• Madrid and Barcelona mayors, Podemos’ Iglesias avert celebrations today
• Catalan nationalists claim sovereignty, solidarity with indigenous America
“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” begins the poem every schoolchild in American once learned by rote, in commemoration of the landing by European explorer Christopher Columbus on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola on 12th October 1492.
But in 2016 in mother-country Spain, from which Columbus (aka Cristobal Colón) sailed for America and where the date of his landing is commemorated by law as the national holiday of Dia Nacional de la Hispanidad (Hispanic Heritage Day), not everyone is celebrating — with most of those choosing to opt out doing so on ideological or nationalist grounds and some in a specific show of solidarity with indigenous peoples of the Americas, whose numbers were decimated as a result of European emigration following the Columbus landing.
In Madrid, a massive annual military parade costing this year an estimated 800,000 euros will precede a reception presided over by King Felipe VI and attended by politicians and dignitaries of most stripes, but noticeably absent will be leader of national anti-austerity party Podemos (We Can), Pablo Iglesias, as well as Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena, elected in 2015 on the Podemos-supported Ahora Madrid platform.
Iglesias will boycott the event for the second year running, noting that the national holiday was particularly revered by former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and holding fast to his populist preference to celebrate in the streets and neighborhoods of Madrid with the working people of Spain. Carmena, meanwhile, is discreetly out of the country at an international meeting of mayors being held in Latin America, but the mayor’s Ahora Madrid administration has chosen to commemorate the day by flying the rainbow-coloured indigenous ‘whipala’ flag of South America next to the municipal colors at city hall.
In Barcelona, the administration of Mayor Ada Colau, also elected in 2015 on a platform supported by Podemos, while refusing for the second year running to fund official 12th October celebrations in both a nod to Catalan nationalism and solidarity with indigenous peoples of the Americas, has nevertheless complied with the national law mandating a public holiday for all municipal employees.
This, despite a call from the small, farther-left Candidatura de Unidad Popular party (CUP, or Popular Unity Candidacy) for Barcelona’s employees to work their normal schedule today and be given a holiday off later in the year. The CUP also called this year for the removal from the bottom of Barcelona’s famed Ramblas boulevard of the monument to Colón — who other Catalans nevertheless proudly claim was neither Italian nor Spanish, but a fellow Catalonian. The Colau administration has made clear, however, that it contemplates no removal of the Barcelona landmark Colón statue.
To the immediate north of Barcelona, a move by the mayor of the largely working class city of Badalona, Dolores Sabater, to make today a regular work day for Badalona municipal employees was promptly overturned by a local judge, who ruled that maintaining regular office hours at city hall would fly in the face of the “general interest” of the public in marking the national Hispanic Heritage holiday. Badalona officials now will reportedly comply with the ruling by attending to any members of the public at the front door of city hall.
But, the court ruling leaves unchallenged the determination of half a dozen other municipalities in Catalonia to remain open for business today, seeing no link between Hispanic Heritage and Catalonia and claiming that Catalan local and regional institutions are sovereign and not required to comply with the Spanish law.