Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Given the hybrid nature of highwayscribery’s mission, as expressed in the tagline “politics, poetry and prose,” we have a standing policy to treat the forays of literary and intellectual figures into the political sphere with the attention such engaged thinkers deserve.

highwayscribery enjoys the literary figures of Latin America and Europe who take to parliament in the name of subtle causes and political shadings unprotected by the big banner names in the game.

But enough about highwayscribery and a little about a party of intellectuals - Ciutadan - Partit de la Ciudadanía - clustered around Barcelona that formed this summer and gained three seats in the new Catalonian autonomous parliament.

We say “autonomous” although Spain recently agreed to, and Catalonian voters approved, an Estatút about which we know little other than that responsibilities formally the domain of Spain’s central government in Madrid have been transferred along with lots of tax revenues and the right of Catalonia to call itself una nación - a nation.

So, actually, we shouldn’t say, “autonomous,” given the new legislative reality.

It is that new reality Ciutadans was formed in response to.

At the party’s launching, dramatist Alberto Boadella, writer and journalist Arcadi Espada (of the daily El Mundo) and other intellectuals let it be known that, “territories do not have rights. Only persons have rights.”

Comprised of some 39 civic organizations in primarily urban Catalonia, Ciutadans was formed in what its members consider the inhospitable environment faced by those who are not Catalonian nationalists in political bent.

The joint communique read, “The nationalist project every political formation save for the Partido Popular [the perennial conservative offering in Spain] is participating in, is leaving aside, without political representation, an important segment of the population. It’s time to put an end the nationalist monopoly of public space.”

Painting the northeast corner of the Iberian peninsula, Catalonia has its own unique and beautiful language, and a typically tortured relationship with the Spanish crowns and/or central government. Repression, subjugation, and submission are part of this history and the resentments run deep as the genuine tribal feeling of this industrious people.

Catalonia is less a homogeneous reality than they would care to accept, filled with Andalusians who came to work in earlier decades, Castillans transplanted for centuries, not to mention any number European cosmopolinauts come to enjoy the rare and anarchic air of the free and open city.

Or should we say “once free and open city?”

It is a peculiar characteristic of Spanish politics that the tiny, cantonal nationalisms (Basque country, Galicia, Valencia etc.) have long been aligned with the united left that took on the fascists in the civil war of the 1930s.

(You can read all about that in the highway scribe’s novel “Vedette.”)

Anyway, that become a problem because progressives were frozen, for a long time, into silence before the extremes of resurgent nationalism after the dictatorship.

Portuguese writer and Nobel Prize Winner Jose Saramago said years ago that progressives needed to rescue the language of nationalism from the right wing.

Ciutadans would appear to be a an attempt at shifting the dynamic in just such a way.

They declared themselves contrary to the new Estatút and proselytize for enlightenment notions like liberty, equality, securalism (as defined through state neutrality in religious questions), bilingualism (Castillan/Catalán) and defense of the (Spanish) constitution.

This dissidence, they declared, “didn’t come out of nowhere and is an old theme in Catalonia.”

Savvy, the intellectuals moved to the head of the class a very handsome former national swim champion named Albert Rivera, whom, just 26, posed naked for the party’s campaign poster to maximum effect.

The metaphor for the naked citizen matched perfectly the party’s slogan, “We’re only interested in people,” and its four principals: “We don’t care where you were born. We don’t care what language you speak. We don’t care what clothes you wear. We care about you.”

Rivera says the party was born “social democrat, liberal, secular and progressive,” and rejects out-of-hand the accusations of old fascist and Catholic influences.

Under their umbrella gather those who the Catalan national project has left behind.

The article records the comments of Eloísa López, a 60-year old teacher: “Women of my age don’t exist. Worse if you can’t speak Catalán. Where should I ask for work?”

So that’s at an economic level; the doors to Catalonia’s vibrant industries shut to those who have walked through them for decades.

At the cultural level things are much the same. One candidate on the party’s list was an out-of-work actor who said he got involved to, “try and open doors. Those of my profession are closed. I’m not being fatalistic. It’s reality. And when you think that the best Spanish theater was done here, the best movies shot, the vanguard atmosphere, the publishers...that’s all going to Madrid..”

These are the true fruits of discrimination cultural haughtiness: Isolation, a loss of richness, a lack of engagement, and complacency and tribal sense of superiority.

Culture holds many of the keys to saving our world. Our mutual mistakes and triumphs as races and nations have been recorded through culture, and we grasp back in time for them, to save us from loss in the sea of samenesses.

When allowed to influence politics however, it becomes a suffocating thing, our thing, a privileged identity that uses government to forward the interests of special people over those who are not quite that special - the ciutadans.

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