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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.

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.”

A Taste of Honey

Por: | 13 de abril de 2016

Firabril El Perello honey Credit Gonzalvo Imatge
Honey: 'nature, health and wellbeing' Photo: Gonzalvo Imatge

‘Honey is like wine,’ says Rafael Muria Martí, president of honey company Mel Muria. ‘You need to let it rest in your mouth for a while and savour the flavours on your tongue – the sweet, the sour, the bitter…’

On the table in front of Rafael sits a smart matt black box containing four small jars of softly glowing honey. This is his company’s luxury ‘artMuria’ collection – artisan honeys derived from rosemary, orange blossom, the mountains and the forest, with a higher pollen content and more maturity than ordinary honey – on sale in a select group of shops across Europe, including London’s famous Harrods.

The artMuria collection
The artMuria collection of luxury honey

Rafael is the fifth generation of his family to work in the honey business. In the early 19th century his great-great grandfather Rafael Muria Queralt began beekeeping in the town of El Perelló. Succeeding generations followed the same path. Other families in the area took up beekeeping too and now El Perelló, a town that sits between the sea and the mountains near the Ebro Delta, is known as ‘lo poble de la mel’ producing, it claims, 60 per cent of the honey in Catalunya.‘This,’ says Rafael, pointing to the box of honeys with their different amber and ochre hues, ‘is better than a present of sweets. This is nature, health and wellbeing.’

El Perelló showcases its honey (along with olive oil and other local products) every year at Firabril, a fair which will be held this year on 16 and 17 April and which is expected to attract around 3,000 visitors and 200 exhibitors. El Perelló’s several big honey producers will compete with others from outside the area in what is boasted to be the oldest honey competition in the country.

Visitors can sample as many different honeys as they can stomach along with an enormous range of other honey-related foods: bunyols amb mel (little fried doughnuts with honey), coc amb mel (honey cake with olive oil and almonds), olimelada (a surprisingly delicious mixture of honey, olive oil, herbs and almonds) and many more. There will also be royal jelly, propolis, beeswax candles and natural cosmetics. And if all that isn’t enough, visitors can enter the draw to win their own weight in honey.

El Perelló’s bees are kept extraordinarily busy. Their year starts in early spring when the blue flowers of the rosemary are among the first blooms on the hills. Then the thyme and lavender need the bees’ attention. As the weather warms, El Perelló’s bigger producers put their hives on lorries and follow the flowers, driving south overnight to Castellón for the orange blossom, or, in the heat of mid-summer, north to the base of the Pyrenees to make the most of the mountain flowers. At the end of the year the bees come back home where the heathers on the hills surrounding the town flower longer into the winter than those in other areas.

Previous generations of the Muria family beekeeping
Beekeeping has a long tradition in El Perelló

While El Perelló’s climate and situation are important contributors to its success, the support of the town hall and the large number of honey producers creating a shared sense of tradition are equally significant. The role of the beekeeper is celebrated as an art. Simón Albiol Llaó, a Perellonenc who started his own independent beekeeping business six years ago, says it’s his passion. ‘Bees are magical,’ he says, ‘everything they do during their short life is marvellous. Beekeeping is addictive.’

El Perelló’s honey companies’ ambitions have really put the town on the map – you can find El Perelló honey not only in Harrods in London, but also in Switzerland, Belgium and even Japan (one of the town’s honey companies, Apícola Rossend Margalef, even has a section of its website in Japanese).

Rafael of Mel Muria typifies this forward-looking approach. His company recently persuaded the town’s bars and restaurants to hold their first ‘Ruta de la tapa amb mel’ where customers were offered a tapa featuring honey along with a drink for a few euros. After some initial reluctance (Rafael complains that some people think that honey is only for desserts or when you’ve got a cold), the chefs got to work and devised a selection of imaginative dishes including a mini pizza with aubergine, goat’s cheese and honey, a ‘xupito’ (shot) of romesco sauce with prawn and honey, and a pastry with bacon and honey-caramelised raisins.

Rafael says that the artMuria collection of honey is a tribute to his family before him, but at the same time he emphasises the future. The sixth generation – Rafael’s nephew – is now working at Mel Muria. ‘We are an innovative company,’ he says. ‘We are always creating something new.’

For the smallest producers too it’s a good business to be in. As Simón comments: ‘My work gives me strength and hope. I love the nature and the fresh mountain air. For me, this is the best job in the world.’

Have Lifepack, will travel

Por: | 12 de abril de 2016

What inspires an invention?  They say necessity is the mother of all invention. For Adrian Solgaard the tipping point for the creation of his new invention, a solar powered back pack, came when his friend was the victim of a crime. We met over Skype for a quick chat....

Vicki McLeod: How did this come to be? You've developed a solar powered, lockable back pack which can fit all of your day to day mobile office and work needs. That's pretty amazing!

Adrian Solgaard: I first had the idea in 2005 when I was 18, I was travelling on a train and I needed to sleep. I was irritated by the idea that I had to wrap my luggage around me to prevent it from being stolen by thieves. But it wasn't until 2015 when I was sitting with a friend having a drink, our bags where on the floor between our chairs and my friend's bag was stolen, that it tipped me over the edge! I started to source and prototype ideas, contacted factories and worked on getting the product exactly right. When I had finished the prototype I started on "Real World Testing" and got a tonne of consumer feedback. Now we're in the middle of our Kickstarter campaign.

VMC: Why a Kickstarter campaign? What is it?

AS: It's a way to get pre-orders for the bag, it's enabled us to gauge the reaction of the general public, and raise funds. It means that we will be in production this year with the bag as we have reached our initial goals.

VMC: Wow, that's so exciting! So when can customers expect to have the bag in their hands?

AS: If you have pledged money on the Kickstarter campaign then you will have the bag in October.

VCM: How is the Kickstarter campaign going?

AS: Really well, we've met our targets, now we are doing what's called "Stretch Goals" which means that we can unlock more options on the bag, by offering more colours for example. You can still order one.

VMC: What's so special about the bag?

AS: We're saying that we´ve reinvented the mobile office.

VMC: Big claim!

AS: Well, it's got a solar power bank which can keep your phone alive via a USB charger, everyone's phones run out of charge just at the crucial moment, but with this bag you won't be stranded. You don't have to worry about your smartphone battery dying, you can have it on charge in the bag. You can get up to 12 charges for an iPhone 6, but it's compatible with any USB charging device.

It's also got an integrated lock which means you can keep the bag locked up and keeps your stuff secure. The separate compartments inside the bag are for your work and life, so you can separate your work life from your underwear, nobody wants to get their socks out at a meeting do they?!

Then when you're out at the beach you can use the Bluetooth speakers to play your music. The lock also has a bottle opener on it, which is helpful when you're having a beer at the beach as well! The bag is weather resistant, and drop resistant (there are internal protective air cells to keep your laptop safe), and super organised. We've also designed it to have four hidden compartments so when you are travelling you can keep your important documents close to you and not worry about them being lost or stolen. The bag's zippers are also lockable. And another feature is the RFID protected pockets which keeps your credit cards and passport safe from identity theft.

VMC: How much can you stuff in there then? I know I have to have at least three bags wherever I go! One for the gym, one for work and a handbag.

AS: Well I can pack two shirts, two pairs of underpants, two pairs of socks, a tie, a belt, shampoo and lotion, toothpaste, deodorant, cologne, a passport, sunglasses, swim shorts, goggles, the solar bank and speakers in the back, and a 15" laptop, charger, mouse, two notebooks, three pens, headphones, my smart phone, glasses case, keys, wallet, loose change, USB charger and cables, loos papers, receipts, business cards and a banana in the front!

VMC: That more or less covers it! What about the kitchen sink? This isn't the first time you've invented something useful is it?

AS: No, I'm also responsible for the Interlock which won four international design awards and has been distributed to twenty eight countries.  That experience has meant that I've been able to get the Lifepack to this stage much more efficiently. There are two other people in the team with me who are crucial as well, Ashley and Chris, so between the three of us we've done well.

VMC: What's your connection to Majorca?

AS: I've lived on the island, right now I am travelling around a lot to get the Lifepack into production, but I hope I will be back soon. A lot of my friends who live in Majorca feature in the product promotional photos and we used Majorca as the location for the shoot.  Majorca's the perfect place for a Lifepack, so many people blend work with life and are on the move, it makes perfect sense.

You can read more about Adrian and his invention at: sweetbackpackbro.com

To read more articles about Majorca visit www.mallorcamatters.com

Putting Alternative Politics into Practice

Por: | 05 de abril de 2016

Che Mural  in Marinaleda (flickr)

‘But what’s the alternative?’ This must be one of the most common ripostes to anyone expressing dissatisfaction with the political, economic or social status quo. The retort, sometimes curious, sometimes withering, shifts the discussion away from criticism (which, given the current political landscape, could be performed by an attentive eight-year old) and toward constructive proposals for an alternative model - an altogether far more complex task.  

The fact of the matter is that many people recognise the folly in the way we conduct our lives, caught in what seems like an endless chain of labour and consumption, but very few are able to envisage, let alone adopt, ‘another way’ of living. But several collectives (communes, comunidades, call them what you will) across Spain are proving that there is another way, a feasible, ecologically sustainable, socially-cohesive alternative.  

Before going any further, it is necessary to dispel a few myths and shatter a few stereotypes. The term ‘alternative lifestyle’ typically conjures images of nudists growing their hair, practising polyamorous relations and smoking hashish to find their latent spirituality. While there are undoubtedly communities that function (I use the term loosely) in this manner, to label all comunidades as hippy, happy and hedonistic is to miss the point entirely. Most, if not all, comunidades are political projects – though some may resist this classification. I mean ‘politics’ in its widest possible sense – not the casta of bloated men in suits, shouting empty promises and lining their own pockets – but the real, tangible politics of organising society on a community level.  

These communities take many forms, and their political ideas are far from homogenous. Marinaleda, an Andalusian village of around 3,000 inhabitants, is one such ‘community’ proposing (indeed, living) a socio-economic alternative. Under the leadership of Mayor Sánchez Gordillo, a man who takes inspiration from figures as diverse as Che Guevara, Mahatma Ghandi and Karl Marx, the village has become a kind of ‘communist utopia’. In 1991, the people of the village were granted a 1,200 hectare estate by the regional government after nearly a decade of strikes and occupations. This land was then cultivated according to the central tenet of Gordillo’s philosophy; to create the maximum amount of human labour possible. Efficiency, that pillar of modern Capitalism, became a dirty word, abandoned in the name of collective good and human dignity. Land was managed by cooperativas and decisions taken communally. Crops were chosen not for their yield, nor for the European subsidies they would elicit, but on the basis of jobs they would create. Today, it is clear that Gordillo’s strategy has paid dividends; unemployment in the village is all but non-existent (compared to a 34% regional average) and the sense of community has never been stronger (the village has no police force, and, evidently, no need for one).    

Mayor Gordillo (youtube)

In Catalonia, on the outskirts of the capital, lies another comunidad, pioneering a slightly different approach (and with a slightly shorter history). Can Masdeu was a deserted former hospital falling into ruin until it was occupied by a collective of local and international activists in 2001.They set about creating their own ‘utopia’ – a self-sufficient, ecologically-sustainable project, a ‘creative act of disobedience’ against urban life and its limits. Using non-hierarchical decision-making structures, the squatters oversaw the transformation of the hospital into a vibrant, environmentally-friendly living space. Using old Roman sewers, they created an irrigation system that allowed the cultivation of organic foodstuffs in the former gardens (following a permaculture design). A decade and a half later, the Can Masdeu comunidad is still functioning – flourishing, even complete with an educational action centre (PIC – Punto d’Interacción de Collserola) that hosts workshops and discussions about the politics of autonomy, the necessity of community and the importance of ecological sustainability. 

Mealtime at Can Masdeu (wiki)

Despite the ideological differences evident in the above examples, they share several founding principles that are common to most, if not all comunidades. As the name suggests, they are typically built around a concept of community that often seems lacking in an increasingly atomised and fragmented modern world. Sharing is the key word here; be it labour, time or space, communal needs take precedence over individual concerns. Inter-generational solidarity is strongly encouraged in both cases. Public space is endowed with the importance it deserves, rather than neglected, and left for private enterprise to devour and undermine. Individualism and personal gain are roundly rejected in favour of nurturing a strong community network that provides support for all its members. 

A second key principle is that of respect for the land. In the case of Can Masdeu, this means organic produce cultivated in an ecologically-sustainable fashion. In the case of Marinaleda, this means farming in a sustainable, almost pre-Industrial manner, with a long-term emphasis on creating and maintaining jobs rather than maximising profit. Activist and campesino would no doubt differ in opinion on many subjects, but both would agree that the land is to be maintained and respected, not poisoned, exploited and destroyed.  

A third tenet is a wholesale rejection of globalism, and a corresponding enthusiasm for prioritising local and regional concerns. Most comunidades view globalisation as an overwhelmingly negative force, on both an ecological and social level. For all the economic rationalities and free-trade rhetoric, the globalisation of trade has had, and continues to have, a catastrophic impact on the environment. Buying products that have been shipped or flown halfway round the world because they are cheaper than local alternatives is in no way sustainable. Additionally, focusing on the global market at the expense of the local or regional equivalent has had a devastating effect on small scale agri-businesses, and played a significant role in the decline of ‘community’ by culling independent local producers. The comunidades try to provide an alternative; quality produce, locally grown at an affordable price. 

It should be pointed out that the comunidades are not a uniquely Spanish phenomenon. They are present, in some form or another, in most (if not all) European countries, and throughout Latin America. However, due to political, historical, and geographic reasons, the ‘ideology’ (as outlined above) seems to gain particular traction across the Iberian peninsula. A strong ‘anarchist’ heritage, a widespread sense of indignación toward the ruling elite, high unemployment, and an agreeable climate no doubt play a significant part in their popularity. A second important ‘footnote’ that follows on from the previous statement is that the comunidades are not suddenly becoming popular. They are not a fad or passing phenomenon, and to dismiss them as such would be both disingenuous and factually inaccurate. 

By the same token, to claim the comunidades solve the contemporary socio-political malaise at a stroke is hugely optimistic. They do, however, provide a legitimate critique of a socially-fragmented, environmentally-indifferent, increasingly globalised world. What’s more, their very existence demonstrates that there is another way, another well from which to draw ideas in order to build an alternative future.   


For a detailed account of Marinaleda in English, see Dan Hancox’ account  ‘The Story of Marinaleda, the Communist Village Against the World’. 

Why Easter and Semana Santa are poles apart

Por: | 17 de marzo de 2016

Seville is a city that doesn´t do things by halves. For someone hailing from a country that´s constantly self-apologetic (that’s Britain, in case you’re wondering), the Andalusian capital´s overarching, certainty and self-belief is both intoxicating and bewildering at the same time.

Take Semana Santa, with its literal translation of holy week rather than Easter. So there-in lies the first major difference. In other countries, Easter unceremoniously squeezes itself onto the end of an ordinary, working week and passes as an excuse for some much needed DIY, eating too much chocolate and that’s about it. But in Seville, Semana Santa takes things to a whole gargantuan level.

The term Holy ‘Week’ is in fact underselling its immensity. Year after year the painstaking preparations begin immediately after the previous year’s Easter Sunday has only just finished.  Where Semana Santa is concerned, there’s no rest for the proverbial wicked; from the marching bands honing their haunting, medieval renditions, to the costaleros (the meaty guys who carry the religious statues on their sizeable shoulders) rehearsing their micro-moves so that the irreplaceable images of the virgin and Christ remain intact manoeuvring around the city’s tight medieval, corners. Only in August they might take some time off.

P1020488Then there’s the week itself. Over 7 days 55 hermandades or brotherhoods make the journey from their usual place of worship to the cathedral and back again. No mean feat when there are approximately 115 pasos (the floats carrying the often life-size images of the Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary), some accompanied by over 2000 Nazarenos (the pointy-hooded members of the brotherhoods that these days include women and children), so that seeing just one Hermandad file past can take over an hour. And that’s not even mentioning ‘la bulla’, the unfeasible large number of crowds shoehorning themselves into tight spaces to get the processional view they’ve been dreaming of all year.

You see Semana Santa is a serious business. Sure there’s beer to be drunk and ‘guapa’ to be shouted at the occasional passing of a statue of the virgin. But if you’re to get the full experience then it’s watertight, military planning that’s needed. It’s a bit like when you’re at a large music festival and several of your favourite bands are playing at the same time at different ends of the festival site. And to compound matters, a journey that would ordinarily take 10 minutes suddenly takes two hours. Steely determination, planning and patience are the name of the day.

P1020459But somehow it seems to work and tradition wins the day. Indeed, every echelon of Seville society makes an appearance; from rather tough looking, working class adolescents, proudly playing their instrument of choice in the Semana Santa band, to the Ralph Lauren clad, ´pijos´ eyeing up the pretty girls between passing statues of the virgin, to the elegantly dressed ‘señoras´ who death defyingly combine skyscraper heels and cobbles without taking a tumble once.

P1020567For me, as a self-proclaimed ‘crowd fleer’ I doubt whether I’ll ever have the nerves to immerse myself in Semana Santa, Seville stylie. In the meantime, I’ll just live vicariously through the experiences of people like Curro, aged 11, who can’t wait to go out as a Nazarene, like his father and grandfather did before him. And when recently I asked him if one day his children would also be Nazarenes, without a flicker of doubt in his eyes he asserted, ‘Claro que si’ (of course). And you know what, I think they probably will.


Curro somewhere on the left with his cousins




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.

El País

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