Thursday, August 12, 2004

Well, here's the news. There's some silly arguments going on about whether Spain is one nation or whether it is a plurinational nation or whether it isn't a nation at all, and whether this ought to be in the Spanish Constitution or the European Constitution or whatever. Maragall and Sevilla and Bargalló and company all have something nonsensical to say.

Boy, I dunno. On one level these Gibraltar-Catalonia-Basque Country-Spain nationalist arguments are juvenile and childish efforts whose only purpose is to gain more prestige for the groups they champion and more power for themselves. On another level, this is a really basic question that hasn't been completely answered yet, and that problem is political legitimacy.

This is difficult for us Americans because there's no problem of political legitimacy in the United States. It's safe to say that at least 98% of Americans agree that the United States government is legitimate. If you ask them why, they'll just look at you funny. "Well, you know, we vote for the Congress, and they make the laws, and we vote for the President, and it's all organized and written down in the Constitution, and we've been doing it for more than two centuries now and the last major complaint we had was between 1861 and 1865." Even extreme leftists and rightists, of whom there are proportionally quite few in the US, often proclaim themselves the real upholders of American democratic values, as against the major parties who have "betrayed" them.

This isn't true in Spain. You'd be surprised at how long memories go back around here. The current royal dynasty, the Bourbons, were placed on the throne in 1714 after the War of the Spanish Succession; Catalonia and the other regions of the Crown of Aragon were forcibly incorporated into a Spanish nation-state. Before that the Aragonese territories had had different laws and privileges than the other Spanish kingdoms. So there's grievances number one and two: the Bourbons are an illegitimate dynasty in the first place, since they were placed in power by the various European states after the War of the S. S., and their control over Catalonia is illegitimate because it has imposed a foreign system of laws and rights different from those that were previously accepted in Catalonia.

(Note: the ultra-Spanish nationalists who get their underwear all knotted up over Gibraltar should reflect that the Treaty of Utrecht, which gave England Gibraltar, also gave to the Bourbon dynasty and the centralized Spanish state direct control of the former territories of the Crown of Aragon. Seems to me they might reflect before calling Utrecht neocolonialist and imperialist and all that.)

Skipping a couple hundred years of alleged Bourbon oppression and two or three rebellions by the Carlists, who never accepted the legitimacy of the Bourbon dynasty, our man Franco overthrew a communist government in 1939 (after an anti-communist coup d'etat by General Casado), which in turn had overthrown anarchist and far-left militias in 1937, which had overthrown a parlimentary Republic in 1936, which had pushed out a limited monarchist parliamentary state in 1931. Meanwhile, the Catalanistas in Barcelona and the Socialists and other leftists in Asturias, in 1934, also attempted to overthrow the Republic but failed.

So right there you have a bunch of people who don't respect the legitimacy of the current Spanish state: those who say the current government isn't legit because of its Franco heritage, those who say only a leftist state can be legit, those who are against all monarchies, those who are particularly offended by the Bourbons, those who claim the '34 revolt was legit, those who hold a brief for those romantic but sickeningly violent anarchists that Christopher Hitchens still fantasizes about, and so on. Now, these folk are nowhere near a majority, but you'd be surprised to hear what we consider normal and rational people to go off on a ranting tangent related to some 300-year-old war. This is what they mean by Old Europe. Really Old Europe.

Somebody called the World Survey of Values has come out with the results of a questionnaire about religion. Check out these stats. Of those surveyed, 96% of Americans, 85% of Spaniards, 72% of the British, 100% of Egyptians, and 99% of Iranians believe in God. 88% of Americans, 51% of Spaniards, 56% of Britons, 100% of Egyptians, and 98% of Iraqis believe in heaven; 75% of Americans, 37% of Spaniards, 35% of Britons, 100% of Egyptians, and 98% of Iranians believe in hell. 81% of Americans, 53% of Spaniards, 58% of Brits, 100% of Egyptians, and 98% of Iranians believe in life after death.

60% of Americans and 36% of Spaniards go to church at least once a week; 71% of Americans and 33% of Spaniards pray.

I'm not at all surprised, though the Vanguardia's first line in the story is "The image that Spaniards themselves and many foreigners have as a unanimously Catholic and very religious country is not true." That shouldn't be news to anyone who has actually spent some time here. Sure, they have a lot of religious festivals, but they're mostly an excuse to get drunk and party. Most people, especially the younger, the more urban, the better-educated, the better-off economically, and the more, uh, male, are not particularly religious. The family that only comes to church for Christmas, Easter, and first communions and weddings, is a local stereotype.

Here's Alfredo Abián's signed editorial on page two of today's Vangua: "...the United States wins a medal, because there 75% of those surveyed takes for granted that hell exists. The problem is that Bush's homeland has become a theme park of sects in need of a supernatural threat. Without counting the reverend "telepreachers", the American paratheological fair includes deacons capable of finding the Mark of the Beast on a bottle of Heinz ketchup, clerics who pray for the Antichrist to come and let loose the final Armageddon; ultra-enlightened Mormons who have split off from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, along with all kinds of born-again Christians." Mr. Abian says that it's just as well that Spain isn't particularly religious, which I actually agree with him about, since I'm a hardline agnostic, and adds that the four countries where absolutely nobody doubts that Satan is out there are Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, and Morocco.

I'll respond to Mr. Abián by saying that most American religious believers are perfectly stable people, that there are a bunch of sectarian wackos who get a lot of media attention but who have very little influence, that one aspect of religious belief in the US is that blacks are the most religious and socially conservative Americans, and that Mr. Abián certainly wouldn't want to do anything so un-PC as to critically stereotype blacks or Hispanics or immigrants, who add up to some 30% of Americans, for generally being religious believers. I'll add that in the US people have almost an infinity of religious choices they can make, unlike Spain, where the only option has always been Catholicism. I'll also add that just because Tom Cruise and John Travolta are Scientology wackos and that Madonna seems to have lost her last marble with this kabala crap does not mean that those jokers in Hollywood have anything to do with real American life. And, by the way, as Mr. Abián is kind enough to point out, the real dangerous religious nuts tend to pray on Fridays.

Anyway, the Vangua has been interviewing tourists on the Tourist Bus. They came across three young Belgian girls who said this: " 'This getting up at 10 AM is great, and taking a nap after lunch is wonderful. In Belgium people get up at seven and have no free time after lunch, though we get off work earlier. In Barcelona, in Spain, everything is calmer, people take things much less seriously, while in Brussels everything is much more sped-up. And here it's always sunny.

(Editor's note: They're right about the taking things less seriously. That's one reason why Spain's GDP per capita is several thousand bucks a year below Belgium's. They're also right about the after-lunch debate--that is, do you prefer ninety minutes or two hours for lunch in Spain, but a quitting time of seven or seven-thirty, or quitting time at 5 or 5:30 but only half an hour for lunch like in the rest of Europe. That seems like a personal choice to me. They're also right about the sun. They're wrong about the briskness of life here; this is August and half the city has shut down. Most of the year there are lots of people rushing around in vain, late to three different appointments, looking for the right goddamn bureaucratic paperwork necessary to, like, pay their automobile tax or something.)

The stereotypes keep coming. 'The bad thing is the food. Everything is too greasy and heavy, with lots of eggs and meat dishes, always chicken, omelets, and fried potatoes. In summer, especially with this heat, fresh and light food is more appetizing, like vegetables, fruit. That's much healthier.'

'Yeah, the bad thing is the food, but the worst thing is the way men look at you, the things they say in the street without knowing you at all. The first time it's funny, it calls your attention, but then you get really tired of it. I was on an Erasmus scholarship in Seville, for six months, and I got tired of telling men that just because I was blonde I wasn't necessarily German and I didn't necessarily speak English. In Belgium people don't do that. Ever.'

(Editor's note: They're right. Spain is still a pretty sexist place, and lots of men do make comments, often rude, to passing women, and they're not shy about trying to pick up foreign women. Blatantly. It's not just, "Hi, honey, you're a hot babe", but more like "Great tits! So, your place or mine?" Anyway, at this point a couple from Seville sitting there butts into the conversation, furious at the alleged stereotyping.)

'In Seville we like pretty women, and we don't think it's bad if it's done with gracia,' says Emilio from the next seat, turning around. 'And, excuse me, little girl, but do you know what gaspacho and salmorejo and salad and ensaladillas are?' asks his wife, María José. 'You can't come to Spain for two days of sightseeing, eat in a couple of fast-food places, and talk like that about the cooking. It's absurd.'"

(Editor's note: Note how free Spaniards are throwing around stereotypes of other countries but how they can't stand it when they're stereotyped? First, the girl who was in Seville for six months, not two days, knows what she's talking about. Second, Spanish food is particularly bad when served at affordable restaurants that cater to tourists and/or working-class locals. It is greasy and fried and heavy and served hot and is just the thing to make you sick on a ninety-degree afternoon. Gazpacho and salad are generally not available. Ensaladilla rusa, which is just potato salad with egg and mayonnaise, is, but it's likely to give you salmonella. Now, if you go to a good restaurant, you'll eat very well, but you'll pay for it. Just like pretty much everywhere else. Third, Spaniards are notorious for ripping off tourists in vacation spots, and they get more than 50 million to rip off every year.)

Now, I like Spain very much. But those Belgian girls are a lot closer to the truth about Spain than Alfredo Abián is to the truth in the United States.

I don't think anybody over here gives much of a crap about the Olympics.

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