Saturday, May 23, 2015

Stoichkov: " I've always been pro-independence. Why should you have to depend onsomeone else?"

Hristo Stoichkov  is a retired footballer, he is regarded as the greatest Bulgarian footballer of all time. In fact he was runner-up for the FIFA World Player of the Year (1992, 1994) and the Ballon d'Or (1994). He is a former player at F.C. Barcelona as well. On 1992 he won the European Champions League with the Catalan team.

Hristo Stoichkov has  highlighted his long-standing support for Catalan independence at Radio4G: "When I used to play for the Bulgarian national team, I'd always wear an armband that was the colours of the Catalan flag. I've always been pro-independence, eversince I said as much at Wembley in 1992. Why should you have to depend onsomeone else? Why have to pay what someone else says?"

Nevertheless, Stoichkov disagreed with Éric Cantona's recent assertions about the 2010 World Cup being a purely Catalan victory: "Catalonia didn't win it, Spain did. I have a great deal of respect for Vicente del Bosque. I'm proud of my teammates who wore both the Barcelona and Spain shirts".
Stoichkov highlighted his long-standing support for Catalan independence: "When I used to play for the Bulgarian national team, I'd always wear an armband that was the colours of the Catalan flag. I've always been pro-independence, ever since I said as much at Wembley in 1992. Why should you have to depend on someone else? Why have to pay what someone else says?"
Nevertheless, Stoichkov disagreed with Éric Cantona's recent assertions about the 2010 World Cup being a purely Catalan victory: "Catalonia didn't win it, Spain did. I have a great deal of respect for Vicente del Bosque. I'm proud of my teammates who wore both the Barcelona and Spain shirts".
Stoichkov highlighted his long-standing support for Catalan independence: "When I used to play for the Bulgarian national team, I'd always wear an armband that was the colours of the Catalan flag. I've always been pro-independence, ever since I said as much at Wembley in 1992. Why should you have to depend on someone else? Why have to pay what someone else says?"
Nevertheless, Stoichkov disagreed with Éric Cantona's recent assertions about the 2010 World Cup being a purely Catalan victory: "Catalonia didn't win it, Spain did. I have a great deal of respect for Vicente del Bosque. I'm proud of my teammates who wore both the Barcelona and Spain shirts".

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Human Towers



"Castells" are human towers built by members of amateur groups, usually as part of annual festivities in Catalonian towns and cities. 
The traditional setting is the square in front of the town hall balcony. The human towers are formed by castellers standing on the shoulders of one another in a succession of stages (between six and ten). 
Each level of the tronc, the name given to the second level upwards, generally comprises two to five heavier built men supporting younger, lighter-weight boys or girls. The pom de dalt – the three uppermost levels of the tower – comprises young children. 

Anyone is welcome to form the pinya, the throng that supports the base of the tower. Each group can be identified by its costume, particularly the colour of the shirts, while the cummerbund serves to protect the back and is gripped by castellers as they climb up the tower. 

Before, during and after the performance, musicians play a variety of traditional melodies on a wind instrument known as a gralla, setting the rhythm to which the tower is built. The knowledge required for raising castells is traditionally passed down from generation to generation within a group, and can only be learned by practice.

Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Pro Spain organised rally for 3rd consecutive year, but much smaller than pro-independence one

On Spain's National Day, on the 12th of October, the unionist association called Catalan Civil Society (SCC) organized a massive demonstration against Catalonia's self-determination and independence in downtown Barcelona, which was backed by the People's Party (PP) – running the Spanish Government, the anti-Catalan nationalist party Ciutadans (C's) and the Spanish nationalist party UPyD. However, the unionist demonstration was smaller than expected very far from congregating hundreds of thousands of people, and even further from the colossal successes of the pro-independence rallies of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Last Sunday, between 16,000 and 38,000 people demonstrated in Barcelona for Spain's unity, according to different sources. 

Between 900,000 and 1.8 million demonstrated for independence a month ago. "We are Catalonia, we are Spain" and "Building bridges, not walls" were some of the banners showed. SCC accused self-determination supporters of "supremacism" and acting in a "naïve" way, issuing "a grotesque message" about independence, "which will make us poorer". PP, C's and UPyD asked the President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, "to listen to the not-so-silent majority". They accused Mas of "lying" to Catalans and asked him for "common sense". Besides, two other demonstrations were also taking place against Catalonia's independence in Barcelona on the same day, organised by extreme-right parties. A first one was organised by the marginal racist Catalan party PxC and by the Spanish Nationalist and far-right trade union Manos Limpias (nothing to do with the Italian homonym organisation), under the banner "Spain: a nation for all", written both in Catalan and Spanish. This demonstration finally merged with that of SCC in Catalunya Square. A second small demonstration had been organised by supporters of Franco dictatorship and neo-Nazi groups, which was attended by some 300 people. This small rally took place in Espanya Square and several Catalan independence flags were burnt. 


On Sunday 12th of October, coinciding with Spain's National Day, unionist supporters and parties participated in a large-scale demonstration, which tried to counter-act the massive pro-independence rallies. It was the 3rd consecutive year that a demonstration was organised to support Spain's unity in the Catalan capital on the 12th of October. As happened in 2012 and 2013, organisers again failed to totally fill up Catalunya Square with people, since several sides of this public area were empty of demonstrators. However they still gathered thousands of people carrying Spanish and Catalan flags.

38,000 pro-unity demonstrators vs 1.8 million pro-independence demonstrators

According to Barcelona's Local Police, 38,000 people participated in it; a month ago, 1.8 million participated in the rally for the non-binding referendum vote and independence, according to the Catalan Police. According to alternative calculations made by independent university professors, between 16,000 and 18,000 people demonstrated on the 12th of October for Spain's unity while 900,000 did so on the 11th September for Catalonia's independence. Despite the different figures, in all the calculations, the pro-Spain's unity demonstration was about 50 times smaller than the pro-independence one.

In both cases, the demonstrations were fully advertised in public and private media and political parties also worked to increase participation despite the rallies having been called and organised by civil society associations. Furthermore, SCC fleeted many free buses from other parts of Catalonia and Spain to attend Sunday's demonstration in Barcelona, on which participants could travel at no cost. Many buses were also fleeted on the 11th of September by the organisers of the pro-independence rally, although back then people had to pay for their transport ticket.

In fact, in the last few days, many doubts have arisen about how the SCC funds its activities, since the platform was only created in April and visibly has a great amount of resources. In response to the controversy, SCC has announced it will publish its accounts soon, although it had not given a detailed explanation about its funding scheme yet.

Furthermore, SCC has met with the Spanish Prime Minister and leader of the People's Party (PP), the leader of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the Catalan President. The main pro-independence organisations have never met with the Spanish PM and the PSOE leader.

SCC accuses those in favour of independence of being "supremacist and naïve"

The SCC President, Josep Ramon Bosch, asked the Catalan Government "to come back to the [area of] common sense". "Some people say they are in a hurry to materialise their grotesque message [of an independent Catalonia] that will make us poorer, irrelevant and less free" stated Bosch. "I am telling you that we are also in a hurry, but in a hurry for having common sense back", he added.

The Vice President of SCC, Joaquim Coll, accused those supporting self-determination of "intimidating and coercing" those against it. He also added that "thinking that Catalans, for the mere fact of being Catalans, we will do things better if we separate from the rest of Spain reflects a thought half way between supremacist and naïve".

Spanish nationalist parties also participate in the demonstration

The Catalan leader of the PP, Alícia Sánchez-Camacho, asked Artur Mas "to listen to the plural Catalonia", which demonstrated in Barcelona on Spain's National Day. According to her, the Catalan President "has lost common sense and the sense of responsibility to govern". She also pledged "the law" as the way to solve the current self-determination conflict and repeated that there will not be "an illegal referendum".

The President of C's, Albert Rivera, asked Mas to recognise that he has "lied" to Catalans regarding the non-binding referendum vote on independence scheduled for the 9th of November. Rivera asked Mas to call early elections. Furthermore, the leader of the anti-Catalan nationalism party said he will work for "reconciliation" between Catalans.

The Member of the Spanish Parliament for UPyD, Toni Cantó, who was elected in Valencia, asked the Catalan President "to take note of a majority" that each time "is less of a silent and invisible majority". The MP of UPyD, which has no representation in Catalonia, said to be "proud" of participating in Barcelona's demonstration because "together we are more and better".

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Modernism

Modernism

19th Century AC - 20th Century AC
Modernism was a political and cultural movement that aimed to transform society: the modernists, from the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, strived to accomplish a modern and national culture. It was a very eclectic movement in which we can point out figures such as Jaume Brossa, Santiago Rusiñol, Víctor Català and Joan Maragall.
Modernism that was forged at the beginning of the last decade of the nineteenth century and would last until the first decade of the twentieth, would bring forth a transformation that, in the words of Joan Fuster would turn an until then regional and traditional culture, into a national and modern one. The transcendence of this change already warned us that this was not merely an aesthetic option, but a deep-rooted ideological option in the wide sense of the term that desired to break with the old notions held by the previous generation. The objective was, therefore, the complete modernisation of the culture through the imposition of new forms and ideas that, although they outweighed naturalist positivism and the Renaissance, at the same time, invalidated the accepted social and artistic values. In order to do this, Modernism had to look at itself in the mirror of the most advanced European cultures (mainly that of France) in order to create an art, literature, and a way of thinking, that verified accordance with this criteria of modernity, and would allow a general change of society’s structure.
The first steps towards this change can be found within the progressive Catalanism movement founded by the followers of Valentí Almirall, a section of which, captained by Ramon D. Perés, would make the first period of ‘L’Avens’ (1881-1884) possible. Critics such as Josep Yxart and Joan Sardà, who would be well established in the Restoration movement’s cultural flanks, but also attentive of the new proposals, would head this first literary circle. This would still be an ill-defined circle who would, however, formulate the embryo of some of the later constants of the movement.
It would be, though, during the second period of the magazine, now called ‘L’Avenç’ (1889-1893) that we can begin to sharply distinguish the reach of the modernist attitude, bluntly deliniated by such articles as the now classic ‘Viure del passat’ [Live off the past], by Jaume Brossa. Joaquim Casas-Carbó and Jaume Massó Torrents would remodel the magazine which Alexandre Cortada, Raimon Casellas and Brossa himself would join not long after, giving it its competitive tone that from that moment onwards would become characteristic. The adoption of the new linguistic model was also making a statement: their decision to abide by the campaign of linguistic reform which is seen by the change in the magazine’s name, proving they were in favour of a unitary Catalan, valid for all erudite uses, an option that not only defined their modernity, but also the national reach of their aspirations.
‘L’Avenç’ episode, which would last until 1893, marked a fundamental aim: the first step towards the forming of a modern intellectuality. However, the anarchic-like drifting of some of the magazine’s members, especially Brossa and Pere Coromines, and the subsequent repression which would culminate in the process of Montjuïc, halted its continuity and favoured the internal disagreements and would later precipitate the departure of these first intellectuals to pastures new.
The sector headed by Brossa and Cortada, whose ideals were essential and individual, and who would introduce us to Ibsen and Nietzsche, would have a great influence during this stage. However, after leaving the group gathered around ‘L’Avenç’, their influence would lessen, and alternative ways to understand Modernism would take centre stage, like those of Santiago Rusiñol, indebted to decadent symbolism, or those of Joan Maragall, which would fluctuate a lot more, and even though he defended a critical view of life, he was less competitive, and had the advantage of being highly rated in the conservative bourgeoisie’s public opinion (Maragall would spread his ideas through the ‘Diario de Barcelona’). Raimon Casellas would, at the same time, initiate an even wider broadcasting of the modernist ideas in the pages of ‘La Vanguardia’, where he worked as an art critic. The two most differentiated Modernist tendencies shared the same desire to conform to the European customs and ideals, as a way of social and cultural regeneration; however, they still reflected a deep incoherence: while some proposed social intervention, others chose to reject society. This diversification of the Modernist movement after 1893, would have a visible aesthetic correlative which would favour detachment, mainly in the forms used: whereas the sector that backed regeneration, dominated by Jaume Brossa, would continue in the essential line initiated in ‘L’Avenç’. Santiago Rusiñol and Raimon Casellas would claim, each using their own means, an aesthetically inspired option that would lead to the concept of Art for Art. Art would become, for these two intellectuals, a way of escaping the servitudes of the industrial society and a consolation for the bourgeoisie mentality, which was mercantile and lacking in refinement. One of the paradigmatic events of this sector can be found in the Modernist Festivals held in Sitges, where the sublimation of art was guaranteed due to the assistance of important international figures that they would introduce to the Peninsula for the first time. Of these visiting intellectuals, the most important is Maurice Maeterlinck, a Belgian playwright of French inspired expression who, mainly with ‘The intruder’ (which debuted in a Catalan version during the second Modernist Festival in 1893), would leave an indelible mark on the authors, who were fascinated by the evocative possibilities of symbolist dramatics.
If ‘L’Avenç’ had been the first vehicle of modernist expression, the magazine ‘Catalònia’ would, in a certain sense, take over its reins from 1898 until 1900, guided by a desire to rebuild the movement. The generalised moderation of the ideological attitudes and the liaising with the bourgeoisie would enable them to overcome, at least in the theoretical sense, the discrepancies that had arisen between those in favour of regeneration and those in favour of aesthetics. Furthermore, ‘Catalònia’ would be that medium which best reflected the desire to form a common intellectual front with the pretension to participate in public life. The creation, soon afterwards of the weekly publication ‘Joventut’ (1900-1906), is indicative of the strengthening of the ties with left-wing political Catalanism, as well as being the testimony of a period artistically, and literarily characterised by eclecticism in the acceptance of aesthetic models, in accordance with the variety of models intrinsic to modernist reasoning.
One has spoken of the later dissolution of Modernism amidst Catalanism: the transformation of ‘Joventut’ into ‘El Poble Català’ proves, in a certain way, that this dissolution occurred. Gabriel Alomar or Joan Maragall (as well as Eugeni d’Ors who would shortly be chosen to join the ranks of ‘La Veu de Catalunya’) would collaborate with ‘El Poble Català’. Therefore, it is representative of the left-wing sector in the polarization of political Catalanism during the first years of the century, at a time when the incipient ‘Noucentisme’ had started to exert a certain pressure and prove its capacity to liaise with the nation’s conservative politics.
However, it would be during these years that Modernism would give its best quality literary fruits: with regards to novel, two of the foremost works of the movement are from 1901 (‘Els sots feréstecs’ [The wild pits], by Raimon Casellas) and from 1905 (‘Solitud’ [Solitude], by Víctor Català). These are novels that, even though they had abandoned the naturalist outlook, reflected the conflict between individual and surroundings, using symbolic resources which aimed to heighten the meaning, and an exploitation of subjectivity and of a very connotative, and suggestive nature of language. Josep Pous Pagès’ contribution, which is later in the form of ‘La vida i la mort d’en Jordi Fraginals’ [Jordi Fraginals life and death] (1912), would confirm (and conclude) the incidence of this sort of starter novel, as being very well suited to the time.
Short narrative would substantiate a notable array of styles and aesthetical tendencies: in ‘Drames rurals’ [Rural dramas], Víctor Català favoured tragically intense cosmic determination; however, in ‘Les multituds’ [The crowds], Raimon Casellas preferred the monographic treatment of the confrontation between the individual and society. Not forgetting the decadent proposals of Prudenci Bertrana (‘Josafat’) or Miquel de Palol (‘Camí de llum’ [Path of light]), or those proposals of a satiric nature or inspired on local traditions like ‘L’auca del senyor Esteve’ [Mr. Esteve’s tale], by Santiago Rusiñol. Modernism would have a wide enough reach to welcome later narrative writers such as Joaquim Ruyra (‘Marines i boscatges’ [Coasts and forests] from 1903), who would use many of the characteristic motives of the movement – such as the way he would treat nature –, often in clearly decadent forms and demonstrating an enormous capacity for detail and formal exigency which were previously unknown.
Theatre was, perhaps, the genre that best reflected the existence of the two differentiated tendencies to which we have alluded: the more essential, inspired by Ibsen, and mainly represented by Ignasi Iglésias and Joan Puig Ferreter, and the symbolist used, amongst others, by Santiago Rusiñol and by the soul of the group ‘Teatre Íntim’ [Intimate Theatre], Adrià Gual.
Last but not least, we must point out that Modernist poetry was determined, for the most part, by Joan Maragall: it was he who introduced most of German poetry (Goethe, Novalis, Nietzche) and he who renewed the theoretical and formal basis of the genre in Catalonia, which was still greatly conditioned by the ‘Renaixença’s ‘floralisme’ [flowerly] and ‘rhetoricism’. Maragall would defend spontaneity and the research for a simplicity that, incarnated in a programmatic way in his ‘teoria de la paraula viva’ [theory of the living word], would turn into a literary school. The rejection of the grand eloquence, and the adoption of a naturalness that came from personal experience are very visible elements of his language, which is closer to colloquial speech and detached from formal ties. Together with this, and in accordance with his messianic concept of poets, his works would be an exponent of vitality, even more so after symbolism had lessened the social dimension of poetry. The recuperation of a popular poetry and, furthermore, of the later Verdaguer by the Modernists, would fit-in with the process to revalue the emblematical, social, and national strength of the word. It would be necessary, therefore, to tend towards spontaneity, which guaranteed the authenticity and sincerity of the artist above the static conventions of the genre. Even though this tendency favoured the emergence of a great number of assistants, not always literarily convincing, there was also a counter reaction that rooted for the adoption of classic-like and cultural forms, because they believed in the weight of the erudite language and the ingenious forms. This sector, which would be heavily influenced by French Parnassians, would have such followers as Gabriel Alomar or Jeroni Zanné. The differences between the groups would become specified in the so called ‘batalla del sonet’ [battle of the sonnet] which would establish the basis of a conflict that later, the ‘Noucentisme’ would claim as its own, on the side of ingeniousness and under the auspices of Ors’ classicism. There were still some faithful followers of French symbolism (Miquel de Palol or Ramon Vinyes) and others, who were inspired by the pre-Raphaelite models (Alexandre de Riquer or Xavier Viura), as well as the perennial contribution of the ‘Escola Mallorquina’ [Majorcan School]. All in all, we possess an example of the vivid diversity that confirms the richness of Modernism.

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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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