Saturday, June 27, 2015

"Sixto, Sitges and Camp Nou" - (An excerpt from my next book)

A friend of mine named Raúl Blanco has a father who originally came from Cordoba.

He told me that when his father (called Sixto, probably after one of the Popes) was seventeen he decided to try his luck finding work in Barcelona. 

Like a lot of the Spaniards at that time he was regularly living on little food - the 1940s and ‘50s were often called ‘the years of hunger’ - and he was prepared to risk what was then an illegal train trip due to the tight restrictions on travelling away from your home town.

Sixto was told by his friends to stand in the open space between the two carriages of the train and  when it started to slow down before Barcelona, around Sitges on the Garraf coast he should then jump off onto the ground. He was warned to only do this when he heard the announcement for the stop at Sitges

But Sixto did not hear the pronunciation of the town with a hard ‘g’ sound that he was accustomed to. Instead the soft “ch” of ‘Seetchas’ in the Catalan accent was used and when he soon arrived in Barcelona and got off the train that was supposed to take him to a bright new future he was arrested on the platform, thrown into jail for nine days then sent back to Cordoba.

Sixto was not deterred for long though. The next time he made sure that through his family he had arranged a work contract with former neighbours who had agreed to  officially sponsor him and his employment.

One of his first jobs was being a labourer on the Camp Nou, a new stadium for the city's beloved Barça football team. Like many of his so-called ‘immigrants’ he lived in the working class area of Hospitalet de Llobregat where with his wife (from the northern Burgos region) he went on to run a bar-restaurant.

Sixto’s story is emblematic and typical of his generation of rural families, especially those from Andalusia, a region where the Socialist party has governed without losing office since 1982. His hometown of Cordoba was actually the first provincial capital to elect a Communist mayor.

In King Solomon’s time Andalucia was called ‘Tarshish’ in Hebrew and was considered to be the legendary place of riches at the end of the world. If Sixto had known about this before he stepped onto the train he might have thought of it as a cruel joke.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"If Greece falls..."

[Special meeting of the European Council on 23 April 2015. From left to right: Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament; Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece; Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. Photo: European Council. Source: Flickr]

"As the Greek crisis continues, Steffen Vogel reports that a majority of German business leaders look upon a Grexit as a favourable option, according to a survey published last month in the German business daily Handelsblatt.

At the same time, Vogel draws attention to the political price of a Grexit, summed up best he says in the words of Reuters European affairs editor Paul Taylor: "If Greece falls, no one wants their prints on the murder weapon".

"That applies to the German government too", Vogel continues, "long held up on the international stage as an example of a party that is blocking a lasting solution to the crisis.

Some weeks ago, The Economist mocked Wolfgang Schäuble as an 'ayatollah of austerity', thus reversing the rationale upon which Berlin claims to be acting pragmatically." "

[Source: Eurozine.]


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

'COLOUR' in Barcelona

The photographic work of my friend Ibrahim Sajid is part of a new exhibition (until June 21) at Arenas, the former bullring at Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 373- on Plaça d'Espanya, Barcelona.

The concept of this international group project is stated as:

"Mankind has come a long way, yet even in today’s modern world, our behaviours are stereotypical.
Racism, bias and discrimination are the social evils prevalent in all societies and each and every one of us plays a role in either contributing to or breaking down racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes.
Our opinions are created and nurtured by superficial beliefs, making us form biases against ethnicities, cultures, religions, gender, nationalities, races and color without even trying to see beyond.
This installation urges us, as a society, to question the first impressions we form at a glance, regardless of his or her appearance, forcing us to look beyond the colour."

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"TTIPing us over the edge" - My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

While we are all going about our daily business this month, big business is going about trying to make sure that Europe is run purely in its interest.

If agreed to by the European parliament, the new Free Trade Agreement between the United States and the European Union, better known as TTIP, will do immeasurable damage to the lives of citizens across this continent. 

The progressive organisation Global Justice believes that it poses "great risks to hard won measures to protect public health, worker rights and the environment."

Essentially, TTIP is "designed to take away barriers which are behind the customs border – such as differences in regulations, standards and certifications" of goods for trade. 

This may sound reasonable but what it means is that Europe would be required by law to have exactly the same product rules as the United States, which are widely known to be the loosest and most anti-consumer protection in the developed world.

The TTIP negotiations have all been conducted in secret sessions - closed to the public and the media. 

The reason for this is simple. 

The leaks of information from the meetings have shown that TTIP would mean that any business could take any government to court if they believed that a government policy threatens their profits. 

This legal method, (known as the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism) has already led to countries being sued for putting health warnings on cigarette packets, regulating medicine and energy prices, raising minimum wages, and removing tax incentives.

TTIP would further strengthen the power of big business (because only the largest can afford it) to control what national parliaments can and cannot do for their private citizens. 

Fracking, to take just one other example, would be more likely to go ahead because public administrators would want to avoid costly litigation that they are likely to lose defending a decision against it.

On top of all this, there is a fear – from the European Commission itself – that because of TTIP changes up to one million workers employed in small businesses are almost certain to lose their jobs. 

So, if accepted, TTIP may well worsen inequality across the EU.

Meanwhile, according to online global web campaigners Avaaz, “cruel factory farms are pumping healthy animals full of antibiotics so that they can produce more meat, faster and cheaper.” 

They argue that this practise is also creating drug-resistant superbugs but, in a positive development, several European countries have already drastically cut the use of antibiotics, and now EU ministers are negotiating laws to do so across the wider region. 

Unsurprisingly, and in a parallel move with pressure on TTIP, “the farm and pharma lobby is out in full force to stop the new EU laws.”

I would urge readers to think about taking action by signing the online petitions (as I have done) at the websites of the two organizations I’ve mentioned above in this article: Global Justice and Avaaz.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, June 2015.]