There will be a lot of terrible news to read about here on the East Coast of the United States for the next couple of days as Hurricane Irene approaches, so I thought it would be a good idea to lighten the mood by reporting on an amusing development in the Spanish town of Villamayor de Calatrava. The city council of the small town, about 3 hours’ drive south of Madrid, has voted to rename seven of its streets, which admittedly does not seem like much of a big deal. However, these streets are currently named after famous socialists, and are being changed to reflect more locally popular, politically-neutral names.
Part of the controversy stems from complaints on the left about why this name change is taking place at all. The conservatives claim that a group of locals approached them and asked if some of the names of the streets could be changed, to honor neutral, non-polemic figures. For example, one street is named for Pablo Iglesias, a militant leftist considered the father of Spanish socialism, who in the late 19th century was one of the founders of the Socialist and Workers’ Party of Spain or “PSOE”, of which the present Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, is the head. Another street is named for Professor Enrique Tierno Galván, a Marxist intellectual and former mayor of Madrid, who founded the People’s Socialist Party in the 1950′s. The leftists claim that there is no proof of any popular movement in the town to have these names removed, while the conservatives say they can produce evidence to the contrary.
It was a tough call to make, because the 6-member town council is divided between 3 socialists and 3 conservatives, but in the end the conservatives won, because the town mayor broke the tie in favor of the renaming project – probably because he, himself, is a member of the conservative Popular Party or “PP”. Naturally, the local lefties are furious at the result. However, as one of the conservative town counselors pointed out, naming a street after someone like Chilean left-wing poet Pablo Neruda – who did not come from the town, or from Spain, in addition to the fact that he never did anything for the town – seems rather ridiculous.
Some of the streets will now be renamed for local notables and popular local festivals, like the annual pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Isidore, or the traditional May Day song competitions held in the town and surrounding areas. However probably the strangest of the renamings is that changing the name of a town square, currently named after a former governor of the province, to “Plaza of the Spanish National Football Team”. Presumably this was done in commemoration of said team winning the World Cup this year in South Africa, but it does seem a bit naff.
In any case, it is nice to see at least some degree of common sense prevailing among small-town Spaniards, or at least half of them, when it comes to honoring people who are, truth be told, even more of an embarrassment to Spain than those naming a square after a sports team.