, a peaceful and negotiated separation from the Spanish state and the establishment of a new Catalan state within the framework of the European Union. Kosovo’s history is different from Catalonia’s, but there is nothing in international law that prevents the democratically elected representatives of a people from unilaterally declaring independence.
This past summer former president Jimmy Carter came to Barcelona to accept from the president of the Generalitat (the Catalan government) the Premi Internacional Catalunya, an international award in recognition of his work on behalf of human rights, democracy, and peace. His visit coincided closely with the announcement of the decision of the constitutional court. President Carter described this decision as an “error,” and offered to send international observers in the event of a referendum on Catalan independence. You should know that to date well over half a million Catalans have already voted for independence in nonbinding municipal referenda all over Catalonia. More such referenda are planned.
I am not asking you to intervene in this process. I ask only that you interest yourself in what is happening here, that you discuss it with your advisers, that you seek information, and that you begin to establish contacts with the Catalan government that will emerge from this fall’s election. If I can help you to do this, you need only ask. Catalonia badly needs international interlocutors and international visibility.
Respectfully yours,
Susan M. DiGiacomo, Ph.D.
Departament d’Antropologia, Filosofia i Treball Social
Universitat Rovira i Virgili

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Catalan Elections

Yesterday was the first day of campaigning for the Catalan parliamentary elections that will take place on 28 November.  This schedule allows 15 days of active campaigning; the 16th day is considered a day of contemplation and no political activities are allowed.  The next day (always a Sunday) the election is held.

This is how elections are handled in Spain, whether they are local, regional, or national.  Other countries may do the same, I don’t know.  Here, two weeks before an election, posters go up, visits are made, and speeches are given; each party gets some free air time during the two weeks; the last day no campaigning is allowed -- it is reserved for thinking it over, and then, finally, off to the polls.  How much money do you think the Spanish spend on their elections compared to Americans?

In order to facilitate the public getting to the polls and then watching the returns on TV, the big Barcelona-Madrid football (soccer) match, originally scheduled for what turned out to be election Sunday, has been rescheduled for the following Monday.  Not the most convenient day of the week for football but hey, elections are important.  Then again, football is important.  Were they were afraid of low public viewing of the game or low public viewing of the election returns?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Pope's Visit

Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did find Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Barcelona very moving.  After all, I’m not Catholic, not even Christian.  I’m Jewish but not religious.  I’m socially liberal, I believe gays should have all the same rights as anyone else, I do not think people should dictate to women whether or not they should (or can) have an abortion, I think we should all have the right to die when we feel the time has come, and I don’t like church being mixed with state affairs.

All of this makes me an unlikely person to be impressed or even interested in the Pope’s visit today.  But I was.  I was very interested and very moved.  Why?  Well, because I live in Spain where only 14.4% of Spaniards attend Mass regularly, but 73% of them define themselves as Catholic and to them the Pope is a very important person.  Also, I’ve been informed about the details of his visit all week when each day another street would be closed off, chairs set up in perfect rows by scores of volunteers, and this would be part of the day’s news.  Then there is the fact that his visit is important to Catalunya.  Today’s ceremony took place before a congregation of 6500 people including King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia of Spain.  Another 50,000 people followed the Mass outside with more than 300 priests there to offer Holy Communion.  His homily condemning gay marriage and the trend for society, this society, to become less religious was unfortunate although not unexpected.  Spain’s socialist government has enabled gay marriage, faster divorce, and easier access to abortion.  But that was not the main reason for his visit.  He came to consecrate Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia.  Begun in 1882 and not expected to be finished for another fifteen years, the Sagrada Familia is already an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Today’s consecration by the Pope lifted it from the status of a church to that of a basilica and, in my opinion, this is a good thing.

The Pope delivered part of his homily in Catalan, an important signal to the world that the Catalan language has merit and is important.  His visit provided the means by which people all over the world could see the interior of the church for the first time.  Antoni Gaudi was a very devout Catholic and spent the last fifteen years of his life devoted only to the building of this huge and unique church, living like a monk on the grounds.  He is buried in the crypt.  He is now going through the process (whether he knows it or not) of becoming a saint of the Catholic Church.  He, I have no doubt, would have been very pleased and honored by today’s visit.