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Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Susana Medina: Object Lessons

Por: | 05 de septiembre de 2016

Anglo-Spanish author Susana Medina gives three lessons about three objects, which relate to three different identities and three stories. This audio slideshow explores and studies her relationship with objects in a similar fashion to Susana Medina's literature.

 
 
 

When Susana Medina speaks, her voluptuous lips resemble a place to rest. Salvador Dali’s powerful Mae West bocca sofa comes to mind. When Susana and I met earlier this year, we were discussing the power of objects, the main theme of her latest novel. The book is called Philosophical Toys and it's her debut novel written in English. The story explores and studies our relationship with objects, masterfully interspersed amid a plot that leads us to London, Spain and Mexico, while the reader discovers many engaging characters, some of whom are collectors of objects and inquire about the enigmatic nature of the things. Playfully concocted, her novel is both a celebration and critique of our relationship to objects from fetishes, to curios, to commodities, to objectum sexuality, to our becoming cyborgs through our addiction to technology.

 

"Susana Medina's writing displays a sense of elegant engagement with a minatory world, the prose is both spare and lush, and there's a commendable tension about the enterprise."

-- Will Self (novelist and journalist)

 
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Susana Medina with her latest novel, Philosophical Toys
(click on image to view hi res photo)
 

Susana Medina has written and published poetry, a novel, stories, essays and a cinematographic script. She has made two short films based on Philosophical Toys, Buñuel’s Philosophical Toys and Leather-bound Stories (co-directed with Derek Ogbourne), and received numerous awards, including the Max Aub International Short Story Prize. Other works include Red Tales (bilingual edition, co-translated with Rosie Marteau) and Souvenirs del Accidente. Her work is featured in Best European Fiction, 2014, Dalkey Archive Press. Born in Hampshire, England of a Spanish father and a German mother of Czech origin, she grew up in Valencia, Spain, and has lived in London since 1989. Susana's work is published by Dalkey Archive Press, a publisher of fiction, poetry, and literary criticism recently relocated to Texas in the United States, specializing in the publication or republication of lesser known, often avant-garde works, as well as major international authors in translation.

 

"A shockingly beautiful innovative voice in which the sublime and laughter are perfectly matched."

Andrew Gallix (editor-in-chief of 3:AM Magazine, writer and academic)

 

During February of this year, Susana and I recorded a podcast interview. We spoke of her writing, childhood, collectors of objects, Cinderella's lost slipper, superstition, animism, parallel universes, fashion, fetishism, social media, politics, biculturalism and cyborgs, among other subjects. The podcast can be heard by clicking on the link below:

 

The Susana Medina Podcast Interview

 

"Susana Medina is a genius!"

- Deborah Levy (British playwright, novelist and poet)

 

 

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Susana Medina in her studio with a pet
(click on image to view hi res photo)

 


Susana Medina's website

The novel entitled, Philosophical Toys by Susana Medina is published and sold by Dalkey Archive Press as well as Amazon and other good bookshops.

Derek Ogbourne's website

Reportage, Photography & Post-Production: Paul Louis Archer Photography

Audio slideshow music and sound design: Daniel Fisher & David Austin

Craft beer: the sole winner in Spain's economic woes

Por: | 23 de junio de 2016

The tour is so overbooked that Jaime Riesgo, 29, splits the group in two and leads one half to the basement of his La Virgen craft beer microbrewery. Business partner and wife AnaElena Coelho, 30, takes charge of the remaining attendees.

“We have doubled production each year since we opened” Riesgo tells me, who after being introduced to the world of microbrewing in San Francisco began producing arguably Madrid’s most popular craft beer in 2011. “This year we’re due to brew 4,500 hectolitres of beer. We have the capacity to make 40,000 hectolitres.”

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La Virgen has seen sales double each year since opening in 2012. Image: Alec Herron

In Spain, it’s not just La Virgen that is seeing sales of craft beer bubble over. Between 2008 and 2016 the number of microbreweries in Spain grew by more than 1,600%, four times more than the second highest growth rate, in Czech Republic.

While Spain continues as the world’s number one producer of wine, squeezing 22.6 million hectolitres form its vineyards in 2014, the Mediterranean country climbed to sixth position that same year in the league of European microbrewers of beer.

Putting a solid reason to the sudden growth in beer full of flavour and brewed with care, is difficult to define with certainty. However, the correlation between Spain’s hop revolution and the start of the economic crisis in 2008, which pushed the country's unemployment rate above 20%, is more than coincidence.

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Craft beer production grew more in Spain than any other European Union country between 2008-14. Image: Alec Herron

“People have had to search for a different way to do things. The little money people now have, they want to spend on what makes them happy.” Explains Jaime, as we sip one of La Virgen’s summer-inspired Pale Ales ‘360’. “But I believe the culture of craft Beer is here to stay.”

With just 21 craft breweries operating in 2008, the drinks industry in Spain was dominated by a small number of large brewers whose regional sales had been cemented by government policy during the Franco dictatorship. Madrid was Mahou, Cataluna the territory of Estrella Damm, while Cruzcampo held the South.

In Madrid, trendy neighbourhoods such as Malasaña, Chueca and La Latina were among the first to open their doors to smaller brewers. In April, the second Lavapiés Craft Beer Festival was held supported by 27 bars and two stores. In June, the third Madrid Beer Week hosted tasting sessions, classes in brewing, brewery tours, beer markets and product presentations across more than 140 locations.

Separated into columns headed by state flag, Birra y Paz proudly displays Spain’s regional variety in craft beers. The shop opened in Madrid’s upmarket Retiro neighbourhood in 2013, as one of the first shops to sell craft beer outside of the capital’s central streets.

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Birra y Paz was one of Madrid's first craft beer suburban stores. Image: Alec Herron

“Right now we’re in a phase of catching up with countries that have been producing craft beer for much longer than us,” says Maria Paz, who runs Birra y Paz with her husband, Miguel Angel. “Six years ago you hardly heard of craft beer in Spain.”

Since Spain’s economy went into deep recession in 2008 and unemployment has soared to above 20%, hundreds of thousands of Spaniards have left the country to seek opportunity elsewhere. Alongside returning with a taste for products inspired outside of Spain, Maria believes the crisis has encouraged the country’s food and drink entrepreneurs to stand on their own two feet.

“People, who have lost their work, have had to look for a new way of making a living and some of those with knowledge of how to brew beer have seen an opportunity to make money,” says Maria, whose own interest in craft beer began following several trips to the Czech Republic. “Most of our customers are young, open-minded and well travelled.”

As the tour at La Virgen’s Madrid brewery wraps up, Jaime explains that Spain is not destined to remain globally famous just for its wine. “Sixty years ago there wasn’t variety in the wine you could drink in Spain and in reality, the wine that existed was pretty bad,” says Jaime, whose own father recounts how the country took a taste for the grape during his lifetime. “The people of different regions changed the culture of wine in this country. I think the same is now happening with beer.”

Every rep counts

Por: | 27 de mayo de 2016

Rob Martin Squat Cleans with an audience.  Photo Credit Vicki McLeod Phoenix Media  (11)
Any El Pais reader who practices the fitness regime and sport of CrossFit will know about "The Open", "Regionals" and "The Games". They are yearly international events to find the fittest people in the world.  The process started with "The Open" which is exactly that, anyone could enter, and many thousands of people from around the world did. It was over five weeks, every week there was a new qualifying test to do which was announced on the Thursday night, giving you until Monday evening to complete it and record your score. You either did the test in a CrossFit affiliate (such as CrossFit Mallorca in Son Bugadelles Santa Ponsa in Mallorca where I train and where these photographs were taken over the course of the Open) or you could do it independently and video it. There were some astonishing entries from competitors around the globe, including athletes with disabilities, beginners who are giving it a go despite being many kilos overweight, or suffering from some debilitating disease, elderly people, and of course the elite athletes that personify the sport. My personal favourite was a young man in Romania, Barni Böjte, who executed the various workouts which made up the qualifying entries at his family's farm. His videos (which you can see on the CrossFit.com website http://games.crossfit.com/article/fitness-raw) featured chickens, dogs, and the interior of a barn. There's really no barrier to it: even I took part. Sport hasn't been a serious part of my life since I was a child, so, it came as quite a surprise to me (and to anyone who knows me) how much I have been caught up into the world of CrossFit. Looking at it dispassionately I can see the appeal: it's a community, it has its own language (AMRAP, WOD, EMOM), its stars and legends, and even its own clothes range: there's a world that has built up around the practice which was developed by its founder Coach Greg Glassman over several decades. Glassman was the first person in history to define fitness in a meaningful, measurable way: "increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains". He then created a programme specifically designed to improve fitness and health.

Cathy Clarke's handstand push ups, no pasa nada. Photo Credit Vicki McLeod Phoenix Media  (8)
CrossFit is "constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity". By functional movements they mean body movements that you would do in your everyday life, like sit down on a chair or reach up to put something on a shelf, or carry your food shopping. These are the core movements of life. These movements reflect aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. By employing a constantly varied approach to training, functional movements and intensity it leads to dramatic gains in fitness. The community that has spontaneously arisen when people do these workouts together is a key component of why CrossFit is so effective, and has given birth to a global network of CrossFit affiliates that now number over 11,000. It harnesses the natural camaraderie, competition and fun of sports. Overall, the aim of CrossFit is to forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness supported by measurable, observable and repeatable results. The programme aims to prepare you for any physical contingency—not only for the unknown but for the unknowable, too. The specialty is not to specialise, and instead prepare for the unexpected.

Sandra and Megan mid squat cleans and still smiling. Photo Credit Vicki McLeod Phoenix Media  (13)
Although CrossFit challenges the world’s fittest, the programme is designed for universal scalability, making it the perfect application for any committed individual, regardless of experience. Trainers will scale the weight load and exercise intensity, but they won’t change the programme. The needs of Olympic athletes and ourselves and our grandparents differ by degree, not by kind. This is why I can turn up at 7am every morning and train alongside people who are much, much fitter than me, we will do the same workout within the same time frame, but we will work at different intensities and weights. So for example a typical Workout of the Day (WOD) could be an AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible) in twenty minutes. You might be asked to complete 10 burpees, 15 wall balls and 20 kettle bell swings, but the weights of the wall balls could be 4, 6, 9 kilos, or more, and the kettle bells could be anything from 6 to 32 kilos. And the repetitions might be scaled as well, you might find yourself being told to reduce the reps on some workouts. It all depends on the WOD, which changes daily.  You don't have to attend an affiliate to take part in CrossFit, there are suggestion on the Crossfit.com website everyday for your training, and many helpful videos and articles. I personally wouldn't have achieved anything without the motivation, encouragement, and support I get from attending my local "box" (that's what they call the place we train, although some people might train in garages, or on the beach, or in car parks). All of the CrossFit Mallorca trainers and the other members are friendly, fun and becoming more and more like family to me every day, in fact I see some of them more than I do my own family some days.

This has led to me travelling to Madrid for this coming weekend to photograph the CrossFit Regionals. Athletes from around Europe and Africa will gather at the Caja Magica over the next three days to "throw down" and battle it out to find who should go to Carson, to the final test to find the fittest of them all. Only five teams, five men and five women can go.... It's a growing sport in Spain, and there are a few potentials who might stand a chance of going through, pitting themselves against the more dominant Northern European athletes. Many of them come to Mallorca to prepare and train in the spring and summer months in order to be ready for the extremes of temperature in California in July. 

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These photos illustrate some of the different types of elements we were tested on during The Open 2016. Over the weeks we were asked to do muscle ups, handstand push ups, rowing, deadlifts, burpees, toes to bar, chest to bar, squat cleans and other seemingly impossible things, but everyone has done something, not just the fittest in the gym, but even I was able to put a score on the board. It didn't matter that I was not that fast, or that good, as at least I wasn't on the sofa watching the telly and drinking wine, I've been trying to do something for my body, which has also had a very powerful effect on many other aspects of my life. From dentists, to hairdressers, to engineers, to maintenance people, to mums, to dads, to teenagers, to professional athletes, to grandparents, we're all there, all trying, all sweating, not giving up. It's never too late to start, I was diagnosed last year with an L4/L5 hernia in my back and told that I would have to have an operation. I decided that I didn't want to take that option, and instead I took myself and my poor old body to the gym, found myself something I wanted to do, and made a commitment. Now I am more than 10 kilos lighter and last week I "deadlifted" 100 kilos, I might even send my doctor a photo! 

The Plight Of Spanish Hunting Dogs

Por: | 09 de mayo de 2016

“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

 ― Immanuel Kant (German philosopher)

 

Annually, at the end of the hunting season, Spanish hunters have been known to lynch their unwanted hunting dogs by suspending the animals just above the ground from trees. Consequently, the canines desperately attempt to find a foothold. Hence, during suffocation, the poor creatures perform a macabre dance of death. The hunters are known to find this amusing and laugh at the dogs being hung to death. They call this annual death ritual, 'Piano Playing'. This is but one example of atrocities committed by the heartless, criminal mindset that taints the Spanish hunting community. However, rarely are criminal prosecutions successfully made against these hunters.

 

"The situation of dogs used in hunting is very dramatic and serious. We really need to act very quickly –  to educate the state administration, the police, more lawyers and veterinarians to make good reports of cases of animal abuse and protection, and to know the laws that they can link these to... I have found that in many cases of animal welfare allegation – where people have witnessed maltreatment, then (sic) if these cases do get taken up by a lawyer, that in fact (sic) they end up in files stored away and the case is closed, and the animals continue to suffer until they die of hunger, of their wounds or their disease. Or they die from their abuse – from being beaten or hung."

― Raquel López Teruel (specialist animal rights lawyer in Spain)

 

'Podenco Alliance' and 'Podenco Support South West' based in the United Kingdom, held a peaceful protest and photo campaign, which raised awareness of the dismal abuse meted out to Spanish hunting dogs. Many nationalities joined the protest in London, including Spanish representatives of 'Partido Animalista' (PACMA) and American citizens from 'Emerald City Pet Rescue' based in Seattle. A Facebook group with over 20,500 members called, 'The Million Paw March for Justice' were also represented. Similar events ran in conjunction with the London protest in Manchester, Glasgow and Spain. These followed on from demonstrations in Paris and Gettysburg, USA. More protests against the cruelty to hunting dogs will take place in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands in the coming months.

 

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Demonstrators and their dogs outside the Spanish embassy in London
(click on image to view hi res photo)

 

The protest march took place in London on 'May Day' (Sunday 1st May 2016) and focused on handing to the Spanish embassy a petition, alongside an extensive photo-card compilation of rescued Spanish hunting dogs. Each photo-card was captioned with an individual statement, briefly describing what had happened to the canines in Spain, before they were finally rescued and transported to a safe haven in Britain. Around, 250 UK-adopted Spanish rescue dog owners sent in their photos and stories for inclusion in the petition supporting Spanish hunting breeds.

 

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Demonstrators and their dogs outside the Spanish embassy in London
(click on image to view hi res photo)

 

Protest letters were also delivered, calling for an end to the cruelty, for increased animal welfare education in Spain, as well as the urgent widespread implementation of Spanish and European legislation to protect animals. Further, copies of the petition and photo campaign, were also given to 10 Downing Street; the official residence of the British prime minister, David Cameron.

 

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Protest organisers hand in their petition to 10 Downing Street
(click on image to view hi res photo)

 

May Day this year was earmarked for the day of action, because that coincided with the inaugural date of the 'International Day of the Podenco'. This observed commemorative day was designated by an organisation called, 'SOS Podenco Rescue' to raise awareness of podencos, the hunting breed that is abandoned and dies in greatest numbers in Spain, and yet is the least known outside of the Iberian peninsula. The dogs most often hung are the galgos or Spanish greyhounds. Podencos are used for hunting in packs in the more mountainous areas, while the galgos are used for hare-coursing in the flat areas. Podencos and other types of rescued Spanish hunting breeds were represented at the protest. The campaign organisers asked families, who have adopted abandoned Spanish hunting dogs in the UK, to work together and coordinate the event. It pro-actively spotlighted the cruel treatment of podencos, galgos, pointers, setters, Brittany spaniels, and bodegueros. All these breeds are abused in their lives and discarded in their thousands-upon-thousands every year in Spain.

 

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Rescued galgos and podencos at the demonstration in London
(click on image to view hi res photo)

 

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Rescued podencos march in London
(click on image to view hi res photo)

 

"The appalling treatment of Spanish Hunting Dogs strikes a chill to the heart; it is impossible to believe that a country as sophisticated and fine as Spain could tolerate such unforgivable cruelty to living creatures. I add my name to the many who are calling for this inhumanity to be stopped once and for all."

― Joanna Lumley, OBE (actress, author and activist)

 

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Joanna Lumley by photographer Rankin
(click on image to view hi res photo)

 

Statistics

Beryl Brennan, a long term advocate for the podencos and the galgos, has tried to estimate annual figures for abandoned and killed dogs of the aforementioned breeds. She has looked at the estimated annual figures for uncontrolled breeding of both breeds. Her calculations show the difficulty of getting hold of accurate figures. So many unwanted dogs will be shot by their owners or will die in the kill pounds; dogs 'round the back' that volunteers to the pounds never see. Furthermore, many hunters do not register their dogs as they are legally obliged to do.

In 2009, an organisation called, 'SOS Galgos' based in Barcelona, published on their website that 160 galgos were abandoned every day. That equates to an annual figure of 58,400 galgos abandoned or dumped in perreras (dog pounds) for killing, including reports of galgos hung in olive tree groves.

Figures for cazadores (hunters with galgos or other dogs) or podenqueros (those who specifically use podencos) are difficult to obtain, partly because there does not appear to be one overall federation governing the different hunting associations. However, uncontrolled breeding rates, abandonments and killings are at stratospheric levels.

Podenco Alliance & Future Initiatives

 

"Our work will focus on education for a cultural shift towards good animal welfare. Education projects will work with Spanish vets and the hunting community on animal health initiatives."

― Polly Mathewson (The Podenco Alliance)

 

Podenco Alliance hopes for a Spain, indeed a world that is steeped in compassion not cruelty. Alongside, campaigning for changes to the current cultural and legislative system that creates such suffering for hunting dogs, the organisation are planning to promote an educational based version of compassion to the Spanish hunters. Podenco Alliance’s primary aim is to work to help change the root causes that lead to abuse and re-education of animal cruelty offenders might be the key.

 

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Podenco Alliance members cradling dogs
(click on image to view hi res photo)

 

Ultimately, branding the hunters as evildoers, will not serve any party involved with resolving the dilemma of animal cruelty. Personally, those hunters that are called evil should be reclassified as mentally disordered offenders, who are presumed ignorant of their actions at best. However, the role of Podenco Alliance and its growing network of colleagues is not to assign fault to the hunters for their own shortcomings, nor do they want to judge them. Equally important, the organisation wants legal justice to prevail for the plight of the Spanish hunting dog. During, the May Day protest in London, Podenco Alliance, Podenco Support South West and a group of 16 supporting organisations called upon the Spanish government to take urgent steps to increase the implementation of existing animal protection laws, to create new laws and to educate for change.

 

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A podenco named Rosa at the demonstration
(click on image to view hi res photo)

 

Podenco Alliance, Podenco Support South West and SOS Podenco Rescue support the belief that animals who are victims of neglect, abuse, or abandonment must not also be victims of bureaucracy. Such organisations need help not only in supporting the animals, but in bringing its concerns for their welfare to the attention of the Spanish taxpayer and electorate as well as further afield.  

 

“You try your best to love the world despite obvious flaws in design and execution and you take care of whatever needy things present themselves to you during your passage through it. Otherwise you're worthless.” 

― Extract from the book called, 'Nightwoods' (2011) by American novelist Charles Frazier

 

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Rescued Spanish hunting dogs and their owners near Parliament Square in London
(click on image to view hi res photo)

 

If you want to support these organisations by volunteering, donating, purchasing charitable merchandise or adopting a rescue dog, please contact the appropriate organisation via its social media account listed below:

'Podenco Alliance' aim to help change the root causes that lead to so many unwanted animals experiencing the pain of abuse and abandonment.

If you want to help by donating to 'Podenco Alliance', its PayPal account can be found via this email address: yellowdog.greenplanet@gmail.com. Alternatively, please visit its social media accounts for other ways to donate or volunteer:

Podenco Alliance on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Podenco-Alliance-830283370360675/

Podenco Alliance on Twitter: https://twitter.com/PodencoAlliance


'Podenco Support South West' offers support to animal rescue organisations in Spain.

Please visit Podenco Support South West's Facebook account for ways to donate or volunteer: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1660897800844228/


'SOS Podenco Rescue' is a Spanish charity that rescues Podencos and finds homes for the breed by offering dog adoptions to the public.

Please visit SOS Podenco Rescue's official website for ways to donate, volunteer or adopt a dog: http://www.sospodencorescue.com

SOS Podenco Rescue on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sos.podencorescue.7


'The Million Paw March for Justice' on Facebook; its main goal is to raise awareness about the plight of the galgo and podenco breeds in Spain: https://www.facebook.com/groups/438183899673543/


'Partido Animalista' (PACMA) is a Spanish political party, who work for the defense of animals, the environment and social justice: https://pacma.es


'Emerald City Pet Rescue' based in Seattle (USA) was established in 2013 as a non-profit organisation dedicated to rescuing, nurturing, and rehabilitating homeless and neglected animals: http://www.emeraldcitypetrescue.org


Thank you to Beryl Brennan of 'Podenco Post' and 'Galgo News' for providing statistics: www.podencopost.com


 

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Animal activists with banners at Westminister in London
(click on image to view hi res photo)

 

 

Can George Orwell Teach Catalonia a Lesson?

Por: | 04 de mayo de 2016

Orwell in chair

In the clear yet cold winter of 1936-1937 a 33-year-old George Orwell found himself fighting on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.  He was to vividly record his experiences in Homage to Catalonia, one of the first-rate nonfictional books on the brutality of war. Now, with almost 50% of Catalans in favor breaking away from Spain, Spaniards are facing a possible fracturing of their country.  Absurd? Impossible? Illegal? Unconstitutional?  Well, Orwell had never imagined that the Barcelona he admired, where “the working class was in the saddle,” and where “there was a belief in the revolution and the future,” was to have “lies and rumors circulating everywhere, the posters screaming from the hoardings that I and everyone like me was a Fascist spy” in less than six months’ time.

No one is predicting that in today’s Spain fellow countrymen will be killing each other, and the Minister of Defense has said that Spanish military involvement will be unnecessary as long as everybody “fulfills their duty.”  But there are several salient historical and political parallels between what Orwell experienced in the Spanish Civil War and the current independence movement in Catalonia. 

Orwell was inspired by Barcelona’s revolutionary and egalitarian atmosphere in that December of 1936.  Anarchist flags were ubiquitous and former class splits had been disintegrated.  “There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.”  He joined the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM).

After spending the remainder of the winter and early spring fighting on the Aragon front, Orwell returned to an altogether different Barcelona.  The revolutionary resoluteness of the city had faded, food prices had skyrocketed without a matching wage increase and the dominance of the working class had vanished.  Orwell lamented: The “restaurants and hotels seemed to have little difficulty getting whatever they wanted, but in the working-class quarters the queues for bread, olive oil, and other necessaries were hundreds of yards long.”

There was an ominous feeling of distrust between the various Leftist factions.  The Kremlin-backed Communists carried out a deliberate campaign of misinformation aimed at the Anarchists, whose spirit of independence Stalin wanted to control.  “Various people were infected with spy mania and were creeping around whispering that everyone else was a spy of the Communists, or the Trotskyists, or the Anarchists, or what-not,” wrote Orwell.  Barcelona, with Orwell caught in the middle, fell into three days and three nights of street warfare.  When the street fighting had stopped, Orwell was off to the front again.  In May of 1937, his throat was pierced by a sniper’s bullet that almost killed him.  Back in Barcelona, he was greeted with news that the government had outlawed the POUM and had incarcerated, tortured and executed many of its members and sympathizers.  In a “horrible atmosphere of suspicion and hatred,” Orwell was deemed a traitor and the police searched his hotel room.  He and his wife eventually escaped to France.   Although he began as a selfless Republican—and remained a flinty socialist for life—volunteering in the battle against Fascism, “planned state-capitalism” and the Catholic Church, Orwell was forced to flee Spain as an accused Trotskyite conspirator whose true allegiance was to Fascism.  Orwell’s time in Spain—the “result is not necessarily disillusionment and cynicism”; rather, “the whole experience has left me with not less but more belief in the decency of human beings”—was essential to the ideas he would write about in Animal Farm and 1984.  He “suffered the premonitory pangs of a man living under a police regime: a police regime ruling in the name of socialism and the people,” wrote Christopher Hitchens in his book Why Orwell Matters.  Orwell “had seen Stalinist frame-ups and falsified denunciations at first hand.”   

Yet the infighting between the Socialists and Anarchists and the acrimonious rivalry between the Anarchists and Soviet Communists divided the Left in the Spanish Civil War and effectively led to Franco’s Fascist victory over the Republican forces for which Orwell had volunteered in first place.  There is a similar internecine struggle in today’s secessionist movement in Catalonia that is putting a future Catalonian republic in jeopardy, which in many ways mirrors the self-sabotaging of the never-to-be revolution that Orwell supported.

Voter turnout was at a record high of 77.4% in Catalan regional elections of last September.  With 48% of the popular vote, the two pro-secessionist parties, Together for Yes (JpS) and Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), won 72 of Catalonia’s 135 seats, giving pro-independence parties a majority in parliament for the first time in Catalonia’s modern history.  Catalonia Yes We Can (CSQEP), an alliance of progressive parties with Pablo Iglesias’s Podemos (We Can) at the helm, took 9% of the votes, getting 11 seats.  Although Podemos doesn’t support the already-passed parliamentary motion—a nine-point document calling for an 18-month unilateral declaration of independence and the formation of a republic—the party is in favor of holding a Scottish-style referendum to decide if Catalonia is to formally secede from Spain.  The Socialists’ Party of Catalonia (PSC), which finished with 13% and 16 seats, respectively, also has leaders that back the “right to decide.”  That the Popular Party of Catalonia (PPC), the Catalan branch of acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s fiercely unionist and anti-referendum PP, came away with only 9% of the vote and 11 seats is noteworthy.  Opinion surveys show upwards of 80% of Catalans in favor of holding a binding referendum. 

Carles Puigdemont, the leader of the Generalitat of Catalonia, whose party, Democratic Convergence of Catalonia (CDC), fused with the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) to run together as JpS in the regional elections, has more ideologically pure independentista credentials than his predecessor, Artur Mas.  Puigdemont openly defied the Spanish state and tradition by becoming the first Catalan premier to take office without swearing allegiance to the Spanish king or the Constitution.  In fact, just last month, Puigdemont wrote in an op-ed article in the Guardian newspaper that “if Madrid fails to grant Catalonia a referendum, we will advance with the democratic mandate given to the pro-independence parties by the Catalan people. The roadmap we laid out prior to our own elections last September shows an 18-month timeline to prepare the laws and state institutions necessary for Catalonia to make the transition to independence with legal certainty following a referendum.”  (Remember: Because in Spain’s elections of last December no political party won enough seats to form a majority in parliament, new elections have been called for June 26.)  The current speaker of the parliament of Catalonia, Carme Forcadell, a secessionist like Puigdemont, took her new position by pronouncing a robust “Long live the Catalan Republic!”

So in the face of such public and political support, why haven’t the terms and date for a referendum been agreed, to say nothing of an outright declaration of independence?

One reason is that the pro-independence parties are bickering over details.  Neither the CUP and CSQEP are the POUM nor ERC and CDC are the Soviet Union, and, for that matter, none of them is the equivalent to the Spanish Socialists of the 1930s.  But they are engaging in an internal, Pyrrhic fight.   In reaction to the Spanish Constitutional Court’s decision of last November to temporarily suspend the 18-month separatist motion passed by the Catalan parliament, Neus Munté, the then-acting deputy premier, said: “The political will is to push forward the parliament’s mandate and the resolution that was approved.”  Despite Neus’s clear statement, the CUP countered by submitting a new motion that demands the “validity” of the previous motion for independence.  Francesc Homs, the Spokesperson for the Government of Catalonia, criticized CUP’s filing, saying it would only effectuate “ridiculous arguments” among supporters of independence.  CSQEP contends, on the other hand, that without a winning “yes” vote in a referendum, any creation of a new republic would lack democratic legitimacy. 

Disputes, moreover, about policy and procedure may be masking insidious competition for power and influence, echoing the bitter rivalry between the Anarchists and Soviet Communists.  The center-right CDC and the far-left CUP are allies in the centuries-old debate over the right of self-determination versus the territorial integrity of nation-states.  But they, along with CSQEP, are still competing for the same votes in elections, seeking party donors and trying to win or maintain the same contested seats and offices.    

Nor do the challenges facing the creation of a Catalan republic only come from within Catalonia. There are obvious adversaries at the national level.  Orwell wrote that Franco’s “rising was a military mutiny backed up by the aristocracy and the Church.”  The official position of the present-day Spanish Episcopal Conference (SEC) is that “policies directed toward the unilateral dissolution of [Spain] gives us great worry.”  Four Catalans, though, sit on SEC’s Standing Committee, and one of them, Lluís Martínez Sistach, the Auxiliary Bishop of Barcelona, supposedly speaking on behalf of the three other Catalan clergymen, said the Catalan Church “would be on the side of the Catalan people” if they opted for secession.  (Ironically, Teresa Forcades, a Catalan Benedictine nun, has become something of an international sensation for her cutting criticism of big banks, big pharma and inequality and for her radical approach to achieving a republican Catalonia.)

And of course there is stout political and social resistance to Catalonian independence outside of Catalonia. The PP, the party garnering the most votes in the last national election, is unwavering in its stance that the Spanish union must stay intact and maintains that a referendum would be illegal and unconstitutional.  The raison d’être of Ciudadanos (Citizens), a center-right party founded by Albert Rivera, a 36-year-old Barcelona-born lawyer, which, along with Podemos, has upended three decades of two-party rule in Spain, is the continued threat of Catalan separatism.  And Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), can attribute, at least in part, his two failed attempts to become prime minister to the fact that he was forced to try to form a coalition government with Citizens: It would seem that the PSOE and Podemos, two parties on the left, would have been more natural allies, but Podemos made a referendum in Catalonia a prerequisite for its backing.

Several of the most powerful foreign leaders have also weighed in against Catalan nationhood.  Just as Franco received financial, military and political support from Hitler and Mussolini, so too Obama, Merkel and Cameron have all publicly reproved Catalonian independence ambitions.  To be sure, said heads of state are not fascists.  Nor are the E.U., NATO or the U.N. totalitarian organizations.  But each of them has taken issue with Catalonian independence.  “A newly independent region, by the fact of its independence, would become a third country with respect to the [European] Union, and may apply to become a member of the Union,” said Margaritis Schinas, spokesman for European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, in September of 2015.  But is it fair or realistic to insinuate that Catalonia (and Scotland) would be put in line behind Albania and Macedonia as candidates for accession to the European Union

At the time of writing, however, 23 out of 28 EU countries and 24 out of 28 members of NATO have formally recognized Kosovo as a sovereign state.  And although many EU leaders, including Rajoy, Cameron and Merkel, were not in favor of Scottish independence, many were reticent to openly express their opinion.  Merkel, for instance, didn’t make hardly any public comments and when she did make one after the voting it was cagey: “Before, I preferred not to stick my nose in because I thought it was an internal process.  Now, I say that I respect the result and I say it with a smile.”  David Cameron, to be fair, has at least allowed Scots to vote in a Quebec-style referendum on their future. 

It is no surprise that Spain isn’t one of the EU member states to have recognized Kosovo as a sovereign state, because it fears that the Balkan country’s declaration of independence may set a precedent for Catalonia.  Unlike the sanguinary breakup of Yugoslavia and the Spanish Civil War, the tug-of-war in Catalonia is not violent.  But parallels can be drawn from Kosovo. 

Russia and the US may be the most self-serving and hypocritical countries apropos of sovereignty vs. self-rule.  According to Russia, any recognition of Kosovo’s independence disobeys UN charter on the grounds that it violates Serbian sovereignty.  But President Putin backed Abkhazia and South Ossetia in severing ties with Georgia and supported, in September 2006, a referendum—albeit illegal and internationally unrecognized—in which Transnistria voted to split from Moldova.  More recently, in another case of imperial irredentism, Russia has annexed Crimea, a former part of Ukraine.  This annexation occurred after a referendum in which Crimean voters were asked if they wanted remain in Ukraine or attach themselves to Russia, although the referendum, carried out under the occupation of Russian troops, was admittedly a piece of Kremlin gimcrackery. 

America, dissimilarly, rejects Crimean’s right to breakaway from Ukraine without consent of the national government in Kiev, asserting that Serbia lost its right to rule in Kosovo when it had turned to violence.  But America’s official position in recent bids for independence hasn’t been evenhanded: It has favored self-determination in East Timor and South Sudan but has been in opposition in Chechnya and Abkhazia.  And although the early United States was a child of revolution, cutting ties with Great Britain without her accord, the young republic’s civil war was fought to preserve the union of North and South. 

It is, however, accepted that the preservation of the American union was not the greatest good to come of the American Civil War; the war’s finest legacy was the abolishment of slavery.  And it is well-known, despite Orwell and his comrades’ efforts, that their side was defeated in the Spanish Civil War, resulting in nearly four decades of rule by the fascist regime of Franco.  But what is impossible to know is if the Republican forces hadn’t been weakened, to use Orwell’s words, by “the details of inter-party polemics,” if they would have won the war.  Equally beyond knowing is whether Catalan pro-independence parties will learn anything from Orwell’s experiences or continue jeopardizing the future Republic of Catalonia as onlookers go on “marveling at the folly of it all.”

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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