Friday, November 30, 2012

Catalan Election Results

After two weeks of campaigning, last Sunday the Catalans went to vote.  The result wasn’t what anyone expected it would be, and now the Socialists are explaining how their loss of seats is really a win because they didn’t lose as many seats as the predictions said they would, or how CIU, going from 62 to 50 seats, really lost.  They did lose seats, but by coming in first and ending up with twice as many seats as the next largest contingent, they didn’t exactly lose the election.

The results came out thus:
CIU, 50 seats
ERC, 21 seats
CUP, 3 seats
ICV, 13 seats

Not clear on their position:
PSC, 20 seats

Against referendum:
PP, 19 seats
C’s, 9 seats

Adding it up, you get 87 of 135 seats in favor of a referendum.  That’s 64% of the parliament and an absolute majority.  If the parties were to actually vote for or against independence, you would have CIU, ERC, and CUP voting for, ICV has not taken a position, and the last three, PSC, PP, and C’s would vote no (although there could be several renegade representatives from PSC who would also vote yes).  In any case, taking the party line 74 of 135 would vote yes, making it 54%, enough for a declaration of independence by parliament.

The reporters tell us what happened, what the results are.  It’s the job of the pundits to tell us why.  Some of them are more interesting to listen to and make more sense than others, but, for the most part, they don’t seem to really know.  It’s a lot easier to count numbers than to know and understand people’s motives.

Speaking of numbers, even as late as yesterday, the Vice President of Spain said to the press that because CIU lost 12 seats in the Catalan Parliament, clearly, the move for a referendum and independence lost.  Surely it isn’t possible that the Vice President of Spain doesn’t know that ERC, a political party that has been around since before she was even born, is first a foremost a Catalan nationalist party in favor of independence.  So, assuming that someone in such a high political position of power does, in fact, know, that leaves one with the disturbing thought that she is simply lying to the Spanish public, in the hope that someone out there believes her.  The other disturbing thought, is that she’s probably right in her hope.  Or possibly, that because of government cutbacks, she doesn’t have, as I do, a calculator to add up the numbers and figure out the percentages.  In fact, some the Madrid newspapers suffer from the same handicap as the Vice President.  If you lived in Spain you wouldn't know that pro-referendum and what’s more, pro-independence parties won the election unless you read Catalan newspapers, foreign newspapers, or read the Spanish papers but were able to add and divide.

I wouldn’t normally vote for CIU, but this time I hoped Artur Mas would win.  I believe he is totally committed to holding the referendum and gaining independence.  I also found him to be the most practical and the most diplomatic, and for this endeavor, both are necessary.

Since the election I’ve been worried about whether Mas (CIU, and President of the Generalitat) and Junqueras (ERC and head of the opposition) will be able to work together.  If they don’t, independence won’t happen.  CIU is right wing and ERC is left.  As things progress, it begins to look like both are willing to make some compromises.  If they do, this will be the best possible scenario.  Because with the two sides, left and right, working together, more people will be brought into the independence movement and it will strengthen the movement’s image internationally.  If the right and the left both back independence, that shows that a broad segment of the Catalan population supports it.  So if they work together there should be a referendum to vote on in 2013.  I do believe I am witnessing the birth of a nation.   
Photos courtesy of Trini Gonzalez

Friday, November 23, 2012

Spanish Nightmares

Catalunya is having its parliamentary elections this Sunday, the beginning of what will probably be the road to independence. The Government in Madrid is doing everything it can to derail these elections. So many lies have been told that it’s hard to remember them all.  If I had known how this was going to play out, I would have kept notes.  But one very notable lie was published last Friday by the newspaper El Mundo.  This is a supposed draft of a police report that accused the incumbent President Artur Mas, a supporter of independence who is running for reelection, of having illegal bank accounts in Switzerland.

It turns out that this draft report has never been shown to anyone and no one knows who wrote it. In Spain, police can investigate on a tip or a lead, but if it looks like there is cause to open an investigation, they must bring their evidence and ideas to a judge to authorize an investigation (if you read foreign crime novels, you’ll find the same process in Simenon’s Inspector Maigret books and Camalleri’s Inspector Montalbano).  The judge is also the one who authorizes any information being given to the media.  This alleged report was never approved, much less seen by any judge.  So if there really is such a draft report, it was illegally leaked from the police to the media.

When asked by President Mas to clarify, the Minister of the Interior said that he could find no evidence of this report.

When asked by President Mas to investigate and/or clarify, Cristobal Montoro, the Minister of Hisenda (Internal Revenue Service) said that it not for him to clarify. It was up to Artur Mas to explain about these illegal accounts.

Political campaigns in Spain run for only two weeks (and amazingly, people say they get tired of the campaigning before it’s over!) and this stink bomb was dropped right in the middle of that period.  Artur Mas has denied having any bank accounts in Switzerland, in spite of the fact that he has not been officially accused of anything.  Even so, day after day, the PP party says he must make a statement concerning those accounts.  It seems that in Spain, if you are anonymously accused, it is up to you to prove you are innocent.  This reminds me of Spain during the Inquisition, and yet it’s been 500 years.

This is what democracy is like in Spain. Referendums that allow people to vote on issues important to them are forbidden, and the accused has to explain himself, even if there is no evidence of a legal or official accusation. Spanish-style democracy is the stuff of nightmares.

This week another story hit the news, this one even stranger, although not quite the threat to democracy as the last.  Antonio Tejero is a former Colonel of the Guardia Civil. He’s a former colonel, because he was expelled from that paramilitary unit after his participation in the failed attempt to overthrow the new democratic government in Spain on 23 February 1981, a few years after Franco’s death. 

Two days ago, this same former colonel filed an accusation with the Prosecutor General of Spain against Artur Mas (who he referred to as Arturo Mas, ignoring the President’s actual name – I guess he doesn’t like Catalan names), accusing him of provocation, conspiracy, and proposing sedition.  I was thinking that perhaps Mr. Anthony Tejero might want to supply comedy shows like Saturday Night Live (is that still on the air?) with material for their skits.

The Catalan parliamentary elections will be held this Sunday.  I can only imagine that if Catalans get fed up with campaigns after less than two weeks, they also get fed up with the antics of the Spanish government.  We’ll see.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Jewish in Girona

My yearly quest to find Chanuka candles is once again in motion here in Spain.  This is not like California where any supermarket will have them, sitting on the Kosher foods shelf next to the gefilte fish.  There are two places I know of that sell them in Barcelona (thanks Jaume for telling me about the second one, which is much more central than my original source).  But Barcelona is two hours away by train, I was there recently, and I’m not in the mood to travel there again so soon.

Girona, being only about 30 minutes away by train, seemed like a better possibility.  In medieval times, Girona’s Jewish community was an important center of Jewish mysticism.  I know that was a long time ago, and even though candles keep, I didn’t have medieval Chanuka candles in mind.

Girona has a Jewish Museum in the middle of the historic district.  This is what was, in the middle ages and before the Expulsion, the Jewish Ghetto, the area just bordering the Cathedral.  There is a museum and nearby shop that I remember from my visit there more than 12 years ago.  Surely the shop, that had lots of menorahs and chanukiot, would have the candles for them.  And while I was there I could visit the museum again.  I hardly remember it, except for the pretty patio and the feeling of being in a space rich with personal meaning.

The entrance to the museum didn’t look how nor was it located where I remembered it.  When I entered, the spacious reception area was empty except for the two young women sitting at the reception desk.  Neither looked up as I approached, although neither looked particular engrossed in anything either.  So I said “Bon Dia” and that caused one of them to raise her head. 

When I had visited before, it wasn’t called a Jewish Museum, it was the Center Bonastuc Ça Porta.  Bonastuc Ça Porta is one name used to refer to the famous rabbi, philosopher, and cabbalist of Girona, Moisès ben Nahman, also known as Nachmanides.  I asked if this was the museum where the house of the famous rabbi used to be.  Apparently I had that all wrong.  This was the Jewish Museum, the young lady informed me.  It’s not a house, it’s a museum.  It seemed she didn’t suffer fools.

Numbering 300 at its peak, Girona wasn’t the largest Jewish community in Catalunya (it was Catalunya then, not Spain), Barcelona was bigger.  However, because of its rabbi, Moisès ben Nahman, who was such a significant figure in the world of Cabbala, Girona was in fact more important in the Jewish world than Barcelona.

Later, back at home, I found that the museum is located in the area where the synagogue and its related buildings used to be.  Maybe the famous rabbi, Moisès ben Nahman lived in one of those?  All I remembered was a patio with a Star of David.  I remember entering into the complex and seeing that patio.  I believe that now it is incorporated somewhere into the museum complex.

Clearly this woman was not interested in welcoming me into whatever there was on offer, rabbi’s house or not.  So I asked where the shop was and headed in there hoping to find more tolerance and, more importantly, candles.

The shop looked just as I remembered it, although the other time I had entered directly from the street.  It has a dark, old fashioned bookshop feel, overflowing with books, and other curiosities, among them, many menorahs and chanukiot.  I asked the man if he had any candles for the chanukiot.  No, he didn’t.  I asked if he could direct me to where I might buy some.  No, he had no idea.  Probably nowhere in Girona, he told me.  I don’t think it ever occurred to him that those decorations he was selling have a use and he clearly had no interest in what someone might do with the candelabras if they bought one. 

At that point, I felt disgusted with this Jewish Museum that doesn’t welcome visitors and the Jewish Shop that doesn’t stock candles for the Chanukiot it sells.  It was time to move on.

So instead of exploring the Jewish history of Girona, I went instead to the CaixaForum, a public exhibition space owned and run by my bank.  Currently on show were mostly 19th century landscape paintings by a few Catalan painters and some of their French contemporaries, painters such as Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, and Gauguin.  The receptionist was pleasant, the exhibit was beautiful, the bathrooms worked, and the whole thing was free.  I also spent some time just walking around this lovely city.  I’ll go to the Jewish museum another time.
Christ under plexiglass
Catalan Independence flags everywhere

Sweets shop


A walk along the river

No smoking inside the restaurant

Friday, November 9, 2012

Harry Potter Terrorist

The election campaign here just started.  These are snap Catalan Parliamentary elections that were recently called, as the first step to holding a referendum in Catalunya on the issue of independence.

I don’t know the budget but, as always in Spain, it will be small.  Politicians are always making speeches and attending to their public image and that of their political party.  But hard core campaigning, putting up posters and broadcasting political campaign messages are allowed for only 15 days.  This campaign began last night at midnight and will end at midnight the 23rd of November.  Saturday there will be no campaigning: The day before an election is a day of contemplation.  Sunday 25 November people will go out and vote.

It just so happens that today is the premiere of a new Catalan movie.  It is called Fènix 11-23 and tells the true story of Eric Bertran, a Catalan boy who, in 2004, at the age of 14, was accused by Spanish authorities of computerized terrorism.

Eric, at that time, had two interests: Harry Potter and saving the Catalan language.  Catalunya has two official languages, Castilian (Spanish), and Catalan.  Whereas Catalan is the native language, because of high immigration to the area from other parts of Spain (and Latin America), the dominance of Castilian in the popular media, and repeated interference on the part of the Spanish government to decrease the teaching and use of Catalan, many people feel that Catalan is being threatened.

In Catalunya, shops are required to post all printed information in both languages.  But many don’t.  Some don’t because they are run by immigrants who never bothered to learn Catalan, some don’t because they feel they are in Spain and shouldn’t have to, and others just don’t.  Evidently, none of these businesses are the least bit concerned about my patronage.  I make it a point not to shop where Catalan is ignored.  I prefer to spend my money where the local language is valued (and where the ordinance is observed).

Being a Harry Potter fan, Eric had set up a website (Phoenix 11-23) for the purpose of promoting and defending the Catalan language.  And one day, in the name of Fènix 11-23, he sent an email to one of the big supermarket chains that did not fulfill the legal requirement of signage in Catalan.

This resulted in the arrival of 30 police from the national Guardia Civil Anti-Terrorist Brigade at his house.  They searched his family’s house, and later they arrested Eric and took him to Madrid for a court hearing.  There are Superior Court judges in Catalunya, so why they had to take him so far from home I don’t know.  But I can guess.

Eric explained the Harry Potter connection.  He also explained that there was no organization, he was the sole inventor of this website.  Nevertheless he was threatened with eight years in juvenile detention for his terrorist act.  In the end he was acquitted.  You can imagine the terror he and his family must have felt as this judicial farce unfolded.  But it wasn’t really a farce, was it, except that arresting a kid for a Harry Potter-inspired email seems farcical.  Seems to me it was really more like an act of governmental terrorism.

I think the timing for the release of this film is, if accidental, excellent.  And if it’s deliberate, that’s just as good.  Although I think most people caught up in the independence movement are mostly concerned about the bleak financial consequences of being part of Spain, I don’t think financial concerns are the only reason many Catalans want an independent country.  What happened to Eric Bertran is only one example of the oppression Catalunya and Catalans suffer under Spanish government.  It isn’t surprising if most of them have had enough.

The film is premiering today throughout Catalunya.  If it ever comes near you, you might want to see it.

I have no photos today, but there is an interesting video posted on the internet, done by an American who was visiting Barcelona this last 11 September and by chance got caught up in a march of 1.5 million Catalans on the streets of Barcelona.  He was a bit overwhelmed and very impressed.  You can view his video here.

Friday, November 2, 2012

All Saints in Girona

The Onyar River
As the Catalan movement towards independence gathers force, I am continually surprised at the Spanish conservatives and how busy they are trying to instill fear in the public and do anything they can to thwart such a move.  Lies, threats, and clumsy political manoeuvres by Madrid are daily news stories, but at some point you get tired of it all.  So, since Girona is an interesting city (said to be very Catalan) with a river flowing through it and an historic Jewish neighborhood, yesterday I boarded the train and headed there to see the sights.

Catalan independence
is in style in Girona
Following the signs towards the historic part of town, across the Onyar River, and following a stream of people who seemed headed in the same direction but who looked like they knew where they were going, I followed the stream.  Early on this took me onto a broad pedestrian-only street filled with smart shops (although it was a holiday so they were all closed).   I’ve been to Girona before but not since I lived in Barcelona, so it’s been some years.  I moved to this area last June.  Why did I wait so long to make this trip?  It’s only half an hour if you catch the express train and about 35 minutes if you take the local.

I chose yesterday to make the visit because it was All Saints, Girona was in the middle of their big festival, Sant Narcis, and yesterday in particular there was an antique/collectibles fair being held somewhere in the historic section of town.

Making lace
I hadn’t brought a map and didn’t need one.  Just following everyone else brought me to it.  It wasn’t just antiques.  It was a large fair of art, handcrafts, food, and antiques.  The fair started alongside the river and then was strewn along the narrow side streets of the old town.  It was quaint and scenic, but became more and more crowded as I went on until the point where you couldn’t say I was following the stream of people.  I no longer had a choice and was simply being carried along by what was no longer a stream but a very big, slow-moving river.

Having moved along for a while in this river, I had second thoughts.  But by that point, there was no clear way of touching shore and to go against the flow was impossible.  I was trapped in a kind of Ikea nightmare. 

When I finally got to the antiques, it was also the end of the river.  It was still packed, but now there were escape routes.  So I poked around a little, but there were so many people browsing that you could hardly see.  Anyway, by then I was so fed up with the whole thing, besides the fact that Spanish antiques are either very expensive or they aren’t antiques at all but junk, that I took the escape route now open to me.  It just so happened that I had time to make my way back to the station (by another route) and catch a train home where, instead of having lunch out as I had planned, I could heat up a frozen pizza and watch the mid-day news.  At this point, the annoying news seemed a better bet than the moving human river in Girona.
Some of the words were missing from this
old Catalan saying:
Eat well, shit strong, and don't
fear death!