Oct 142021
 

Have I made fun of the term? I bow my head in shame.

Yes, it is true that being allowed to vote once every four years for some caudillo to lead your country is not really worth fireworks. However, Democracy is not only about ballot boxes! Sometimes, you only understand that, when Democracy has been lost. And it is so easily, alas, lost.

Democracy requires “Separation of Powers” (a concept commonly attributed to Montesquieu). “Separation of Powers” means that the executive branch (i.e. the president, the army, the police and the secret service) have no powers over the judiciary (i.e. the courts) and the legislature (i.e. the National Assembly or whatever assembly determines what laws should apply in a country.) Separation of powers is absolutely quintessential for a “Democracy”. Every once in a while, we see that a hotshot decides that he should be his country’s emperor, like Napoleon. Alas, the basis for such a decision is more often than not sociopathy; certainly not wisdom.

An excellent if somewhat lengthy documentary from the European TV channel Arte about conditions in Hungary serves as an illustration of what happens when one man holds too much power. It should give you goosebumps as it thoroughly illustrates at least three points, of which the first, that Hungary is now only nominally a Democracy, is only a prelude. Let me cut to the quick: In the midst of the EU, then, you have a country led by a governmental crime syndicate; a rather chilling thought.

The deceased Portuguese novelist José Saramago wrote a wonderful novel that humorously illustrates how easily Democracy could be subverted, even without violence: “Ensaio sobre a Lucidez”, literally Essay on Lucidity, 2004, (the English translation of which is called “Seeing”). I recommend an article about the book in the Guardian by Ursula K. Le Guin. She concludes:

He has written a novel that says more about the days we are living in than any book I have read. He writes with wit, with heartbreaking dignity, and with the simplicity of a great artist in full control of his art. Let us listen to a true elder of our people, a man of tears, a man of wisdom

The novel can be read as a sequel to “Essay on Blindness” (1997). Whereas the “Essay on Blindness” is horrifying, the tardy sequel is kind to the reader. Yet, it leaves no doubt: On a rainy day, Democracy can be undone by a mere gesture, or absence of gesture, of the hand.

As we all know, of course, many countries are run by autocrats and/or de-facto crime syndicates. Many, many countries. Hungary, however, is in the EU. The EU prides itself on transparency and rule of law. Indeed there is no concealing from the EU what is going on in Hungary and Poland. But as you will see in the documentary recommended above, there is nothing the EU can legally do about the matter. So far.

What about your country? Does it claim to be Democratic? Is it really?

We all saw how close a call the US had, when the country’s voters nearly gave Trump “four more years” in “fair and Democratic” elections. What would happen to France if Eric Zemmour becomes that country’s president in “fair Democratic” elections? (And what will then happen to the EU?

No, I do not subscribe to the idea that Democracy is outdated. China and Russia may believe in authoritarian leadership, in imprisoning or even killing whistle-blowers and journalists that ask difficult questions and expose abuse of power. I do not. I should add, for the record, that China and Russia are not the only countries where constructive criticism is unwelcome. And in case you have forgotten, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are still wanted by you-know-what country.

No the problem is not that the US and the EU are too Democratic, but that they are not Democratic enough.

Who voted for Trump and who will vote for Zemmour, and why?

I find myself wondering whether sex slaves vote and if so, who do they vote for? They make up a small, yet not totally insignificant proportion of most countries’ populations. Imagine your country as a large empty aquarium. Pour in all your country’s sex slaves and they will just barely form a film over the floor of your aquarium. Add all the people who fill the shelves of all your country’s grocery stores. Add all the street sweepers, all those who wash all the floors in hospitals and all the floors of your cities’ innumerable office buildings… The tide is rising in the aquarium. You still haven’t added the unemployed.

What about the majority of your rural population, which is probably “at risk of poverty and social exclusion“, as the EU puts it: “The at-risk-of-poverty rate is the share of people with an equivalised disposable income (after social transfer) below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold, which is set at 60 % of the national median equivalised disposable income after social transfers.”

Please, PLEASE note that we are talking about 60% of the MEDIAN “equivalised disposable income”. In plain English: half the population have an income above the median and half have an income below it. In my country 18 % of all fully employed people are “at risk of poverty and social exclusion”.

Who do they vote for? Do they vote for Labour, or whatever the equivalent of Labour is called in your country? Will our Labour-equivalents truly improve their conditions? Will any major party that respects rule of law? My guess is that the answer to that question is “no”, and that our “at risk of poverty and social exclusion” voters know that.
No wonder, then, that wild-eyed preachers, charlatans, megalomaniacs and sycophantic scoundrels find it easy to deceive consumers and even voters by offering a deceptive ray of hope.

Take a look at your country’s median income in 2021. You might consider how far the median income would get you if you had to pay rent, electricity, transportation, childcare, insurance, internet, phone bill, etc. etc. etc. oh, and I forgot food.

Jul 042021
 

During the period 1122–1133, Ari Froði (the Learned) wrote Íslendingabók “the Book about Iceland”. This remarkable piece of scholarly literature was written in Icelandic, or Norse, if you will, although the writer was probably much more fluent in Latin, at least when writing. In those days, Latin was the language of choice for European scholars, of whom there were embarrassingly few, most of them clergymen.

Parenthetically, I should add that in Spain there were lots of scholars at the time, not least Arabs and Jews, and lots of linguists. In the thirteenth century, Spain was even lucky enough to have a king (Alfonso el Sabio 1221–1284 ) who understood the potential of the country’s wealth of learned subjects. Under his reign, tomes and tomes of invaluable scientific literature from all over the world were translated into the vernacular and Latin. Had it not been for this tremendous effort to translate as much as possible of all available knowledge, goodness knows how long Europe would have continued to languish in darkness.

So, during Europe’s Dark Ages, a light shone in the South, in Spain, and in the far North, in Iceland. In the rest of Europe, almost nobody could read or write, and even the Bible was just abra-cadabra for almost everybody.

Ari Froði writes in the “Book about Iceland” that all of the island’s farmsteads date from the first 60 years after the initial settlers arrived in (according to Ari himself) 870. Each and every one of the settlers who reached Iceland’s shores during those first years, is accounted for in another truly iconic historic document, it too in the vernacular, Landnámabók, presumably also written during the first part of the 12th century; author unknown. Of course, the settlers must have had slaves, livestock, wives and children, though there is no mention of livestock, and only occasional mention of wives and children. (An infinitesimal proportion of the settlers were, actually, women!)

Landnámabók sometimes mentions slaves (mostly Irish), either because they were particularly deserving, or because they betrayed their masters, and in some cases, we learn how many slaves a settler brought. Please note that these slaves had been captured or ensnared, as wild animals are captured or ensnared, during their owners’ raids on the British Isles. In other words, the brave and supremely enduring settlers were, in most cases, the same brutes who killed left, right and centre, on their jaunts through Europe.

Yet, having reached Iceland, they almost all demonstrated extraordinary courtesy, asking previously arrived settlers for permission to go ashore. Iceland appears to have been, until about 1262, an anarchist’s wet dream. People (mostly men) occupied large tracts of an otherwise vacant island, respecting the rights of both prior and subsequent arrivals until the island was “fully settled”.

In other words, they were all miraculously governed by a system of common consent which soon evolved into a body of laws recited once a year at Thingvellir. “He who recites the laws” was elected at regular intervals from among the country’s wisest men. There was no army, no police, no king, no president.

What’s more, we must assume that many of them could read; otherwise, why would Ari the Learned have written his book in Icelandic? Not only that: many of them could write! They wrote the most wonderful stories, lots and lots of them, the Sagas.

They had their feuds, true; they sometimes killed a man or two and were driven from the land, as a result, but by and large, they took pride in doing the honourable thing, whatever that was, and were extremely civilised.

WHY? How come bloodthirsty bandits turned a country into a lighthouse on a dark and gloomy continent? I have a theory about that: Of course they had common sense, and common sense told them that unless they were able to cooperate, they wouldn’t survive.

Almost equally important, though, was their concept of honour (sæmd). They knew their actions were being recorded and would go down in history. They assumed that not only their offspring, but whole generations, followed by generation after generation, would know the name not only of every hero but also of every bastard that had ever lived on the island. They behaved well in the hope of immortalising their honour.

Alas, common sense is not our strongest suit. A human being will only be guided by common sense up to a certain point. The same sense of honour that prevented Golden Age Icelanders from misbehaving, would drive them to exterminate one another in a series of skirmishes, including an utterly ludicrous naval battle, during the first half of the 13th century (described in Islendingasaga by Sturla Þórðarson, written early in the 14th century.) Rather than live sensible lives, they died ludicrously honourable deaths.

The chieftain Kolbeinn Tumason allegedly offered up his prayer “Heyr himna smiður” the night before his ludicrously honourable death in 1208. The translation is literal and does not convey the musical beauty of the verse. (Source: Wikipedia as at 4/7/2021)

Hear, smith of the heavens,
what the poet asks.
May softly come unto me
thy mercy.
So I call on thee,
for thou hast created me.
I am thy slave,
thou art my Lord.

In the course of the following three centuries, Iceland would turn into a depressing blot on European maps. For hundreds of years, the godforsaken island would be inhabited by near-starving bedraggled primitives. WHY? How come these eminently civilised farmers in the far north lost everything?

For the same reason that those of us who live in wealthy countries in the twenty second century are soon going to lose everything: Common sense, I repeat, is not our strongest suit.

The nice part of this story is that even after Iceland was virtually wiped off the map, its people’s sagas would live on, translated into many languages. To this day, then, readers all over the world can enjoy compelling tales about how Icelanders dealt with greedy bastards. No doubt, in time to come, future generations will read about our scuffles with the greedy bastards who will have turned our beautiful planet into a wasteland and our young democracies into neo-liberal fiefdoms.

Feb 082021
 

For various reasons, a growing number of people are beginning to wonder whether Democracy is just a fading daydream. The long-predicted effects of climate change are one by one starting to unfold and are shaking our faith in the future. Meanwhile, the spectacular cognitive contortions of many politicians and their followers have seemed beyond belief and have generated distrust in our governments. Finally, people like Bolsonaro, el-Sisi, Duterte, Trump, MBS, Netanyahu (Apartheid politician), Erdogan, Putin, and Burmese generals … to mention just a few, do not inspire hope for the human race, far less for Democracy.

But I put to you that in spite of all this, Democracy is not an illusion, not make-belief, not a silly fantasy!

There is nothing wrong with the concept of Democracy as outlined, however roughly
by the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Democracy is a system of government in which laws, policies, leadership, and major undertakings of a state or other polity are directly or indirectly decided by the “people,” a group historically constituted by only a minority of the population (e.g., all free adult males in ancient Athens or all sufficiently propertied adult males in 19th-century Britain) but generally understood since the mid-20th century to include all (or nearly all) adult citizens.

and recommended by the United Nations:

When the founders of the United Nations drafted the United Nations Charter, they did not mention the word democracy. In 1945, many of the UN Member States did not endorse democracy as a system, or didn’t practice it. Yet, the opening words of the Charter, “We the Peoples”, reflect the fundamental principle of democracy – that the will of the people is the source of legitimacy of sovereign states and, therefore, of the United Nations as a whole.

The problem we are facing these days is not that the concept Democracy is any more fantastical than it ever was, but that the word Democracy has been high-jacked by the United States – where it has been married to an economic (and governmental) system, commonly referred to by detractors as Neoliberalism – and where it has failed ignominiously to curb ubiquitous economic and racial injustice.

Since time immemorial there have been, here and there, patches of what could be called Democratic societies: A model example is that of the San [quote from Wikipedia]:

Traditionally, the San were an egalitarian society. Although they had hereditary chiefs, their authority was limited. The San made decisions among themselves by consensus, with women treated as relative equals. San economy was a gift economy, based on giving each other gifts regularly rather than on trading or purchasing goods and services.

True the San may not have exercised “separation of powers” (legislative, executive and judiciary) and a transparent system of checks and balances, without which I cannot conceive of a modern Democratic society. On the other hand, they managed something no “modern” society would: to survive in the Kalahari Desert.

With or without separation of powers, one thing is certain in the Kalahari Desert as in a post-modern society: Democracy is contingent on informed choices, and that is what has been missing in so many so-called democracies all over the world. The San People will not have known about quantum physics, but what knowledge they had, they shared and without shared knowledge, there is no Democracy.

Again I quote Encyclopedia Britannica:

The hallmark of democracy is that it permits citizens to participate in making laws and public policies by regularly choosing their leaders and by voting in assemblies or referenda. If their participation is to be meaningful and effective—if the democracy is to be real and not a sham—citizens must understand their own interests, know the relevant facts, and have the ability to critically evaluate political arguments. Each of those things presupposes education.

Education, then, is key!

But who gets to decide what goes onto the curriculum? A bellowing bull in Ankara (who is at this very moment clamping down on his countries’ universities)? Or a Christian fundamentalist? Well, that’s where the free press comes into the picture, isn’t it, because if either one or the other fiddles with the curriculum, the press pounces on them, unless…

Unless what? Well, the press isn’t entirely free, is it. The press has powerful owners and/or backers; military dictators, autocrats, Savonarolas, billionaires, cranks, Qanonites and nut cases who will apply every trick in the book to gain and retain control, including the tricks of editing curriculum and controlling the press.

So Democracy is not something that just falls into our laps and stays there. We have to work for it, and we have to defend it. Mind you, this is not new. Since time immemorial, the world has been hectored by power freaks, and has survived. But one thing has changed: change itself, or rather, the speed of change.

Like it or not, change happens and will continue to happen at a breath-taking speed.

Change brings us pandemics, but also improved vaccination technology. Change brings us affordable audio-visual communication across continents, but also the means to whip up insurrections through social media.

More than ever before, education – good education – is needed so that we all can contribute, each in our different ways and to the extent of our capacity – by asking questions, answering questions, squabbling about the answers; by conducting research and questioning results. Like the San, we must share available knowledge about what lies ahead so that we all can take part in deciding how to deal with it.

Jan 092021
 

Two days ago, I wrote of the challenge facing the Democratic Party if Georgia granted it the two seats it so sorely needed in the Senate. Georgia did just that! Georgia’s blacks and Georgia’s young had mobilised and saved the day for the Democratic Party. What a tremendous debt that party now owes Georgia!

Later in the day, after I had written “Georgia on my mind”, checking the news again, I saw that something was snapping in Washington D.C. where thousands and thousands of Trump supporters had congregated, swarming, at Trump’s instigation.

Over the past years, Trump has been using Fox News, Twitter and other outlets to foment hatred and rabid attitudes, as well as weird ideas among certain emotionally and educationally vulnerable segments of the US population. I cannot tell you – because I do not understand – what Trump-loving evangelists have in common with laid-off rust belt workers and depressed opioid addicts. Apparently, Trump whispers falsehoods in all of their and many others’ ears, such as those of the disenfranchised so-called “working middle class”.

No wonder, then, that his thugs actually stormed and vandalised the seat of the USA’s national assembly, its congress, lovingly referred to by the population as Capitol. They did so to obstruct Trump’s opponents. (Trump, of course, will have his own reasons to dread leaving the White House.) Legislators were rushed off to safety by the police and none of them were harmed, as far as I know, except by an inrush of Covid-19, which may of course yet kill some of them.

There is no doubt that Trump is directly and fully responsible for the mob’s storming and vandalising of Capitol. Many of his supporters will, however, be saddened and shocked. BUT they may nevertheless continue to idealise their hero until they can find someone to replace him. I believe it’s important to realise that Trump is seen by many as some sort of Wat Tyler, or even as God’s special envoy. Indeed, many of the people who believe in him have much in common with 14th century British peasants.

Unlike Wat Tyler, however, Trump is anything but an oppressed labourer. He and others who will turn up in his wake – super rich and callous – will continue to discombobulate the emotionally and educationally vulnerable for their own ends.

President elect Joe Biden has since held a forceful speech about the “rule of law”. He chose his words well, and his majesterial speech offered disconcerted US Americans a chance to believe once again in the greatness of their country. But I fear that the expression “rule of law” means little to the country’s more poorly educated citizens. In a land that used to boast that anybody could become president, that used to pride itself on being meritocratic, there is much undeserved poverty and hopelessness, much fear, much understandable anger, much corruption, and much untreated physical pain.

Something snapped in Washington D.C. That snap was just a warning, but there may still be time to put things right.

Jan 062021
 

Dear friends

Never before have I prayed for the Democratic Party – to be honest, I never pray at all – but now I am praying passionately for the Democratic Party. Mind you, I don’t like or trust the Democratic Party anymore than I like or trust Jeff Besos, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page. The Democratic Party has failed in every conceivable respect, but its voters include most of the USA’s great scientists, artists, computer experts (including hackers, and I have a penchant for hackers) and voting Blacks (though I deeply sympathise with non-voting Blacks).

Reading the News this morning, I almost choked. There is actually a glimmer of hope! If Georgia salvages the Senate for the Democratic Party, there will be no fucking excuse – none! – to fail, once again, the poor, the disenfranchised so-called “working middle class” and the Blacks. In fact, if the Democratic Party wins the Senate, their politicians will have their once-in-a-lifetime chance of showing Trump’s voters that they, not Trump, can and will improve conditions for life and work in, e.g. the Rust Belt.

At the risk of counting my chickens, if the Democratic Party wins but fails to do its duty by the 50 % of the USA’s population that owned (even before Trump!) less than 1 % of the country’s wealth and the 89 or so per cent that owned (before Trump!) only 10 % of it, there will be hell to pay not only for the Party and its long-suffering country (that is already paying a great deal), but for all of us. The rest of us will see the final disintegration of a country that claimed to be, but was so evidently far from, a bastion of “Democracy.”

I write this expecting some gruelling hours and probably even days of suspense for Georgia.

Let us all cross our fingers.

Nov 092020
 

My friends both in the USA and in my own country are ecstatically congratulating one another on the Biden/Harris victory, and I too am relieved to see the imminent end of Trump’s barbarian one-man show. But this may not be the end of his methods, and I think it is important not to be carried away by triumphalism.

The difference was, after all, only four million votes. True, we are rid of Trumpism for four years, but many poor and/or non-white prospective Democratic voters told interviewers that they intended to vote only to get rid of Trump, not because they thought Biden would “make a difference” for them. Will they come out again in four years?

Who voted for Trump and why? I agree with those who maintain that the media played a big part. But Trump, too, blamed the media. In fact, far from all the media was pro-Trump. So I must ask: What is the main difference between people who believe a headline like “chlorine kills Covid”, or who subscribe to the Pizzagate conspiracy, and those who don’t? I maintain that by substantially improving educational opportunities for all young citizens, we would substantially reduce vulnerability to false news in the course of only three or four years.

Evangelical Trump followers were loyal regardless of the press, and there were very many of them, even though they knew what sort of person he was. They believed God was using him because he had promised to continue helping Israel engulf Palestine. I’m not privy to their beliefs, but as I understand it, they are convinced that all of this will hasten the return of the Messiah. Not much you can do about that, I guess.

I have the impression that the past decades (since the 70s) have seen a downhill slide for a large part of the US population as is described, for instance, in the Guardian: Who will speak for…

The so-called “divided America” is not just about Trump. It is to a large extent about despair, humiliation and loss of dignity. It is also about anger.

Trump is angry, too. He claims to hate the elite. To many voters it seemed that because of his ostentatious and iconoclastic alleged anti-elitism, Trump was being humiliated, ridiculed and harassed by mainstream press, just like them. He told them he was on their side, and they hoped he would get rid of some of the multinational corporations that had gobbled up their livelihoods.

I believe that what Trump really hates is science, education, etc.,and anything that stands in his way. Getting rid of him does not, however, mean you get rid of his voters who want something neither Trump nor Biden can or will give them: decently paid work, education and proper health care.

From Thomas Piketty’s book (see the Harvard Gazette article How political ideas keep economic inequality going) we learn that inequality in all of the western world has been rising steadily ever since the seventies, and is now back at where it was before WWI. This trend is not due to Trump, is not limited to the USA, and is not going to stop by itself.

Meanwhile, to quote the above Guardian article, “It is one thing to be spinning your wheels stuck in the mud, but it is even more demeaning to watch as others zoom by on well-paved roads, none offering help.”

Take a look the below graph from the Fed.

May 262020
 

Usually, when people get killed in this country, the killer is a puny character. In 2019, for instance, 75% of the killers were under the influence of some intoxicant and 56% of the victims were women. In general, killers in this country are absolute losers, sick of mind and pathetic, no matter how frightening they seem from the victim’s perspective. Moreover more than 95% of the cases end up being solved.

But we also have big-time criminals, people whose minds are no doubt warped, but not to the extent that they lose control. They don’t kill, at least not here; they merely “traffic” and use minions to do the dirty work of handling the victims. The minions get caught, of course, but not the big-timers.

On 31 October 2018, the wife of one this country’s richest men vanished from their shared home. The entire country held it’s breath: We are not accustomed to high-profile disappearances around here.

At first, the case appeared to be one of kidnapping. Apparently a note had been left in the home from which the victim disappeared. The letter demanded a hefty ransom to be paid in an obscure crypto currency. Apparently the husband did try to pay, but the currency was quite simply too obscure. The kidnappers were not heard from again until nearly a year later, when they apparently made contact. The drama was of course played out in detail in the media, mainly by the aggrieved husband’s high-profile lawyer.

A few weeks ago, the police held a press conference to inform the public that they had arrested the husband on charges of murder and with the intention of locking him away for four weeks, so that they could carry out an in-depth search of his home, second home and company. They explained that they had long since reached the conclusion that the kidnapping never occurred and that it had merely been a performance staged for their (the police’s) benefit.

Meanwhile, the rest of the audience, the general public – myself included – was gaping at the spectacle. The very idea of that very rich man sitting behind bars was absolutely extraordinary. Naturally, it did not last. After a couple of days, his very high-profile lawyer had got him out of jail and the case seems to have reached a dead end.

To make a long story short, the police are convinced of his guilt. They are certain the woman has been killed by him or at his orders. There is only one small problem: No body. Moreover, there is insufficient evidence to exclude all reasonable doubt.

Point being: If you are rich and powerful enough, you can get away with murder, any number of them, in fact.

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.

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.