Constitutions and constitutions – OPINION



Chairman Felix Alvarez

Published: Gibraltar Chronicle

9 October 2017

Whatever the Spanish State thinks it achieved from its recent behaviour in relation to the Catalan Referendum, it would probably not be too different from what it thought it had achieved with its closure of the Gibraltar frontier back in the late 60s.

In both cases, whether we’re looking back at Franco or looking at Rajoy today, force, threats and twisting of arms (and legs) seem to have been the hungry reaction. In a Spain trailing a long, dark culture (‘la España negra’) the tussle between progressive and regressive attitudes has not diminished with the advent of ‘democracy’. Somehow, aggression seemed ‘logical’ in a post Civil War dictatorship from 1936 to the death of Franco. It was, after all, the means by which success had been achieved in establishing a Spain that was ‘Una, Grande y Libre’, wasn’t it?

Indeed, this is the territorial integrity argument by no other name, ofcourse. It will abide no room for context, history or rights other than those ‘settled’ by means other than persuasion or consent.

And, in a world where a call to people’s rights does play a part (however deceitfully and hypocritically at times), resorting to a ‘letter of the law’ approach to both domestic and foreign politics and policies, is not necessarily the most convenient or prudent method for those countries wishing to be found within the WLD Club (‘Western Liberal Democracies’) to continue their subscription.The European Union is nervously taking note as we speak.

It must, however, remind us that Spain has never really properly finished its Civil War. There was never a process of reconciliation between the parties. Strong polarization and resentments between Left and Right persist. Bodies still lie in unknown graves, unrecognised but increasingly articulate; and El Caudillo still hasn’t been removed from his mausoleum.

There are Constitutions and Constitutions; not all are of equal calibre. There are laws and laws: not all deserve the same respect. And there is Rule of Law and Law of Rule.

It is a citizen’s or a People’s right to put spirit above letter in circumstances where power is exercised by coercion or force (brute or otherwise). Gibraltar is wise to continue resisting any move towards persuading us to concede in the Spanish claim to our homeland, no matter what dainty offers may be dangled.

Yet we must also hold the ‘spirit’ of our convictions close; our actions must never wander into xenophobic generalizations. Our neighbour, Spain, may be in the grip of historical shifts, yet its political, literary, artistic and intellectual gifts have been many. The thinkers it has produced, and continues producing, rank high.

Just a few weeks ago we waved the Union Jack at National Day. And so we should. Our relationship with Britain has afforded us stability and development. It has secured a livelihood and a standard of living that has for long been the envy of those immediately around us. We are a well off society in more ways than one – economically and democratically; even on a global stage. That is by no means to claim we are perfect, that we don’t have our flaws and haven’t committed our errors throughout our own history. We have. Our historical treatment of Spanish workers, and later of Moroccan workers does not figure in the best annals of our social history.

From adversity and error often comes growth, however. While Cataluña struggles to grow its identity and self-governance beyond ‘autonomy’ towards fully-fledged independence, Gibraltar cannot yet pretend such ambition. Time will tell if the conditions will arise, or can be made to arise, which would signify that full separation of Gibraltar from Britain might be desirable or viable. Nothing should stop us from discussing it openly, however. Indeed, we are obliged to do so; we know only too well that circumstances can present themselves unannounced, and this Society should be learned in its options and tasks. We must drop the political taboo surrounding this necessary dialogue.

But Boris Johnson’s anemic ‘nothing to do with us’ official statement following the brutal, militaristic stance of the Rajoy government towards those he claims are his own people (Catalans) is an abrogation of the long-assumed British bulldog defence of fundamental values, let alone political manners.

In the meantime, we should never lose sight of a truth: States do not have feelings, they only have interests. (Mario Cuomo’s dictum ‘campaign in poetry, govern in prose’ is to the point). Whatever doctrines or ideologies particular political groupings may publicly espouse, when push comes to shove, the interests of the State, hard-nosed and unrelenting, will always kick in. We have witnessed it over time in respect of Britain’s positions. Indeed, the years-long passivity of the British Government in the face of Spanish maritime (and sometimes dangerous) incursions into Gibraltar sovereign waters, is a fact we are all well accustomed to, and which increasingly rankles each time the ‘Preamble’ mantra is wheeled out for appropriate airing. Perspective in maintaining our position, and perspective in holding firm to our spirit is what will count. Gibraltar has been good at ‘going high when they go low’. It’s how it should be.

If you’ll pardon the pun, it’s part of our ‘constitution’.