Recent Posts

  1. The Shipwreck of Catalan Freedonia

    Original Article: El naufragio de la Freedonia catalana
    Published: 5 Jan 2018

    Of all the obstacles that the Catalan independence process has faced, there is one that perhaps we still haven’t overcome. “If it weren’t for the fact that there are more than 200,000 Catalan public servants who are not prepared to give up a few months of their salaries, we could already be independent,” a councilor once said. Everything is easier if the people agree to go without eating.

    The anecdote comes from Lola García, journalist and deputy director of La Vanguardia, in her book El naufragio. La deconstrucción del sueño independentista (The Shipwreck: The Deconstruction of the Independence Dream), published by Ediciones Península. At this point, the number of books about the independence procés has not surpassed the number of related legal cases, but it’s close, and for that reason the reader might be tempted to skip this one. But the book is one of the best journalistic accounts available about the biggest crisis suffered by the Spanish political system since 1977, a crisis with several aspects that make it difficult for just one book to capture all of the nuances.

    The procés has been many things, but there is one that stands out above the rest. It has been the largest popular mobilization in a Western European country in the past decade, and it has maintained its strength for a number of years. Half of Catalan society has greatly increased its aspirations for self-identity, in contrast to what they saw as a state in decline — the Spanish state — troubled by a deep economic recession, as in the rest of Europe. From there, independence supporters passed the torch to their politicians, because in the end, secession is not obtained via one demonstration every year, no matter how massive. That was the moment in which their problems began.


  2. John Carlin: Spanish Pride

    Original Article: El orgullo español
    Source: La Vanguardia
    Published: 6 Jan 2019

    At the top of my list of New Year’s resolutions, the most difficult, and the most important, is to recognize that I can be wrong. It’s difficult for anyone, even more so for someone like me who practices the role of a professional columnist, and still more for those of us with Spanish blood.

    The Spanish often say of themselves that what defines them is envy. I don’t agree with that because I don’t believe they suffer from this weakness any more than the rest of the species. I think — and my other half, from Madrid, confirms it with alarming frequency — that what really distinguishes the Spanish from the rest of humanity is their exorbitant pride. This has its admirable side, of course: The loyalty to principles, to honor, and so on. But taken to extremes, it can be dangerous. Pride gets placed ahead of pragmatism; what is perceived as moral integrity is prioritized over a solution to the problem; and one ends up shooting oneself in the foot. He loses friends, or a job, or money, or elections, or prestige, or an empire.

    We are talking about an enormous problem, intrinsic to humanity, that for the good of oneself and his neighbor, one has to attempt to overcome. But it’s not enough to say that one is going to recognize his errors. If we leave it there, the resolution won’t last even two days. We have to develop new mental habits. Here is my list of six, for 2019 and beyond.


  3. The Challenges for Historical Memory in Andalusia in 2019: Open Graves and Block the Far Right

    The main challenge in 2019 for Historical Memory in Andalusia will be to navigate against the current; even more than usual in the country of forgetfulness. The presumed future Andalusian government, consisting of the People’s Party (PP) and Ciudadanos, needs Vox’s votes to form a majority, in the investiture and to rule. And it remains to be seen whether the two parties will accept another of the far right’s demands: the “immediate repeal of the Historical Memory Act.”

    In terms of Historical Memory, the essence of the matter remains unfinished: the search for the disappeared. To open mass graves and ditches so that the relatives of victims of fascist terror can reach closure. The State’s duty of national memory, as required by the United Nations, is in the hands of a few deputies. Will the Regional Government of Andalusia continue to move ahead with this policy?

    So far, none of the actors have expressed their views. It’s a subject that is avoided, unlike another cause of the far right: the battle against gender equality laws that, according to the candidates, is threatening the potential coalition.

    The victims of Franco’s rule, and Historical Memory associations, expect that the new Andalusian government will switch from collaboration to obstruction; or at least to assume the position of “zero euros” [i.e. no funding] that former President Mariano Rajoy took. But it is also clear that nothing will stop the desire for truth, justice and reparation. “We are going to continue,” say the relatives. “The fear has passed.”


  4. Not Everything Was Bad in 2018: Some of the Good News We Reported On

    We review the most positive news stories to end the year with a smile: from womens’ mobilization to progress against climate change

    Two thousand eighteen was a year full of news. The year began with Mariano Rajoy as Spanish president and, after an unexpected no-confidence vote, it ended with Pedro Sánchez in command at La Moncloa. The country also saw how the extreme right gained parliamentary representation in Andalusia; how the 40th anniversary of the Constitution coincided with the Catalan territorial issue, as topical as ever; and how the government is considering the removal of dictator Francisco Franco’s remains from the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) mausoleum.

    But, beyond politics, at we also reported on many other stories. To wrap up the year, we review the most positive ones:

    1. Women Take to the Streets

    March 8 will be remembered as the day women took to the streets to claim their rights and freedoms. Hundreds of thousands of women filled more than 60 Spanish cities to promote feminism, grouped behind university banners, professional associations, unions, and collectives. Even the media felt the impact of the feminist wave: journalists from dozens of newspapers, and radio and television stations, went on strike.


  5. Not So White, Not So Merry Christmas

    Original Article: No tan blanca, no tan feliz Navidad
    Source: El País
    Published: 29 Dec 2018

    An analysis of international news via articles published in global media, selected and commented on by Context magazine

    Oh, white Christmas. Not exactly. And even less so in 2018. For the time being, this Christmas is the least white across the Northern Hemisphere due to global warming. “From Alaska to Finland, half a dozen Arctic cities claim to be the home of Santa Claus,” wrote The Guardian on Christmas Eve, and all of them, “without exception,” are experiencing climate change.

    In Sweden, the Sami complain that “reindeer are confused by the unusual temperatures,” and that, while in spring “there were floods,” in summer some “nearby forests were razed by fires.” In Rovaniemi, capital of the Finnish Lapland region, “summer was strangely hot and dry, with temperatures of over thirty degrees for several consecutive weeks,” and winter “has come so late this year that tour operators have to improvise new activities for tourists, including excursions across the lakes, where the ice is so transparent that you can see the fish below.”

    Sanna Kärkkäinen, director of Visit Rovaniemi, explained, “The lakes are normally covered with snow,” and stressed that “the climate has changed in the last three to five years” and that “it used to be more stable, but now it ranges from long periods of mild temperatures to sudden extreme cold.” At the North Pole (Alaska, USA), temperatures only started to fall last week. The first snowflakes, they point out, used to fall in October, but now the inhabitants of nearby Fairbanks have become accustomed to cold rain during this period.


  6. A Man’s Guide: Actions to Achieve a Society Where Women Live Without Fear

    Do not kill, do not rape, do not assault, do not harass, do not threaten, do not insult anyone today. And don’t insist. This should be the only guide men would have to follow to the letter in order to end male violence. I wish nothing else was necessary; but unfortunately it is not so. There are many guides, but they are aimed at women. They are lists of tips on how to minimize the risks in the face of possible male aggression: walk in groups, in well-lit areas, agree on a security word with a friend in the face of a dangerous situation, store the police department’s number as a speed-dial number on your mobile phone… It’s easy to get the impression that the responsibility for being raped or killed lies with women if they do not follow the guide’s recommendations. But what about men? Beyond not killing, raping, assaulting, harassing, threatening, insulting and insisting, can men do anything to minimize this sense of insecurity?

    A group of experts and citizens propose and analyze what to do and what not to do, in these 12 steps.

    1) The first thing to keep in mind is an obvious one: Not all women are the same and not everyone is uncomfortable with the same things. Talk to friends and women in your family about their experiences of harassment, fear and intimidation. It’s the first step to put yourself in their shoes, that is, to empathize.


  7. Spain is Not Different

    Original Article: Spain is not different
    Source: Contexto
    Published: 5 Dec 2018

    Here we are. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Or maybe not so much. Spain now has its extreme right too: visible, without hangups, and proud to be so. The Spanish exception, in this Europe submerged by the black wave, has ended. Spain is not different. The only one different, at the moment, is Portugal. We’ll see for how long. So what is this still unidentified object called Vox? What happens now? What should be done? And what should not be done? A comparison to what has happened in other European countries in recent years may give us some clues to understand the phenomenon; to reconsider; and to respond.

    1. Vox’s success is due to the rise of right-wing national populisms worldwide. There’s no doubt about that. Vox is the Spanish version of a phenomenon that has already settled in Europe, the United States, Latin America and Asia (let’s not forget Modi’s India and Duterte’s Philippines). That wind has been slow to reach these parts, but it has come. At the same time, Vox has peculiar features related to Spain’s history and political context. Thus, in its discourse and its political proposals, we find as many elements shared by most parties of the current extreme right in other places (ultra-nationalism; the defense of traditional values; security policies; attacks on immigration, Islam, feminism, the LGBT community, civil rights, globalization, the EU, etc.) as well as peculiar elements, all under a dense anti-elitist rhetoric that seeks to protect “those at home.”


  8. Pontevedra: The City That Subdued the Automobile

    Original Article: Pontevedra, la ciudad que logró vencer a los coches
    Source: El País
    Published: 1 Dec 2018

    Twenty years ago, a city in the northwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula began to move in the opposite direction from the rest of the planet. Pontevedra, a Galician city of 82,000 inhabitants, at the time just as overwhelmed as elsewhere by cars, noise, pollution and double parking, launched a plan to pedestrianize and limit vehicle access to the historic center, and accepted tooth and nail by a good part of the residents and merchants. Today, with vehicles only allowed in a quarter of the locality, residents have gone from protests to asking City Hall to expand the restrictions.

    The residents of Pontevedra have discovered that it is possible to escape the asphalt jungle. The 80,000 vehicles that used to travel each day through the urban center in the late 1990s have been reduced to 7,000, and 1.3 million square meters of streets have been returned to pedestrians. The government of then- and current mayor Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores, of the Galicia Nationalist Block, which launched the project in 1999, says that pedestrianization by itself doesn’t work, and that it must be accompanied by a comprehensive plan to organize traffic for the entire city. “Here we give priority to necessary traffic: access to garages, loading and unloading, public transport, and the individual services of private vehicles,” explains the councilor.


  9. A True Account

    Original Article: Un relato veraz
    Source: El País
    Published: 5 Nov 2018

    Peace cannot be seen as the equivalent of forgetfulness, nor can any old account be accepted under the pretext of healing the wounds of the past, because the only thing that is achieved, in the end, is to keep wounds open and prolong the pain of victims. That is why the Herenegun project (“The Day Before Yesterday” in Basque) of the Basque government is so important. The project aims to teach students aged 15-18 about recent Euskadi (Basque Country) history, during the period 1960-2018. And it will only be introduced in classrooms once the teaching materials have the support of those who suffered from the terror of ETA, and importance is given to the fact that the group assassinated those who they believed were hindering their totalitarian-leaning political project.

    The Herenegun project is based on five videos of 20 minutes each, which in turn are based on the series entitled Las huellas perdidas (The Lost Traces), created by ETB (Basque Television), and advised by prestigious experts. Nonetheless, the educational videos have provoked the direct rejection of victims’ associations, both the People’s Party and the Socialist Party, as well as several historians. They criticize the fact that the videos maintain in some aspects an equidistance that is incomprehensible. The Spanish government has also announced that it will present allegations by November 16th. The Basque government wants to introduce the course, experimentally, in eight centers during the final quarter of this academic year. But it would be prudent if lehendakari (Basque President) Urkullu suspends the announced plan, and reschedules the process once all of the allegations and proposed modifications are considered, and consensus is achieved, by all means possible as promised.


  10. Democracy is Fragile

    Original Article: La democracia es frágil
    Source: El País
    Published: 7 Oct 2018

    On 21 October 1949, Aldous Huxley wrote a letter to George Orwell to thank him for sending a copy of Orwell’s book, 1984. Huxley also used the occasion to write that his own vision of an authoritarian future, described in Brave New World, was much more likely. It may not have been very polite of Huxley to point out the faults of 1984, but in the same missive Huxley established an interesting distinction between two ways to imagine the tyranny that awaits us: one that will come via repression by “flogging and kicking them into obedience” (the Orwell model); or another that will be imposed by means of suggestion and seduction, leading them to “[love] their servitude” (the Huxley model). Despite their differences, neither of the authors had much hope for the survival of democracy as we know it.

    Today we don’t have two or more intellectuals who compete to see who more accurately predicts the horrors of the future, but rather thousands of political experts analyzing what the hell is going on with our democracies. It’s a new academic specialty: unraveling what is behind populist movements and the hair-raising turn towards illiberal democracies. The experts carefully consider every advance of the populist parties; they identify the voters; they make wake-up calls when faced with the appearance of “strong men” and their devious and unlawful mass communication strategies; and they observe the rising number of survey respondents who don’t view living under a democratic system as essential. And ultimately, at some point in the future, the experts detect with terror the face of fascism.