A mountain view for Catalonia

Could a Pyrenean principality be a blueprint for an independent Catalonia?

CREDIT: visitandorra.com

A free and sovereign nation-state, where Catalan is the official language and the euro is the currency.

Whilst that may be a dream for many people across Catalonia – it is the reality for the 80,000 citizens of the principality of Andorra.

Could the tiny mountain nation be a model for a future Catalonia if they region were to break free from Spain?

Andorra is sandwiched between France and Spain, unique in that it is the only country governed by a co-monarchy. One head of state is the president of France and the other is the Bishop of Urgell (a town in Spain just to the south of Andorra).

The heads of state act in concert with the elected government. Winter skiing and summer hiking provide a substantial tourist income.

Andorra has a lot of cultural affinity with Catalonia through music, literature, and dance.

A breakaway Catalonia would have several other similarities.

Like Andorra, it would not be in the European Union, it would use the euro, and, of course, it would be a Catalan-speaking country.

But there are no guarantees that Andorrans would rush to embrace their separatist brethren across the mountains.

They might very well like to see another Catalan-speaking nation.

But Andorra could find itself having to choose between being the first country to recognise an independent Catalonia or preferring the stability of the wider region and hoping that the integrity of Spain is preserved.

CREDIT: britannica.com

There is also the example of the little-known enclave of Llivia.

A part of Spain surrounded by France, Llivia is a relic of the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees, when Spain ceded a group of villages to France.

But rather than a village, Llivia had been designated a town, and so it remained part of Spain. As every village to the north, south, east and west integrated into France, Llivia was left as an inland island of Spain.

In truth, it is more an island of Catalonia.

The Catalan estelada flag flies from the balconies, Catalan is spoken and it is part of the Catalan province of Gerona. Llivia also voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence in the banned referendum on 1 October.

The enclave offers an intriguing viewpoint of a part of Spain that is already physically separate from the mother country.

And Andorra, too, provides a fascinating and unique example of a Catalanaphone nation-state.

For pro-independence Catalans who have been suffering from nightmares over the last week after their leader fled to Belgium and Spain withdrew some of Catalonia’s devolved powers, they could perhaps settle on a more pleasant dream if they turn their gaze northwards to the Pyrenees and the thoughts of what the future could yet bring.

‘¡Vivir con honor o morir con gloria!’

Chile’s half-Irish independence hero is commemorated in the London suburb of Richmond

Mothers chat idly, pushing buggies in one hand and cradling coffee in the other. Upmarket shops bustle; the rugby clubs of Old Deer Park hum with ale and cheer. This is Richmond-upon-Thames, a smart town on the south-west fringes of London.

Half-Irish Chilean independence leader, Bernardo O'Higgins

Half-Irish Chilean independence leader, Bernardo O’Higgins

Off to one side of the grand stone bridge, overlooking the rowers pulling along the river and the children running along the bank is a bust. It is a simple head and shoulders sculpture, set back a little way from sandy-cream stone steps leading gently down to the Thames.

It is of Bernardo O’Higgins. A memorable name, and he certainly is a memorable man. Born in Chile to an Irish father and a Chilean mother; a Latin Celt revolutionary who led his country to independence from Spain. He is commemorated all over Chile.

But what is this bust of him doing in this leafy part of London? He was born in Chillán, in the centre of the country. As a teenager, he was sent overseas to study. First in Peru, then Spain, and finally, aged 17, to Richmond, where he encountered several political activists, including Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan soldier who strove for independence for Spain’s colonies in the New World.

The bust overlooks the River Thames at Richmond

The bust overlooks the River Thames at Richmond

On returning to Chile, O’Higgins inherited his father’s properties and entered local politics, moving through activist circles to the nationalist movements. One of the crucial moments for Chilean independence came when Spain’s back was turned, during Napoleon’s peninsular invasion in 1808.

That left a gulf in the imperial administration that the Chilean separatists filled, creating a national congress. Spain’s royalist forces in the Viceroy of Peru wanted to quash this separatist rising and mounted loyalist attacks on the Chilean militia. O’Higgins was the military leader-in-chief who stood against them.

The Irish-Chilean independentist general began the military struggle for Chile on the back foot and lost at the Battle of Rancagua in 1814, which forced him over the border into Argentina with other Chilean nationalists to try to regroup and plan a comeback.

O'Higgins' military call to arms: "Vivir con honor o morir con gloria"

O’Higgins’ military call to arms: “Vivir con honor o morir con gloria”

At the battle of Chacabuco in February 1817 a combined ‘Army of the Andes’ of O’Higgins’ men and Argentinian forces under José de San Martín swept aside the troops in Chile loyal to the Spanish crown, and they took the capital, Santiago.

One of O’Higgins’ famous martial cries has passed into Chilean folklore: “¡Vivir con honor o morir con gloria!” (‘Live with honour or die with glory!’ – inscription visible in the photo above).

The decisive victory resulted in Bernardo O’Higgins being elected to the position which would cement his place in the history of his country. He became the ‘Director Supremo de Chile’, the country’s first independent leader.

He served for six years as de facto president, establishing the basic workings of a governmental administration and building a national navy. However, public consensus around him gradually disintegrated, as many of his reforms were opposed by the Church and elite.
He stepped down from the top job in 1823, under pressure from growing revolts across the country. Bernardo O’Higgins retired to Peru, where he lived in exile. Like his father he never married, but unlike him, he did know and live with his son.
His father, Ambrose O’Higgins, (who would become Ambrosio O’Higgins), was born in County Sligo, in western Ireland, and emigrated via Spain to what is now Peru and then became a colonial administrator in Chile. Bernardo was born in the late 1770s. It was an illegitimate birth as Ambrosio and his partner, the much younger Isabel Riquelme, were not married. O’Higgins senior eventually recognised Bernardo as his own not long before he died.
Bernardo O’Higgins lived in a large estate in Peru until his death in 1842, at the age of 64. His remains were repatriated and he is buried in Santiago and commemorated across Chile, and elsewhere in the world, including in a quiet spot overlooking the River Thames in London.

Returning to the front line

Although many focus on future policy planning, the way politicians recover from setbacks can define a career

On Friday 1 June, the French president’s office released a statement in which they announced they would “not comment on the course of American justice” and “respect the presumption the innocence”. The innocence being presumed was that of a man who had recently been arrested, forced to pay an enormous bail and surrender his passport for an alleged criminal sexual offence.

Returning to try to rebuild your life after such a setback would be hard enough in itself. If you were Dominique Strauss-Kahn, it would seem near impossible. But, incredibly, the French press are already talking about him manoeuvring back on to the track he was chugging down until he was detained on 15 May: organising a bid to be the Socialist presidential candidate for next year’s election.

It would be a stunning return to action but it is unlikely. Many think it more possible that he become openly involved with one of the current candidates’ campaigns. DSK will not be able to waltz back into the corridors of power; France’s outlook on ‘bedroom politics’ has changed permanently, whatever the final outcome of his case.

Recovering from this setback, (and there is no doubting there was a sexual element to the incident), will be difficult but big political personalities in Paris (especially those who have been seen to belittle the US in some way) hold a lot of strings with which to pull themselves back up.

For Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, the challenges are different. He is now back in Caracas after convalescing in Cuba following surgery to remove a pelvic abscess. Chavez revealed on 30 June that he had also undergone an operation for a cancerous tumour. Speculation has mounted over his position but Chavez himself simply called his health problems “a new battle that life has placed before us” and pledged to defeat them as though they were some irritating Western critics: “Forever onward toward victory! We will be victorious! Until my return!”

But will he be victorious? There are three main scenarios that have evolved from this medical setback:

1) He is too ill ever to come back properly and fulfil his energetic socialist agenda and has to leave power (although there are no similarly charismatic pretenders waiting in the wings)

2) He takes quite a while to improve and has to transfer power temporarily to his brother Adan Chavez or maybe vice-president Elias Jaua or Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro

3) He is fit and well and deliberately delayed his comeback in order to make his return to Caracas all the more triumphant (today, 5 July, is Venezuela’s bicentenary of independence from Spain)

Whatever their nature, it would be folly for politicians always to live in the future. How (if, at all) they overcome setbacks can be critical to their lives in the limelight.

A new nation for Central Africa?

On Sunday 9 January, the Sudanese autonomous region of Southern Sudan will hold a referendum on independence. Millions of voters are expected to approve separation from the North.

But leaving the north and becoming Africa’s newest independent state will be fraught with difficulty. Sudan is split many ways: there is an ongoing civil war in Darfur; the Eastern Front region is making separatist noises; and the division between north and south is clear. Ethnically, the North is majority-Arab, it is Muslim and Arabic-speaking and comparatively well-developed, with a modern capital in Khartoum, a commercial hub in Omurdan and has long enjoyed the riches from oilfields which would straddle the new border with the south.

The South has many independent goals, the main one of which is to be able to reap more of the rewards from the oil which is deposited on its side. But in education, literacy, life expectancy, business skills, infrastructure, national development the newly-independent south would lag behind the north and it is desperate to catch up.

Sudan would no longer be Africa’s largest country with Algeria assuming that position. But the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, has said that he will help the South adjust to independence and aid the nation-building programme that will be started if Sunday’s vote turns out as predicted.

But despite this diplomatic olive-branch from al-Bashir, the South may turn its back on aid from Khartoum and look to employ its oilfields for its own, independent gain by fraternising more with the countries to its south. Animism and Christianity are the prevalent religions in the South,as opposed the the Islam in the North of Sudan, and the politics in the South are more tribal, a similarity with countries like Kenya.  These particular religious affiliations may endear themselves more to the development of political links with nations such as Uganda and Tanzania.

Geopolitically, the South sits on the frontier between the Muslim and Arabic-speaking deserts of North Africa and the Swahili and English-speaking Christian forests and savannahs of Central East Africa. The East African Community (EAC) is a powerful regional bloc consisting of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and has well-developed trade and business links. There are even ideas to launch a common currency for the area, although the group is split over the proposal. This could be the direction in which Salva Kiir Mayardit, the would-be Southern president, may want to take his new nation and over the coming months, Sudanese, African and international delegates galore will flood the area to help out as Africa’s newest nation takes her first steps as an independent state.