Monday, June 09, 2003

The big news in Barcelona are the elections for the presidency of FC Barcelona. The Barça has about 100,000 members, who pay a substantial but not enormous sum--I believe it's some $400 a year, less than any other football club in Spain, and there's a several-year waiting list--and in exchange get tickets to the 19 League home games and a vote for the club president. The Barça is "owned" by its members, not by an owner like, say, George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees. 58% of the club's members are in Barcelona city and more than 90% live within Barcelona province, so this is something that affects the average Joe here, who can afford to be a member and get the season tickets. The guy who owns the newsstand in the plaza, for example, is a member. So is my psychiatrist. Now, about 58,000 people here in town are members out of about 1 1/2 million within the city limits. That's a sizable chunk of the population, and it's a very middle-class bunch of people, very much the kind of established, civic-minded people who are the backbone of the city.

To demonstrate the importance of these elections, the Vanguardia has been devoting several pages daily to them and TV3 has also been giving us daily, in-depth reports. The two sports daily papers (each of which has a circulation of over 100,000 and is at least 75% devoted to the Barça) are talking about nothing else.

José Luis Núñez was the club president for more than twenty years between the late '70s and late '90s. Núñez was never a popular president, but he was a good money manager and cleaned up the club's financial situation, putting it in excellent shape to make big signings and to invest in the future. Barcelona had traditionally been a disappointing team, the "Wait till next year" club, like the Red Sox or the Cubs or the old Brooklyn Dodgers. In the early '90s, finally, Núnez signed a few superstars and coach Johan Cruyff put together a fine squad that won four consecutive Spanish Leagues, a Cup Winners' Cup championship, and a European Cup championship. Then, a few years later, a much less popular squad won two Leagues under very unpopular coach Louis Van Gaal. As soon as Van Gaal's squad failed to win any titles, the club members threw a snooty fit because Van Gaal was so hated and they wanted to get rid of him. Núñez was offended at this internal revolt and resigned, and Van Gaal did too.

Joan Gaspart became the team president and rapidly became much more hated than Núñez had ever been. He wasted tons of the money Núñez had carefully saved up on crap signings and left the Barça in a similar situation to the New York Mets right now: a club that should have a lot of money and a bright future, but which has a ton of crappy over-the-hill players with huge contracts that they can't get rid of and that the fans hate (i.e. Frank "Where's the Ball?" DeBoer). The straw that broke the club member's back was when Gaspart rehired Louis Van Gaal, of all people, at the beginning of this last season. That was it. Everybody in town was ready to hate this squad, and the squad has repaid the fans by stinking up the League in what has been by far the worst season in the history of FC Barcelona. Next year will be the very first season in which the Barça will not qualify for European competition since said competitions were introduced in the 1950s. Van Gaal got run out of town on a rail along about January, and Gaspart resigned as president in about March or so.

Now, I am royally pissed off at the Barça. Here are five excellent reasons: 1) they hired Serbian fascist Slobo-loving Radomir Antic to replace Van Gaal as coach 2) they held an anti-American demonstration when the players became the only squad in Europe to wear "No to the war" T-shirts 3) they played a friendly match against Gadafi's son's team in exchange for €300,000 4) the fans threw mobile phones, whiskey bottles, and a pig's head at Luis Figo when Madrid came to play in the Camp Nou, getting the Barça headlines around Europe; the papers in, I think, Newcastle, where Barça was scheduled to play the next week, headlined "Beware! The pig-throwers are coming!" That's just great for the city's image 5) the League closed the Camp Nou for two games as punishment and the Barça sued them in regular court instead of accepting it as a fair consequence of discreditable behavior by its fans. The sentence still hasn't been served.

Well, as if I needed any more reasons to hate the goddamn Barça, anti-Semitism has reared its head in the Barça presidential race. Lluís Bassat is the leading candidate; he's a well-known advertising man who runs the local branch of Ogilvy and Mather. Mr. Bassat normally uses just his father's surname; here in Spain you can go by either just your father's surname (Pablo Ruíz) or by your father's and your mother's (Pablo Ruíz Picasso). Either way is fine.

So Jaume Llauradó, one of the other five candidates, has made an issue of the fact that Mr. Bassat uses only his first surname, which is standard Catalan, like Johnson in English though less common. Mr. Bassat does not habitually use his mother's surname, which is Cohen. You see, Mr. Bassat is Jewish. I didn't know that before, and I don't particularly care whether Mr. Bassat is Muslim or Catholic or Protestant or an atheist or whatever. Like me, most Barcelonese didn't know Bassat was Jewish before Mr. Llauradó clued us in. It's a curious fact that he's Jewish because there are very few Jews in Spain, but it doesn't matter, of course. It's like finding out that a black guy is Jewish. You're surprised because very few blacks are Jewish, and it goes against your expectation, but it doesn't change the way you think about him.

Unless, apparently, your name is Jaume Llauradó. Mr. Llauradó, who, we must assume, is no dummy, seems to believe that the tactic of publicizing Mr. Bassat's Jewishness will cost Mr. Bassat votes. This does not speak wonders for Mr. Llauradó's conception of the members of the Football Club Barcelona, as it shows that he believes that real Barcelonese won't vote for a Jew. If Bassat doesn't win--and he is the big frontrunner right now, he is the best-known and most prominent citizen of the candidates, he's signed up Barça hero (and drug-user) Pep Guardiola as his general manager-in-waiting and Barça legends Eusebio Sacristán and Guillermo Amor as Guardiola's assistants--who knows more about soccer than these three guys, all known as smart players with character?--, and he has the support of Miquel Roca, perhaps the city's leading citizen and its most powerful lawyer--I will assume that it is because he has been outed as a Jew.

The Vanguardia has been giving very little attention to this little contretemps, which would get Mr. Llauradó read out of decent society where I come from, just like Glenn Close in Dangerous Liasons. They are also paying very little attention to the success of the racist and xenophobic political party Plataforma per Catalunya (PxC) in the municipal elections. If you want fascism, you'll do a lot better looking at the PxC and its Francoist leader, Josep Anglada, than at elected Prime Minister Aznar or elected President Bush, who have been getting labeled as Fascists by the illustrated and enlightened among us in the pages of the very newspaper that is playing the ostrich regarding these outbursts of xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism, which have included several anti-Arab near-pogroms right here in Catalonia, especially in the redneck working-class Terrassa neighborhood of Can Anglada. (Note: there is no connection between the names of Josep Anglada, the racist politician, and the Can Anglada neighborhood.)

Manuel Trallero, the Vangua's gadfly, blows the whistle in his column in today's edition in an article titled "Catalunya racista".

One of the most extraordinary things that has happened recently is that the so-called Plataforma per Catalunya has managed to win City Council seats in several Catalan municipalities, among them Vic. The fact that a xenophobic and racist organization has obtained such a result has seemed to all of us the most normal and natural thing in the world. No one has been screaming to the heavens or rending his garments. As usual in Catalonia, nothing happens around here.

There is a perverse logic according to which, if there are immigrants, the logical result is racism. Racism in Catalonia is no longer socially looked down upon, it's not politically incorrect anymore. The attempts of the media of communication to hide their heads under their wings have failed.

It isn't just that Mr. Anglada has won his first council members--Mr. Le Pen started off in France in exactly the same way--it is that anything goes against the immigrants. From the president of the Generalitat (Jordi Pujol) who blames them for the possible disappearance of Catalan--blames them, precisely those who just got here-- and who minimizes the violence in Can Anglada over and over, to the (racist) public statements of his honorable wife (Marta Ferrusola), or those of the former leader of the (ultraCatalanist) Republican Left, Mr. Heribert Barrera, who still holds his well-deserved medal awarded by Parliament, or the evacuation of a few immigrants camped out in the Plaza Catalunya, decreed one summer by (Communist) vice-mayor Mrs. Inma Mayol ("Chemical Inma") while the real mayor was out of town, while the workers of the Sintel company, all white, of course, camp out on the Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid as long as they feel like it.

We've accepted that all this is normal, habitual, everyday, and that it forms part of us, ourselves. That is why Mr. Llauradó has committed the offense of raising suspicions when he denounced that Mr. Bassat did not use his second surname in order to hide his Jewish origin. This is an attack of, pure and simple, anti-Semitism, which anywhere in Europe would have provoked an enormous scandal, but here has been unnoticed.

We still have the consolation that, if the cases of woman-battering are higher in Catalonia than in the rest of Spain, it is not because we Catalans are stupider and more violent (más energúmenos) than the Spaniards, but because our women are braver in calling the police. We Catalans, according to some, are seen as racists because we admit it, while the Spaniards keep their mouths shut. All I can say is good for them.

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