Tag Archives: Spain

Madrid: not to make light of the hardship caused…

12 Jan

Winters on the Castilian plateau are notoriously harsh but it sounds like this storm has caught Madrileños completely off-guard, or just unequipped to handle this much snowfall. That said, and without ignoring the hardship caused to so many, I generally find Madrid in winter delightful: the weather is usually bright and crisp and matches the leaden foods and wines better…and the indomitable spirit of Madrileños knows how to have fun no matter what the challenges.

Plaza Mayor
Street scene in Lavapiés

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Croatian facho tourist prop on Balkan Insight

28 Dec

If Germans had never accepted their guilt for their massive, inconceivable, unspeakable crimes during WWII, who would visit Germany or Austria? who wouldn’t be in favor of sanctions and boycotts against German states?

But WWII fascist Croatia, the NDH, was so brutal and vicious in its treatment of the peoples who came under their rule, that even Berlin — the Nazis themselves — had to tell them to chill out!!! And yet not only has near no one pressured Croats to come to terms with or face their past “even as they except Serbs to recite their assigned mea culpa till the end of time [N.B.]”, they were granted immediate independence in the 90s based on their supposed “Westerness”, and were accepted into the European “family of nations” with almost none of the reforms or changes expected of other now European Union member-states or that are still being used to keep Serbia and Bosnia and Macedonia out.

How much longer?

Oh, and the Catholic Church needs to make some statement of repentance for their shameless support of the Ustaše during the war and their equally shameless facilitating of Ustaše leaders’ escape to Spain and Latin America after the war to avoid being prosecuted for war crimes. We all gloat over the Bosnian Serb leaders taken to the Hague to be (rightfully) judged for their murders, but no one cared or cares that Ante Pavelić died quietly in his bed in Madrid thanks to the Vatican and Franco.

Oh, and there’re no clues in the Odyssey that would lead us to assume that Odysseus made it as far up the Adriatic as Mljet in southern Dalmatia.

OH….! And this month Croatia revealed a memorial to war (Yugoslav wars) leader Franjo Tudman — without even the slightest ashamed editorializing from Croatian media — or Western media for that fact. But when some municipalities in Serbia and even a movement in Belgrade tried to erect a Milošević memorial in recent years, the attempt was (rightfully) condemned all around. Balkan Insight write Anja Vladisavljevic only sheepishly ended her piece on the new memorial with this lame observation:

“Admired by nationalists for achieving Croatian independence, he [Tudjman] has also been criticised for Croatia’s role in the war in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as for his attitudes to the Croatian opposition, human rights and press freedoms.”

It’s all infuriating.

The unveiling ceremony for the monument in Zagreb. Photo: Croatian Government/Twitter.

See all of Vladisavljević‘ piece here: Croatia Unveils ‘Homeland’ Monument On Tudjman Death Anniversary

Turkey and its Jews: Avlaremoz, the Varlık Vergisi and Şekip Bey, the appropriation of minority capital, Sephardic Jews and Spain

26 Dec

Next time a Turk or Turkey/Islam apologist tells you that progressive, tolerant, cosmopolitan Turkey gave refuge to Jewish intellectuals and scientists persecuted by the Nazis during the 1930s, remind them that a few years later the Turkish Republic imposed an over 100% estate tax — the Varlık Vergisi, also imposed on Greeks and Armenians — on its own Jews, which ruined most and saw many sent to lethal work camps in Anatolia as punishment, where many died.

One voice of protest:

Context: from the massacres of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Lausanne Population Exchange, the various rulings and legal restrictions placed on non-Turkish speakers and non-Muslims following the founding of the Republic, the 1934 Thrace Pogrom against Jews, the estate tax (above), the anti-Greek Pogrom of 1955, the Deportations of Greeks in 1964-65 and the general climate of fear and violence and harassment non-Muslims still live under in contemporary Turkey — the Varlık Vergisi represents just one episode in a process of a massive transfer of capital from non-Muslim to Muslim hands in the 20th century – a transfer which laid the groundwork for late 20th and early 21st century Turkey’s booming (or now not-so-booming) economy.

But history does provide us with some delicious ironies: currently, when Turks need a visa to travel anywhere in Europe or North America — given they could even afford such travel with their steadily plunging Erdo-lira — Turkish Jews can just go and fill out some paperwork at the Spanish consulate and be granted the Spanish citizenship with which they can start a new life in any country in Europe tomorrow! Snag…

And follow Avlaremoz (“Hablaremos” in Ladino, of course) on Twitter; it’s a fascinating, informative account.

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Erdie and the EU: When it would be funny if it weren’t so depressing and worrisome

12 Dec

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Salonica p.s.: cool map

8 Dec

Click here to see full size:

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Ekathimerini: The ghosts of Thessaloniki are still here, by Leon Saltiel

8 Dec

When I say that “Salonica and Izmir are both giant graveyards for me” this is part of what I mean.

Thessaloniki’s Jewish cemetery as it was before it was destroyed in 1942, during the German occupation of Greece. The cemetery was established in ancient times and on the eve of the Second World War counted approximately 500,000 graves in an area of 350,000 square meters, making it probably the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe and maybe the world.

Seventy-five years ago today, during the German occupation of Greece, began the destruction of the historic Jewish cemetery of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city. The cemetery was established in ancient times and on the eve of the Second World War counted approximately 500,000 graves in an area of 350,000 square meters, making it probably the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe and maybe the world. Within a few weeks, wrote an eyewitness, “the vast necropolis, scattered with fragments of stone and rubble, resembled a city that had been bombed, or destroyed by a volcanic eruption.” According to a report by the US consul in Istanbul, “recently buried dead were thrown to the dogs.”

This act was not a purely German initiative. Besides, one can visit Jewish cemeteries today in the center of Berlin. The initiative came from the local authorities, which for a long time had tried to remove the cemetery from its location, close to the city center. “And this damned German occupation had to come, when, with the collaboration of an ironic fate, this old unsolvable problem of Thessaloniki found its dramatic solution,” in the words of Thessaloniki intellectual Georgios Vafopoulos. In its place today is the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Its destruction traumatized the Jewish community, which at the time constituted 25 percent of the city’s population. It removed the symbolic roots of the Jewish residents from their native city. They were eyewitnesses of the sacrilegious flattening of the tombs of their ancestors. This destruction solidified the convergence of interests between the German and the local authorities, to the degree that it was described as the “harbinger of the soon total destruction of the whole Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, the most numerous center of the Jewry of the Orient.” In fact, a few months later commenced the transport of the vast majority of the Jewish population of the city, some 46,000 souls, to the extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In 2014, during the inauguration of the monument for the destroyed Jewish necropolis on the grounds of the university, Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris stated that the city “is ashamed of this unjust and guilty silence” and the stance of the city authorities at the time. The late vice rector of the university, Ioannis Pantis, stressed that, “today, however, the Aristotle University, free from guilt syndromes, regards this past, the history and loss of the Jews of Thessaloniki, as part of its own history as well.” Indeed, in recent years, a lot of progress has been made in the context of Jewish memory in the city, as shown by the planned creation of a Holocaust Museum, the re-establishment of the university chair of Jewish studies, the multilevel educational initiatives at Greek schools and the integration of this history into the school curriculum, the annual march of memory and the placement of memory stones.

Nevertheless, there are still issues that remain open: With the destruction of the cemetery, the place became a huge quarry and its materials were used for construction purposes. In Thessaloniki’s Cathedral of Saint Demetrius, one of at least 17 churches in the city for whose construction materials from the cemetery were used, one can still find marbles with Jewish inscriptions, from the “500 pieces of marble” which those then responsible had requested in October 1943 for the “reconstruction of the temple.”

The Royal Theater of Thessaloniki was laid in 1943 with “250 square meters of plaques 50 x 50 cm from marble from the former Jewish cemeteries,” according to the tender of the municipality, which can still be seen today. Vafopoulos narrates that German officer Max Merten “was jumping on them with his boots, saying that he could hear the squeaks from the bones of the Jews.”

The university’s medical school, established in 1943, used tombstones as anatomy tables, “constructed three troughs made of concrete and took bodies from the cemetery which were put inside for the practice of the students.” Unfortunately, notwithstanding how macabre all these facts may be, such examples in the city are many and visible to this day.

This sacrilege was legitimized by the widespread use of the materials by so many city institutions and the deafening silence that followed. The mayor and the university authorities made an important first step – admittedly with a grand delay. Seventy-five years later, in the name of historical memory and in a spirit of respect, brotherhood and humanity, the other institutions have the responsibility to expose this history and the origin of the materials with which they were built.

[My emphases]


* Leon Saltiel holds a PhD in contemporary Greek history from the University of Macedonia and is a postdoctoral fellow at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva with more than 15 years’ experience on human rights issues around the world, the majority of which was working with the United Nations institutions in Geneva.

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Today is International Basque Language Day — who knew? 😳 …And another diatribe on the destructiveness of identity politics

6 Dec

Yesterday was “The International Day of Persons with Disabilities”. Soon it’s going to be like the Orthodox Church calendar and there’ll be a long list of “International” days on each and every one of the year’s 365, all commemorating identity till the point where all identity just “melts into air”.

I’ve been unfriendly to Basques in the past, not for any reason particular to Basques but because I’m against the wild reification of any social or cultural group’s self-perception (“identity”) and the pointless violence and other costs that leads to.

These are some of my money quotes:

And then there are the Basques.  Do you know how many inhabitants of the Basque regions of Spain who identify as Basque actually speak the language?  Some 18%!  And yet, this practically identity-less identity has been the motivation for decades of violence and terror.  There’s no more twisted example of post-modern identity foolishness than I can think of.  A violent political struggle to save a museum culture.  When 50% of you have bothered to actually learn the devilishly difficult language you’re so proud of, then go ahead and engage in any kind of separatist resistance — violent or non — that you feel like.

And…

There are more dangerous and toxic manifestations of that kind of localized-identity nationalism as well, most noticeably the Basques.  Less than 25% of the people who claim that they are Basques ethnically in Spain can actually speak the language at all — at all.  I once caught a hysterical comedy skit on Spanish television where a man in San Sebastian was trying to pull off a bank robbery in Basque — on principle.  And it wasn’t working because the teller couldn’t understand him.  Then the neighboring teller chimes in about the robber’s grammar and that it’s incorrect according to the teacher at the night-school Basque classes she goes to and the other customers on line start arguing with him and the tellers about noun declensions and whether his use of the subjunctive is correct or not.  And the robber starts to scream, frustrated: “I’m in Donostia (San Sebastian in Basque) goddammit!  Not Burgos!  And I can’t even hold up a bank in my own language!”  Finally, the cops arrive and instead of apprehending him, they get caught up in the one-upmanship of the group of barely Basque-speaking Basques’ grammar arguments and the robber, frustrated, makes his escape.  It was hilarious and it was on YouTube for a while but I haven’t been able to find it again.  But that’s not all a joke.  People killed each other in the hundreds for decades for an identity with only the most fragile of real footing and a language that none of them spoke; and in post-Franco Spain, one of the most liberal, progressive on social issues nations in Europe, where you’re free to learn any language you want and maintain any kind of culture you like.  So, at the risk of sounding glib, make the effort to  learn the language first — BE a Basque first —  before you start killing people.

And a quote where I lump Basques and Catalan together with the twentieth century’s most vicious and destructive separatists, Croatians; I’ve often referred to Croats as Balkan Catalans, and referred to Catalans as Iberian Croatians:

I have a serious repellent reflex towards Catalans. This is largely because I love Spain so much, and their anti-Spanishness really gets my goat. I find their Gallic delusions that they’re so much more European and Mediterranean and civilized than the rest of Spain to be insufferable. (And some day I’ll get around to dismantling the cult of “Mediterranean-ness” itself that’s grown since the 1980s and that I find a completely false and fabricated pop-multi-culti identity that grew out of tourist literature, the public relations campaigns of olive oil companies and a popular sprinkling of Braudel, and nothing else. When even Turks start acting and feeling like they’re “Mediterraneans,” you know that a discourse is b.s. and needs to be taken apart; the extremeness of the hype surrounding Barcelona is part of this, and is why I love the gravitas and even crudeness of Madrid and Castille so much more deeply.)  I find Catalans’ ‘noli me tangere’ squeamishness about how they shouldn’t have to suffer by being a part of this barbaric country of monarcho-fascists and Catholics and gypsies and bull-torturers to be racist pure and simple. They’re Iberian Croatians, in short. There are plenty out there who will get the analogy, I believe.

And more:

All of us on the periphery, and yes you can include Spain, struggle to define ourselves and maintain an identity against the enormous centripetal power of the center.  So when one of us — Catalans, Croatians, Neo-Greeks — latches onto something — usually some totally imaginary construct — that they think puts them a notch above their neighbors on the periphery and will get them a privileged relationship to the center, I find it pandering and irritating and in many cases, “racist pure and simple.”  It’s a kind of Uncle-Tom-ism that damages the rest of us: damages our chances to define ourselves independent of the center, and damages a healthy, balanced understanding of our self culturally and historically and ideologically and spiritually…

Spain — in part because it’s felt it had to compensate for the darker elements of its past — has transformed itself in just a few decades, and in a way I find extremely moving and mature, into perhaps one of the most progressive countries in Europe on a whole range of moral and social issues and especially in being open to regional autonomy and regional, cultural rights.  There is no way you can’t be happily and solidly Catalan, and maintain your culture and language to the fullest degree, within the Spanish state.  Objections are nonsense.

But they had already lost me when they banned bullfighting.

Thanks for letting me rant and re-rant. 🙂

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¡Santiago y cierra, España!

19 Nov

Byzantine Ambassador, in another informative piece, talks to us about the Spanish cult of Santiago.

Outside Rome the West lacked the relics of important apostles. This was rectified in Venice by the theft of St Mark the Evangelist from Muslim Alexandria in AD 828. Not to be outdone by the Adriatic pirates, however, the Spanish promptly discovered St James the Greater’s tomb at the Galician fishing town of Padron at some point between 818-42.

The interior and exterior (below) of the cathedral of Santiago in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain.

Just to add… Bari rectified a lack of relics by stealing the remains of St. Nicholas of Bari from the city where he had served as bishop, Myra in Asia Minor/Anatolia.

The Cathedral of St. Nicholas of Bari below; I love the combo-contrast between the austere Romanesque of Norman churches in southern Italy and later Baroque additions, like the ceiling here.

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Photo: satellite pic of Iberia

12 Sep

Madrid! Sevilla! Cái!!!

Never thought northern Portugal would show up as so densely populated. Expected it to suffer from the same depopulation as Castilla/León/La Mancha.

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Flamenco: I can’t get enough of these guys right now: Pedro el Granaíno y Antonio de Patrocinio | En Clave de Fa | por Bulerías

27 Aug

Look out for guitar at 3:30.

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