Mar 282020
 

Pelshvalen er tilbake på våre breddegrader. Jeg hører den synger. Luften er jo blitt litt renere nå som følge av Corona-tiltak; kanskje også havet? Eller forresten, er det virkelig sang jeg hører?

En venn i det hardt Corona-rammede Spania og jeg kommuniserer en del for tiden, her vi sitter i hver vår “sosiale avstand”, han i praksis i husarrest og jeg med hytte- og besøksforbud.

Dagens tema har vært chagas. (Det var spanjolen som begynte, fordi han har en boliviansk venn som pga. chagas nylig er blitt livsvarig arbeidsufør i en alder av 38.) Chagas tar hovedsakelig de fattige – mange fattige – i Latinamerika, og farmasøytiske selskap bryr seg derfor ikke om denne sykdommen.

Det er i det hele tatt mange svært alvorlige sykdommer i fattige land som den farmasøytiske industrien og økonomiske eliter ikke bryr seg nevneverdig om.

Nå kommer det riktignok endelig en malaria-vaksine, men hvem av de fattige får råd til å ta den? Her i vesten har vi i årtier hatt vaksine mot røde hunder, som er en helt uskyldig sak for alle unntatt fostre. Vaksinering mot Zika-virus (forbundet med mikrokefali hos fostre i mødre smittet under svangerskapet) er derimot enda ikke klar. Det er nettopp utviklet en vaksine mot Dengue-virus som bare må gis til folk som allerede har motstoffer mot Dengue, og som i for eks. i Thailand koster  USD 87 x 3 (+ testing av serum antistofftiter)

Osv. osv.

En Covid-19-vaksine er derimot allerede klar til testing etter bare et par måneder, og vil bli klar til bruk om et år.

I NRK har de imellomtiden nesten sluttet å snakke om hva som skal skje med de innelåste flyktningene i Hellas (31.400), i Syria og naboland og i andre nødstedte områder. Jan Egelands askegrå, fortvilte ansikt dukker øyeblikkvis opp på skjermen, men fader straks ut i det leppene hans former et svimlende høyt tall. Publikum – vi – orker ikke tenke på, orker ikke se på, orker ikke vite, orker ikke høre det. Orker ikke, ORKER IKKE.

Jeg tror at vi i vesten trues av en annen, men like stor, krise som Covid-19, men jeg vet ikke hvordan den vil arte seg. Derfor formulerer jeg beskrivelsen av den som spørsmål:

Hvor lenge og til hvilken pris vil hver og en av oss klare å opprettholde sameksistensen mellom, på den ene siden, våre stort sett “humanitære prinsipper” og, på den andre, undertrykt kunnskap om at millioner etterlates uten våpen mot ulike mikrobiologiske (f.eks. viruser) og makrobiologiske og -geologiske (f.eks. ørkenspredning) fiender?

Hvor lenge kan vår tro på oss selv som rettferdig og demokratisk samfunn overleve det at vi forlater de andre, der de sitter fast i sine flyktningeleire, favelaer eller omgitt av utbrente marker. Med tårer i øynene snur vi oss og vinker, men de ser ikke våre tårer fordi de er allerede i ferd med å falle om.

Denne sameksistensen er så disharmonisk at den skriker. Noe vil måtte gi seg. Før eller senere.

Er det kanskje uling jeg hører?

Mar 252020
 

This is definitely not the time to hold forth about my pet issues.

What’s more, I have no suggestions either to politicians or to members of the public. For once, I don’t feel I know best. The very fact that something like this could happen without the possibility of it’s doing so having occurred to me, feels very sobering.

I didn’t understand the maths of the situation. A friend of mine saw, from day 1, on the basis of the figures from Wuhan, how this “pandemic” would unfold. (The friend in question is one of those people who learnt to do calculus before he learnt to speak.)

What I have learnt from members of the public – what we are learning from each other – is to support one another, emotionally and practically.

But still, no matter how sheepish I feel, I am not ready to bury my battle axe. One pet issue demands the floor!

Covid-19 would not have been such a killer, if we had had:

  • Satisfactory health care for all regardless of income
  • Sanitary living conditions for all regardless of income
  • Quality compulsory education and higher education /professional training, regardless of income

The Devil is in our ignorance.

Mar 042020
 

It’s Super Tuesday. Today I met a friend from the United States. We had lunch together. She was worried. I was worrid too. We both worry, of course, that Donald Trump might be given a new chance to continue his mission of global wreckage. But we worry in different ways.

President Trump blatantly disregards the very bulwark of democracy: the separation of powers (i.e. the legislative, judicial and executive powers). Democracy as we know it, surely isn’t perfect, but it is a whole lot better than any alternative we know of. Donald Trump’s interference in the trial of the long-time criminal Roger Stone departs so starkly from the principles of Democracy, that I think a lot of US citizens were seriously startled. Why did the President demonstrate so clearly his total indifference to the rule of law? Surely, he must have known that many Republicans, even, would be horrified. I have absolutely no doubt as to the answer: Roger Stone has got something on Trump, something that would put Trump behind bars for life. Unless Trump protects him, Roger Stone will talk. After all, Roger Stone is a self-declared “dirty tricster”, i.e. a crook. If that is the case, US politics may be said to be “Mafioso”. I emphasise, for the record, that I have no evidence.

On the other side, the Democratic Party Establishment understandably fears Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders’ programme is devoted to improving the standard of living; not for the Democratic Party establishment or their arty friends. No, his agenda is the standard of living of the people that form 70% or more of the US population: those who are under-paid, badly paid or unpaid, plus women who cannot afford maternity leave, plus men who cannot afford time from work to get to know their babies; plus kids who go to lousy schools; plus bright kids who cannot afford to go to university; plus good black kids who get arrested just for being black.What happened to the US social mobility mantra “Anybody can become president”? In the US, social mobility is a lost cause; the “American Dream” is a lost cause.

The Democratic Party Establishment want Joe Biden. Trump wants Joe Biden, too. He said so, didn’t he, at the very outset of his career as president. Because Joe Biden cannot compete with Donald Trump! Really, the idea! Joe Biden may well be a very nice man. He may even be a good and honest man. But he will not rally the young. He does not have much of a grasp on the future. He will not inspire hope. He will just know about business as usual, but business as usual – surely you must know that – will not solve the problems that await us.

The Democratic Party Establishment constitutes a certain percentage of the electorate, but frankly, is its share anything near a majority? Will the single mothers, black fathers, overworked and underpaid teachers and nurses, students and street sweepers break their necks to go and vote for Joe Biden? Would I, if I were a US citizen? Trump is bad, true, but so were many presidents before him. I reckon the US is a lost case for Democracy. Unless Sanders… Yes, even I find myself “praying”, as it were, for the United States of America. I fear, however, that tomorrow morning, when I hear the results, I shall continue advocating European disassociation from the US and its military enterprise NATO.

Feb 052020
 

There aren’t many encouraging stories these days. Maybe I know of one, though. (Mind you, I make no promises.) My story starts grimly enough, with a headline that began to pop up here and there some time last spring: “Millions of songbirds vacuumed to death every year during Mediterranean olive harvest”. If you google it, you will see for yourself.

Now in the UK there are a lot of bird lovers, and they started singing angrily. A veritable storm of protests rose up from the throats of British bird-loving consumers. Tesco, Sainsbury and Waitrose felt pressured and have apparently promised to take a closer look at what olive products they stock.

That’s nice, isn’t it? An example of ethical market forces, right?

We could leave it there, of course, and it is certainly very moving that the British were up in arms about something that isn’t royalty, and in a Brexit year, no less. So hats off for the British! My neurotically unsentimental compatriots would probably not have lifted a finger; they can’t tell the difference between a bird and a drone. (In fact, this wasn’t even news in my country, where we guzzle olive oil by the litre.)

But there is a shadow story here, and it is not as nice. For one thing, few supermarket chains will refuse to sell ecologically harmful products, as that would be suicide for the chains in question. The proportion of poor people in Britain, as elsewhere, is growing. Given the choice of hand-picked expensive olives and vacuumed cheap olives, which will they choose? If all poor people knew that every bottle of the cheap oil they use is likely to have cost the life of perhaps five birds, many of them might consider giving up olive oil altogether. But they don’t know, and even if they do, there are so many other horrible things going on that – well, what can you do? There are innumerable children being killed in wars and hot spots, wombats being killed in Australia – even after the fires – coral reefs dying… Locust swarms are consuming parts of Africa, miners are being shot, populations are fleeing from sinking islands, tens of thousands of refugees are being held in consentration camps in Greece and Libya, etc. etc. etc.

We shall of course soon see the emergence of eco-friendly supermarkets, shops where all products are tested. They will be exorbitantly expensive, though. So “the market” will not solve the climate crisis or any other serious ecological challenge. It will just be an opportunity for the rich to pay indulgence, as it were.

Still, my verdict is that this was a beautiful story because it tells us that sometimes, people – even masses of people – will be happy to serve an honestly good and peaceful cause. A tiny Robin with its scarlet breast can move the sternest of us to tears. I know, because I held one in my hand a year ago, when it had died after crashing into my window. Small creatures whose lovely songs ring through the woods in late afternoons are such a stunning contrast to war games, Netflix series and the increasingly ghastly news we cannot help but hear even though we try not to.

As an afterthought to the above, I would like to point out that nation states can actually impose laws, can actually prohibit certain things, and can, also, encourage other things. I would like to direct your attention to the Nordic Swan Label. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordic_swan

I say no more for now.

Feb 022020
 

That unbelievably silly and vainglorious man has done it again. The so-called Middle East Peace Plan, so blatantly in contravention of international law, makes it ever more obvious that the rest of us need to get out of NATO double quick before western civilization implodes as a result of the US’s continuous disregard for the rules of the game.

Not that some of those rules are not terribly unjust – they favour, of course, the rich and powerful. That has always been the case, and the Democratic Party in the US is now paying the price: The voters they need have no confidence in them, because the Party has failed, again and again, to consider the economically least privileged 30–40 % of the US population. That’s an awful lot of voters. And the Democratic Party is still too pusillanimous to do what needs to be done about the matter. In a country that calls itself Democratic, the plight of near half of the population gives room for thought, no?

Meanwhile about a quarter of the people in the United States are Christian fundamentalists. We see the same tendency elsewhere; where education and health services are inadequate, despair renders people susceptible to the teachings of mad-hatter preachers. In Moslem Pakistan and Hindu India, we regularly hear of stonings and acid attacks. What’s worse, to garner votes among the underprivileged, without improving their standard of living, the Indian PM is trying to introduce an anti-Moslem law

It’s hard to get ones head around the idea that in the name of Hinduism – a religion I have always thought was inherently pacific – there is violent repression not only of Moslems but also of all of Kashmir. Meanwhile, we have Myanmar, a mainly Buddhist country, which has more or less committed genocide against its Moslem Rohingyan population. So it should not surprise anyone that modern fundamentalist Christians also have hate objects: the Palestinians. After all, and unlike Hinduism and Buddhism, but like the Islamic faith, the Christian faith was once extremely bellicose (e.g. the Crusades, the burning of heretics, the ghastly wars between Catholics and Protestant, etc.) The Palestinians live in what Christian fundamentalists call “the Holy Land”. The Holy Land is holy not only for Jews, apparently, but also for Christians, at least for Christian fundamentalists, who want it “returned” to the Jews, all of it, as soon as possible.

Odd how times change. Until fairly recently, fundamentalist Christians were demanding that Jews be ostracised, incarcerated, evicted or even gassed because “they” – i.e. “the Jews” — had “killed” Jesus. Now Christian fundamentalists are demanding that Palestinians be ostracised, incarcerated, tortured or even killed because they and their families happen to have inhabited, since time immemorial, land that fundamentalist Jews and fundamentalist Christians consider “Holy”. Beats me.

I recommend the following articles: The Washington Post about the Peace Deal, and do take a look at some of the links in the article which really give a rather interesting take on racist thinking.

The Washington Post on Jewish supremacy

Finally, to summarise:

The Jewish Nation State Law, passed in 2018, was basically a law of Jewish supremacy

In Israel proper, 20% of the population is “Arab”.

I put to you: Can Israel be both a Jewish supremacist state and a liberal democracy?

Jan 162020
 

While Australia is burning, I listen to a radio programme titled “What will the next decade bring?” Two enthusiastic men, both of them social scientists with PHDs about “future prospects”, believe it or not, gleefully exclaim that in the course of the coming decade “we” will be colonising planets.

That word, “we”, is just about the most irritating word I know, as it is all too often used as a euphemism for “a few lucky suckers”. Not that I envy anybody the chance to live on a lifeless pink planet, but by the time “we” get there, spaceships to Mars will resemble overflowing buses in Bombay: people dangling by their fingertips from cracks and snags in the outer shell of the overburdened vehicles.

That word – “we” – can be pronounced in a self-congratulatory tone of voice: How fortunate “we” are, how great, how wonderful, how very much better than everybody else. Let us praise the Lord.

I propose to use the word with a rather different intonation.

The Australian conflagration has momentarily eclipsed even the destruction of the Amazon. The entire world weeps at the fate of the victims, including, not least, that remarkable continent’s marsupials and fauna in general. Meanwhile the Fascist Brazilian president Bolsonaro is temporarily off the hook, as Australia seems the greater tragedy.

It so happened that I have been reading Sapiens by Yuval Harari while all this has been going on. For the few of you who have not already read the book, I take the liberty of describing it as a damning indictment of our species. True, “we” are wonderful story tellers and ingenious charlatans, but also universally destructive. I don’t know whether the author of the book would accept my summary of it; after all, he needs to earn a living. Nevertheless, this reader finds his indictment so damning that I am not even sure I shall manage to finish reading it; after all, there are people I need to love and be loved by.

Ever since the early eighties, when I read the NASA scientist Carl Sagan’s wonderful book Cosmos (published in 1980), and watched the 13-part television series, I have known about the threat to our planet posed by greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, more and more scientists have confirmed early predictions, and projections are growing exponentially bleaker by the month.

Yes, yes, the sun… and yes, this, that and the other. But the effect of a greenhouse should be as understandable even to a child as it was to me in 1980; that is, if the child wants to understand it.

A lot of people are burrowing their heads into the sand. Some do so because of fear, others because of greed. Regardless of the reason, “we” – people living today – will be called to account by future generations regardless of our reasons for failing to support measures to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. “We” will – quite simply – never be forgiven. “We” should have known, just as the Europeans should have known back in the early forties. “We” refused to see what was happening to the planet, just as the Europeans – refused to see what was happening to the Jews.

But go on, if you wish, pretending. Go on listening to Fox news, telling yourself that everything will be all right, that we can just go on doing exactly what we have been doing, playing our cold war games, driving our supersonic vehicles into a make-believe future. Real life will catch up with us, one by one, as surely as death. Unlike ordinary death, though, real life will catch up with more than just us.

But as Carl Sagan pointed out 40 years ago: “We” are all just a grain of sand in the cosmic picture. I put it to you: Does the future of our planet, its species, our species matter?

Dec 012019
 

When Pinochet came to power, he gave the so-called Chicago Boys (economists inspired by Milton Friedman) a free rein in remodelling Chile’s economy. Also, he enacted a new and obviously controversial constitution.

When Pinochet stepped down, the dictatorship ended, but the Pinochet constitution, enacted in 1981, is still in force. Moreover, the Chicago Boys’ neo-liberal market fundamentalism has reigned undisputed: The country is rich, but most of its people work their butts off for next to nothing. Proper education and health care are beyond their means.

To illustrate how dire the situation is for Chileans, consider the findings of a study published in the Lancet: “Inequalities in life expectancy in six large Latin American cities“. In case you find the wording of the article a bit dry, I quote the Spanish daily El Pais which drew my attention to it:

A woman who lives in one of Santiago’s most disadvantaged areas will have a life that is 18 years shorter than that of a woman living in the same city, but in a more wealthy district. …” We assumed that in Panama and Santiago there would be considerable differences, because there is much inequality in these two countries,” admits Usama Bilal, “in the case of Chile the magnitude of the problem surprised us.”

What is being indicted in Chile is not so much the president as neo-liberalism. If you can read Spanish, I also warmly recommend the entire above-quoted article in El País.

I fear for Chile. Soldiers target protesters eyes, hoping to frighten them. When protests continue although so many people have been blinded or killed… who knows what will happen? Will the wealthiest 10% once again launch a dictatorship to prevent the slightest redistribution of wealth and income? The protesters must be extremely brave and/or extremely desperate, because they know what they’re up against.

Unlike Spain, Chile has not attempted to forget the dictatorship. Chileans have mourned its victims, paid some compensation to its survivors, built museums documenting its abuses, etc. What’s more, they have Patricio Guzman. His haunting documentaries are not only about Chile, but about mankind. If you cannot buy, borrow, rent or steal them, you will find some of them on Youtube.

Dec 012019
 

Though I do not devote much negative attention to Russia or China or, for that matter, the so-called “Democratic” Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Nigeria or Iran, I’m very glad I do not live in any of those countries. Had I done so, I would have been honour-bound to direct my darts at them, at great risk. Of course, had I lived in Africa, I may not even have had an internet connection. Had I lived in Iran, well … I would have known what most Iranians, but all too few Westerners, know: USA was the country that killed Iranian democracy (see Robert Fisk: The Great War for Civilization or at least some of his articles in the Independent.)

I live in the so-called “Democratic” part of the world, where countries consider themselves like-minded, developed, advanced, humane, etc., etc., and where populations are mostly Christian. No doubt we who live here have much to be grateful for. Nevertheless, I see no reason to harangue the diamond-rich DRC, which is universally considered one of the global epicentres of corruption, cruelty and human rights abuse. And I see no reason to harangue Russia, which is already being flogged with sanctions and threatened by the US/NATO missile defence shield.

As for China… well, they are turning out to be better than us at our own game (capitalism), but they are taking climate change seriously, and they are showing admirable restraint about Hong kong.

All the above countries are regularly derided by the media. Human rights abuses in our own back yard, however, do not always earn the attention they deserve. True, the self-defined “deeply religious” president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte shocked the world on his accession to power, by allowing the immediate liquidation of anybody suspected of being involved in the drug business (dealer or consumer).

Since then, it is becoming increasingly clear that values on our side of the table are not quite up to scratch:

Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, came to power (with you know who’s warm support) not least thanks to votes from the country’s enormous evangelical community, which he earned by promising to loyally defend “traditional Christian values” (as opposed to e.g. abortion, homosexuality, etc.). One of his most important allies during the presidential campaign was the fabulously rich “Pastor” Silas Malafaia.

The ostensibly God-fearing president says he hopes ‘criminals will “die in the streets like cockroaches”, as a result of the hard-line legislation he is pushing, to shield security forces and citizens who shoot alleged offenders from prosecution.’ You will find very little in the media about this unholy alliance between an evangelical billionaire and a fascist president, and only defenceless human rights groups bother to plead the case of some of the victims.

Then there is Bolivia. After the Coup d’état, on declaring that she would be Bolivia’s interim head of state, Jeanine Añes held up a bible proclaiming something to the effect that “he” (God) was back in power. Since then, “indigenous” Bolivians have been shot at without impunity. See Amnesty International:

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/11/bolivia-derogar-norma-

Israel’s ghastly human rights record is certainly no better than China’s, and now the US has given its blessing to the task of wiping out the Palestinian population (nearly 10% of whom were Christian in 1922)

To compound this very incomplete list of self-denominated “Democratic” and mostly Christian countries that are deviating ever more from the principles they pretend to adhere to, among them rigorous separation of powers, look at the UK: The Tories plan to “update” the Human Rights Act in order to put an “end to prosecutions of veterans over killings during The Troubles, in an attempt to protect the armed forces from vexatious prosecutions” in Northern Ireland.

Beware! Killing or maiming demonstrators and suspects is not – I repeat, NOT – commensurate with “Democratic” or even “Christian” values. Killing or maiming protesters has nothing to do with progress. It’s asking for civil war. Give them decent minimum wages, proper education and proper health care instead. That should do the trick.

Nov 182019
 

Do you pay taxes?

I bet you do unless you are unemployed. Basically, in order to avoid paying taxes, you have to be very well-to-do. Of course, you could try good old-fashioned tax evasion and risk getting caught. But you’d better be sufficiently well-healed to employ a battery of lawyers to protect you in court. My experience is that the less well-off you are, the greater is your risk of getting caught pilfering a can of beans, let alone witholding tax.

Do you like paying taxes? Most people don’t. But look on the bright side: If the well-to-do pay their fair share of taxes (which, more often than not, they don’t) they pay an awful lot more than you.

Let’s say you make USD 3000 per month and pay a 30% tax, which leaves you with USD 2100. Not very much, I grant you, considering all the expenses we have these days: the rent, health insurance, car insurance, pet insurance, dentistry, child care, halloween costumes, weddings… ?

But your boss is making – say – USD 30,000. If he pays his 30% tax, he’ll have an annual income after tax of 351,000. Not bad, I’d say. More importantly, though, his annual contribution to the common good will have been USD 9000. That’s something to be proud of!

Have you ever met a person who was in some way seriously incapacitated, yet who nevertheless managed to help others? I put to you that when we meet such people, most of us feel – if nothing else – respect.

Incapacitated people are exempted from having to live up to peer pressure. They are not expected to own, let alone pilot their own pin-striped jet planes or serve 19th century cognac. That is probably the only advantage the incapacitated have over the rest of us, who tend to scramble like mad to impress one another with profligacy.

Recently, a former president of Peru, Alan Garcia, shot himself when the police came to arrest him. He is believed to have tucked away a lot of illegally acquired money in trusts that the prosecutors won’t get at. You see, trusts have recently turned into a particularly interesting financial instrument for tax evaders and other criminals. If you read this article from the Guardian, you may end up conceding that the extent of callousness knows no limit in the upper echelons of finance. You will see that what the article explains started long before the current US presidency, so don’t blame Trump.

Some authors have romanticised the “poor”, claiming they too are exempted, claiming that they are better than the rest of us. I don’t know. I really don’t know. Or rather I doubt it.

Is the human species even worth the effort of trying to save it from the iminent climate collapse? Can we at all imagine the possibility that social standing might someday not be measured by what we consume, but by what we contribute to the common good?

What I do know, though, is that for hundreds of years, fiction – of which I have read a lot – has tended to make heroes of those who sacrifice social standing and personal wealth to serve the common good. Even in real life, there are such people! Edward Snowden appears to be one of them. With his brains and self-discipline, he could have become fabulously rich.

His deeply moving book, Permanent Record, is not fiction. I don’t know what to call it. An autobiography? Written by somebody who is barely 30 years old? No, I prefer to call it an account. To what extent can one believe his account about why he acted as he did? On the other hand, why else would he have taken such an apparently hopeless risk, which yielded him, personally, nothing but the sterility of exile.

After all I have seen and read during my lifetime, I deeply distrust the species to which I belong, with its Bolsonaros, Trumps, Bushes, Netanyahus fake news, exploitation of miners and anyone who is destitute and hungry. For decades I have witnessed, albeit only on the screen, the killing and maiming of demonstrators demanding elemental human rights. Throughout history, not least the first decades of this century, there has been so much cruelty – just think of the Yemen war and Sudan – so much callousness – the suppression of the Palestinians, the Rohingiuans, the Uighurs, the desperate refugees banging on the doors of USA and Europe…

Would I have bought a pin-striped jet plane if I could have afforded it. No!

Castle in the Air, 1928 - M.C. Escher
Copied from: https://www.wikiart.org/en/m-c-escher/castle-in-the-air

But would I, had I had the means, have bought a gorgeous mansion surrounded by a park – my park – by the sea? I honestly don’t know. I would have been a different person, wouldn’t I? Fortunately, I am spared the temptation. So maybe the poor are better.

At any rate, as long as there still are people like Edward Snowden around, it would be a great pity if the human species should go down the drain.

Having thus reached the conclusion that mankind is still worth saving (because you know that no matter how many species perish, the planet will survive and new species will evolve, but humans may not be among them) I recommend not only one, but two good reads:

Edward Snowden – Permanent Record – to maintain your faith in the human species

Naomi Klein – On Fire – which explains in a very companionable way HOW we can save the human species. For those of you who fear that Naomi Klein is a firebrand, you can listen to the book for free before you buy it.

Nov 102019
 

I should begin by making it clear that to my knowledge, Catalonia has never been a sovereign state, though until 1714, the region enjoyed a very high degree of autonomy, see the Catalan constitutions.

I am not writing this as an expression of support to Catalonian secession. With few exceptions, I find nationalism distasteful. Bullying, however, I find even more distasteful.

There are a few aspects of the conflict I would like to highlight:

  • Most importantly there is the unresolved matter of the Franco era.
  • Next there is the matter of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia of 2006 (2010)
  • Finally there is the issue of the methods the Spanish authorities use to this very day to bring the region to heal.

The build-up

The Spanish Civil War was triggered by a right-wing coup against the democratically established Republic. For centuries an arrogant aristocracy, supported by the clergy, had been living off the fat of the land – other people’s lands, that is – doing little if anything to develop anything in Spain other than its own wealth and status. When the Civil War broke out, there had been an attempt to develop agriculture and industry since the mid-nineteenth century, but the politically primitive state (mainly the crown and the succession of generals on which it leaned) virtually asphyxiated progress. The last of the generals before the establishment of the republic was Primo de Rivera, a dictator.

To this day, a tremendous monument, richly surrounded by flowers, is devoted to Primo de Rivera in Plaza de Arenal in Jerez. I put to you that Spain has a pending debt to its people: Confess!

The Franco era

The hate that had been seething in the population for decades if not centuries knew no limit during the civil war.

Not least in Catalonia (because Franco was determined to annul the region’s newly regained self-determination). Republicans killed a lot of people – often indiscriminately – not least members of the clergy. That was not nice of them, I admit, but you may be sure that the Spanish clergy had a lot to answer for.

Eventually, the Catalan fighters were killed, and not only during the war. By the thousands. Tens of thousands. Note that I am being purposefully vague about figures, both for Catalonia and for Spain as a whole.

Not that I haven’t often heard figures. For instance I just read that there are 33,000 unnamed graves in Valle de los Caídos, from which Franco was recently moved. The place was built by forced labour after the war. There was a great deal of forced labour after the war!

Why am I writing all this, you ask. Isn’t the war over? Franco has been dead since 1975, has he not? Spain is a democracy, is it not?

Yes. Yes and yes.

BUT … the outstanding debts

  • The war and the dictatorship left hundreds (if not thousands) of mass graves.
  • No effort has been made on the part of the state to establish the real number and location of persons killed by the deeply Catholic Franco administration.
  • Even long after Franco, people were afraid to talk. In recent years, we have seen a few ancient bereaved spouses and mothers finally admitting to their children what they remember. Each opened mass grave and DNA identification of the remains has cost years of legal battles.
  • There are no records, either with the church or with public authorities of who was killed, who died in prison, and who was tortured to death. Nobody even knows how many survived harsh and humiliating imprisonment and torture.
  • Nobody has had to face charges of crimes against humanity. Perpetrators have not even been discredited.
  • No compensation has been paid to the survivors; no treatment has been offered for PTSD.

You get an impression of how much Catalonia suffered during the dictatorship if you read fiction from Catalonia. Personally, I make no effort to seek out Catalonian fiction, but for many years, I have found, almost every time I look for a nice juicy crime novel to read, that the current best-seller recommended to me is Catalonian. (My favourite Catalonian author, however, is the long since deceased Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.) In almost all the books I have purchased, protagonists have relatives who were tortured and/or killed and/or disappeared during the regime. It’s not that long ago, you know.

Franco’s spirit

Franco’s officials and supporters seem to have continued whatever line of work they had previously engaged in. This includes police officers.

Moreover, there were a lot of people who in their heart of hearts missed the strait-laced form of life he imposed. Not being one of them, I must now use my imagination: Tradition. Values. Respect to elders and to the male provider. Courtesy of men to women, modesty of women to men. Subordination of women and children. And not least: Adoration of the Church and the Crown and a firm belief that the history of the Patria was “glorious”. Finally, an almost military loyalty to the centralised state. Devolution of any form or shape was anathema to them.

They still miss it, loud and clear. Their nostalgia is being nursed by the powerful Partido Popular and the rapidly growing far-right Vox. As I write, Spaniards are casting their votes, and the two right-wing parties may well turn out to be the winners.

The Statute of Autonomy

The majority of Spain’s population was immensely relieved when Spain ceased to be a dictatorship. Both the Spanish Parliament (Cortes) and the Catalonian Parliament accepted the blessedly liberating Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia in 2006.

Not the PP. They complained to the Constitutional Court, the members of which are in essence politically elected. For four years, the court haggled over the issue, and the decision it finally reached in 2010 (to strike down 14 articles and alter 27) was not so much based on law as on the composition of the Court.

Outraged, the Catalans took to the streets.

I believe that the PP made a truly tragic mistake in contesting the Statute of Autonomy. The situation might have been put right if the Constitution had been amended to accommodate the 2006 Statute. Instead, Catalan frustration has been ridiculed and Catalan opposition has been harshly repressed. Catalans have been treated as naughty children by the national press, and the electorate outside Catalonia is becoming more chauvinistic by the day. I am fairly convinced that until 2018, the majority of Catalans were not – I repeat: NOT – in favour of secession. Certainly trade and industry were not. Now? I don’t know.

I deliver my views on this matter without referring to scholarly deliberations. The internatonal press tends to treat Spanish sensitivities kindly. After all, Spain is an EU member, and the country’s adaptation to democracy has been very impressive! The reason I am less kind is that I hope it is not too late to adopt a very different approach to the justly recalcitrant Catalonians.