>Anti-Culture in Spain

>Near the beginning of his thought-provoking presentation yesterday at the Family Research Council, Ignacio Arsuaga, President of HazteOir.org, noted that one of the problems faced by conservatives in Spain was the unavoidable fact that their country suffers from a “culturally weak Right”. Having allowed themselves to be defined, as S. Arsuaga puts it, as the “representatives of a Contra-Culture”, many have adopted a defeatist attitude that the culture wars are over, and they have lost. HazteOir and other groups are trying to combat that defeatism and foster greater participation in politics and society by those who have, until now, thrown up their hands in frustration and resignation at the path which Spain has been taking over the past several years.

The Spanish Left has, in an astonishingly short period of time, made good use of parliamentary party discipline to pass a number of outrageous laws, such as that allowing teen-aged girls to obtain the so-called “Morning After Pill” without either a prescription or parental notification, and mandated the teaching in public schools of deliberate lies as part of an “Education for Citizenship” about world history. One very pertinent example of the latter given by S. Arsuaga from one of the approved texts was a real whopper: a claim that in 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution succeeded in overthrowing the Tsar in order to give freedom and democracy to the Russian people. [N.B.: Presumably the millions of people whom Lenin, Stalin and the rest executed for disagreeing with them accepted their own executions as a necessary aspect of their new "democracy".]

As is often the case in Spanish history, there is a tendency towards exaggeration and magnification, and this often crops up when things go awry. During a convivial dinner discussion about yesterday’s presentation with friends Gonzalo Castañeira and Thomas Peters, the former pointed out that when Spain tries to do something evil, it usually succeeds in spectacular fashion. This is part of the Spanish character which I touched on recently in my post on the great Spanish painter Francisco de Goya’s “A Fight to the Death with Clubs”, and which was in fact repeated in a quote given during S. Arsuaga’s talk yesterday – i.e., the conventional wisdom is that the Spaniard only understands the cudgel.

Yet historically speaking, even if the forgoing character assessment is true, people from outside of Spain have always found much to admire in the more conservative aspects of the Spanish character. Count Castiglione, the patron of this blog, not only spent a great deal of time in Spain but also, in “The Book of the Courtier”, extolled many of its virtues to his fellow Italians. In lauding their conservative but elegant appearance, Castiglione reflected that the way Spaniards look is a reflection of their character: “Things external often bear witness to the things within.” Similarly, when visiting Spain in the 19th century, the English writer and art critic Richard Ford (1796-1858) found much to admire in the seriousness of the Spaniard and what we would perceive as a preference for small-government conservatism.

Ford’s seminal book, “A Handbook For Travelers in Spain”, has long been considered one of the best travel books ever written. Indeed, in his obituary The Times stated that “so great a literary achievement had never before been performed under so humble a title.” Following many years traveling throughout the country, Ford observed that a great deal of power was held by local governments in Spain, in order to better address local problems. He felt that the strength of these local governments was that, seemingly paradoxically, “they kept Spain Spanish, because such institutions were congenial to national character, which, essentially local, abhors a foreign centralising system. They again have grown with the country’s growth, and have become part and parcel of the constitution.”

Spain was very much admired in the past for its seriousness and straightforwardness, as well as its ability to let its hair down when appropriate. The juxtaposition of the serious and the joyful, like the dark, deeply spiritual men and women who appear in the portraits of El Greco with the unadulterated, passionate joy of flamenco, is something which has attracted discerning American visitors from Washington Irving to John Singer Sargent to Ernest Hemingway. Today, those who try to espouse the dignified, conservative aspects of traditional Spanish character are considered to be, as S. Arsuaga points out, intentionally fighting what leftists consider the “culture” of today’s Spain.

Truthfully, what the Spanish left describes as the “culture” is really a non-entity lacking any culture whatsoever. It is in fact an anti-culture, in which there are no universal standards or ideals other than those arbitrarily adopted and rejected as whim or cult of personality dictates. And ironically enough, the proverbial cudgel is the preferred tool for promoting the so-called diversity of the left: disagree with me, and I will bash your brains in rather than allow you to retain your own thoughts.

It is high time for the Spanish people to wake up, to reassert themselves, and to put aside the monstrous anti-culture which seems to have infected every element of their visible society. It is extremely encouraging that S. Arsuaga and others – including, albeit somewhat belatedly, the Spanish Episcopal Conference – are trying to do that awakening, but there is much more that remains to be done. The impression from this side of the Atlantic that Spain is slipping irretrievably into anarchy is not going to be overcome otherwise.

Lady in a Fur Wrap by El Greco (c. 1577-1580)
Pollok House Collection, Glasgow
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Catalan Independence: Come Together, Now

Over the weekend a non-binding referendum held in the Catalan capital of Barcelona resulted in almost 90% of those participating supporting the idea that Catalonia declare independence from Spain. The results of this poll are essentially the same as polls taken in the other counties of Catalonia over the last two years, in which over 90% of participants also voted in favor of Catalan independence. While a full declaration of independence or secession is nowhere near a reality, there are some very significant developments in this area which ought to give naysayers some pause. Before we can get to that, however, some disclosures are necessary.

The regular reader of these pages is in no doubt as regards my general political leanings – though I put the tenets of my Catholic faith first, ahead of any political considerations. Thus although my posts often have a certain point of view, I do not in general blog at any length on overtly political issues. In this case, being half-Catalan, I need to make an exception.

With regard to the issue of bias, I freely admit that I am very much in favor of Catalonia regaining its independence from Spain, or at the very least engaging in the creation of a federal system within Spain similar to that which we enjoy in the United States, or that of Germany. If independence proves impossible but the latter path of federalism could be equitably applied, it would allow the individual states to retain a significant amount of control over their own finances, public policies, and so on. It would concentrate the power to govern in local hands, in order to better address local issues, while demarcating the powers of a national, centralized government to address large issues, such as defense, which are better-handled collectively.

Apart from the suspicious leanings of The Courtier in the eyes of some on the issue of Catalan independence we must also, when considering the poll result, drill down into the numbers of the poll results themselves; percentages only tell us part of the story. The number of voters in yesterday’s referendum was a bit north of a quarter of a million people. This figure represents a little over 21% of the estimated population of the city of Barcelona.

While I believe this does not detract from the fact that there are a large number of people in favor of Catalan independence – nearly one out of every five eligible Catalans and Catalanistas in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia voted in favor of it, after all – I think it reasonable to assume that those who went out to vote in this non-binding poll were the “true believers”, for lack of a better term. They are people who took the opportunity to make sure their voices were heard, even though they knew that there would be no direct result; the rest either were indifferent and thought the poll was not worth their time, or were opposed to the poll even taking place.

All that being said, what is significant about this most recent polling is that, unlike on previous occasions, the Catalan Center-Right participated more actively in the discussion. The current President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, is a member of the largest Catalan conservative party, and voted in favor of independence, as did Jordi Pujol, the previous Catalan conservative head of government in the 1990’s. The strongest voices for Catalan independence have, in recent years, been those on the far Left, but the fact that the middle-class party is taking the question more seriously than it has in years is an indicator that perceptions may be shifting, given the disastrous governing of Spain’s present Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Because of its association with the Left during the 1930’s, many commentators outside of Catalonia and even many Catalans themselves forget that the rebirth of a desire for independence in Catalonia began in the mid-19th century, with the “gent de be”, i.e. the Catalan version of the UHB or “Urban Haute-Bourgeoisie” [with apologies to Whit Stillman.] This powerful group of aristocrats, gentry, industrialists, professionals and intellectuals, were proud of their Catalan heritage, outward looking at what the rest of Europe and the world had to offer, and yet remained deeply devout Catholics. They fundamentally changed not only the look of Barcelona, commissioning the work of legendary architects such as Gaudi, but also altered the future of Catalonia. Through their efforts, Catalonia emerged from being a cultural and economic backwater in the 17th and 18th centuries, after years of repeatedly being stomped on by Madrid and losing their empire, which once stretched from Barcelona to Palermo to Athens.

That we have a situation today, not seen since the transition after the death of Franco, in which both the Left and the Right among the Catalanist parties are willing to talk to each other but also to find common ground, is a very remarkable state of affairs. Even a low level of participation, but participation nonetheless among Catalan conservatives is noteworthy, and it should give pause to members of both the national conservative party, the Partido Popular (“PP”), and the national Socialist Party (“PSOE”). For ironically enough, Catalan independence is an issue which both the national Left and the national Right in Spain will put down their weapons over, and link up arm-in-arm to prevent from happening.

The press seems to focus on what the PP has to do and say because it is, in the eyes of many journalists, too Right-wing. This is because most Spanish journalists worship the philosophical quicksand that Mr. Zapatero walks on. Be that as it may, Catalan independence is, for the PP, first and foremost a philosophical issue. They do not see the Catalans as a nation-within-a-nation, even though the majority of Catalans see themselves that way – including those who would not vote for full independence from Spain for political or practical reasons.

Yet for all the press about the Right, the Socialists as currently headed by Mr. Zapatero, could not govern Spain if the Catalans were to leave. The national Left has always needed Catalan money and political support in order to remain in power. During the Civil War, when they were chased out of Madrid, Barcelona became the capital of Spain for the Leftist, Republican side. Today as then, take Catalonia out of the equation and Spain as a whole not only becomes significantly poorer, but also significantly more conservative politically. Thus, both the national Left and the national Right in Spain can, in fact, agree on one thing: that it is in neither of their interests for Catalonia to declare independence.

The idea of full independence through secession, or simply a larger degree of de-centralization, is one which gets knocked around in this country from time to time (e.g. in Texas and Hawaii), but which rarely gets any practical traction. In Europe however, there have been many examples in recent years of groups gaining either full independence or increased separation from the centralized state which had historically came to dominate it, often as a result of the absolute monarchies and empire builders of the 18th and 19th centuries. Critics call this “Balkanization”, based on how poorly this process was handled in the former Yugoslavia.

Yet as terrible as that was there are other examples – Scotland, Slovakia, etc. – where it was not necessary to shed blood in order to either gain greater autonomy or separate completely. In disintegrating Belgium over the last several months we have been witnessing the birth pains of what is probably going to be at least two new countries. Catalonia, if it eventually chooses to go its own way, does not have to be the next Kosovo or Bosnia.

This afternoon I will be attending a conference on the evils Mr. Zapatero and the Socialists have wrought in Spain over the past few years. The speaker will, I am sure, not favor Catalan independence, and so there is little point in my raising the issue with him. However, my hope is that the Catalans themselves will continue to actively engage in this issue, and not simply relegate it to the bar, cafe, or living room following yesterday’s referendum. Those are the places where this discussion needs to take place, of course, for it was in the homes and clubs, over a good coffee or brandy, that such talk began back in the 19th century among Barcelona’s UHB. Yet those discussions will need to move beyond the comfy chair or the tottering stool if they are ever going to be seriously considered by the Catalan people as a whole.

Giant Catalan flag unfurled at the legendary
Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona

Idle Hands: Leftist Failures and Anti-Catholicism in Spain

In the overnight hours of March 22nd-23rd, a group of radical feminists set fire to the historic 18th century church of Saint Vincent in Sarrià, a place which I know well and have written about on my other blog, Catholic Barcelona. The formerly independent village of Sarrià is a pretty, well-to-do neighborhood in the north end of Barcelona, somewhat reminiscent of Georgetown here in DC. Why those responsible chose this particular parish we do not know, though its pastor, Father Manel Valls, is well-known both in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia for being the celebrant of the televised Sunday Mass on TV2, one of the main Catalan television stations.

The anonymous group which claimed responsibility for this act intended to do not only as much damage as possible to the church building, but also to wound the hearts and minds of Catholics everywhere, not just local parishioners. Mocking the part of the mass known as the Presentation of the Gifts, during which lay members of the congregation process with bread and wine to the altar and then present these gifts to the priest to be used for the Consecration of Jesus’ Body and Blood, the unnamed group sneered on their website that “by this action, we present our unique offering to the Church and its values: 3 liters of gasoline, which burned to illuminate the darkness of the night.” Fortunately for the parish, the group only succeeded in burning part of the main portal and door of the church, as shown below: next time, the parish may not be so lucky.

Direct attacks by leftists on Catholic houses of worship have been increasing across Spain in recent weeks. From a student chapel at Madrid’s most important university, to parish churches in Segovia, Tenerife, and elsewhere, anti-Catholic violence has been undergoing a real resurgence. However this particular action in Barcelona is a significant stepping up of the level of violence seen so far. Until this recent attempt at church burning, the current rash of break-ins and protests have involved offensive graffiti and signs, or demonstrations which devolved into laughable acts of hysteria and crowd frenzy. They could be dismissed as disgusting, but to some extent predictable, elements of life in a free society.

Yet the more disturbing aspect of this has been the appearance of signage and chanting, calling not only for the deliberate burning of the churches, but also the killing of the members of the clergy and religious orders, actions last undertaken during the rule of the Left before and during the Spanish Civil War. My fear is, it can only be a matter of time before the targets of assault and even destruction cease to be structures, and start to be people. It would not be the first time in Spanish history that such evils took place.

Despite pleas from Church officials and the laity that these matters be taken seriously before they are allowed to go too far, these classic, tell-tale signs of trouble seem to be taking many by surprise. It was thought in many quarters, from the media and academia to politicians and bureaucrats, both within Spain and internationally, that in this day and age there was no real physical threat either to the property of the Church or to either its leaders/adherents. Not only is this an utterly ignorant position, for anyone who knows a little about the history of Spain and its tendency to repeat itself, but it also betrays a subconscious attitude on the part of many that by not “keeping up with the times” with respect to its social teachings on abortion, contraception, or on the ordination of women, the Catholic Church in some way deserves what it gets.

The reason for this increasing radicalization is said by many to be unclear, but I attribute it to three, key points. First and foremost, we must take into account the precarious state of the Spanish economy, which has been circling the drain for some time, with market watchers worrying over the state of the country’s savings banks, increasing interest rates, and slashed growth forecasts. Overall unemployment currently stands at 20% of the population, but youth unemployment for those in the 18-35 age bracket is stuck at a shocking 40%. If idle hands are the Devil’s workshop, there is nothing like a young, unemployed Spanish leftist to do his handiwork.

Secondly, blame must be laid at the doorstep of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who recently announced that he will not be seeking a third term as President of the Spanish Government. Not only have “the Shoemaker’s” policies since 2004 led his country to the point of economic collapse, but his thinly-veiled loathing of both conservatives and the Catholic Church have been expressed through the radical social policies he has pushed through parliament, to rapturous adulation from those on the left. All the while, he has been giving the Spanish people circuses rather than bread; now they have realized that they are hungry, and by standing down for the next general election he has clearly indicated that he does not want to be thrown to them for food.

And finally we must consider what I believe to be the third cause for the increase in anti-Catholicism in Spain which, ironically enough, is the success of the faithful within Spain to stand up for themselves with the visible support of their Pontiff. The Papal Visits to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona last year drew enormous crowds – not of the elderly, though of course they were there also, but more significantly of the young. Watching streaming media coverage of the consecration of the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the clearly audible and visible shock of the jaded newscasters at the presence of enormous numbers of youth overjoyed to see this elderly German priest made me smile rather broadly. And of course this summer, the celebration of the Holy Father of World Youth Day in Madrid – which will, in fact, go on for much longer than a day – is going to throw the supposedly sophisticated Spanish leftist for an even bigger loop.

The idle hands which I mentioned earlier have to up the ante if they are going to prevent the Church in Spain from having any kind of a future, and this is why those hands are putting down their placards and picking up cans of gasoline. For the left cannot claim that these young people – who have no memory at all of General Franco and the repressive aspects of his regime – are being forced to practice Catholicism or to admire the pope. The under 40’s in Spain have grown into their teens and adulthood knowing that virtually every libertine path is open to them, and yet a surprisingly large number have chosen to reject social engineering, radical feminism, and bioethics standards taken from the collected works of Josef Mengele, and instead freely and willingly choose to follow the path of Christ. The fact that a Spaniard born into modern, democratic Spain would exercise their free will to be a Catholic sends your average Spanish leftist into a screeching hissy fit.

The latest chapter in the history of anti-Catholicism in Spain is being written before our eyes; we are living under the curse of that Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.” How much more violent that anti-Catholicism becomes – and I fear it will inevitably become even more violent – will depend on the willingness of those in authority to protect not only the property of the Church, but also the safety of those who work for and worship within it. Those of us who care can do our part by not only following the news about what is going on in Spain, but also by blogging, tweeting, e-mailing, and talking about it with those in our circle. And in the meantime, let us hope and pray that these attacks will stop soon, before something far more grave occurs.

The entrance portal to the church of St. Vincent in Barcelona,
after being attacked by leftists last month.