Friday, June 24, 2016

The Brexit (El Reino Desunido)

Much to the surprise of everyone, the British voters rose up in an untidy mass last Thursday and voted to leave the European Union. With the two choices before them of staying and going, they chose the alternative favoured by the far-right: to leave.

My Godfather was a senior politician in the Conservative party in the nineteen fifties and he left them to create the National front, a party of far-right racist lunatics. Today, they are called Britain Now, or the UKIP, or the British Nationalist Party:  there are many others besides. The politics of Donald Trump, in short.

Andrew Fountaine told my father once that the Blackshirts only wanted a certain type of supporter. They wanted the poor and the ill-educated: ‘the Little People’. These, he said, could be easily stirred up against an enemy – the Jew, the wealthy or the foreigner. We don’t want any intellectuals or the upper classes to come anywhere near our rallies. We keep it simple.

And so, the results of the referendum in the UK, called by a British upper class fool, and lost on the playing fields of Eton.

But now, it’s not that one Britain won over another: it’s rather more than that; it’s the end of the United Kingdom.

The UK is made up of four strongly allied countries. Of these, Scotland has already tried to secede and, with the current situation, will do so again, this time successfully. Scotland would like to stay, or rejoin – the European Union. It’s doubtful that Brussels would have any strong concerns about them joining. As Scotland leaves the UK (or rather, the ‘Former United Kingdom’ – enjoy the acronym), Northern Ireland, too, would be pleased to leave and join the rest of the Republic of Ireland, also a firm supporter of the EU. Would Dublin or Brussels see a problem with that? Not likely.

By Friday, London was also talking of leaving the UK, perhaps becoming another Singapore. What a collapse of a slightly ridiculous and briefly racist country. Cameron, you screwed up. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage – your country is committing an act of self-immolation. How you will be remembered!

The UK voted in a referendum, which, unlike an election, cannot be adjusted or resolved every four years or so. A referendum is permanent.  The ‘Brexiters’ won and their politic was based on fearing the foreigners – the Syrian refugees or the Turkish hoards. They also dislike the Europeans living in the UK, whether working or studying (it would be hard to imagine Europeans going there to retire).  Two million EU citizens, mainly French, German and Italian, and the Irish as well, but also Spaniards and Poles and Bulgarians are in the United Kingdom at the present time: all, evidently ‘after our jobs and our women’.

As we wait for the UK to fragment, we can expect the next racist government to treat the European Union citizens with the politics that defined the referendum. We can expect that their European privileges will be lost, and they will be forced to seek work-permits, and visas, and a minimum income to stay (likely 30,000 pounds a year). They could expect to be deported back to their own countries in certain circumstances.

So what would happen to the two million or so British expatriates living in the EU, and in particular, to those in Spain? Whatever the British Government was to hand out to the Spaniards and their EU brothers, Then Madrid, Paris, Berlin and Sofia would hand out to us. The voters would insist upon it. We aren’t very popular here as it is. We could expect work permits, convertible accounts and so on. We might need to visit the Spanish embassy in London for an extended visa. There would be quite a queue.

Already, we can expect to lose the international health card (the EHIC) and to have our pensions frozen at 2015 levels. Our voting rights in Spain, and anywhere else across the EU, would be lost as well (and the few British councillors in Spanish town halls? Sayonara).

Deportations? There would be a quid pro quo: if the UK sent Spaniards home, then, yes. The electorate here would insist upon it.

We are not liked by the stay-at-home British, being seen as ‘traitors’, and we have no voice, no representation. We are un-persons – without any strength for negotiation for our rights. What rights?  There is neither an office or a spokesperson or even an agency for the expatriates: neither in London, nor in Madrid nor in Brussels. In fact, no one even knows how many we are. The INE claims 270,000 Britons living in Spain, based on the figures from the padrón (the town halls register), but many other sources, such as the consulates or the tourist authorities or the media, go as high as 650,000 or sometimes even 800,000. No one knows (because of course, no one cares). A country like Spain, anal in its statistics and its bureaucracy, knows how many sheep or goats there are across the entire country, because each one has a chip and a bureaucrat to count it. But they don’t know how many we are.

There could be two million Britons living in the EU, now all feeling rather betrayed by their countrymen. Can we rise up and protest? To who – the local mayor?

So what can we do? Keep our heads down and hope for sanity? That rarely works in politics. Perhaps take out Spanish nationality? To do this, we would need to be able to prove that we have spent ten years resident in Spain, speak Spanish and have a good knowledge of current affairs and Spanish culture (there’s a fifty question test). How many of the Brits, drinking beer in their silly fish ‘n chip bars in Fuengirola, could pass these requirements?

Then of course there’s the chance of returning to the UK, either voluntarily or through some imagined deportation. How many of us could afford to buy a home in the UK, or do we think that a grateful government, pleased to see us back, would give us all houses and an income? Not likely. We are all slightly worried that we might end up within a year living in damp Quonset Huts built in haste on Salisbury Plain. You don’t need to be a Rhodesian to know what might happen to an unpopular minority.

While we émigrés may be once more ‘the plaything of the Gods’ (like the many decent Germans in 1929: now, how did that end?), what could happen to Gibraltar? The thirty thousand people living there have already been threatened by Spain’s answer to Nigel Farage, the demagogue García-Margallo, who says on Friday ‘the Spanish flag flying over Gibraltar is closer than ever’.  

What could happen to Spain as this calamity plays itself out? With the price of a holiday suddenly rising by ten per cent or more as the pound plummets, the largest foreign group, the British, which make up over 28% of all foreign tourism in Spain and spent over 14,000 million euros in Spain last year, will start to rethink their vacation plans.

Simon Manley, the British ambassador in Madrid, has sent out a video on Facebook telling us to be calm. Nothing will happen for a year or two, he says. We have residence and rights, he says. Well, do we? The Europeans living in Spain had their residence cards taken by the Interior Minister Pérez Rubalcaba back in 2009 and we were obliged to carry, from that time onwards, our national passport together with a letter from the Ministry (i.e. from the police) that says ‘as a communitarian citizen, the bearer has the right to reside in Spain’. We may have used our Spanish driving licence for an ID, but tell that to the notary or the town hall or the police themselves. Of course, if we Britons are no longer ‘communitarian citizens’, then we (and not Spain) will have broken the arrangement. We will simply be foreigners: in Spain without a residence card.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

International Music Day, Mojácar Pueblo

To celebrate the International Music Day, Mojácar village had a number of acts going on through the evening and night of June 21st. This was a new idea to help promote the village: the beautiful cubist mess of square white houses on the last hill of the Sierra Cabrera as it tumbles down to the Mediterranean. In the main plaza, and in a number of smaller squares and forgotten corners, musicians gathered, anxious to play. Some were very good, and the crowd was appreciative. What a setting: small bars with a few tables dominated by acoustic guitars, violins, trombones and singers. Next year, they promise, will be more. But keep it simple: no big electric bands for the Mojácar Pueblo International Music Day

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

An Interesting Time

We are approaching a couple of key events – the British referendum on the European Union, and the Spanish General Election. The first of these, on Thursday 23rd June, will be (we are told) ‘tight’. If the British do decide to leave, there will be endless stories to report about the fate of the ex-pats in Spain. There will probably be calls from other European countries to hold similar referenda – it could even be, as the melodramas have it – ‘the beginning of the end’ of the EU. If the UK leaves, then we can expect the Spanish (and their European partners) to be a little harsh with us, unforgiving and ungenerous. Are your papers in order?
But perhaps the ‘stay’ vote will win the day. At least, there would be fewer surprises for those of us who plan to continue living in Spain.

Just three days after the shock or otherwise of the British poll, the Spanish will be asked to kill another Sunday with fresh parliamentary elections. There are similar choices to the December ballot, with the exception of the union between Podemos and the Izquierda Unida – a partnership which has seen the new ‘Unión Podemos’ move into second place among the pollsters. Nevertheless, there still remains four main parties to choose from (plus the regional ones and a few eccentric and slightly pointless tiddlers). No one party will make it alone – and the ill-felt negotiations of December might be repeated once again: to no one’s benefit. Unfortunately, rather than watch the debates, Spain is once again romanced by the far more compelling (if utterly pointless) Copa de Europa. 
The BoT forecast: a coalition government made of Unión Podemos with the PSOE: Pedro Sánchez for president. 
Editorial Business over Tapas 9 June.

Friday, June 03, 2016

The Spanish Legion

I was lucky enough to be invited on Monday to the Sappers Patron Saint’s Day parade at the Spanish Legion Engineer Battalion’s base ‘La Brigada Rey Alfonso XIII’ in Viator, Almería. The saint is San Fernando. The invitation had come from Andrew Mortimer, who teaches English to the officers (a vital language for any NATO commander). Indeed, Andrew is known to many British families in Almería as he brings officers to stay with them in their homes for a week improving their English while learning about sherry trifles and how one really makes a sangria. 
There were ten of us invited on to the base. We were taken by Andrew (he’s known as Andy), who was in a jacket and tie and wearing a legionnaire’s cap, to the museum, a fascinating building with memorabilia from ‘La Legión’, which was founded by an eccentric one-armed and one-eyed commander called José Millán Astrey in  1920. The museum holds uniforms, flags, paintings, and an alarming number of guns, pistols, mortars, mines and other bloodthirsty souvenirs of service in the Rif, in Lebanon, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the past hundred years. We heard that Millán Astrey didn’t approve of smoking or drinking, so the squaddies – during the Civil War – invented a concoction called Panther’s Milk: which held lots of white spirit, mixed and hidden with condensed milk and a twist of gunpowder.

The long walk across to the parade ground – Viator also houses regular army units (soldiers are known as ‘pistolos’ by legionnaires) – took us past tanks, personnel carriers and an old Legionnaire’s land-rover to the stands where we were to receive the Salute.  In the event, around three hundred soldiers marched briskly past us, formed into ranks, as the commandant took the inspection and issued some ribbon. The musicians played as Christ on a Cross was carried past reverently (but fast: the legion likes to go at 120 steps per minute). Finally, the mascot for the Spanish Legion was led past, a magnificent white goat.
The Legion is known to be tough. Their motto is ‘Legionnaires to the fight Legionnaires to the death'.
We met some of the officers for a drink (wine, thank goodness) after the parade. They all spoke good English, a tribute to Andy’s hard work.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Venezuela and Spanish Politics

Like the anti-Castroists living in Miami, there are many ‘exiled’ anti-Maduro Venezuelans living, usually in some comfort, in Spain. They are right to excoriate the Revolución Bolivar (although Hugo Chávez had his moments), and Venezuela, thanks to rock-bottom oil prices (96% of the country’s exports is oil) and the ineptitude of the Venezuelan Government (a video from comedian John Oliver explains) is in collapse. The current president Nicolás Maduro is out of his depth; before his ascent to power, he was a bus driver (Wiki).
Why is this of interest to a news-letter about Spain? - Because the Podemos hierarchy has been identified with Venezuela and its disastrous policies. Chávez is said to have financed Podemos (now the even larger Unidos Podemos) or its predecessor CEPS (for some unexplained reason) and several past visits to Venezuela and sightings of Pablo Iglesias (and others) with the Venezuelan revolutionary leaders must have some basis in fact.
A visit to Caracas just last week by the President of Ciudadanos Albert Rivera (following another recent visit – from ex-PSOE leader José Luis Zapatero), in Spain’s pre-election period, was without doubt a political act, although whether this was a Ciudadanos initiative or one from the Partido Popular is still unclear.
Much, therefore, has been written in the Spanish media about Venezuela, identified strongly – and negatively – in the mind of the electorate with Podemos. An editorial from El País (in English here) is titled: ‘Venezuela and Spain’s general election. The main political parties are making their positions clear about the crisis in the South American country’. The editorial calls for Podemos to ‘own up’ to whatever relationship they have with Maduro. ‘There is a terrible violation of human rights in Venezuela’, says the Partido Popular here.  
Indeed, so much ink has been spilt on this subject, some people might wonder if the upcoming vote is for Spain or somehow for Venezuela. The respected journalist Iñaki Gabilondo (in a video) thinks that the Spanish election could be won or lost in Venezuela: ‘...let’s talk more about Spain, and less about distractions and rumour...’, he says. 200,000 Spaniards live in Venezuela, so Spain’s concerns are reasonable – but how much truth are we offered?  A story in the ABC, suddenly removed (after it had already gone viral) shows a Spanish businessman in Caracas, posing in a supermarket in a recent photograph taken in a wealthy part of the city. The shelves are full.
Business over Tapas editorial 2 June 2016