Other Discussions on Spain

Spain and Federalism

The Spanish regional problem has wide implications for other countries like Great Britain which are struggling with similar constitutional issues. So are Canada, Italy, Central America, and that desperate case, ex-Yugoslavia. We have noted before the danger that the United States will break up; there are already four states which do not have a white, non-Hispanic majority. The most immediate concerns will be World, Hawaii, and Alaska.

Five regions of Spain are special cases: The Canary Islands; Ceuta and Melilla; Galicia; Catalonia; and the Basque provinces.

The Canary Islands are Spanish, viewing with concern the claim of Morocco, which has already taken over the former Spanish Morocco, just to the east. The islands are also uneasy about Spain's entry into the military structure of NATO, fearing that they could thus be brought under the control of the U.S. Navy. Madrid has given them assurances on this score.

Ceuta and Melilla are enclaves in Morocco, and something of a nuisance to Spain, since they put in jeopardy its attempt to improve relations with Morocco and to serve as a leader in E.U. relations with the Arab world. Spain can hardly complain constantly about Gibraltar while it has two pieces of Moroccan terra irredenta. The two enclaves serve as a base for illegal African immigration into Spain and for smuggling. The Spanish Guardia Civil, the immigration and customs authorities, and the navy are all involved in the enforcement of Spanish law, and there have even been clashes among them. The Spanish population of the two enclaves fear that Spain will cede them to Morocco, and they were discouraged when Spain failed to send a top official to the ceremonies marking the 500th anniversary of the occupation of Melilla.

Galicia presents a quite different problem: Santiago de Compostela is the shrine of St. James, Spain's patron saint. However, it is the most Celtic part of Spain, and from it Portugal was reconquered from the Moors. The Portuguese language is essentially gallego, although that language has been mixed up with Spanish in Galicia itself. The pro-Spanish element is represented by Fraga Iribarne, the head of government who is seeking reelection; he served as propaganda minister under Franco, which makes him and his Partido Popular suspect to all Spanish regional nationalists. The Galician nationalist party has proved surprisingly strong; it claims that Galicia could enjoy a prosperity like that of the Irish Republic, a feeling shared by some people in French Brittany; in all three places there is an attempt to revive Celtic traditions. There is, however, virtually no political violence in Galicia, and little evidence of ties with the IRA, which has links with the Basque ETA and with the Bretons of France. Fraga Iribarne's majority was reduced by two, and the Nationalists replaced the Socialists as the main opposition party. The Basque and Catalan nationalists applauded.

The Spanish government is trying hard to modernize Galicia, traditionally a land of caciques (rural bosses). The port of Vigo is becoming an industrial center, and the elections of October 19 were conducted with the use of the latest Japanese equipment (a first in Europe!) to obviate the electoral fraud associated with the caciques. Galicians abroad were allowed to vote, and there is a very large colony in Argentina. Foreign observers verified the enforcement of the election rules. The gallegos showed only moderate enthusiasm for al this attention.

The Catalans are a moderate people (any violence is mostly imported), and they are arguing mostly about about the split of taxes with Madrid. This will be an issue in Britain with the new Scottish parliament, and it is a bone of contention in most countries, including the United States. The "endangered" Catalan language is also a sensitive subject. When The Economist spoke of the dangers of requiring that all government officials speak Catalan, even those of the Spanish government, there was a flurry of protests; the publication of a few of them in the elite, English-language weekly was surprising.

The oddest situation is in the Basque provinces, as was evident in the inauguration of the Guggenheim Museum. ETA terrorists killed a policeman in a vain attempt to blow up the building, viewed as a symbol of reaction. The irony is that the hideous modernist architecture was chosen to show that the Basque state is not reactionary. The painters represented, such as Picasso, expressed in art their revolutionary political convictions. His painting "Guernica" was not brought from Madrid; its arrival could have been a casus belli. Basque capitalists spent a fortune of public money on the building in the old factory area by the Nervion River. What the unemployed workmen felt was not reported. Nor was the opinion of the Jesuits just across the river at the University of Deusto, proud of their architectural traditions. At the opening ceremony, a Basque choir sang beautiful traditional music, doubtless to the spiritual satisfaction of the Jesuits and the dismay of revolutionary artists. The Jesuits and church authorities played no part in the ceremonies, probably to the satisfaction of the Guggenheim crowd from New York. The negotiations between them and the Basque capitalists should be studied as a strange political, financial cocktail. That famous but pathetic Basque writer Pio Baroja, whom I knew, rejoiced in describing in detail att the attempts, successful and unsuccessful, on the lives of Spanish monarchs and their ministers. King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia completed their visit without such unwelcome attention. One element in the strange cocktail is that Queen Sofia is the great protector of modern art, including the Guernica painting of Picasso. Does she ever think about the Spanish Civil War? King Juan Carlos certainly does.

A footnote about sports. The Bilbao soccer team, the Athletic, the oldest in Spain, is celebrating its centennial. Soccer is a European-wide mania, most so in Spain. Soccer players are traded internationally for huge sums like race horses. Not so in Bilbao; the Athletic admits only genuine Basques, probably a unique expression of nationalism.

Sources described the new Duke of Palma de Mallorca as a professional handball player. I had never heard of such a thing, so I assumed basket-ball player was meant. I was wrong. Handball is a low-grade professional sport in Spain. The newly-minted Duke is not only a man of little education, he is not even a soccer player. Spanish oral reports say that King Juan Carlos was unhappy; official reports gave no hint of this. The Duke would be wise to speak little. It seems that he will be kept in the background. The thought that he might become a royal consort must worry those who wonder if the fragile monarchy will face another 1931.

Ronald Hilton, Oct. 21, 1997