Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Wirdheim in Vilanova: 2010-3

This week, media are full of nightmarish reports from Port-au-Prince, showing people suffering the consequences of the massive earthquake. By mistake, our children have most certainly come to see images which ought to have been saved for later, but I am happy to have a feeling that not even the six-year-old really takes in what he sees. I have understood that Swedish experts advise parents to answer honestly about what has happened, while they at the same time stress that Sweden has been built on ancient mountains which do not move any longer. Around Barcelona we are less protected; a few days ago a Catalan expert reminded us how an earthquake devastated Lisbon in 1755. But, after all, to worry about such small a risk while the people of Haiti are dying, just underlines how fortunate we are here in Europe.

Vilanova and my first real carnival

Last year, I went from studying the Catalan folk culture to take part in it. In a few weeks, it is time for the next step – to, for the first time, live the carnival of Vilanova i la Geltrú not as an observer but as a participant. The ‘carnival associations’ are already underway with their preparations, but the little I know about who will do what is absolutely confidential. What I can reveal is that I will celebrate together with the casteller team Bordegassos. I hope to have my wife signing up as well, otherwise I will not get the full flavour of the main day: the candy war between the comparses de Vilanova.

Vilanova and the Tres Tombs

When my children complain that 'our Swedish town’ Halmstad is much cleaner than Vilanova, I usually counterattack by saying that the streets here used in an entirely different way. Actually, not a single month passes by without any big outdoor event being organized and during the summer it becomes almost too intense. This weekend, for example, we celebrated the Tres Tombs - our so-called "little town festivity" (festa major petita) – with the traditional horse parade.

Vilanova, Barça and strangely strong emotions

If my relatively new interest in folk culture fascinates my wife, it cannot compare with how surprised she is about my growing feelings for Barça. They are, indeed, strange for someone who never cared about football before we moved here but, in my eyes, prove how difficult it is to not get carried away when you live here. If my history as a culer began, let us say, uphill during Rijkaard’s final year as coach, then the first one with Guardiola - 'el Barça de les sis Copes' - perhaps offered too many good things. Last Wednesday, I therefore had a hard time to see the team excel against Sevilla but still be kicked out from the Spanish Cup (Copa del Rei). And then, when I heard how the merengues of Vilanova (or were they pericos?) shot off fireworks in the street to celebrate 'our' failure, I finally understood how you can hate someone for being a fan of another football team.

Barcelona, Catalonia and the Winter Olympics

A sports-related news item which has received an enormous attention in both Catalan and Spanish media is that Barcelona's mayor Jordi Hereu (PSC) again wants to organize the Olympic Games. This time we are talking about the Winter Games of 2022 and, for obvious reasons, it would be in cooperation with the ski resorts of the Catalan Pyrenees. Since the initiative popped up without prior discussion, there are many who condemn it as pure election tactics. If the capital of Catalonia held municipal elections today, PSC would end up far behind CiU. The Tripartit governing the Catalan parliament has endorsed the plan and that merits at least two comments. Firstly, it seems odd to me that ICV, Catalonia’s Green party and one of the coalition partners, only recently presented their first objections against a project of this magnitude. Secondly, these plans increase the tension between Catalonia and the rest of Spain since Zaragoza and Jaca in the Aragon-section of the Pyrenees, apparently, had already announced that they want to host the games of that year. Eventually Spain will have to select one of the options. As a solution, someone has already proposed a joint candidacy, but that I see as highly unlikely. Catalans might praise the autonomy they had during the Crown of Aragon, but the relationship between the modern autonomous regions of Catalonia and its neighbour to the east is anything but close.

Spain and U.S. Intelligence Amateurs

The news from Spain which upset me the most this week are really about the United States. First of all, I want to stress that I am more America-friendly than the average Swede and began to question the U.S. intelligence service only after American troops had marched into Iraq. But that the FBI, in order to develop a picture of how Osama bin Laden might look today, has used a photo of a Spanish left-wing politician, makes me lose even more confidence in them. With the resources they have, could they not, at least, have reversed the haircut? By the way, does anybody know, in which direction Osama bin Laden - whom most of us have only seen in his turban – combs his hair? Gaspar Llamazares (IU) have all rights to feel totally disgusted about being exposed this way. Although I do not share his ideology, I must say that on TV this Spanish politician always comes across as an honest and knowledgeable, something I can not say about all of them.

Vic, Spain, residence permits and respect

Attempts to illegally enter into Spain from Africa have almost halved since with these times of crisis it is harder for (us) immigrants to find jobs here. Catalonia is an area which attracts a lot of newcomers and some municipalities have in a short time gone through tremendous population changes. Among the registered (empadronats) inhabitants of Vic, in Central Catalonia, more than 25% are of foreign origin. In order to prevent conflicts, the municipal government (a CiU, PSC and ERC constellation) has decided that immigrants who do not have a valid residence permit will not be allowed to register nor make the bi-annual renewal needed for those who do not fall under EU rules. These measures have prompted sharp reactions from the Spanish PSOE government. With a reference to laws on municipal obligations, the latter demands for Vic to continue to accept immigrants as official inhabitants without asking whether they have their papers in order, although those who do not - under another but equally valid Spanish law - in reality should be expulsed.

I can not help drawing a parallel to a Swedish discussion about granting refugees, who remain in the country illegally, the right to care in public hospitals and to send their children to school. It is amazing how different two European societies can be. For being in northern Europe, Sweden receives many immigrants, but unless you obtain all necessary permits it is almost impossible to live openly in the country. Spain's geographical position makes the immigration influx here much bigger. Many of those who arrive do not have the required documents but it is easy to find jobs on the black market - well, at least it used to be - and as soon as you register in a certain municipality, you can benefit from public healthcare and education.

This will, at least for many Swedes, seem a contradiction but in Catalonia and the rest of Spain it is a question about divided competences. It is simply not a task for the municipalities to enforce immigration laws. However, they are responsible for education and health care and how will they be able to make proper plans if noone knows how many inhabitants they actually have?

Under no circumstances do I claim that one system is better than the other but believe that the difference can partly be explained with very different concepts of the word respect. A good Scandinavian above all has to be respectful to society as a whole - a highly impersonal common good – and therefore expect that laws be consistent and applied equally for all. Here around the Mediterranean, respect is first and foremost about not interfering with other people's private affairs. In this case, it in fact helps civil servants if systems are not fully transparent – they might suspect that a certain foreigner does not have a visa which he is obliged to have, but neither want to nor are expected to investigate. My conclusion is that it will take some time before we have a common EU market for bureaucrats. Let us all be grateful for that!

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Sources and inspiration:

SWE: Så talar du med barnen om katatstrofen i Haiti
SPA: La UE y la reconstrucción de Haiti
CAT: Guardiola - Sento que els he fallat
SWE: Barcelonas mål räckte inte
SPA: Hereu confiesa que la idea es suya
SPA: Montilla transmite apoyo para los JJ.OO. 2022
SPA: Hereu reclama el soporte de ICV
ENG: Llamazares’ photo used to create picture of older Bin Laden
SPA: Zapatero pedirá una investigación en el uso del imagen
ENG: Spain sees sharp drop in migrants from Africa
CAT: Vic deixa d’empadronar ‘sensepapers
SPA: Es legal no empadronar a inmigrantes irregulares
CAT: Osona desperta Espanya

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Technorati tags: Barcelona, Barça, Catalonia, CiU, Penedès, PSC, PSOE, Spain, Vilanova

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