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. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

One Vote Down, One to Go

It seemed a very long time coming and now, just a week later, it seems that it happened months ago.  I suppose that is because of all the pent up emotions.  Every day we were reading the newspapers and watching the news for the latest development: What obstacle will they put next?  Will the police or army block the entrances to the polling stations?  Will people be arrested?  With all the obstacles and threats, can there be a decent result?  Will it actually happen at all?

Last Sunday, in spite of all that the Spanish government had to throw in their path, 2,236,806 Catalans went to vote on a referendum that if not legal and binding, at least gave them the chance to voice their opinion on paper ballots – a basic democratic right.  That opinion was 80% in favor of independence from Spain. 

Because the Spanish government would not agree to a legal and binding referendum, the Catalan government made plans for a legal but non-binding consultation.  But the Spanish government was determined not to let the Catalans vote under any circumstances, and they filed a complaint with the Spanish Constitutional Court.  The Court, upon agreeing to review the complaint, suspended the consultation and any preparations pertaining to it. 

Artur Mas, the President of the Catalan government, then announced that the vote would go ahead, but not under the Catalan law under which the original consultation had been planned, but as an informal voter participation that would be run by volunteers so as not to put public employees at risk in disobeying the court suspension and it would use facilities owned by the Catalan government so as not to put city hall officials at risk either. 

He put out a call for volunteers, saying that 20,000 would be needed; within two days he had over 40,000.  Several hundred city halls added to the available facilities by donating their own facilities for use that day. 

This meant that going to vote was an act of civil disobedience.  The Spanish government was too circumspect to send in the army (as some wanted), but they had alternative troops: threats, legal intimidation, trying to discredit or eliminate those who are active and important to the movement, and finally, on the day, the attempted sabotage of the computer and phone systems of the Catalan government and the grassroots citizen group that was organizing the event (it is not yet determined who was behind that and will be interesting to find out – but how many people could afford the more than 100,000 euros that the professionally handled sabotage would have cost?  I wonder if it was taxpayers’ money…).

Over 2 million people went to vote on 9 November.  There was a campaign by the grassroots organizing group that showed a famous person holding the photo of an important person, now deceased, but who would have wanted to go to the polls to vote.  The Madrid press made fun of the campaign saying that dead people were going to vote. 

My friend Trini said that she was going to vote for her father, who died about a year ago and who would have wanted to vote Yes.  My Catalan teacher told me she cried as she left the polling station, thinking of her grandfather who had gone into exile after the Civil War.  She was voting for him.  Pep Guardiola, the football coach, flew in from Munich to vote.  People flew in from much farther away too.  They could have found polling stations closer to where they were, there were 14 scattered around the world, but they wanted to come here and be with their friends and family and the rest of their community when they went to the polls.  It was a little like Thanksgiving but without the turkey.  Because they could not use the usual polling places, there were fewer of them and the lines to vote were longer.  But people didn’t mind and there was a good atmosphere. 

The two major political parties in Spain had been against any vote.  The PP party did everything it could to prevent it; the Socialists told their followers not to vote because it was illegal.

The day after the vote the Spanish government began their cynical campaign of belittling the results – of belittling the Catalan people and what, against all odds, they had just achieved.  This was not a referendum, not even a consultation – it was a joke. It was not democratic.   It did not have all the required legal guarantees; not many people went to vote; if more had gone the No vote would have been bigger – would have been the majority, etc. 

This was not a referendum because the Spanish government would not agree to one and it did not have all the legal guarantees of a government-run vote because the Spanish government made that illegal by sending it to court.  If they really wanted to know how many would vote Yes and how many No, all they had to do is allow a legal vote, campaign for No, and encourage people to go and vote -- like Britain did with Scotland. 

As exciting and emotional as all this was, the saga is not over yet.  Now we are waiting to see if criminal charges will be brought against Catalan President Mas or anyone else involved with the organization of last week's voting.

President Mas will probably be calling for early Catalan parliamentary elections that will be a plebiscite where either banded together in groups or independently, the political parties will run on a single issue – that of independence – yes or no.  That will be the real vote, in lieu of a referendum, and I hope it happens sooner rather than later.  With all the dancing around and musical chairs going on – which party will team up with which, or will they team up at all? -- the weeks or months leading up to it promise to be yet another emotional challenge.

Friday, October 24, 2014

These Are The Times That Try Catalan Souls

Some politicians, commentators and pundits have tried to make it complicated, but it isn’t.  In a democracy people can vote.  They can’t be limited as to what they can vote on.  The government of a democracy can’t do as China does, to say what you can vote on or what list you must choose from. 

The Catalans are determined to vote.  The more Spain tries to block them, the more determined they are. I think at this point in time, Catalunya is lucky to have the president it has.  President Mas isn’t interested in putting on a show or engaging in civil disobedience that the media would probably enjoy.  He promised he would provide voting boxes and ballots, and he has found a way to do that.

Spain wouldn’t allow a referendum.  A referendum is a vote that is binding, so that if, for instance the public voted yes, they wanted to separate from Spain, that would put in motion the negotiations between the Catalan and the Spanish governments to work out the terms of the separation.  That is what would have happened with Scotland and Great Britain if the Scots had voted yes.  But they didn’t.  So never mind. 

Being denied a referendum, at the end of September, the Catalan Parliament passed a law call La Llei de Consultes no referendaries (Law of Consultations).  This gave the Catalan government the power to call for a “consulta no vinculada i no referendaria” a non-binding consultation – not a referendum -- when it thought necessary to poll the public on matters that concern them. They had resorted to this language and this law because of the ban on a referendum by the Spanish government.

Having the Law of Consultations in place, on Saturday 27 September, President Mas signed a decree calling for a non-binding consultation to be held on 9 November 2014 and specifying the question that would be voted on, as had been agreed upon by the Catalan parliament.

The following day, 29 September (a Sunday – normally a day to rest and enjoy a paella) the Spanish council of ministers met to impugn the Catalan law of consultations.  Their impugnation was delivered to the Spanish Constitutional Court on Monday.  In an unprecedented move, the Court convened that same day (at lightning speed -- it would normally take months) and agreed to take it under consideration.  That automatically meant the law and the decree were suspended.

Then, on 13 October, President Mas announced that there would indeed be a consultation on 9 November.  This would not be the same consultation called for by the decree.  He called it a participatory process and said it was based on another legal framework, one that he did not specify but said already existed.

This put the Catalan political parties into a tizzy.  Four of them (with a majority in the Catalan parliament) had agreed on the question and the date.  They had passed the law of consultations, and they had agreed on the decree.  Now all of a sudden, President Mas came out with a new game to play.

The reason he did this was that if they went ahead with the consultation as originally planned, it would mean disobeying the suspension imposed by the Constitutional Court.  It would not only be the politicians who would be disobeying, it would be all the public employees who organized the vote – those who prepared the eligible voters lists, those who set up the physical spaces, those who counted the votes, etc .  Any government employee who worked in any way on the consultation could be charged with illegal activity by the Spanish state.

At first the parties were in an uproar because what they had all agreed upon had been changed.  One of them even broke down during a radio interview.  He said it was stress and fatigue, but I personally think that he, more than any of the others, wishes for the independence of Catalunya and wants it to happen sooner rather than later. 

But after just a few days, they have reassembled, if not as strongly together as before, nevertheless they have all come out in support of the current set up for the new participatory process.  All but the Greens.  Maybe today or tomorrow they will issue a statement otherwise, but so far the leaders have said that they will not go to vote on 9 November.  Instead they will hold demonstrations of protest and they encourage the public to attend.

This is one of the most disappointing items that has come out of all this drama.  The only thing that counts is people voting.  There have already been several demonstrations – one of over a million, a second of over 1.5 million, and the most recent of 1.8 million.  Now what the Catalan political leaders need to see, what the Spanish government needs to see, and what the world needs to see is how many people will go to vote (or participate) and what percentage will vote for independence.  Having another demonstration will only detract from the issue at hand which is voting.

One of the most interesting and encouraging things in all of this process is that those four Catalan political parties have been able, up to now, to put their political differences aside to work for a common goal – the right to vote, and they are doing so because of the expressed desires of the Catalan public – left and right.  Those parties span the political spectrum and include CiU the Catalan right/business-oriented wing (the party of President Mas); ICV the Greens; ERC, the Catalan left (that has always been pro-independence), and the CUP, a small, radical left-wing independentist  party.

The Catalan left and right wing works together

Working together, a wide spectrum of Catalan
political parties agreed on the Law of Consultations

People really want to have this vote.  President Mas called for volunteers to do the work so as not to put public employees in legal jeopardy.  He asked for 20,000 volunteers.  Within four days over 30,000 signed up.

President Mas maintains that the consultation as originally decreed was non-binding and this consultation/participatory process is the essentially the same.  Instead of lists of eligible voters at the polls, which is the usual procedure in Spain, each person will have to show their I.D. (Spain has national picture I.D. cards).  The tables will be manned by volunteers and the data from the I.D. card will be cross-checked with census data.

How the votes will be collected and counted and who will be there to ensure that there is no corruption in the process has not been disclosed.  President Mas is playing this new game with his cards held very close to his chest.  He is determined that there is no loophole through which the Spanish government can find something to denounce.  Spanish President Rajoy today did indeed announce that his government is looking to see if this new participatory process, which he said is just a cover-up for a referendum and is anti-democratic, can be considered illegal and sent to the Constitutional Court.  But President Mas says that since there is no published law and no official decree, (and since the court is a constitutional and not a criminal court), there is nothing concrete that the Constitutional Court can base a judgment on.

The daily unfolding of this political spectacle has kept me engaged.  I’ve been off my regular TV diet, favoring afternoon AND evening news and anything that gets announced in between on the internet.  There is a peaceful revolution going on in Catalunya where the people are determined to exercise their democratic right.

Friday, October 3, 2014

No Vote in Spain

This has been a very animated week here in Catalunya.  As the day nears for the vote on a referendum to decide whether or not Catalans want to remain part of Spain, the pace of the moves on both sides quickens and intensifies.  You might think that “both sides” refers to both sides of the question to be voted.  And you would be wrong.  “Both sides” refers to the Catalan government that is committed to its citizens to hold the vote on one side, and the Spanish government that is committed to blocking it on the other.  Because Spain is supposedly a modern (western!) country and part of the European Union, one might wonder why voting would be an issue.  In order to be admitted to the EU a country has to demonstrate that it is a democracy, and Spain managed to be accepted.  Now that it is a member, the EU doesn’t really want to be bothered about whether or not it is democratic and whether or not it prohibits its citizens from voting and telling their elected representatives unequivocally what they want.

The last few days went like this.  On 19 September, a week after 1.8 million people demonstrated in Barcelona saying they wanted to vote, the Catalan parliament approved a law that allowed for the people to be “consulted” and called for the consultation to be held on 9 November.  It was passed by the overwhelming majority of 106 to 28.  A consultation differs from a referendum in that it does not become a law (as would a proposition voted on an American state ballot).  It tells the government (the Catalan government) what the voters want in reference to a subject of importance to them.  It is then up to the government to negotiate if necessary and to implement their wish.

In its concept, it is more democratic than the usual procedure of voting for a person (here you vote for a party) and hoping that the person or party will do what was promised in a campaign.  When you vote in a consultation, you are being consulted by your government; you are telling all your representatives exactly what you do or do not want them to do on a specific issue. 

Oriol Junkeras (ERC), representing the Catalan left
and Artur Mas (CiU) representing the Catalan right:
Two unlikely allies who have set their ideological
differences aside to work for a common goal

On Saturday 29 September Artur Mas, President of the Generalitat of Catalunya, signed the Law of Consultations.

On Sunday 30 September Spanish President Rajoy met with his cabinet, not to discuss how they might discuss this crisis with the Catalan government, but to take steps to block the Consultation.

The complaint, saying that the Law of Consultations was unconstitutional, was filed with the Spanish Constitutional Court on Monday morning.  Not scheduled to meet, the members of the Court flew to their chambers, held a special emergency meeting, and on Monday afternoon the Court agreed to consider it and that immediately suspended the new Catalan Law of Consultations.

Given the great speed by which these high-level bodies met and acted whereas this type of thing usually takes weeks or months to be looked at by the Court, President Mas made the comment that it was all done at supersonic speed.  One might also wonder how it was that the Court, that had never been called to a meeting so quickly, agreed to meet that same day.  It looks to some as if the Constitutional Court simply takes its orders from the Spanish government.  This could be substantiated by the fact that the Court’s President, Francisco Perez de los Cabos, was a member of the governing party (PP) while he was a judge (he later quit his party membership) while he was a judge, even though the Spanish Constitution forbids it.  He was not dismissed.  Why would the PP want to dismiss one of their own?

On Tuesday, the Catalan government temporarily suspended preparations for the Consultation, the issue to be discussed by the political parties in favor of holding the Consultation later in the week. 

On Wednesday, the Catalan government filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court requesting that the suspension be lifted.

It is not surprising that, although it is already Friday, there has been no response from the Court.   In fact, it isn’t clear when they will meet to consider this appeal.  Some things do not happen at supersonic speed.

After writing and posting this, I read a special announcement.  The Catalan political parties that support the right to vote finished their 7-hour meeting.  They include CIU, the Catalan right wing, ERC, the Catalan left wing, the Greens, and CUP the radicals (for lack of a better definition -- they continue to baffle me).  They pretty much cover the Catalan political spectrum (minus the socialists who don't seem to think that voting is a fundamental right in a democracy) and have all agreed that they will go ahead with the Consultation.  They say that voting is a basic democratic right and neither the central government in Madrid nor the Constitutional Court has the right to prohibit it.  

Further reading:
From the Harvard Political Review: http://harvardpolitics.com/world/catalonia-contention/ 
OpEd from the LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-cole-catalonia-independence-20141001-story.html

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Parliamentary Circus

Sessions of the Catalan Parliament are sometimes (maybe always) televised, but I never watch them.  It’s enough for me to see clips and read or hear the summaries of what went on.  But today was different.

Today, Jordi Pujol, former President of the Generalitat of Catalunya testified at a special session – an enquiry.  I believe there are parliamentary enquiries and parliamentary investigations and this was the former.  It was meant to clarify details pertaining to President Pujol’s confession of 25 July when he announced that ever since 1982, he has had a large amount of money – an inheritance from his father – in an Andorran bank and that this money and this account were never declared to the Spanish tax authority.

I admit that I didn’t think this was as serious an offense as many people here did.  I think at least half the population here has bought or sold a property where part of the transaction was in “black” money.  This is money that is paid but is not included in the deed.  It lowers the purchase tax and property tax base for the buyer and lowers the capital gains (if any) for the seller.  Until recently, it was standard procedure for the notary to leave the room for a few minutes during any property transaction so that the black money could be paid without his “knowing.”  Those who haven’t engaged in a property transaction with black money have been party to shops and workmen (contractors, electricians, etc.) who ask you if you want a receipt.  If you do, you pay IVA (sales tax) and the transaction will be recorded.  If you don’t want a receipt, you don’t pay IVA and the transaction, well, it never took place. 

I’m not saying this to excuse President Pujol.  I expect political leaders that I vote for to be honest, and to pay their taxes.  I am just trying to put it into perspective.  As far as I’m concerned, what is serious is if a politician engages in influence peddling, taking bribes, or doctoring books for personal gain.  There is so much of that going on that it boggles the mind, and dozens of such cases pending in the courts. Tax evasion? Well that’s a national hobby in many countries.

The session began with President Pujol giving, in the allowed twenty minutes, his explanation.  He went into a brief the history of how his father made his fortune, how he decided to go into politics rather than follow his father’s footsteps into the business world, about the inheritance and why his father had put the money in a bank in Andorra ending with some vague explanation of why he kept it that way all these years.

Each political party had designated one person who would question President Pujol and each had ten minutes to do that.  The questions would all be stated and once all six parties had finished, Pujol would respond.

The questioning started out very civilized, even though the first up was L’Esquerra Republicana (the Republican Left), hardly an ally of Pujol’s CIU.  With all the respect you would expect due a former head of state (Pujol was President of the Generalitat of Catalunya for 23 years and is considered by many as a sort of father of modern Catalunya) the rep asked why all of a sudden, Pujol, after more than 30 years, decided to confess on 25 July that he had money in an undeclared foreign bank account.  How much, exactly was the inheritance, by what means had the amount grown to the large amount that currently exists, had he added anything to the account during those years, and if so, where did that money come from and could he present wills, bank records, etc. to substantiate the answers to these questions?

The second party was the Socialists and they asked, in a similar tone and with the same respect, more or less the same questions as L’Esquerra had.

Then it was the turn of the PP (The Catalan section of the national PP party that governs Spain).  Their representative Alicia Sanchez Camacho, in a very belligerent tone, began to hammer questions at President Pujol.  These questions were not limited to the inheritance and the Andorran bank account, they covered questions about every political scandal that has happened in Catalunya for the last 30 years.   There was no pretense of respect for the man who was a former President.  It was one of the rudest displays I’ve ever seen. 

Beyond digging up all manner of irrelevant scandals, apparently done simply so that the Spanish news could utilize damning news bites, the PP rep also made reference to the Catalan independence movement and the plans for a referendum.  This has been a PP strategy ever since Pujol confessed.  They keep trying to smear the independence movement with scent of scandal.  But President Pujol has had nothing to do with the independence movement.  He was not a declared independentist when he was in government and has not been active in the movement since it has gained momentum, except to say he supports it. 

Most of what the PP rep was talking about made no sense and had nothing to do with the subject at hand.  In any case, this wasn’t a judicial proceeding and she’s not a prosecutor.  Her questions were accusations and were delivered rapidly, like a barrage from a machine gun.  Never mind that she is involved in a scandal and has refused to come and testify before a similar Parliament enquiry.  The holier than thou, the more corrupt.

The C’s, another right wing group followed suit with disrespect and irrelevant questions, digging up pretty much the same list as the PP had done, although with slightly less ferocity (they aren’t as powerful and so are probably less corrupt).

Both Camacho and the C’s rep accused Pujol repeatedly of having lied and of not being trustworthy.  They said whatever he said, he could not be believed.  In that case, was there any reason for him to respond to their questions?

The Greens managed to be rude without being belligerent.

And then there was CUP.  I’ve never gotten it entirely straight who these people are.  They are young, they refuse to wear suits and always show up in t-shirts, usually with some slogan or other.  In their typical anarchist style, their rep made a stab at denouncing corruption but didn’t add any valuable question to the list that President Pujol might respond to.  Then they all marched out before the session ended.

CIU is President Pujol’s own party.  They are naturally dismayed and sad that this situation has come to pass.  They would like similar explanations to what the first two parties asked so that the public can be reassured (and so that they might extricate themselves from the muck).  And they denounced the irrelevant and irreverent performances by PP and C’s, saying this was an enquiry, not an opportunity to further Spain’s anti-independence stand or create an info-bite/photo opportunity for the press.

President Pujol was very angry, and I can see why.  He is the former President of the Generalitat, an elected position he held for 23 years.  He was invited to testify and he accepted the invitation and came.  He was not required to do so.  It’s not even clear why he confessed in the first place:  He had not been accused of anything by anyone.  Today, he expected to be treated civilly and he was not.  The session had turned into a circus and yet he was its protagonist.  He spoke for some minutes and was so heated up and so angry that I was worried he would have a heart attack.  The man is 84 years old.  After fielding questions (some of them hardly even pretending to be questions) he didn’t answer any of  them.  And I don’t really blame him.  Who knows if the inexcusable behavior of PP and C’s caused him not to respond to questions, or if he was shrewd enough to use that as an excuse.  But frankly, I don’t think anyone in his position should have to endure the kind of public treatment he received today.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Vote Yes or No

Scotland has said No to independence.  The vote was close, but not that close – about 55-45.  What was really impressive is that more than 85% of the Scots came out to vote. 

Although I find the result disappointing, it isn’t surprising.  The polls had predicted a No vote since the beginning of the campaign, and the Yes gained significant favor only near the end.  When the Yes seemed to be so close it might surpass the No, the British government kicked in and started offering all kinds of concessions (you could say bribes) so that Scotland wouldn’t leave.

Britain didn’t have to allow this referendum.  That it was given an OK was the result of negotiations between the Scottish and British governments after the Scottish National Party won the last election on the platform promise that it would hold a referendum on independence.  This meant that the people of Scotland wanted to vote and the British government acted accordingly. 

It’s possible that David Cameron agreed to it because he didn’t believe the Yes had a chance in hell.  He certainly became nervous when it looked like it might win.  But whatever his reason, he has said that he gave his approval because he believes in democracy.

I was disappointed but not surprised this morning when I turned on the news to learn that the Yes vote had lost.  That report was followed by the hypocritical response of Spanish President Rajoy.  That shouldn’t have been surprising either but somehow, I can never get used to the level of lies and hypocrisy that he and others of his government utter on an ongoing basis.  Does his public listen and think about what he is saying?

People can be for or against Scottish independence, or Catalan independence, and anyone else’s independence.  There are some valid arguments for either side (and some bogus ones).  It is not acceptable, however, for a government of what is supposed to be a democratic country to tell its citizens that they cannot vote, as Spain does, and in the name of democracy.

Rajoy congratulated Scotland on deciding to remain part of the United Kingdom and of the European Union.  He said bigger is better and stronger, and that it was good not to break up the UK or the EU.

But Scotland’s seceding from the UK didn’t necessarily leaving the EU.  In fact, Rajoy was one of the first to say that if Scotland secedes it would be thrown out of the EU.  There is no EU statute that covers the eventuality of a member state breaking up into smaller pieces.  When the time comes that one does, it will be up to the EU to decide how to handle it.  Clearly Spain will want the new country thrown out.  Even though it says that it is important for the EU to remain big and strong.

Rajoy also said Spain would block the entry of Scotland if it applied for membership to reenter the EU.  I’m confused.  He says that the EU is better and stronger when it is bigger, and he wouldn’t want to see Scotland leave, but if it did, he would block its reentry. 

While Rajoy was congratulating Scotland on avoiding the “grave problems of separation” he might also have mulled over the fact that these people had avoided these grave problems by VOTING.  He was congratulating them on their VOTE.

If President Rajoy and the Spanish government think that Spain and Catalunya are better off together, and that the EU is better off with Catalunya remaining a member, etc., he should allow the Catalans to vote on the question and do what Britain did – campaign for his position.  That is what democracy is about.  But then Britain has had a long relationship with democracy while in Spain it is a relatively new concept which was born after the death of Franco in 1975.

You see, the argument in Spain right now isn’t about whether or not Catalunya should become independent.  The argument is about whether or not the Catalans can vote.  Because if they can vote, they can vote either Yes or No, and that’s a whole other issue.

Unlike in Scotland, in Catalunya there has been marked public support not only for voting on a referendum but for voting Yes on independence.  What is interesting is that whereas there was significant support for a Yes two years ago, the numbers have grown considerably.  Economics has something to do with it, the suppression of Catalan language and culture has something to do with it, the stripping of autonomic governing powers has something to do with it, and possibly most of all, the constant No, No, No to everything, most importantly the right to vote, has a lot to do with it.  When it comes to utilizing public relations to win confidence and goodwill, Spain is at a complete loss.

Some people worry that the No vote in Scotland will have a negative impact on the Yes vote in Catalunya.  But I think the Catalans have taken note of how Scotland has been treated by Britain, and when they compare that to the treatment they have received from Spain, it will only serve to increase their determination to vote and to vote Yes. 

Cartoon from The New Yorker    

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Video of the V for Vote Demonstration

It is normal that people should be able to vote in a democratic country.  Spain is threatening Catalans with criminal charges if they try to vote on the referendum for independence on 9 November.  This lovely video shows what kind of people made up the 1.8 million people who came to Barcelona on 11 September to demonstrate for their right to vote.  As the song says, "We are not soldiers, not guerillas, we are regular people, men and women on the street".

Click here to see the video.  If you like it, please share it with your friends so that other people can see what a peaceful demonstration looks like.

Friday, September 12, 2014

V for Vote

This is a graphic image
Why do I love Catalunya?  Because two grassroots citizen groups (working together and both led by women) can organize a logistically complicated demonstration of 1,800,000 people.  And because those 1,800,000 people care enough to make the effort to get out and come to Barcelona, some traveling hours to get there.  And when they get there they are civil, peaceful, celebratory, and don’t even leave any garbage behind when they head back home!

11 September is Catalunya’s National Day – kind of like the 4th of July, but different.  It is different because on 11 September 1714, Catalunya LOST their war.  Together with England, they had supported the Habsburgs, the Spanish had supported the Bourbons, England left Catalunya in the lurch, and Catalunya ended up becoming part of the Spanish kingdom with a Bourbon king.  They still have a Bourbon king, but that’s another story.

Last year’s 11 September demonstration was a 400-kilometer-long human chain, stretching from France to the Valencian border.  One million six hundred thousand people participated.  That was also a great logistical achievement.

This year they opted for something more condensed, but even more complicated – the letter V formed along two major boulevards that run through Barcelona at an angle and yes, meet in a V.  The letter V stood for vote, “voluntat” which means will (as in the will of the people), and victory (for when the independence vote wins in the referendum). 

An actual aerial photo

 But it was more than the letter V, it was also an 11-kilometer senyera (the name of the Catalan flag).  The senyera has four red stripes on a yellow background.  People signed up in advance and were assigned a section to report to, organized so that those who came from the same area would be in the same general area on the V.  They all wore either red or yellow t-shirts.  The sections were broken into smaller sections – four of red and five of yellow.   Here is a time lapse of how a section formed up.

As in the case of the two previous years, the culmination of the formation would take place at exactly 17:14 to commemorate the infamous event, this time on its 300th anniversary.

The two boulevards were the Gran Via and the Avinguda Diagonal.  It would run a little more than 11 kilometers.  There was organized entertainment, including 54 colles (teams) of castellers (the people who make the human towers) and big screens along the route, with the main stage located at the vertex.  There, at exactly 17:14, a young woman cast a symbolic ballot.  She will turn 16 on 9 November, the date set for the referendum, and she will be able to vote for the first time, 16 being the minimum age set for this special ballot.

Two thousand buses were chartered for the V and 100,000 cars entered the area, bringing people from every town and village in Catalunya.   At about 3 pm they closed the central part of the city to all traffic, and people began to come to their assigned places along the V.

The Spanish government says it will not allow the referendum to take place.  They hide behind the Constitution, although there are many legal experts who say that in fact, the Constitution does not prohibit a referendum.  Pretty much on a daily basis, the Spanish President or someone from his political party (the PP) says that in a democracy, you must obey the law and the law says you cannot vote on a referendum.

But democratic rights take precedence over the law.  Constitutions are there to protect people’s democratic rights, not limit them.  There are such things as bad laws.  It used to be the law that only men could vote, that blacks had to ride at the back of the bus, and in Germany, that Jews had to wear yellow armbands.  Constitutions are not carved in stone.  If, in fact, the Spanish constitution prohibits people from voting, then it needs to be changed.  The American constitution has 33 amendments.  The Spanish could use one.  But the Spanish don’t want one.  They could allow the vote.  They don’t want to.  They’re scared.  Very scared.  When Catalunya declares its independence, Spain will lose its goose that lays golden eggs.

The Catalan PP party, together with two other small parties, also held a demonstration yesterday countering the big V for voting on a referendum.  Their demonstration was in Tarragona.  I heard them say how divisive the independence movement was, how divisive the demonstration for the right to vote was (if you can vote, that naturally means you can vote either Yes or No), and how there was a silent majority that doesn't want either. 

A very small silent majority in Tarragona

The Catalans just held the biggest demonstration ever held in Europe.  The Catalan V received support from groups around the world.  It was also covered in the press around the world.  Scotland will vote on its referendum sooner, although it doesn’t seem to have the support for independence that the Catalan referendum has.  The Basques are watching with a new light in their eyes.  The Flemish in Belgium are taking note.  There are changes afoot here in Europe making it a very exciting place to live right now.

Supporters in Boulder, Colorado


In the Italian Press

Bikers make their own V in Vic before heading
or should I say roaring off to Barcelona

Muriel Casals and Carme Forcadell (in red shirts)
the women who lead the two grassroots organizations

All photos were taken from online media sources

Friday, September 5, 2014

Spain's Censorship

On today's mid-day news there was the surprising story of censorship in the heart of Europe.  The book Victus by Albert Sánchez Piñol was to be presented today at the Cervantes Institute in Utrecht following yesterday's presentation in Amsterdam.  However, one day in advance, the event was cancelled by instruction of the Spanish Embassy in Holland.

I haven't read the book -- it's about the fall of Barcelona in September 1714 which resulted in Catalunya becoming part of Spain.  It's been translated into 30 languages.  The blurb on Amazon says: "A #1 international bestseller reminiscent of the works of Roberto Bolaño, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and Edward Rutherford—a page-turning historical epic, set in early eighteenth-century Spain, about a military mastermind whose betrayal ultimately leads to the conquest of Barcelona, from the globally popular Catalonian writer Albert Sánchez Piñol.... A sweeping tale of heroism, treason, war, love, pride, and regret that culminates in the tragic fall of a legendary city, illustrated with battle diagrams, portraits of political figures, and priceless maps of the old city of Barcelona, Victus is a magnificent literary achievement that is sure to be hailed as an instant classic."

It seems the Spanish government thinks the book has political implications.  They should be reminded that (1) books are allowed to have political implications, (2) it's a NOVEL, and (3) this is modern Europe in 2014 where censors are not part of the setup.  The Catalans may bring a complaint of censorship to the European Court.

In the video below (in Catalan) the commentator says that first the Spanish government prohibits the presentation of this book and then it asks why Catalans want a separate state.  Catalunya lost that war in 1714 and lost its independence.  It is hoping to regain it in 2014. 

You can buy the book from my Amazon store by clicking here
El Periodico article about the cancellation of the book presentation (in Catalan)

Editorial comment on the cancellation of the book presentation (in Catalan)

Friday, August 29, 2014

New Life, New Rules: Law and Order

Say you live in Barcelona.  It could be anywhere, but let’s say it’s in the old part of town – the Barri Gòtic, and to give it a touch of realism, let’s say it’s near the Plaça Reial.  The apartment is in the corner of a corner building and thus you have windows in every room and they give out onto two streets.  One of those streets is so narrow that if you are standing in it and even if you are only 5’3” you can, with the tips of your fingers, touch the buildings on either side.

Now let’s say you have neighbors who make too much noise.  They could be individuals who live in one of the nearby apartments – maybe even one in your building – or they could be businesses below, perhaps a bar with clients that spill onto the street where in their drunken delirium, they shout, pee, and generally carry on.  Barcelona has ordinances for the permissible level of noise, and it also controls, by licensing, the bars that can have outside terraces.  The bars below do not have that license, probably because the streets are too narrow and possibly but improbably because there are people living above.  People live above pretty much all the outside terraces and that doesn’t stop the city officials from giving out licenses left and right.

In that part of town, police surveillance is done by foot.  You might think that when the patrols come by and see or hear an infraction of a city ordinance, they would take action.  But no, they don’t.  It is up to you, the citizen, to call the police and complain if someone is doing something that is not only annoying, but also illegal.

So you call to say that your neighbor has their stereo on as loud as a disco, or that the bar downstairs, that can accommodate maybe 20 or 30 persons, has 80 people and they are out on the street drinking and shouting.  When the police arrive they can see and/or hear for themselves what is amiss, but even so, even though they know city ordinances better than you do, they will ring your bell and you will have to sign a complaint if you want the matter to be resolved.  Thus you show your i.d., as required, and you sign.

The police will then go and tell the offending party that they are disobeying a city ordinance.  They will be asked to turn down the noise and perhaps get rid of the extra clients, and maybe they have to sign something.  But there will be no fine imposed and nothing else will be done about it.  And the next , or the day after, you have the same problem.

If you call the police a second time for the same problem, you will be met with the same procedure.  You will have to sign a complaint, even if the police, who surely have eyes and ears, can see for themselves that someone is not obeying city ordinances.   No fine, no action.  If it happens a third time it will be the same.  And so on for the fourth, fifth, tenth, hundredth, possibly two-hundredth.  I have seen on the news where some legal action was finally taken against a bar or disco that had more than two hundred complaints formerly filed.

The question is, do you want to sign four or five or a hundred complaints?  Will that neighbor or bar-owner get angry enough with your interference to seek some sort of revenge?  They know who you are and where you live.

In a similar way there is the problem of the squatters or ocupes.  Let’s say that on the side of your apartment where you overlook the very narrow street, the building across that alley, the one you can touch when you’re on the ground, is empty – seemingly abandoned.  The door is boarded up, windows are hit or miss, and there are weeds growing on the roof and from some of the crevices in the stone walls that up to a certain point in time had given you the feeling that you were living in a village instead of a big city.  But no longer.  Now an unsavory bunch of people have moved in.  For the most part they are hidden in the shadows, except for when they hang out the window, talk to and leer at you when you’re in your bedroom just across from them.  Although they are probably drunk or high or both, you still worry that they could simply jump across to your balcony.  In any case, your privacy is gone.

So you call the police to say that someone seems to have entered and is living in an abandoned building and give them the location.  They ask you if you are the owner.  No, you’re not.  Well, only the owner can complain about squatters.

After a couple of months the ocupes, in their ignorance or stupor, start a fire.  It doesn’t take long for you to smell the smoke and then to see the flames – flames that soon enough are billowing out their window and almost entering into yours.  Immediately you call the emergency number to report a fire.  The firemen come quickly and end up using your apartment to spray water through the window of your bedroom into the window from where the squatter was disturbing your peace and privacy.

When it’s all over, you are grateful that the fire did not spread into your building.  Soon afterwards some workmen come to do a better job of sealing up the door and all openings at street level.  But in the end, the squatters came back, hoisting one another up to the second floor windows. 

It was at around that time that I decided that if I didn’t move from there, I would have a nervous breakdown.  All the ordinances in the world didn’t protect me from uncivil neighbors and illegal squatting that invaded my privacy and endangered my property and my life.  In fact, the system seemed designed to protect those who are committing illegal actions and leaving the average person to his own devices.  My device – my only option, as far as I could tell – was to get the hell out of there.

Friday, August 22, 2014

New Life: New Rules (A Lot of Theres There)

As long as street signs are in an alphabet you can read, you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting around, even in a new country.  I brave the new highways and streets with a map and by asking directions.  I still have not succumbed to a GPS, and would prefer not to, in part because they seem to be only about 80% accurate here.  I like being an anachronism.  I like being different.  Between a paper map and Google, I hope I have all I need.

One day I went to the pharmacy to find it closed – it was probably an unexpected holiday.  On Sundays and holidays when the pharmacies are closed, there will be signs on their doors to tell you where you can find the pharmacy that is on holiday duty. There will always be at least one.  This one was on a street called Gonzalez de Soto and I set off to find it, asking directions of three people.  One person pointed one way, later another pointed back to where I had walked from, but no one seemed completely sure where this street was.  It turned out that each of the three had told me a part of the puzzle.  The problem was that what is Gonzalez de Soto on one block can be called Muntaner on the next one.  Like many streets, its name changes as you progress up or down.  So you need to keep a sharp, rotating eye, and an open mind.

If you look at the streets going east-west, from the top
La Rambla becomes Carrer Monturiol towards the right
Lasauca becomes La Rambla which then becomes Caamano
Collegi becomes Sant Llater
Gonzalez de Soto becomes Muntaner
Pere III becomes Fortia

You can be faced with other challenges if you venture out of town.  Last year I made friends with a Polish couple who live in London and have a vacation home here – in Empuriabrava.  Empuriabrava is a man-made series of canals, reclaimed from marshland, that house mostly vacation apartments and homes.  It sits on the coast and is Catalunya’s answer to Venice.  I thought it a tacky idea so I was very surprised on my first visit there to see how lovely it actually is.

Later, when I went to visit my new Polish friends for the first time, I found out how strange Empuriabrava really is.  I had their address and looked it up on Google.  There was a red marker, but it wasn’t clear to me that it showed a house on the lake as my friends had described.  They live on Carrer Sant Maurici.  What was so strange was that every street in the neighborhood goes by that same name.

What this Google map doesn't show is that the cross streets
are also named Sant Maurici

When I got there, I drove up and down the Sant Maurici I thought Google had marked, but couldn’t find their number.  In the end I called them.  “Where are you?”  they asked.  “I’m on Carrer Sant Maurici.”   So we met at a nearby supermarket from where I followed their car to the right house on the right street.  Was it just me?  No, most people have trouble finding them.  Later, back at home, further inspection revealed that the area adjacent to theirs is laid out in a similar way with all the streets being called Puigmal.

Friday, August 15, 2014

New Life; New Rules (Pillow Talk)

We came to live in Barcelona sequentially, on two different flights, on two different days.  My husband flew first because the apartment we bought would be empty so he had the task of buying us a bed.  I flew the next day with the cat.

Buying the bed hadn’t posed much of a problem and it was delivered the day I arrived.  But we had no linen so we went out together, to El Corte Ingles, the big department store, which is also where Manel had bought the bed.  A saleslady came to help us and showed us many big, bold, brazen designs in polyester before I managed to find a set of nicely woven pale green cotton sheets that would fit our matrimonial (double) bed.  However, upon closer inspection of the package, it seemed there was only one pillow case. 

I thought that was strange for a bed for two people, but the saleslady assured me that it was normal.  I said I wanted two pillow cases.  She told me I could cut the one in half and make two.  I was getting angry.  What kind of disrespectful customer service was that.

So the question was, where could I find a second pillowcase?  She walked us to the shelves with pillowcases.  They were all white.  Did everyone make their bed with one pillow in a big bold design and the other white?  The saleslady shrugged.  I bought a white one.

Having survived that unpleasant episode, we were off to the pillow section.  And that is where we discovered, from a pleasant young man, that the pillow for a matrimonial bed is a long tube that runs from one side of the bed to the other.  Two people; one pillow.

When you move to a new place, a new country, a new culture, you expect you will be confronted with many differences and much to learn, not least of which will be a new language.  But whoever would have thought that in Spain they have matrimonial pillows that look like giant white hotdogs, and that you are supposed to share. 

Photo credit: TripAdvisor