Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Catalan candidate insults Andalucía and is forced to 'explain'

Josep Antoni Durán i Lleida
CATALUÑA / ANDALUCÍA There have always been what might as well be called racial or class tensions between Catalonia (NE Spain, capital: Barcelona) and Andalucía and Extremadura. North of the divide, Andalusian workers are considered lazy and too fond of fiestas. South of it, the Catalans are seen as slave drivers, tight with the money (that is the perception of Catalonia in the rest of Spain as well). These are just some of the epithets they occasionally throw at each other. This is one such occasion. The candidate for President of the Government (i.e. Prime Minister, this being a constitutional monarchy), Josep Durán i Lleida, of the CiU nationalist party, said at his party's conference on Saturday ,"No hay derecho a que mientras un agricultor catalán no puede coger alguna fruta porque no le sale a cuenta, en otros sitios de España, con nuestra contribución, reciben un PER para que pasen el resto de la jornada en el bar de su pueblo."  Or:>>>
"It isn't right that while a Catalan farmer can't harvest his fruit because [he would lose money], in other parts of Spain, with our contribution, they get a PER (Plan de Empleo Rural, Rural Employment Plan, a subsidy) so that they can spend the rest of the day in the bar."

This was a direct reference to the 'lazy' workers of Andalucía and Extremadura, the regions that received over 86% of that subsidy while it lasted - it changed names in 2008.

The sentence caused uproar in those two regions, from both the PP and the PSOE, leaders of which couldn't get to a microphone fast enough. One politician, Alfonso Guerra (PSOE, which set up the PER system) albeit long retired from the front line but who comes out from hiding sometimes, said something like, "That's enough! These are strange words coming from someone who lives at the Palace Hotel in Madrid and who wants to take away the €400 unemployment benefit from people who have only that to live on." He also pointed out that large landholders now get more subsidies than their workers, and that "the class war is still current."

But Durán is a tough, powerful politician.

Far from apologising or trying to wiggle his way out of it, he declared that he had had no intention of criticizing the people of Andalucía or Extremadura, but their governments. On his blog he wrote "This is not the first time nor will it be the last that I criticize the system of subsidies that exists in [these two regions]. I do so and will continue to do so not in contempt, nor as an insult, not even as a criticism of the rural world of Andalucía or Extremadura." Durán i Lleida pointed out, too, that he does not believe "in the least" in subsidized societies, because he believes them to be "condemned to failure" and that they "tend to be more captive to political power." He went on to criticize the fraud that in some cases goes on with the PER "because some of the beneficiaries, not all, work in the 'underground' economy."

The more I look at what he says, the more I have to agree with him. I know plenty of people who have, or maybe still do, commit fraud by taking unemployment benefits yet work in that 'underground' economy. I wouldn't name them, nor would I point them out, but I know them.

As to the subsidized society, I would have to agree, too. Easy money removes initiative, true, but a society that is used to being subsidized for just about everything cannot be weaned too fast. The withdrawal symptoms would be horrendous - indeed it would seem they are, if we look at what goes on around us: riots in the UK, the 15-M movement that has spread like wildfire all over the world, the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US (a continuation, really, of the 15-M that was born in Spain), maybe even some of the Arab Spring in a convoluted way.

To return to Catalonia, Extremadura and Andalucía: The very sad thing is that much of the enormous progress attained in Catalonia in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War was achieved in very large measure through the cheap labour provided by hundreds of thousands of labourers from Andalucía and Extremadura in the 1950s and 60s, when there was no work and much hunger in these parts (an era called la hambruna, the big hunger, in the part of Andalucía I know best).

There are still thousands of Andaluces and Extremeños still living in Catalonia, their children and grandchildren speaking fluent Catalan but taking part in ferias and fiestas their community sets up there - and visiting the land of their parents or grandparents every summer for at least a few days.

But then, General Elections are very close (November 20), so one must expect politicians to behave like children in the playground, throwing stones at each other while the rest of us (their parents?) look somewhere else. That, too, is sad, particularly at a time when, all over the world, we and they should be joining forces to climb out of the hole we (because we voted for them) and they (because they forget we voted for them) created in the first place.

(c) Alberto Bullrich 2011

No comments: