GIBRALTAR ROCK ON SPANISH TAIL |
GIBRALTAR – SPANISH VALHALLAH OR MIRAGE ?
The Rocky problem under a microscope.
The Rock of Gibraltar is probably one of those things that bring images to people´s minds as diverse as granite isolation and political hotspots. Few images really capture what it is all about and less even know that it is an integral part of Europe and at the doorstep of a non too tolerant Spain. Grasping the full signficance of the social and political development of the small community, dwarfed by the massive boulder, takes more than a short resume to bring it to real life. It has been misinterpreted by so many who in some way or another have been touched by the subject, that to unravel the blind alleys and twisted notions would require a keycode all of its own. The essence in any case, is that it is different and very much its own world, grafted out of every embarassing rejection that all the leading figures in the conflicting demands over its titular existance, have showered on a confused and sometimes very disturbed, simple people.
Talking about simplicity is perhaps not the best way to approach a subject that is sticky with controversy, but it is as good as any, with respect to issues involved. Spain assumes it belongs to her including its population of some 30,000 and Britain has often felt it could do without it, if only to get the claimants to shut up. Gibraltar and its individualistic people, sheared from the shores of Genoa and Malta, Spain and Britain among other nationalities, think differently and feel forced to scowl at the wind, forever shuffling the familiar odds and expecting the worst. The coins spun in sudden urges by the negotiating parties have often sent a chill breeze to the hearts of those who would never change their way of life, (or nationality for that matter), in pursuit of economic or so called political interest. At heart, anything and everything they have wanted to be has been, Gibraltarian and British. None would want Independence and free choice except a few perhaps whos interests are purely economical and have little time for the question of identity or even political affiliations. There are a few high ranking ones in the place. Some of these have feet in all three camps with homes to boot that betray the lack of real interest in any of the three of them. My point is that not all of Gibraltar is that keen on such dire attachment to Britain or much against its absorption by Spain, especially if it produces additional benefits and abit of social status that smacks of the privileges they feed on. Mercifully however, they are a minority and one that would fit into practically any corner of the world where opportunity and new resources come easy. The average Gibraltarian however, is of a different order of things and genuinely very proud to be just that with the added privilege of having the adored elusive Queen at the head, even if the House of Commons, is a bit too complicated and distant to feel any sense of identity with. Gibraltar has its own anyway, called the House of Assembly which sits occasionally by force of habit rather than need when problems abound. Efforts to produce delegates or representives for the mystical Big Ben building have always failed and frankly, most in the community would blink with wonderment at the thought of having a foothold there. Even the London tourist office manager´s claim to diplomatic representation has raised a few local yawns. The reality is that Gibraltarians are only at home in Gibraltar and a fish out of water anywhere else. Gibraltarian English like Maltese English is a sound all of its own and short of having been to Oxford or Cambridge or been brought up in British public schools, as some have, it sounds like well.... Gibraltarian. Like the lingo, the character goes with it and having enjoyed basic creature comforts and a protected lifestyle, the home spun over confidence can often strike a rough chord, especially in Spain where lepers are treated with much more visible respect. The word Gibo o llanito sends waves of indignation in the Spanish mind visualising what they call Spanish traitors, who will not give them their Rock back. The also it would appear, spend more (which they classify as smuggling proceeds) and speak what they call shocking Spanglish, half of which they cannot usefully understand. Gibraltarians however naively treat the spanish hinterland as a second home (apart from a few puritans who would rather be seen dead somewhere else). The sense of identity with the language and culture keeps them exploring and some are on perpetual cruises from the international port of call of Malaga. The diehards who will not be drawn into the territory with the same intensity as the British nationalists, take the plane to London at every excuse for a fews daysout and to get away from what effectively can be a very claustrophic place.
The history behind the evolution of the Rock community is long and much publicized but few people, especially the Spanish really understand what happened in the first place. The war that brought Gibraltar into British laps, was one of rival royal attachments with France and Spain intending to marry its Royals within themselves to Britain´s chagrin and Austrian pretensions. In short, at the end of much bloodshed and equal number of miserable years, a British Admiral called Rooke climbs what is now a stretch of luxury villas, to take the Rock in the name of his Queen. Some say he actually took it in the name of the Austrian Emperor whose descendants would rule the Spanish mainland in any case and technically therefore, also for members of the Spanish clans who favoured the Teutonic connection. Not much of a dramatic snatch of identity but to make things a bit more acceptable in the face of the murky future ahead, Britain according to the Medina Sidonia archives in the Ducal Palace of Barrameda, paid an awful lot of money for it and also handed over the holiday island of Minorca which had been taken from the French. One would have thought that this would be more than enough for such an inhospitable place, but like all restrictive practices, the long, medium and short term was more of a “give it back” cloak and dagger, scenario. Paying back has never been an issue, because in reality it has never been acknowledged that it was bought legally in the first place. Foreign payments, even today, are still considered monopoly money curiously. Short of sending Gibraltarians to Minorca however, for a settlement period before coming back as fully fledged Spanish citizens, the question of handing it over just like that is hardly the subject for a trialogue guaranteed to last more than a few seconds. Certainly not for the Gibraltarians who in splendid isolation through the centuries, (initially with warring factions piled high at the doorstep) often had to eat rats when the British providers where unable or incapable of entering the bay. Gibraltar, it must be understood, sticks out of Spain like a sore thumb, but is actually joined to a very narrow isthmus which in ancient days was often under water. The island syndrome therefore plays a very important part in the character of the Gibraltarians who find most subjects outside the ritualistic day to day life of small communities of strange irrelevance and something to do with someone else. Why should it be otherwise with no nuclear ambitions ? Such is the charm of the place and its people, forged from the trading Genoese and stubborn Maltese, in that order and displaying their tell tale surnames with pride. Most have never been to either places of origin but many have and taken a peek at their encestral homes with the zeal of the Victorian explorers.
What most people do not know and see because of the different way marriage names are taken in Saxon and Hispanic lands, is that behind the scene and in the wings, the Spanish Grandmamas with their claim to Spanish soils, hide their names in the feathers of the male. The Garcias and the Perez and the Monteverdes and the Martinez only come to the fore when the female does the mating in the hinterland. Not when the male ventures out of his enclosure to get himself a younger partner than he would be ineligible for in the competitive backstreets of the Rock. Plainly,when the male gets his mate across the frontier in Spain he gives her his Maltese or Genoese surname, but when the female finds herself her Spanish lover her children bring it into the community. Originally to almost tribal local dirty looks. In any case whether hidden or not, it is there and whether anybody likes it or not, the Spanish blood and its culture not only fed in constantly, but forged the modern Gibraltarian alongside the blue blooded, British tuition and heavy history. Identifying with the ruling force was never a problem and the plate was almost always abrimful of elegant sufficiency , until the dockyard started to develop terminal dysfunction. Disastrous attempts to replace the non existante economy finally found a resting place in offshore functions which generally benefit the legal breed and leaves everything else out on grassroot fare, not to mention the odd scandal or three creating red faces where originally there were none. Smuggling of course at famous five level with teenagers riding high on uncontrollable power boats brought the question of identity and British stupefaction to a head. Worthy of Hollywood interpretation, hovering helicopters and daredevil Kung Fu on wave crests lost a few local families a kid or two. But the attempt to create a new economic base at the expense of Denmark´s insurance group Baltica paved the way for the disappearance of millions and its tombstone. The socialist party headed by the man the Brits called Oddball and who appeared to function on even days, amazingly lined the pockets of most of its Ministers with unheard of what today would be trillions. Even the bemused Chief Minister avoided the long arm of the smarting British law by apparently bribing the local attorney general, but the truth of the matter is that the fleeing resultant millionaires came back to base regardless and with social status to boot. But then maybe he trickled a bit into local charities or something like that. Hybrid genetics are in any case, a bit too advanced (some three hundred years) to send anyone back to Malta, Genoa or San Roque, but where to hang the crest when Britain opts out, is not that simple. The Gibraltarian for all his spots and peculiarities is something that would take an army of Brits and Spans to remotely understand and what sort of Gibraltarian will emerge with the present pot pourrie of tax exiles trading cash for apartments and ID cards, is an added mystery. But then why should it matter with Europe holding its colourful umbrella encouragingly aloft ? Blind resolutions.
The United Nations like all institutions hardpressed to institute the ridiculous at the point of expediency, swore at the loyal representatives of the Rock who came cap in hand to declare that they did not mind being colonials - not one single bit. In fact it demanded of Britain to do the graceful thing of making a fool of itself by handing over the 30,000 to the gleefully expectant Spaniards. Whether or not mass extermination was a matter of overall interest or possibility is not the issue, but terrified islanders, loyal to the core and stripped of every dignity and aspiration overnight, were something that an alarmed British nation was not prepared to stomach. Such is the nature of benevolent societies like the UN with a critical role to play even when traditionally it does not quite know where it all starts and where it ends. Colonialism on the Rock seemed to work as it did in Malta and in India and whose to say the latter two have not quite come to terms with the vacuum the withdrawals produced ? In Gibraltar´s case the decolonialisaton demand would have broken every rule in the international book of human rights. And all for the sake of giving Spain the satisfaction that this little enclave which is not even its furthermost southern point or junction with Africa, had finally been taken from the pirate Brits. What on earth would they have done with the apes they call the local ancestors ? The pirate Brits and selfsame who fought for the restoration of Spanish sovereignty in the battle of Trafalgar in an attempt to rid the country of the French - the sticky invaders who were starting to massacre its people in the streets. It gave the country its favourite expression for catastrophy with the date 2nd May in much the same way as the twin tower event. The honeymoon with the French liberators had come to a misguided end as it always does between firmly established nations which attempt to make political love for too long. Spain even had a French dictator on the throne renamed Pepe Botella – a brother of the expansive Napoleon. Such are the ways of those who want everything overnight at other´s expense of course. Today most Spaniards are led to believe that the pirate Nelson took the Rock then (some hundred years after the event) and deserved every bullet he got from the eager Iberian sniper, except that Lord Wellesley and his issue reaped the rewards in territorial presents for the acknowledged act of down to earth liberation. The Rock as everyone knows, is hardly ever going to go anywhere other than towards a form of self enshrined historical charter. It would be nice to think that all the parties would live happily everafter, but we all know that such charades only happen with Audrey Hepburn and El Zorro. A pity in a way, but let us see what issues involved are.
And then what ?
Gibraltar draws its basic sustenance from fiscal activities which are rapidly coming to an end as Inland Revenues in Europe start to tear at the guy ropes of these hideaways. It also draws on commercially geared, price differentials between the two states. This too, could easily come to an end and Gibrlatar would technically grind to an economic halt. Whether this is expected and the political saliva is starting to dribble in the wrong mouths, is not the point. What matters is whether there is any chance that the softening of resolutions by generations used to spending weekends in Spain will become the drawing board for a handover of an imperceptible nature doing its work over decades if not scores. At first glance it seems that this was what was ordered in that fateful day in Madrid when the Queen expressed gladness at the thought that the issue would be solved in a historical context, but then it is not generally known that the Royals would be loathe to hand over such an amulet to realtive strangers with their own crowns to bear. Symbolic joint title would have been the answer provided it kept the two distinctive cultures at bay, but alas the hackles rise at the thought and the cat and dog indicators remain firmly in place. A threesome or even a fivesome with the church and UN permanent representatives and Barclays brought in perhaps, but would this suit the eager fervent Spanish nationalists who dream with the yellow and red insignia unfurling over a torpid local sunset on the Rock ? Hardly, but one of the world´s most important bays devoid of posionous emissions and rampant with Acapulco opportunities might well throw the cat among the pigeons as Gibraltarian entrepreneurial talent threw its doors open for a slice of the action. Would that same spirit permeate a future of avid collaboraton for a scenic, maritime refuge that could rival the largest of its kind in the world and bring final lasting relief to cancer ridden, choking generations of inhabitants around its fringe ? A pleasant thought but a governing council of such a collection of communities with a personal, vested interest in such a future would hardly feel threatened by a Gibraltarian entity on board ? Whats one Municipality among a few in such a noble venture ? Surely the territorial issue, would be solved as aspirations merged within an umbrella of such cosmopolitan elegance ? The leopards, it seems, would not have to change their spots and individual historical identities would not only remain intact as the task in hand takes over, but neighbourhood differences might well be the added spice that would make the whole area the highlight of world navigators. Harnessing the talent and hauling the profile of this possible dream aloft, may well put political ones where they belong – in the bin.
Related Articles -
rock of gibrlatar, gibraltar, the rock, colonial policy, british colonies, protectorates, British protectorates, spanish claims, foreign office, ,