Monday, 25 September 2017

in Perpignan

I take back my joke about Catalalunya Nord in a previous post! I am in Perpignan and my beer is Catalan!

I have been writing comments in The Times website but threads get deeper and deeper with additional questions so, at some stage I have to call a halt and not respond. One point was so brief, I didn't really understand it anyway. Another asked exactly where in the Constitution it prohibits the referendum. I thought of replying, "No idea!" but felt that was rather brusque and rude.

I answered a point about the "right to self-determination" and whether it overruled the Constitution. I think we would know by now if it did because the Catalan Parliament would be waving the document in the air together with the esteladas (the independence flag). I even looked up the UN Charter and read Articles 1 and 55. But I am none the wiser. I think there  ofare two levels to the right of self-termination, one on a national level and one on a personal level. It was written in 1945 when countries were encouraged to escape oppressors. Now we are in a very different world and I cannot believe this charter is saying that any region of a country may vote and leave the mother-ship. Imagine that happening in Europe, it would be chaos.

Another writer in The Times suggested that I was against the referendum because I wouldn't like the result. My reply would be that, no, this is not the case. I am against it because it is illegal. But I do not want independence. Those are two different things.

I spent the whole day in Perpignan and, at 17.11 I took the TER, the French local train which trundles down the coast to Portbou. I then had a wait of one hour before taking the Regional train which goes all the way to Barcelona Sants. It stops at Celrà, my destination after about an hour, so I will be home in good time to cook my supper. I had quite a nice day but the weather was rather grey and it rained from time to time. I went to my old happy hunting grounds of Auchan in Port D'Espagne and bought 3 bottles of wine, one of which I will open this evening! I would have bought more but it was as much as I could carry comfortably.
Auchan seems to have lost some of its character, they seem to have opened out large spaces, the meat department is huge and soulless. 

Having written a great deal about Catalunya, I had visited Catalunya Nord. I have to confess there is a great deal of Catalan feeling here, the yellow and red stripes evident all over the place. But it has no wish to break with France. I only wish Catalunya South was able to find a solution rather than fly in face of the legitimate government of Spain. But as I discovered yesterday, many Catalans simply don't recognise the laws handed down from Madrid. Or otherwise they consider it a duel in the sun between two competing courts of law. So they don't feel that they are breaking the law. They are, of course. But try telling that to a happy bunch of farmers and their families painting "Hola Republica" on the wall of a finca.

I have seen similar slogans before. There is a banner, "The next new republic of Europe", meaning presumably the European Union. Dream on. 

I wish my friends in St Martí Vell would write something here too. I am highly critical of El Punt Avui for being biased so I would like to add a little balance to the proceedings.


Sunday, 24 September 2017

A bike ride

I was busy writing posts on the website of The Times in London this morning, so I ended up going out on my bike quite late, at 12. I just cycled up to Madremanya which is 10km uphill and, as I passed St Martí Vell, I saw these people painting on a wall so I decided to stop on my way back.

 I chatted with one young guy and we quickly switched to English - I was happy to give him the opportunity to speak in English (and in fact I gave him the link to my Meetup group where we speak in English each week).

They were simply people from the village, not affiliated to any one political party. His father who is a farmer is one of the group on the left. We chatted a lot. I quickly explained that I was against the referendum and independence but I was interested in what they were doing. I respect them for what they think and I told them about this blog and how I want to give a balanced report on what is happening here. I said that, although we have widely differing opinions, we can still get on well. They are virtually neighbours of mine, St Martí Vell being very close to Celrà and his father's farm is right next to where I go on my bike sometimes.

I said that I hoped they had the permission of the finca to paint on their wall! They could see that I was joking!!

I told them my name and told them to look me up, there aren't many Steves in Celrà! I wish I had said that they were welcome to write on this blog. But maybe they will write to me.

I listened to what they had to say. About how they feel that they have a legitimate right to vote, how they would remain in the EU after independence. Their disgust for Spain is evident. The father called it "a king" and we are "the subjects". They introduced me to the mayor but they tried to use the word in English. They said "Sherrif"! I asked him where his badge was! I quickly established for them what the correct word was (it is alcalde in Spanish). They don't see the referendum as illegal because it was passed by the Parliament in Barcelona. I bravely said that the laws of Spain and Catalunya were not on an equal par, Spain has precedence. (It is not like a game of football between Barça and Madrid. Maybe that's how it should be settled..... joking!) But I quickly moved on so there was no violence. Anyway, there were many more of them than me. I joked about running across the road and jumping on my bike to escape their wrath!

 But, in contrast to the scenes in Barcelona, this was a simple meeting of neighbours in the warm September sun in Catalunya.

We talked about what defines Catalan. The young guy said that he still felt Spanish, that he wanted to retain his Spanish passport but I can't see how that is possible in the event of independence.

I told him that, some years ago, an MP in the Parliament said that everyone living here is a Catalan. He asked me how I felt. I said that I felt "Catalan" because I feel very much integrated in the life here. And I love living here, one of the reasons being that it is not like the rest of Spain, all olé, olé, Flamenco, bull-fighting which I detest.

At 1.30 they headed off for lunch and I did the same. I put a sausage in the oven and it will be cooked by now, so I will publish this now!

Yesterday I took photos of a selection of posters in Celrà where I live. Some have been torn down, I hope they don´t think it is me that would do such a thing!

Here is a selection. Many make a point about the word, "freedom" which obviously refers to freedom from Spain. But where to?

Saturday, 23 September 2017

About Catalan and languages

I read in The Times this morning a report of intimidation against those of us who oppose independence and an illegal referendum. It is not a surprise because, for a long time, I have felt it necessary to lower my voice in a bar for example, when talking about not wishing for independence. Maybe it is my imagination but I feel somehow disloyal to the cause if I speak out against it. But I must make it clear that I have never experienced any form of intimidation here, apart from pressure to speak Catalan. Quite the opposite. But I am aware that many Catalans, especially where I live, have very strong feelings about Madrid. They hate the ruling PP. If I had a vote, it would be for the PP, much in the same way as I would vote Tory in the UK. But I would be careful who I told.

But sometimes I am lectured about not speaking Catalan, sometimes by my expat friends! It is quite distinct from Spanish although there are many common words. When I say that my third language is French, people say, "Oh, it's very like Catalan, you should have no difficulty". Ahem, it is nothing like French. For sure, it has common words but that's hardly surprising since it shares the same Romance roots.

I enjoy a little joke at their expense. I say that I speak, "Catalan Nord", in other words French. This is a little dig at Catalunya referring to the area across the border up to Perpignan as "Catalunya Nord" as if it is still part of the "nation" of Catalunya. Nooo, it's France. Perpignan features in the weather forecast on TV3, not because it expects many people to be spending the day there; it is to make a political point. It is true that there is much evidence of the Catalan culture across the border with the yellow and red of the Catalan flag in evidence. The rugby team, USAP, has the yellow and red stripes of Catalunya as its colours.

I remember once apologising for not speaking Catalan (I never do that now). The response was, "Take your time"! Yes, I will be taking a very long time. Sometimes I order a coffee in Catalan and I often use si us plau in preference to Por favor. But more that once, the order has been repeated up at the bar in Spanish!! Sometimes I order it in Spanish, café con leche but add the Catalan, si us plau! There are many people here from other parts of Spain and Latin America. I often hear the Colombian accent which I recognise.

I know many Catalan words and can understand it fairly well of course, but I would not know how to put a sentence together in order to speak it. Better to concentrate on one language and speak it well rather than juggle with two languages.

Or sometimes I am asked for how long I have been living here. When I reply innocently, "13 years", the response is, "Then why don't you speak Catalan by now? This is Catalunya." which is not very polite. It is also Spain. I have no need to speak the language, I am fluent in Spanish and everyone speaks Spanish here. It is one of the two official languages. I don't need two languages for one country, I prefer to work on my French.

Some of my expat friends speak Catalan only which is not much use if one travels to Madrid or Malaga. Or Latin America. I was in Colombia last year and it was a joy to speak Spanish for a month without a thought for Catalan. It is no coincidence that my Catalan-speaking expat friends are generally pro-independence because, to learn Catalan is a way of supporting the cause. I learn a language to communicate, not to show support for a cause which I don't agree with. I wrote in my previous post how I see independence would leave us. It is frightening.

Things would be different if I was working in an office or a shop, then I would be expected to speak Catalan, that is reasonable. But I am retired. Also, Catalans are irritated by people who come from other parts of Spain but do not learn Catalan. That also is reasonable. Most of my friends are much happier about "giris" like me not learning the language.

One final point, I hear this so often and it is a fallacy. That one needs to speak Catalan in order to be accepted into society here, as if not speaking it leaves one a kind of social outsider. I can assure you that this is simply not true. Even from my first year here, I became rapidly part of the community in Celrà. I think my art helped because I was soon showing my paintings in the Centre Cultura and I became known through my art. In any case, the community in Celrà is a mixture of Catalan, Spanish - many from Andalucia, Romanian and Gambian. So I hear a mixture of Catalan and the distinctive southern Spanish accent.

I hear a lot of Romanian, usually big beefy guys outside my local bar who work in Carniques Juia - a meat processing factory nearby. "Processing" is a euphemism, "chopping" more like. It sounds horrendous work. Apart from the physical aspect, the area is maintained at a cold temperature as one would expect.

The Gambians here are a very cheerful crowd, the adults - with their colourful clothes - usually speak in their own tongue but the kids speak in Catalan, or maybe also Spanish.

So, going back to the first paragraph, I predicit things will start to get very dirty, unfortunately. There are many thousands of people like me who love this part of Spain but want it to remain part of Spain, it is different. But if it does leave, then it should do it within the law and that is not possible without much debate in Madrid and a change to the Constitution, something that Pedro Sanchez of the Socialist party is supporting. But that would take a long time. More than a week!

There are also many people who support the idea of a referendum but would actually vote "no" to independence. The problem is that, if a referendum does go ahead in some form or other, they won't bother to vote because they will view it as illegal.

The arrogance of the independistas is clearly evident everywhere I go. The posters don't say effectively, "Here is your opportunity to vote", they tell me how I will vote. The most common example is a flag or poster which simply says "Sí".

In the next post I will show you some of the posters which are distributed around the neighbourhood. And I will draw a cartoon. I have decided.


Friday, 22 September 2017

No more!

Maybe I will stop writing about the political situation here because I am getting really stressed and anxious about it! Most of the time, I try to avoid thinking about it. One Facebook page which I used to follow is now removed from my bookmarks and I don't go there now. A post titled "Fascist Spain..." finished me I am afraid. I posted quite a few comments there in the hope of maintaining a respectful and intelligent discussion but the page is very partisan and my hopes were dashed.

I recently wrote a few posts in The Times in response to their leader which suggested that Mariano Rajoy should offer talks. But he has been offering that for a very long time. For a national newspaper, there were surprisingly few posts so I think maybe mine made an impact. In general, the comments there were moderate. Many from the UK of course.

In any case, I have exhaused all the arguments for and aganist, so there is a limit to what I can write now.

Now the battle is moving to the streets - at the moment with fairly peaceful demonstrations - but I fear that people from other parts of Europe will join in, not because they have an interest in Catalunya but because they want a fight. With whom? It doesn't really matter so long as they represent the hated democracy and the rule of law. It is called anarchy. That is what I fear most at the moment.

There are many misconceptions about what is happening here, much of it from people who don't live here - that is OK. But a lot of it is criticism of the central government in Madrid for deploying what was described in The Times as, "Strong-arm tactics". What exactly are they supposed to do? Their whole raison d'être is to administer the Law and their oponent does not respect the Law. Their job is called Democracy - a much-misused word here. If an angry crowd assembled outside Downing Street in London and blocked access, would the police stand idly by and, "Oh well, that is your right to self-expression. Enjoy"? I think not!

I have avoided talking about the case for independence, rather concentrating on the legality of the referendum. But let us look for a moment at the prospect.

It seems gradually to be accepted in the media that leaving Spain would mean leaving the European Union. I knew this a long time ago but gradually it is entering the general concensus. I was talking to a Catalan friend a few days ago and I drew it like a lump of cheese (because Catalunya is shaped like a triangle), being set adrift from Spain... but also the EU. I love to draw!

Then I read in The Times today that even Raül Rovira accepts that the new nation would not be recognised in the world (I went back to read it again because it destroys the whole point of the referendum. I couldn't believe it when first I saw it). Rovira is the Minister for Exterior Affairs. You may wonder why a region of Spain has a Foreign Minister. And he has established embassies in various countries, most recently in Denmark. You may wonder why that has been done too. It is a cheek, rather a mild word in English. An outrage. That's better. In Spanish, descarro. I am paying for Catalan vanity through my taxes.

What about an army, an air-force, navy? What would happen with the (Spanish) train, RENFE, which runs from Barcelona up past the border into France at Cerebère? What would  happen with the high-speed train link which tunnels its way through the Pyrenees at Perthus? It carries not only Spanish trains to Perpignan and onward to Toulouse and Lyon but also the sleek French duplex TGV which goes all the way to Paris. I wrote about it in a previous post in this blog.

And how would the nacent nation trade with the rest of the world, outside the EU, with no trade deals? Even if it was recognised as a country.

My opinion is that it would end up as a neat triangle of land somewhere adrift in the Atlantic west of Portugal with no way to trade with the outside world and with no trains, nada. It would float maybe for a short time but then would rapidly sink into the ocean and go bankrupt and me with it.

But, hey! We will be free from Madrid!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

A Headline

This will be a very short post! I read the (very large) headline in El Punt Avui this morning and it took my breath away for its hypocrisy.

Abús de llei

You will be correct if you guess it means, Abuse of law. It refers to the attempts by the Government to block the planned referendum on October 1st. Then breaking the law by creating the referendum is not abuse of the law?
It amazes me! Very many people read this newspaper but it is totally biased.
Rafa Nadal made the point that we cannot choose which laws to obey because we like them and reject the ones we disagree with. But that is what is happening here!
Now for a little bit of moderation. I am all for that! .........
I read an article this morning in El País in English which describes the people who are trapped between the two opposite camps. Many people are uncomfortable about possible heavy-handed measure to prevent the referendum by confiscating ballot papers for example. And people like me are shocked by what has happened in the Parliament in Barcelona which clearly rejects the law which they are supposed to respect.

There was another thought that I had but I don't know the answer. When a mayor is sworn in to office, surely he or she promises to uphold the law. But very many mayors are rejecting the law as handed down by the Fiscalia and the TC by promising to provide facilities for the referendum.
I was watching TV3 a few minutes ago with scenes from a raid by the Guardia Civil and my heart sinks when I see these macho guys standing outside a print shop, all wearing shades, arms folded like they are straight out of The Godfather. It is so dumb!
OK, I said that it would be a short post! Now I will have some lunch!

Monday, 18 September 2017

You can take part!

So far, this blog has been rather one-sided on the subject of the proposed referendum on 1st October as you would expect!  But I would like to include opinions from both sides, so you are welcome to post a comment. I want to show that good personal relations can be maintained even when there is huge divergence in opinion!

I think that most people are agreed that, now, it is not so much about the pros and cons of independence, it is about the legitimacy of the referendum itself. Well, that is how I see it! I respect both opinions on independence.

Discussions about the Franco years; more money going to Madrid than comes back in kind, etc are valid points but not so much now. Or is it legitimate to use them as justification for breaking the law? And is a rejection of the law, in a sense, a declaration of independence now?

I must confess, I am rather pedantic, logical. I used to work in 0s and 1s. I take after my father who always saw things in black or white! So I see respect for the law as inviolable (If a law is open to interpretation, then it is badly written). But I am sure many people see shades of grey. Maybe it is not about politics at all! Maybe it is the logic of an engineer who has a fantasy about being a lawyer against the emotion of freedom from Madrid. It is the pragmatism of the law against the thousands of esteladas in the street - on TV! Two totally different languages. The battle between Head and Heart.

One of my Ukrainian friends wrote..... I agree with you and the Madrid government that this is all illegal and it is bad they are doing it. Maybe the government should just give them more rights in something?

Tell your Catalan friends about the situation with Ukraine.  Maybe they will change their opinion then. How men are killed in the war and how hard it is to survive here and to pay for the public utilities. I guess when people are wealthy and prosperous such ideas about the independence come to their mind. Maybe they should just concentrate on other things. Intuition tells me it will all not result in a good way.

(I replied to her that, yes, to give more rights to Catalunya would be the way forward but there is one thing which is not negotiable and that is rather blocking any progress.)

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Getting involved

A little bit of history..... I run Girona Grapevine which is an English-speaking social group in Girona. It started about 17 years ago and meets each week in the Hotel Carlemany coffee shop at 11am. Because of the hour, it tends to attract people who are retired – like me!

I don’t take credit for starting it, I am simply the latest person to take responsibility for running it. There is a Meetup group and Facebook page. We have 8 advertisers each of whom pay the €15 a year which covers the cost of the website and Meetup group.

Up to a few years ago, the Facebook page of Girona Grapevine was called “Girona Grapevine Jolly Japes” run by a very jolly and likeable person, Barbara. But the content started to get rather political and Girona Grapevine is most certainly not like that. I discussed this amicably with Barbara and, when she was able to, she changed the name to Girona Jolly Japes and now it has no connection with Girona Grapevine. I should explain that “Jolly Japes” is a reference to a typical children’s book title from the 1950s. Jolly is cheerful and a jape is a joke, or having fun. One thing that Barbara could not change was the URL of the Facebook page which, if you look closely, still carries the original title including “Girona Grapevine”.

Now it is most certainly not a "jolly jape". This photo has now appeared with the slightly cryptic heading, "One that proves puzzling when you think it would be a no brainer".
The Facebook page is carrying a great deal of pro-independence content which includes this twisted logic. My concern is not primarily about independence (or not) although I personally don’t like the idea, it is the flouting of the law by the very people who should be upholding it. Namely the Parliament in Barcelona. And they are attempting to use the media to twist the truth and persuade people in other parts of the world that their cause is just. How is it possible that they call, “The right to decide”, “democracy”? Democracy is respect for the law.

Each day, I get more and more anxious about what is happening and finally, having seen the bullfighting post, I have decided to do something about it. I told my friends in Societat Civil Catalunya about Jolly Japes – it is public, so I can do that - and I am writing more openly here. I want to make a difference because the prospect really frightens me. People that I know, English expats among them, seem to be turning a blind eye to the fact that this proposed referendum is illegal.
That is my simple issue, respect for the law. If we cease doing that, it is called anarchy. People I know - many of whom are friends also - may be pro or anti indepenence, I respect their opinions. Of course I do.

The most recent development was a letter written, ostensibly to Mariano Rajoy, the Prime Minister of Spain, and copied to King Felipe VI. But its true purpose was nothing about dialogue as it suggested, it was sent to the Financial Times in London and it is quite possible that they received their copy before that of the King. Its content was described in El Punt Avui as follows.

Puigdemont (The President of Catalunya), Colau (the mayor of Barcelona) Demand Dialogue.

It went on to describe how the Catalan government has “showed the world its willingness to negotiate the vote”. It described this offer as “without conditions” but made the condition that the vote on 1st October goes ahead. To say that is disingenuous is the understatement of the year. The letter was full of terms such as, "Spain is undertaking an offensive of unprecedented repression”. But people will believe this. They will not see through the deceit and will think that the Generalitat is making a noble last-minute offer of peace. It is nothing like that. If one reads the text, it is blatantly obvious.

In any case, Sr Rajoy cannot negotiate the vote even if he wanted to. The rules are embedded in the Constitution. Whatever one may think about whether the rules are justified or not, it is not something that can be changed without intense debate. And that happens very rarely. At least, the press here is beginning to report the fact which many people have been saying for a long time - that an independent Catalunya would automatically be outside the European Union and would have to re-apply for membership. And that would require the cooperation of the Spanish government together with all other member states. And, not trivial for some, FC Barcelona would not be able to play in La Liga, so they will have to be content playing Girona and Espanyol.

Previously I have resisted writing comments on Jolly Japes. Now I am doing so. In response to the photo above, I wrote, “I am shocked by such inflammatory material, more so to see it repeated here. I am all for a debate with respect for the law but this plumbs new depths”.

Actually I wrote it late at night after eating out in a restaurant in Celrà so I was very careful with the wording. I didn’t want to regret it next morning! I didn’t!

The silent majority needs to speak out more. We can no longer remain tranquil with our faith in the law. We may be winning the battle in the courts but the Independistas have no respect for the courts. So we need to use the same methods in order to make clear to the world the travesty that is happening here.

There is a black joke fermenting (or do I mean fomenting?) in my mind. That is, the solution is for the Generalitat to declare independence now and then hold the referendum because then it would be legal. But, effectively, that is what is already happening.
By the way, I wrote here on the same subject back in 2012. You can find the article by clicking on year 2012 in the blog menu. Or follow this link......