Saturday, April 4, 2015

Magnas Societas Catalanorum (The Catalan Company) in 14th century Byzantium

Roger de Flor
My acquaintance with Catalunya started with the soprano Montserrat Caballet. The magnificent lady who sang in the 1982 Barcelona Olympics with Freddie Mercury. Then I discovered that Catalunya was colonised by Ancient Greeks, who settled around the Roses area. A few miles from Roses was «El Bulli», the restaurant of Ferran Adria, another great Catalan, one of the great chefs of the world. And close to it is the ancient city of Emporion (Empuries) founded in 575 BC by Greek colonists from Phocaea with the name of Ἐμπόριον (Emporion, meaning «trading place»). It was later occupied by the Romans (Latin: Emporiæ), but in the Early Middle Ages, when its exposed coastal position left it open to marauders, the town was abandoned. I close this personal reference with Manuel Vazquez Montalban, the Catalan writer and journalist. It was not until a few days ago that I read about the Catalan Company.

Magnas Societas Catalanorum, sometimes called the Grand Company and widely known as the Catalan Company, was a free company of Almogavar mercenaries founded by Roger de Flor in the early 14th-century.



Roger de Flor

De Flor was born in 1267 in Brindisi, which was a provence of Catalonia at the time, the second son of a Brindisi’s noblewoman and German falconer named Richard von Blum (Blume means flower in German) in the service of the Hohenstaufen rulers of southern Italy.

As a boy he went to sea and became a Knight Templar.
Seal of Templar Knights



When Acre in Palestine fell to the Saracens (1291), he made his fortune by blackmailing refugees. Denounced by his grand master, he fled to Genoa and became commander of a force of almogávares (Spanish mercenaries) in service to the Aragonese king of Sicily, Frederick II, who was warring with the house of Anjou.
Coat of Arms – Hohenstaufen Family



The Almogavars

Their name is the transformation into Catalan of an Arab word, al-mogauar, which means «one who devastates». Mountain shepherds from the Pyrenees mountains of Northern Spain or forest-dwellers, these were the men who carried war to the Arab taïfa, a war made up of raids, pillaging and unstable frontiers.

They withstood the Muslim invasions of Spain in the 7th and 8th century by heading higher into the hills and fighting raider warfare in the time honored tradition of guerrillas everywhere. They were remarkable in that they were both fierce and disciplined in combat (outside combat, not so much). They could move fast through very rugged terrain, attack a Muslim settlement, and then flee before reinforcements arrived. Although they could stand against heavy cavalry, they proved very effective troops in running down the lighter Berber-style horsemen of the Iberian Muslim kingdoms.

The average Almughavar wore little to no armor, growing his hair and beards long. He carried a spear, 2 heavy javelins (called azconas), and short stabbing sword. They were the literal descendents of the Iberians that followed Hannibal into Rome, their weapons unchanged since the Romans copied them (naming them Pila and Gladius Hispaniensis).

Despite their barbarian appearance (and make no mistake, these were the hillbillies of the middle ages), the Alughavar understood two very modern principles of warfare: 1) there are no rules, and 2) defeat an enemy mentally first. Almughavars routinely held their own against European heavy cavalry because they engaged in unchivalrous tactics like aiming for a man’s horse. And before a battle, Almughavars would strike their blades against against stones, causing them to spark in the pre-dawn gloom while they chanted «Aur! Aur! Desperta Ferro!» («Listen! Listen! Iron, Awaken!»).

The battle cry of the Almogàvers

Aur! Aur! Desperta ferro!
Deus aia!
Veyentnos sols venir, los pobles ja flamejen:
veyentnos sols passar, son bech los corbs netejen.
La guerra y lo saqueig, no hi ha mellors plahers.
Avant, almugavers! Que avisin als fossers!
La veu del somatent nos crida ja a la guerra.
Fadigues, plujes, neus, calors resistirem,
y si’ns abat la sòn, pendrèra per llit la terra,
y si’ns rendeix la fam carn crua menjarem!

Desperta ferro! Avant! Depressa com lo llamp
cayèm sobre son camp!
Almugavers, avant! Anem allí a fer carn!
Les feres tenen fam!

Meaning:

Listen! listen! Wake up, O iron! Help us God!…Just seeing us coming the villages are already ablaze. Just seeing us passing the crows are wiping their beaks. War and plunder, there are no greater pleasures. Forward Almogavars! Let them call the gravediggers! The voice of the somatent is calling us to war. Weariness, rains, snow and heat we shall endure. And if sleep overtakes us, we will use the earth as our bed. And if we get hungry, we shall eat raw meat. Wake up, O iron! Forward! Fast as the lightning let us fall over their camp! Forward Almogavars! Let us go there to make flesh, the wild beasts are hungry!

Sicilian Vespers

Sicilian Vespers
On March 30, 1282, Peter III of Aragon waged war on Charles of Anjou after the Sicilian Vespers for the possession of Naples and Sicily. The Almogavars formed the most effective element of his army. Their discipline, ferocity and the force with which they hurled their javelins made them formidable against heavy cavalry of the Angevin armies. They fought against cavalry by attacking the enemies’ horses instead of the knights themselves. Once a knight was on the ground he was an easy victim of an Almogavar.

De Flor recruited Almogaver soldiers left unemployed with the Peace of Caltabellotta in 1302 by the Crown of Aragon who opposed the French dynasty of Anjou.

Andronicus II Palaeologus

The Battle of Bapheus occurred on 27 July 1302 between an Ottoman army under Osman I and a Byzantine army under George Mouzalon. The battle ended in a crucial Ottoman victory, cementing the Ottoman state and heralding the final capture of Byzantine Bithynia by the Turks. Bapheus was the first major victory for the nascent Ottoman emirate, and of major significance for its future expansion: the Byzantines effectively lost control of the countryside of Bithynia, withdrawing to their forts, which, isolated, fell one by one. The Byzantine defeat also sparked a massive exodus of the Christian population from the area into the European parts of the Empire, further altering the region’s demographic balance. Coupled with the disaster of Magnesia, which allowed the Turks to reach and establish themselves on the coasts of the Aegean Sea, Bapheus thus heralded the final loss of Asia Minor for Byzantium.

The Byzantine emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus had to do something about the rising threat of the Ottoman Turks.

In 1303 Roger de Flor and the Catalan Company were commissioned by the Byzantine emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus and his son the co-emperor Michael IX Palaeologus to help them fight the Ottoman Turks.
Andronicus II Paleologus (1282 – 1328),
 fresco in the Holy Monastery of Prodromos in Serres

Roger de Flor’s commission was sanctioned by the Aragonese, rulers in Sicily and southern Italy, who were quite eager to rid themselves of unemployed and unruly soldiers. Roger de Flor departed with 39 galleys and transports carrying around 1,500 knights and 4,000 Almogavars, special foot soldiers employed mainly serving the kingdom’s interests in the Mediterranean Sea, especially by the Crown of Aragon.

Roger de Flor arrived in Constantinople with the help of king Frederick III of Sicily in 1303, and married the niece of Andronicus, daughter of the Tsar of Bulgaria, and was named Grand Duke (head of the fleet).
The Catalan Company’s itineraries in Anatolia and the Balkans

Roger de Flor campaigned with his Company in Anatolia, defeating the Turks but also engaging in widespread violence and looting of the Byzantine inhabitants. By this point, the Catalans, were considered by the Byzantines to be little better than brigands and freebooters. The successes had inflated the already arrogant De Flor, leading him to entertain plans of establishing his own dominion in Anatolia.

Roger de Flor entering Constantinople

Coat of Arms of Roger de Flor
This put him at odds with the Byzantine Emperor, and the indiscipline of the Almogavars marked the end of Roger de Flor. On 30 April 1305, he was slain along with 300 cavalry and 1,000 infantry by theAlans, another group of mercenaries at the service of the Emperor. Roger had been in Adrianopolis (modern Edirne) attending a banquet offered by Emperor Michael. The emperor later attacked Gallipoli attempting to conquer the city from the remnants of the Company under the command of Berenguer d’Entença who had arrived with 9 Catalan galleys. The attack was unsuccessful, but it largely decimated the Company. Berenguer d’Entença was captured by the Genoese shortly after, and later liberated. The Company had only 206 horsemen, 1,256 foot soldiers left and no clear leader when Emperor Michael attacked, trusting in his numerical superiority, only to be defeated in Battle of Apros in July 1305.

Thus began the Catalan Vengeance. For two years, the Catalan Company raided and ravaged the Thracian countryside. They sacked Rodosto, brutally hacking apart every man, woman, and child in revenge for what was done to their brothers and their leader. Although they had no siege works and so could not sack the walled cities, no Greek army could stand against them. The emperor was forced to watch as the Catalans burnt the undefended outskirts of Constantinople. So thorough was their domination that the two year pillage of Thrace ended not because they were forced out, but because there simply was not enough places that they could pillage for food.




One fascinating episode during the vengeance was the Battle of Gallipoli. In 1306, the Catalan Company left their camp in Gallipoli and pursued the Alan force that had murdered their leader. The 9,000 Alani were fleeing north-west to their homelands. The Catalans caught up with them and butchered all but 300 in perhaps their most difficult battle.

Meanwhile, a contingent of Genoese mercenaries, at the Byzantine Emperor’s behest, attacked the poorly defended camp at Gallipoli. The Company’s quartermaster, Ramon Muntaner, had at his command 7 horsemen, 133 infantry (mostly sailors and wounded Almughavars), and all the wives of the Catalan Company. So he equipped the women and had them defend the walls under relentless Genoese crossbow barrages. One wife refused to leave her post despite being wounded five times(!) in the face(!). She stated that she would not surrender the honor of fighting in her husband’s place, except in death.

Erechteum and Frankish Tower on the Acropolis of Athens
Finally the Genoese had run out of arrows, and the general berated them for being turned back in their assault of the walls by women. Muntaner ordered his 6 remaining horsemen and 100 infantry to prepare to assault! He had them discard their heavy armor now that the enemy had run out of ammunition, and opened the gates. The surprising ferocity of their attack sent the Genoese reeling. Their general was cut down in the first attack, and the will of the attackers was broken. They fled and would have been cut down by the exhausted Catalans of Muntaner’s garrison were it not for a small company of Genoese reserves.

When the main body of the Catalan Company heard of the attack on their camp, they raced back and secured it. But now the Company was at an impasse. They had exacted what revenge they could, and the countryside was barren. Worse, despite receiving reinforcements Spain and Sicily, the lords of these reinforcements clashed with the leaders of the Company. The Catalan Company had begun to consume itself. This growing rivalry persisted as the Catalan Company decided to head west, into Thessaly and down into Greece. These struggles ended in bloodshed, and the expulsions/departure of some of the lords (including the famed Muntaner, who left more of disgust).



The Catalan Company in Athens

In 1310, Gautier or Walter V of Brienne, Duke of Athens, hired the Catalan Company to fight the Byzantine Greeks encroaching on his territory.

Coat of arms of the Aragonese Kings
After the Company had successfully reduced his enemies, he attempted to expel the Company from Athens with their pay in arrears. The Company refusing this, Walter marched out with a strong force of French knights from Athens, the Morea and Naples and Greek foot from Athens. Walter’s army met the Catalans at the Battle of Cephissus (or Halmiros or Orchomenos). On the 15 March 1311 an army of 700 Frankish Knights, 2,300 cavalry and 12,000 foot soldiers led by Walter V of Brienne, met the Catalan Company of 3,000 of which 500 cavalry. There was also a contingent of 2,000 Turks standing by, to take the side of the winners.

The day before the battle, the Company flooded the battle field with the waters of Cephissus (Kiffissos) river, and made it very difficult for the heavy knights’ cavalry to move, thus becoming prey to the agile and light cavalry of the Company.

The Catalans won a devastating victory, killing Walter and almost all of his cavalry, and seizing his Duchy of Athens, excepting only the Lordship of Argos and Nauplia.

The battle marks the beginning of the Catalan domination of Athens (1311-1388).

Coat of Arms of the Duchy of Neopatria
In 1312, the Catalan Company appealed to Frederick III of Sicily to take over the duchy and he complied by appointing his second born son, Manfred of Sicily as Duke of Athens and Neopatria. The arms seen above are those of the Aragonese Kings of Sicily under which the Duchy of Athens came. (The Duchy of Athens)

The Catalan rule was to last until 1388–1390 when they were defeated by the Navarrese Company under Pedro de San Superano, Juan de Urtubia, and allied with the Florentines under Nerio I Acciaioli of Corinth. His descendants controlled them until 1456 when they were conquered by the Ottoman Empire. By that time, like many military enterprises, the Great Company had faded out of history.


The Duchy of Neopatria 

In 1318-1319 the Catalan Company, after having conquered most of the Duchy of Athens, expanded into the territories of the Despotate of Epirus in southern Thessaly, under Alfonso Frederick, the infante of the Kingdom of Sicily. The new territories were created a duchy and united with the Duchy of Athens as new possessions of the Crown of Aragon. The Duchy was divided into the captaincies of Siderokastron, Neopatria, New Patras (modern Ypati, Υπάτη), and Salona (modern Amfissa).
The Duchy of Neopatria
Part of the Duchy’s possessions in Thessaly was conquered by the Serbs of Stefan Dusan in 1337. In 1377, the title of Duke of Neopatria was assumed by Peter IV of Aragon. It was preserved among the subsidiary titles of his successors, and is still included in the full title of the Spanish monarchs.

The attacks of the Byzantine Empire progressively diminished the territory of the duchy until what was left of it fell completely into the hands of the Republic of Florence in 1390.

The Catalan Chronicle

Ramon Muntaner, one of the ringleaders of the Catalan Company’s expedition, recounted the adventures of the Almogaver army in the eastern Mediterranean in his Chronicle.
Manuscript of the Catalan Chronicle

Ramon Muntaner (1265-1336) began to write the Crònica in 1325, at his estate of Xilvella, some sixteen years after leaving the Almogavars, and probably finished some three years later, in 1328. Muntaner’s Crònica is presented as an autobiography (in which the writer from Peralada takes on the role of counselor and political-military strategist) and, at the same time, as an historic memoir of the past of his kings (in order to justify the politics of the Crown of Aragon, the glorious past of the kingdom, and the even better future that must arrive), in which Muntaner appears as a exemplary and proud subject. (Xavier Bonillo Hoyos)

«The Catalan Chronicle is a vitally important source for warfare in northwestern Asia Minor and the eastern Balkans in the early 14th century. The author, Muntaner, was secretary and paymaster of the Catalan Company, an experienced mercenary formation that had previously fought in Sicily. His account is particularly important because, as paymaster, Muntaner had accurate daily figures at his disposal of the numbers of troops in the Company and gves plausible information about logistic problems, i.e. the acquisition of grain, other foodstuffs and fodder. The relative size of armies and their supply needs can therefore be computed from his figures with a degree of accuracy, as also casualties. There are other details often omitted from the standard accounts that deserve particular attention from Byzantinists. Firstly, the Catalans had brought their families with them to the Byzantine empire. Their ruthless fighting methods were thus a consequence of the fact that they were endeavouring to ensure the survival of a whole society that had migrated inside the frontiers of the Byzantine state. Secondly, it is apparent that the Catalan Company became the rallying point for many disaffected people who joined their fighting forces. Among them were dispossessed Greek soldiers and peasants, as well as clans of Turkish fighters from Asia Minor, who trusted the honesty of the Catalans more than that of their own political and military elites. The Catalan Company owed its successful recruitment of men to a range of grievances against the Byzantine state and its co-emperors, Andronikos II and Michael IX Palaiologos, who in Mutaner’s view had betrayed the original treaty and chrysobulls placing the Compnay under Byzantine authority. The Catalan Company was to some extent an experiment in multi-ethnic military democracy based on talent, courage and mutual need, in constrast to the divisive and grasping aristocratic politics of the Byzantine system. Third, Muntaner provides important indications about the laws of war. After Michael IX’s assassination of Catalan leader Roger de Flor, the Company challenged emperor Andronikos II to judicial combat, consisting of one, or ten, or a hundred champions on each side–the first examples of which date from the reign of the previous emperor, Michael VIII Palailogos. It is a good example of how the employment of western ‘barbarian’ mercenaries resulted in the modification (or perhaps hybridization) of the Byzantine law of war to accomodate the ‘barbarian’ systems of customary law that existed outside medieval Graeco-Roman positive and customary legal practice. «(Amazon, Dr. F. R. Trombley

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hate Speech against Catalans after Plane Crash

The recent tragedy around Germanwings flight 9525 crash that killed all 150 people has elicited shocking hate speech on Twitter and other social media aimed mostly at Catalans—but Germans and French are on the receiving end as well. In the small sample of hate tweets we are posting here, written by people in Spain, the users congratulate themselves on the fact that many Catalans died in the crash, going as far as wishing them slow and painful deaths. Anti-Catalan hate speech lawyer association Drets (Rights) announced that it has already pressed charges against 38 Twitter users responsible for 55 hate tweets.


Here is a translation of a small sample of the tweets:


“The plane crashed because fuel is expensive,
and, good catalufos (despective for Catalan) that
they are, they peed in the fuel tank cause it's cheaper.”

“Volareee uooo Volareee uooo, except if I'm Catalan,
then I crash and crumble.”

“Three hundred and twenty (sic) cheapskates less that
will boo at the anthem during the final.”

“About the plane crash, I think it's great if there were Catalans in it.”

“Plane full of Catalans and Germans crashes in France. #winwinwin.”

“@Pianelo: Let's see, let's not over-dramatize, cause the plane was
transporting Catalans, not people. SPAIN”

“I hope that plane ran over a few Frenchmen as well.”

“I think it's great if 42 Catalans are dead.”

“I hope a plane full of Catalans crashes against a rock and they
all suffer a slow and painful death @apuntem CATALUFOS.”
Note: @apuntem is a Twitter account that tracks anti-Catalan
hate speech.

“I don't know what happened with the damn plane
full of Catalans, but too few died.”

“I hope all those Catalans in that plane #Germanwings.”

“What's 1000 Catalans dead in a plane crash?
TOO FEW.”


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Monday, March 23, 2015

Political Persecution of a Catalan Judge

Santiago Vidal is a Catalan judge specialising in penal law and a magistrate in the Barcelona Provincial Court. He is also a lecturer in Penal Law and Criminology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He has become a widely recognised figure in Catalonia, where, apart from having been the Catalan spokesman for the Association of Judges for Democracy for several years, he is well known for the progressive nature of sentences passed regarding racial and sex discrimination and the protection of minors. He is a keen defender of the use of the Catalan language in the judiciary. What’s more, he is in favour of the right to self-determination and of independence for Catalonia.



But now Judge Vidal is unable to practise law because, on 26 February 2015, the CGPJ (Consejo General del Poder Judicial, the General Council of the Judiciary), the body that governs all justice in Spain, suspended him as a judge for three years without pay.

The reason for this severe punishment is that Judge Vidal was the leader of a team consisting of jurists and other judges, who preferred to remain anonymous in order to avoid reprisals, which drew up a draft constitution for a possible future Republic of Catalonia. It made no difference that this draft constitution was drawn up in a strictly private and personal way by citizen Vidal, unremunerated and in his free time, without it interfering in any way with the exercising of his profession, which is recognised as excellent.

Judge Vidal is accused of a very serious breach of discipline: disloyalty to the Spanish Constitution and to the Kingdom of Spain for expressing his thoughts and convictions in the form of a hypothetical constitution and also for participating publically in acts in favour of an independent Catalonia.

This sanction is clearly repressive and politically motivated. The CGPJ is not a politically impartial organisation, as 20 of its 21 members are chosen by the Spanish legislative body (the Spanish Parliament and Senate). As a result the majority of the CGPJ are conservatives with strong affinities to the current conservative Spanish Government. It is ironic that this political sanction comes from the CGPJ, the very body whose main function is to ensure the independence of judges and magistrates in the face of other State powers. The voting of the CGPJ divided on party lines: 12 in favour (conservatives chosen by the governing Partido Popular), 9 against (liberals chosen by other parties: PSOE, IU, PNV). So, Judge Vidal has been sanctioned for using his freedom of expression to voice his political ideals by other judges who all voted according to their political ideology, based solely on the political parties which selected them for the CGPJ. Today more than ever we can see that separation of powers does not exist in Spain. We are very far from Montesquieu’s idea that the independence of the judiciary must be real and not merely apparent.

This sanction infringes the fundamental rights of citizen and Judge Vidal: his rights to freedom of thought, opinion and expression, as recognised in the Spanish Constitution itself, in the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (For more details see: www.echr.coe.int/documents/convention_eng.pdf)

That this is a political persecution can be seen in the statement published on 12 February 2015, by the Association of Judges for Democracy. This was prior to the CGPJ verdict, when Judge Vidal was facing a possible life ban from the judiciary, The Association strongly criticised: the political nature of the process as incompatible with the necessary impartiality of a disciplinary body; the infringement of citizen Vidal’s freedom of expression, saying that the proposal to debar him for expressing his opinions was without precedent in the country and was clearly out of all proportion; while not defending his views on independence they defended his right to freedom of expression and creativity and opposed these inquisitorial persecutions. This Association is made up of judges from the whole of Spain and is in no way pro Catalonia or pro Catalan independence,

(For a full text of the statement in Spanish see www.juecesdemocracia.es/txtcomunicados/2015/12febr15.htm)

The politicisation of the Spanish judicial system is well proven . On 11 March 2015 the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (cepej) published a study on the quality of the European judicial system. According to this study Spain is the third lowest EU country with regard to the perception of judicial independence from other powers. It was rated 3.2 in 2013/14, as compared with 4.0 in 2012/13 and 3.7 in 2011/12. In addition Spain is 97 out of 144 in the international ranking for this.

There is no doubt that Judge Vidal, who is noted for his fighting spirit for justice, will explore all avenues in his appeal against the sanction, including, if necessary, going to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, where the Spanish State has already been sentenced on too many occasions for not respecting the fundamental rights of citizens. 

In the meantime, as he is out of a job, Judge Vidal plans to devote the next six months to using his legal expertise to help prepare structures of State, prior to the crucial Catalan elections on 27 September 2015. Perhaps the General Council of the Judiciary has done the cause for Catalan independence a big favour.

Read this article in French, Spanish and Italian

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Catalonia’s Leader Plays Down Talk of Secession Crisis (The New York Times)

Interview with Artur Mas, President of Catalonia: “The plan is to vote on November 9″ (08 October 2014)


The Catalan leader, Artur Mas, says Catalonia remains on track for its scheduled vote on whether to break from Spain, but he suggested in an interview on Tuesday that he would not push the country to a constitutional crisis by holding the vote if it were deemed illegal.

The remarks provided the first glimmer of willingness by Mr. Mas, a late but staunch convert to secessionism, to ensure that Catalonia would not be responsible for provoking a crisis in Spain. Catalonia, Spain’s economic powerhouse, is trying to go ahead with a secession vote that the central government in Madrid has vowed to block.

Mr. Mas nevertheless indicated that if he could not hold a legal vote on separation, he would pursue a longer-term strategy to achieve an independent Catalonia by calling for new elections for the regional Parliament “as a plebiscite.”

Mr. Mas, who signed a decree last month approving the Nov. 9 vote, insisted in the interview that his position had been made untenable by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s refusal to discuss the vote, even after a failed referendum on Scotland’s independence last month.

He said that his government had initially hoped to follow Scotland’s example and persuade the government of Mr. Rajoy to allow a vote on independence. Mr. Rajoy’s government has steadfastly refused, and, if anything, it has been emboldened by the failure of the Scottish vote.

Mr. Mas said that he would hold a vote without Mr. Rajoy’s approval, but not illegally, though he complained that the Spanish judiciary was biased against Catalonia’s interests.

“The only plan is to vote on Nov. 9, and we will consider all the possible ways that take us within the law toward that point,” he said.

(…)


Full original article here

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

The concept of Spanish Unity

'The concept of Spanish unity in neither sacred nor biblical.' Mas went further, 'I am democratically shocked that before approving the consultation law and before the decree was made they were already saying it was illegal. How can this happen in a democracy? This is manipulation of a legal framework, not the work of jurists but rather of politicians.'

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Sunday, March 1, 2015

‘Spain’s government is close to you’ - Really?


This is how the Delegation of the Spanish Government in Catalonia introduces itself to all citizens in its website (on top of the text, by the way, there is a photo of Ms Llanos de Luna, the current delegate, but the signature of Mr Joan Rangel, the former one, is still at the bottom). This shows how important being close to citizens is for them.

Mrs Llanos de Luna
Maria de los Llanos de Luna is a lawyer from Seville who has been holding public offices in Catalonia for several years. She was vice-director of the National Institute of Social Security (1996-2003), president of the Assessment Commission for Labor Disputes in Barcelona, and advisor for the Social Security’s General Treasury in the same city. She was also vice-delegate of the Spanish Government in Barcelona (2003-2004), representative at the Catalan Parliament (where she never uttered a single word in Catalan), and attaché spokesperson for PP’s parliamentary group, as well as member of the executive board of the same party, among other posts. Since 2012, she has been the delegate of the Spanish Government in Catalonia.


Being her mission, therefore, to bring Spain’s government close to all citizens in Catalonia, Ms Llanos de Luna has surprisingly taken as her main duty putting a stopper on independence, and has also taken a close look at town councils. So far, after just two years in office, she has already filed nearly 200 lawsuits regarding mainly five aspects:

Law on flags: As many as 62 Catalan town councils have been sued for not displaying the Spanish flag on the façade of their town halls. There are no reports of similar lawsuits against other official buildings belonging to the Spanish government, such as police stations or Military Headquarters, where only the Spanish flag can be seen but not the Catalan one, which is also against the law. 

Support of a Declaration of Sovereignty: so far 43 town councils that had previously approved motions giving support to the Catalan Parliament’s Declaration of Sovereignty, after its approval on 23rd January 2013, have also been sued by the Spanish Government Delegation, even though 13 of these lawsuits have already been dismissed by the judges. 

Use of premises: some city councils, such as the one in Vic, allow their premises to be used for organizing and holding activities relating to the self-determination process; others even chartered trains, and that was the case of Girona’s city council, so as to make it easier for their citizens to take part in the big September 11, 2013 demonstration in Barcelona. 

Fiscal sovereignty: Ms Llanos de Luna has sued 75 towns for their public support of fiscal sovereignty by encouraging their citizens to pay their taxes directly to the Catalan Treasure. Already 3 of such charges have been dismissed. 
− Paying fees to AMI (Municipal Association for Independence): Up to 14 towns have already been sued, since Ms de Luna considers this to be a “misuse of public funds”. In some cases the annual reported fees amount to 75€. 


In order start this large number of lawsuits, Ms Llanos de Luna has been using two kinds of procedures. The first one implies the revision of all the agreements taken by all the councils all over the country, which must be sent to the Spanish Government Delegation by law. If any of them is found to be against the law, it is sent next to the Attorney General’s office, and if they confirm any irregularities, then the Delegation goes ahead with the lawsuit. The second one requires a permanent surveillance to find out if any municipal representative does not obey any particular regulation. In this case disqualification is required from the court. All cases, if possible, are reported and taken to court so the political nature of the conflict can in this way be disguised as having a pretended criminal base.

Regarding it all objectively, Ms Llanos de Luna could be seen as a loyal and faithful public servant who only obeys and enforces the law. However, none of the previous delegates of the Spanish Government was ever so intensively scrupulous; never before had the Spanish Government tried to impose the Spanish flag to the schools as she has tried to do in Corbera de Llobregat; never before had they acted so ferociously against town representatives in any Catalan city or town. Never before did a delegate of a democratic Spanish Government dare attend an ceremony to honor the División Azul (a division of the Spanish Army that was sent to help Hitler’s army in Russia during World War II), held in the Guardia Civil’s barracks in Sant Andreu de la Barca. For all these reasons the Catalan Parliament approved, on 14th March 2013, a political motion demanding that she be removed and replaced, due to an “obvious hostile behavior and an absolute lack of respect towards the Catalan institutions.” Ms Llanos de Luna was also declared persona non grata by several town councils such as Girona. The Barcelona City Council even demanded that she be immediately dismissed. 

In March 2014, one year later, Ms Maria de los Llanos de Luna is still heading the Spanish Government Delegation in Catalonia “to guarantee a most efficient service to all Catalan citizens, men and women alike.” What kind of an awfully bad joke is that?




Source: Catalan Wikipedia and newspaper Ara



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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

New counter-terrorism proposals would infringe basic human rights

Proposed amendments to the Spanish criminal code that would expand the range of crimes defined as “terrorism” to include vague language and overly broad categories of offences would infringe people’s basic human rights, said Amnesty International ahead of a parliamentary debate today.
“The proposed definition of terrorism includes so many crimes that it is rendered virtually meaningless. The parliament should reject any proposals that would violate basic rights,” said Julia Hall, Amnesty International’s expert on counter-terrorism and human rights.
“It would seem that anything from certain forms of expression and association to hacking and travelling could be labelled and prosecuted as terrorism. The suggested definition is overly broad and some elements so vague that even a seasoned lawyer would have trouble knowing for certain what would constitute a terrorist act.”
“What Spain needs to fight terrorism is the exact opposite: an exact and legally precise definition of what crimes constitute ‘terrorism’.” And any new measures must be necessary and proportionate to the actual threat.”

The proposed amendments, if adopted, could threaten the rights to freedom of expression and association, the presumption of innocence, freedom of movement, the right to privacy, and the right to leave and return to one’s country.
“In the aftermath of the Paris attacks and stepped up counter-terrorism initiatives across Europe, governments must remain vigilant to ensure that their efforts to thwart future attacks do not come at the expense of human rights,” said Julia Hall.
“Respecting human rights is essential to maintaining security and not an obstacle to keeping people safe.”
Among the numerous amendments up for debate is an expansion of the definition of terrorism to include acts such as “disruption” of public order; “resistance” against public authorities and “reckless”, including unwittingly supporting a terrorist enterprise.
One new proposal would outlaw travelling, or planning to travel, outside Spain to collaborate with militant groups or to train with them, even if no such training occurs or no so-called terrorist act is committed. Information sharing, including from foreign intelligence services, raises the prospect of evidence extracted under torture being shared and used for intelligence purposes.
Making a statement on social media that could be perceived as inciting others to commit violent attacks would now also be outlawed in Spain, even if the statement could not be directly linked to an act of violence.
The penalties associated with the already existing offence of “justification” of terrorism, which includes the “humiliation” of victims of terrorism or their families, would be increased. Aggravating circumstances would include dissemination of messages across the Internet or through the media.   

Amnesty International

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Interview with the Coronela (Barcelona's militia) taylor

As Catalonia moves to recover her freedom, lost by force of arms in 1714, she is also working hard to recover her military traditions and values. Liberty and responsibility are but two sides of the same coin, one cannot exist without the other, and any nation seeking to rejoin the international community as a free and equal member must be ready to do her duty when it comes to contributing to peace and security. One of the aspects of Catalonia's normalization is the return of the Coronela, her capital's militia, currently in the shape of a military re-enactment group, with the support of Barcelona City Council.

The "Coronela": Barcelona City's Militia. Made up of reservists, civilians under military discipline when called up to serve. Manning was in the hands of the city's guilds, while responsibility for equipment was shared with the Crown. Each guild provided the personnel for a company. The Coronela expanded to five battalions during the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), in which it played a key role in the defence of Barcelona. Other Catalan towns had similar units.

One of the key aspects of military re-enactment is the provision of accurate, historically faithful, uniforms. The following is a brief interview with Maria Victòria Verderes i Blach, who serves as taylor for the Coronela.



What is the main difficulty involved in tailoring historical uniforms?

The main one is being faithful to their design and function. The reason is that they were not just a dress to cover one's body. Instead, many also served to protect weapons, for example.
Another problem is the difficulty in finding certain items. For example, it is nowadays difficult to find stripes of a colour resembling copper, or rusty metal, which were in widespread use at the time. What we then do, in order to get this tone, is to dye them with copper-colour shoe cream. We also try not to make the excellent sewing machines we currently enjoy conspicuous. We rather try to hand-sew as much as we can. Whenever possible, we follow the patterns that we are lucky to still find, half lost and half buried, in for example some Italian museums, translating their contents to a comprehensible language.

Are you happy about your work with La Coronela?

I have only spent a short time cooperating with this institution, but I am very proud of being able to contribute with my work to help a group of people passionate about history, to make known to the public a series of deeds that until now had been buried and forgotten. Above all, we are motivated by a Patriotic feeling, a duty towards our country, so many times treated unjustly. La Coronela's goal is to reach 3,000 members, as the city guilds used to bring together united by the same wish: to fight to defend our liberties!










Are you sensing a growing interest in Catalonia's military heritage, uniforms included?

I can feel a growing interest in our historical heritage, indeed, and not just our military heritage. More widely, in our traditions, be they dances, cuisine, customs, festivals... However, what the Coronela wants to avoid is to be considered part of Catalan folklore, since we are trying it to be what it used to be: an organization under military discipline, with military ranks and rules. We want the Coronela to become, in the future, the city's honorary guard. This would amount to paying homage, 300 years later, to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend Catalonia from the overwhelming attack by absolutist forces.

 

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Catalan Committee in Solidarity with Kurdistan to rally in Barcelona




We, people from KurdisCat – Comitè Català de Solidaritat amb el Kurdistan (Catalan Committee in Solidarity with Kurdistan), have called a demonstration in Barcelona co-ordinated with other actions taking place worldwide.

When
Day: February 7th.
Place: Passeig de Gràcia, 7.
Barcelona
Time: 17 p.m.

The international demonstrations, encouraged by Kongreya Civaken Demokratîk a Kurdîstanî yen Ewropa (KCD-E, Democratic Society Congress of Kurds in Europe) are based on three claims:


• Make a call for international solidarity with Kobanê (Syria) and Sinjar (Iraq), currently under siege by the Islamic fundamentalists of ISIS.

• Demand the end of the EU ban on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the release of Abdullah Öcalan.

• Claim and give support to the role that women are playing in the Kurdish movement. The Barcelona protest will take place alongside actions in València and Madrid the same day. With this three claims we would like to show the Catalan people’s solidarity with the Kurdish resistance in Kobanê and make a call to our society to take an step forward in helping Kurdistan.

The demonstration is supported by the civil society. (1)

Find us: Twitter: @KurdisCat – Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Kurdiscat – Blog: http://kurdiscat.blogspot.com

Facebook page of the event: https://www.facebook.com/events/365462886970393/?pnref=story


(1) Up to now : Intersindical-CSC, Solidaritat Catalana, Esquerra Unida i Alternativa, Estat Català, Comitè Català de Solidaritat amb el Tibet, Ateneu Sa Fera Ferotge, Assemblea Llibertària Vallès Oriental, Reagrupament Independentista, Candidatura d'Unitat Popular - Mataró, Assemblea Llibertària L'Oca de Gràcia, Help Catalonia, Candidatura d'Unitat Popular - Barcelona, Arran - Sabadell, Endavant (OSAN), Associació Salut i Ecologia, Procés Embat, Barcelona Radical, Comissions Obreres, Plataforma No-Sí, Partisans Bohemis

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Interview with Afshin Berahmand

Interview with Afshin Berahmand, a Kurdish journalist based in Denmark who is writing an article on Catalan independence. Afshin has asked KurdisCat fou our opinions because he is writing an article for a Danish newspaper on the right to independence for Catalunya. We asked him too about his personal opinions, Catalonia and, of course, Kurdistan.

Which part of Kurdistan are you from?
I was born in Iran, which makes me officially and Iranian Kurd. However, growing up in Denmark makes me loose my "Iranian"hood. I feel kurdish and only kurdish in that sense.
Did you travel to the country there?
I have never been in Iran because my family members are political refugees, so when I go to Kurdistan I go to the parts in Iraq or Turkey. My favourite city is Diyarbakir.
It is difficult to live with two identities or you don't? 
I have no problem with identity, I am Kurdish, Danish, European, middle eastern, and I am not bothered so much by not having a country, I just don't want to be Iranian or Turkish or Arab because I am none of that.

Can you, shortly, explain your personal experience being Kurdish but living in Europe?
I am more European than anything. European Danish Kurd maybe, but not Iranian. Also I see Diyarbakir in Turkey or Erbil in Iraq as my own historic home country. I am sad that there is so much reluctance towards people from the Middle East in Europe. We are not the same. There are problems within immigrant communities but in my view they are to a larger extent socio-economical problems than religious for instance. And kurds, Turks, Arabs, Persians, even Arabs from different countries are not the same, so I don't want to take blame for something that many Arabs do that kurds don't or the other way around. 

Which perspectives for Kurdistan did you see as possible? Could end tne endless suffereing of this country?
Well, in a fantasy world an independent Kurdistan would solve many things, but not all. In my view perhaps Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan can become a country and Turkish Kurds can form some sort of self-government.

During the late 1800's the Kurdish nationalist movement had two fractions, one pro-iranian with a country with equality between all indo-Arian people, Kurds, Persians, lur, baloch, and other groups in modern day Iran, but the Persians made everything Iranian Persian, a lot like the spaniards. They say we are all spaniards or Iranians but everything is Castillano and Persian.
How did you know about Catalonia and what's your opinion of her own process?
I knew about Catalunya through the basque question actually. I have some basque friends and they introduced me to the issues in Spain and I came to like the works of Pau Casals and later read books and documentaries on Catalan identity, I felt I could relate and have a warm heart for both Catalan and Basque people, culture and languages. One Catalan artist told me that he felt like being Spanish also meant being anti-Catalan, and I could relate to that 100%.

As far as Catalan independence goes, I stress the fact that any government should allow the people to express its free will. If 80% want independence the central government has to listen to its people if it wants to be perceived as legitimate. Some activism in the EU is also a possibility.
We are fully compromised in solidarity between Catalonia and Kurdistan, which way you would find better to express this solidarity?
We have two very rich countries in spanish Catalunya and iraqi Kurdistan. I hope the two regions will develop strong bonds, through sports, business, culture and political ties. Also show the world that Christian and Muslim people can feel like brothers and sisters. I am myself in my last year in law school and I worked for the Danish ministry of foreign affairs at the United Nations in New York iPad realized there is no international human rights platform to discuss the issues pertaining to situations like ours. There should be forums like that and the governments of both Catalunya and Kurdistan should fund scholarships for young people that want to educate and evolve the doctrine of self determination, so we will be the best at providing legal arguments for our freedom to choose our political identity.

Interview by KurdisCat - Catalan Solidarity Kurdistan Committee (Desteya Katalan ji bo Piştgiriya Kurdistanê)

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Castellers - the human towers

The origins of this Catalan tradition of building human towers dates back to the 18th century. It was in the small town of Valls, about 40 km west of Barcelona, that the inhabitants started building the towers, The individual groups (colles) started to compete in sporting events. Thus, not only the building itself was invented, but also the competition.
 

Building castelles is still a young tradition in Barcelona.

The different levels of a castell

The towers at that time resembled very much the ones of today, the basic structure of a castell, as they are called in Catalan, having barely changed. Such a tower always consists of three parts. The basis is the so-called "Pinya", a relatively large ring, onto which the weight of the load above is distributed, and which stabilizes the structure. This ring also softens the fall of the castellers, when the tower falls apart.
Depending on the height of the tower, one or two additional ring-shaped floors ("Manilles") are put on top of the pinya.

On top of this, the actual tower is built. The "tronc", Catalan for trunk, consists of several levels with a specific number of people. Depending on the number and distribution of the up to 9 people of a ring, each castell has a name of its own.
Climbing to the top of the tower is only allowed for kids, because of their low weight. They form the "pom de dalt", the tower dome.
Hierarchy of the castell

The technique of building a castell is frequently trained. Each casteller has his own position and function within the castell, even if the pinya seems to form at random to an outsider. Once the pinya is set up, the members of the manilles climb up in a pre-defined order and form the first rings. The strongest have to carry most of the weight at the bottom, and the lightest go up into the tower.

Finally, the "anxenta" climbs up to the top and remains there only for a few seconds to raise his or her arm to salute the crowds. The tower is crowned and the goal is almost reached. The castell now has to be de-constructed without falling apart, a procedure as tricky and trained as the build-up. Nowadays, children often wear a foam-padded helmet.

There are some special variants, in which the trunk is built in the opposite order. A level is set-up and then lifted up from below, where the next lower level is formed.

During the building process, a flute and a drum play the "Toc de Castells", a melody that is to indicate the different construction phases of the tower and to stir up the emotions and which also accompanies the castellers upon their entry and exit to the scene.

Performances

Traditionally, the castellers perform their tower building during the main parts of larger festivals. Usually, three colles come together and build their human edifices. Nowadays, the towers are also often built outside of the festivals – the actual season goes from June to November.
Check the website of the Castellers de Barcelona for an updated schedule. If you have the chance to watch the building of a castell, do so as it really is a very special event.

The castellers in Barcelona

The building of castells is a rather rural tradition, which also explains why the first club in the city, the Castellers de Barcelona, was founded quite late in 1969. The founding members of the coll are mostly former citizens of Villafranca, not far away from Barcelona. There were some earlier groups, but they remained unsuccessful and no longer exist.
The Castellers de Barcelona kept on refining their technique and the towers became higher and higher.

While in the 1970s, 7-level castells were built, the already have 9 levels today. This level of difficulty has only been achieved by 10 of the colles of the casteller association. The "Coordinadora the Colles Castelleres de Catalunya" comprises 60 colles.

Origins of building castells

The castells have their origins in a traditional folklore dance in the city of Valls. The steps of the dance were accompanied with the flute, as it is still played today during the tower building. At the end of the dance a small human tower was built. This probably has encouraged the ambitions of the dancers: the towers started becoming a phenomenon of their own, and rivalling groups started building higher and higher towers. It is assumed, that the castellers were officially separated from the traditional dance by the end of the 19th century.

Source: http://barcelona.de/en/barcelona-castellers-human-towers.html

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