Tuesday, December 30, 2014

La Grossa, The Catalan Lottery

La Grossa de Cap d’Any is Catalunya’s New Year’s answer to the Spanish national Christmas lottery El Gordo.  It was dreamed up last year by the Generalitat, Catalunya’s regional government, as one of many measures to try and fix the lousy budget Catalunya receives from Spain.

Catalunya generates 20% of Spain’s economic activity, it contributes 25% of Spain’s tax revenue, and next year it will get back 9% of Spain’s spending (this year it was 11%).  The Generalitat tried to impose a 1-euro per prescription co-pay within its national health care coverage, as well as a tax on bank deposits, and both were struck down by the Spanish government (always trying to find a way to help the Catalans).  So it decided to do a lottery, which turned out to be more popular than taxes anyway.

La Grossa is a cap gross, one of the big heads that, together with giants, are a tradition in the local festivals. 

Artur Mas, President of the Generalitat
with La Grossa

La Grossa does a walkabout

La Grossa by the beach

This year La Grossa was joined by a very special dignitary.  Earlier in the year, Queen Elizabeth II came over to join her in helping to publicize the lottery.  They make a fine pair, don’t you think?  

Her Highness and La Grossa

Her Highness calls La Grossa Mrs. Grossa
La Grossa never utters a word
(and never wears a hat)

But the real question is, will I win this year?  Last year I bought four tickets for me and two as gifts and none of them won anything.  

This year I’ve bought tickets again. 

It’s good to have hope, and the money goes to a good cause – social programs in Catalunya -- where I live.  The lottery will be held tomorrow.  Wish me luck!

All images were taken from internet media sources

Friday, December 5, 2014

United Together or United Apart?

Last week Artur Mas, President of the Generalitat of Catalunya, gave a speech in which he laid out his plan for holding a referendum that would be early Parliamentary elections in the form of a plebiscite since Spain will not allow a legal referendum, and if the vote favored independence, what that parliament would do to set up and declare the new state and how long it would take them to do it. 

He proposed that those in favor of independence would run on a single list of candidates on the pro-independence ticket.  In that way, there could be no misinterpretation of the results of the election.  This would be important, if independence wins, in the resulting negotiations with Madrid, the EU, and in gaining international recognition for the new state when independence was declared. 

In addition to politicians from various political parties, that list would include a number of professionals who would lend their expertise to the setting up of the new state.  This parliament would set up all the mechanisms of a new state within 18 months at which time new, normal parliamentary elections would be held.  Mas would not run in those subsequent elections and neither would the professionals nor a majority of the politicians who had served in this interim period.

President Mas said his proposal called for generosity.  It meant putting individual and party aspirations aside to work together for the single, unifying cause.  He said he would be willing to be first on that ticket or last.  His speech was an inspiration to the leaders of the grassroots organizations that have been organizing the massive demonstrations these last three years, and to the public.

Evidently, it was not an inspiration to Oriol Junqueras, President of Esquerra Republicana Catalana, (ERC, the left-wing Catalan party).  Junqueras is a university history professor who has put aside his academic work to serve for some time in the Catalan government, and he gave his speech this week.  Junqueras proposed that each party run separately but under an umbrella with a common name, such as xx Party for Independence, so it was clear which were the pro-independence parties.  He claimed that this would win more pro-independence votes. 

I think the general reaction to this was dismay.  I saw it on the faces of Carme Forcadell and Muriel Casals, the leaders of the two big grassroots organizations, as they sat in the first row on the audience.  And I could read it subsequently on the posts of my friends and many media commentators.   What people want now is unity – not several parties, each vying for votes, each with its individual platform.

Artur Mas thinks that it is important to show a unified front to Madrid and to the rest of the world (and to the Catalan public!), as has been shown up until now.  That political parties spanning the spectrum from left to center right can sit down and work together as they have done is a great part of the strength of the independence movement.  When President Rajoy came to Barcelona last week, he made a snide comment about the unified list saying it was a ridiculous idea and to please show some respect to the Catalans.  That alone should be enough to get ERC and the alternative left (further left) CUP to join up.

Junqueras had some good ideas.  He said independence should be declared at the start and not the end of the process, thus allowing negotiations to take place between equals and not dominant and subject parties.  And he saw no reason to hold a referendum at the end of the 18 months in order to confirm what had already been voted on in the plebiscite.  Rather, that referendum should be to ratify the newly drawn up constitution.

Some people think Junqueras wants separate lists because that would give him the possibility of being elected president.  I hope that his idea of separate tickets is his bargaining chip so that his other proposals get accepted.  Because Junqueras wants independence probably even more than Mas does, they will probably come to some mutually agreeable resolution to this discrepancy.  Neither one wants to bring the trajectory of the independence movement to a halt.

As one commentator wrote, what is needed is a strong, united political base that will work with vision and strategy, coordination and intelligence.

But my friend Trini said it best: “We have a president who wants to make history and an historian who wants to be president.”

Monday, December 1, 2014

Democracy The Catalan Way

Artur Mas, President of the Generalitat of Catalunya gave a speech last week.  It was a speech that could serve as a lesson in democracy to the Spanish government, to the EU and its member countries, and to the rest of the world.

In his speech, Mas reminded the audience how it is that Catalunya has arrived at its advanced stage of peacefully and democratically seeking independence from Spain. 

There was the Catalan Statute of Autonomy in 2006, approved in Catalunya in a referendum, approved by the Spanish Congress, and later struck down by the Spanish Constitutional Court at the instigation of the PP party.

There was the Financial Pact, approved by the Catalan Parliament in 2012 that President Rajoy would not even sit down to discuss.

Since 2012 there have been three massive public demonstrations for the right to vote on the question of independence.  In the first, 1.5 million people participated, in the second, 1.6 million, and this year 1.8 million.  The Spanish government has chosen to ignore this huge public outcry while President Rajoy and others of the PP party cynically talk about the silent majority.

After refusing to allow a referendum, declaring a non-binding consultation illegal, and finally declaring a very watered-down voting process that would have been simply a citizen participation without official voting rolls also illegal, President Mas held the citizen participation anyway.  Instead of voting rolls, IDs were checked and compared against census information at the time of casting the ballot.

More than two million people came out to vote and over one million eight hundred thousand (80%) voted for independence.  For having organized this citizen participation process, where the public could tell its leaders, on paper, in a countable manner (thus eliminating the question of silent majorities) what it wanted, President Mas, his Vice President, and the Catalan Minister of Education were all three criminally charged by the chief Spanish Prosecutor.

President Mas said that these are not normal times and thus the measures needed are also not normal.  The only way the Catalans will be able to hold a real vote is to have Parliamentary elections in the form of a plebiscite.  This means that instead of running on typical party platforms, the parties state whether or not they support a specific issue – the issue here being independence from Spain.  Parliamentary elections come under the jurisdiction of the Generalitat and there is no way the Spanish government and its courts can stop them being held.

Mas is inclined to hold early elections and made it clear that he will do so only if there is only the one issue to be voted on  – that it not be combined with other possible platform positions.  This way it will be clear to the Spanish government and, equally important, to the rest of the world, what the Catalans were voting for.  With one issue, there will be no question of how to interpret the results.

He also made it clear that he believes it would be best if there was one unified pro-independence ticket – that this would make it clear to the rest of the world that Catalans really were unified in their desire for independence – that they weren’t fragmented by party politics.   The political parties need to put aside their political differences for a short time – an act of generosity -- in order to achieve independence which will only receive international recognition if there is a clear majority of vote.

He went on to suggest, assuming pro-independence won the vote, that this next legislature would last for 18 months.  During that time all the mechanisms of a state would be put in place, negotiations with Spain, with Europe, and with other countries would take place and independence would be declared.

He suggested that in addition to professional politicians, that a number of people from civil society be included in this government that would include leaders of the grassroots movement and experts in useful fields.  

At the end of the 18 months, new elections would be held.  None of the non-politicians would run again for office and neither would a majority of the professional politicians.  President Mas would definitely not run again.  The setting up of the new Catalan state was not to be a tool for political advancement.  Those who participated in the formation of the new state would do it out of generosity.

President Mas is from a center right political party.  Tomorrow we’ll hear what the leader of the Catalan left has to say.