To explain (if needed) the title of this week’s blog: in perhaps the most famous episode of Fawlty Towers, the manic hotel manager, Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese, has a major problem behaving in front of some German guests. ‘Don’t mention the war!’ he says to one of his staff. ‘I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.’ Then, returning to the shocked German guests to take their food order, he can’t stop himself: ‘So, that’s two egg mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering, and four Colditz salads.’ ‘Will you stop talking about the war?’ cries one of the guests. ‘Me? You started it!’ retorts Basil. ‘We did not start it!’ comes the reply. ‘Yes, you did,’ insists Basil, ‘you invaded Poland.’ First broadcast in 1975, it was a brilliant mockery, not of Germans, but of Basil Fawlty himself – the fact that there were people like Basil who regarded all Germans as being responsible for Nazi Germany, and the rise and support of Adolf Hitler. 1975. Just keep that in mind for a moment …
Here’s a quick recap on some of the week’s news, as I think it helps to put things in perspective:
On Monday, the pro-government (& pro-monarchy) media in Spain reported that the negative reception Felipe VI received in Barcelona [I wrote about Felipe & ‘rocket science’ here], and the snub from the city’s mayor and the speaker of the Catalan parliament, all put the future of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in jeopardy. Er … it wasn’t true. The MWC has just completed one of its most successful events ever held in Barcelona. Here are some key figures from the press release of the organisers, GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications Association), issued on 1st March, entitled ‘GSMA wraps up hugely successful Mobile World Congress 2018’: more than 107,000 visitors from 205 countries, including more than 7,700 CEOs – up from 6,100 CEOs in 2017. More than 2,400 exhibitors, more than 3,500 international media and industry analysts, and the 2018 MWC contributed approximately €471m and over 13,000 part-time jobs to the local economy. ‘We had another highly successful Mobile World Congress, on so many fronts,’ said John Hoffman, CEO of GSMA. He said the event was ‘one of our most successful ever’, and that the only disappointment was the weather. The press release crucially also confirms: ‘MWC 2019 will be held 25-28 Feb 2019 in Barcelona’ and that it ‘will be hosted in Barcelona through 2023.’
Just think. If Spain’s pro-government media were scaremongering about the negative impact on the MWC of Felipe VI’s reception in Barcelona, do you think they’ve distorted the truth about a few other things, too? I mean, 3,000 major corporations (including banks, car manufacturers, telecom operators, food and drinks groups) have ‘apparently’ closed their businesses and moved their HQs out of Catalonia, leaving thousands of staff redundant and office blocks empty. So, did the MWC participants notice anything different? No! Of course not! Banks were still open, cashpoints worked, cars were still visible, hotels, restaurants and bars were still open, the shops were full and selling loads of great stuff, the telecoms worked, the infrastructure worked, and you could still eat jamón, drink Damm or Moritz beer, Freixenet or Cordoníu cava, and even rent or buy a Seat VW car if you wanted to. Visitors probably also found that the Catalans were willing and able to speak to them in any language required: English, French and Spanish.
Also in the news … thanks to the Streisand effect, every major media outlet in the world explained very clearly why Pep Guardiola wears a yellow ribbon: it is in protest at Spain’s political prisoners. A TV reporter in Spain, however, inferred that it was to support a charity to fight prostate cancer.
The Times newspaper published a scathing editorial about the situation in Spain, stating that the ‘Spanish government’s imprisonment of pro-independence activists was plainly excessive … pre-trial detention has raised questions among civil rights organisations across Europe’ and that ‘Spain should allow Puigdemont and other leaders to return and enter a dialogue’. The Economist published an article entitled, ‘Why Spanish courts censor art, speech and rap lyrics’. Enric Millo, the Spanish government’s delegate in Catalonia, said on radio that ‘technically, there were no [police] charges on 1st October’ against Catalan voters … despite Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, and hundreds of other international organisations and observers, as well as the global media, clearly witnessing it for themselves.
Xavier García Albiol, the leader of the PP party in Catalonia (what’s left of it), and a man tall enough to play basketball (I mention that because he’s criticised others’ real qualifications) – was named as an example of racist and xenophobic politics in a report issued by the Council of Europe. In any other country, that would be seen as a disgrace. On Twitter, I wrote that Albiol would consider it as an award. He blocked me.
650 lawyers from around Spain denounced the violation of rights in Catalonia to Europe. Despite accusing many Catalan politicians with malfeasance of public funds (part of the arguments for why there are still 4 political prisoners jailed without trial in Spain), Rajoy’s government admitted that the Catalan government spent €0 in organising the Catalan Referendum on 1st October … a referendum that Rajoy spent over €87m trying to prevent. Spain demanded the resignation of Albert Ginjaume, Finland’s honorary consul in Barcelona, apparently because he had lunch with a pro-independence supporter. Spain has now also demanded an explanation from the Peruvian ambassador after the Pervuvian honorary consul in Barcelona voiced support for the dismissed Finnish consul. This ‘diplomatic inquisition’ looks set to continue.
The Spanish government has vetoed any investigation by Congress about the relationship with Spain’s intelligence services and the Imam of Ripoll, the ringleader of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils last August. 500 trade union representatives from all over Europe campaigned for the immediate release of political prisoners. Pensioners held mass protests against the Spanish government. The house being rented for Jorge Moragas, Spain’s UN ambassador in New York (previously Rajoy’s cabinet chief, and mainly responsible for his diabolical policies in Catalonia) has 11 bedrooms and a squash court. The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) has compiled a list of countries that use excessive police violence against demonstrators, criticising them in front of the UN. Spain is on the list alongside Congo, Togo, Sudan and Honduras. Another rapper, Pablo Hasél, has been sentenced to two years in prison for ‘injuries to the crown’ and ‘crimes of glorifying terrorism’, after posting messages on Twitter and uploading a song on YouTube. An ex-assistant to Spain’s king emeritus, Juan Carlos I, is to become the president of the ‘Francisco Franco Foundation’ (yes, there really is a Franco foundation) … and which brings us back to Franco (not that he was clearly ever gone in any of the above news). The Spanish government has said it is not going to exhume any of the 33,000 victims buried at Franco’s mausoleum, the ‘Valle de los Caídos’, as it is too expensive. It did, however, spend around €2m maintaining the mausoleum over the past few years, and it did find funds to exhume members of the ‘División Azul’ [the Blue Division, a Spanish force that also fought for Hitler] and repatriate them. A group of MEPs visited the mausoleum on Friday and called it an ‘insult’.
Franco. Don’t mention Franco. I’ve mentioned him a few times now but hopefully I’ve got away with it. Carles Puigdemont mentioned Franco this week, too – as part of an exclusive interview published in The Guardian newspaper, coinciding with his decision to take the Spanish state to the Committee of Human Rights of the United Nations, as well as ‘provisionally’ renounce his candidacy as Catalan president. ‘I was educated in the Franco era,’ he said. ‘We could only speak Catalan at home; it was prohibited at school and in public media. There’s a whole generation that was not allowed to talk Catalan publicly.’ The remark was met with some fierce cricitism on social media: Franco died over 40 years ago … why did Puigdemont have to bring up Franco yet again? Oh, and why do the foreign media keep mentioning Franco? Why? Let me try to briefly explain …
I don’t pretend to speak for other foreign writers about Spain, but what I do know is that we don’t all wake up each day deliberately looking for something to write about Franco. We don’t need to look for it, either, because it is already there. But we don’t want to write about Franco or even have to mention the bastard. Let me clarify that: I think some writers do still want to expose more about the past and Franco, and rightly so – because much was covered up. But I don’t think we want to deliberately associate it or draw parallels with current events … but it’s hard not to, it really is. Franco is dead, yes. But Francoism is clearly still breathing in many circles, and it is not only disturbing but repulsive. Think of 1975 and Basil Fawlty. Think of ‘Brand Germany’ then … it was still being mocked on TV (although, as I say, the mockery was aimed at those who regarded all Germans as having something to do with ‘the war’.) Franco died in 1975. ‘Brand Spain’ then became great for many years (it was cool, I wrote here) – but today, today, Spain is being associated with Franco more than ever. Sort it out, Spain.