Wednesday, January 22, 2003

It seems like a weird day today, at least according to the Vanguardia. The lead story is that the president of the Constitutional Court, Manuel Jiménez de Parga, shot off his mouth about Spanish nationalisms. Remember, there are three "historical nationalities", as they're called in Spain: the Catalans, here in Catalonia, the Basques in the Basque Country, and the Galicians in Galicia, where regional languages are used as well as Spanish and where many inhabitants identify themselves as, say, Catalan, before or in place of Spanish. Spain is divided into seventeen "autonomous communities" which normally correspond with generally accepted regions--Aragon, Castile-Leon, Andalusia, Extremadura, and so on; Catalonia, the Basque Country, Galicia, and Andalusia have more autonomy than the others, except for Navarra, which has a special status going back to its medieval laws, the fueros. Valencia and the Balearic Islands are largely Catalan-speaking but their inhabitants overwhelmingly identify with Spain rather than "the Catalan Countries", as the Cataloonies call it, or "Greater Catalonia", as I call it. Valencia and the Canary Islands do have a couple of privileges that other communities lack; the Balearics don't. They have the same degree of autonomy as most of the rest of Spain. To clear up confusion right now, the seventeen autonomous communities each consist of one or more of the fifty-two provinces, so the autonomous community of Aragon is made up by the provinces of Huesca, Zaragoza, and Teruel, for example.

Recap: Historical Communities: Catalonia, Basque Country, Galicia, Andalusia. Weird Medieval Status: Navarra. A Couple of Extra Privileges: Valencia, Canaries. Just Like Everybody Else: Asturias, Cantabria, La Rioja, Aragon, Castile-Leon, Madrid, Castile-La Mancha, Balearics, Murcia, Extremadura.

Jiménez de Parga said, at a conference in Madrid, "A thousand years ago those historical communities didn't even know what bathing every weekend was, while in Andalusia we had various dozens of baths of all different flavors and smells...An organization of nationalities like Spain, full of history from north to south, cannot see itself reduced to second-rank regarding three communities which say they are different...The concept of historical nationalities began to be used during the Transition (to democracy) and this appellation has endured as what's politically correct. This is, with all due respect, a grave error."

Jiménez de Parga has done a Trent Lott. It is politically not acceptable in today's Spain to even criticize the three historical nationalities, much less to assert that political power should be taken away from their autonomous communities. Some people talk in places like Toledo and Salamanca about how the Catalans need to be cut down to size, but those people have no national political potential. (Example #1: Rodríguez Ibarra, loudmouth Catalan-bashing Socialist Prime minister of Extremadura.) All the political parties except the conservative PP have blasted Jiménez de Parga and called for his resignation. I add my voice.

First, the system is working. Spain is a reasonably prosperous and successful country whose citizens enjoy a high quality of life and who are generally pretty happy. It ain't broke. Don't fix it. Don't monkey around with it. It's working just fine now and don't risk screwing it up. It's irresponsible on the part of both the Catalanists and the centralist dinosaurs to whip up popular emotion on this subject, and Jiménez de Parga certainly behaved irresponsibly. Second, there was absolutely no reason for him to go off at the mouth like that. There was no direct provocation that he was answering. He was just talking off the top of his head. If you do that, like Trent Lott did, you yourself are responsible for the consequences. Third, how can a Constitutional Court judge fairly deliberate on constitutional questions regarding the powers of the autonomous communities, which are not extremely unusual, after showing himself to be a public partisan of one of the two extremist positions on the issue? Fourth, Jiménez de Parga is from Andalusia himself but doesn't seem to know that his own autonomous community enjoys the same level of autonomy as Catalonia and Galicia.

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