28 February 2012

El Día de Andalucía

Today, 28 February, is Andalucía Day and a public holiday in Spain's second-largest region. Schools are closed today, but last Friday many schoolchildren will have eaten the traditional Andalucian breakfast (toast spread with olive oil and a glass of orange juice) before putting on plays and singing the Himno de Andalucía.

The festival commemorates the date of a referendum of 1980 in which the electorate voted for the Statute of Autonomy, as set out in the 1978 Constitution, making Andalucía an Autonomous Community of Spain.  This means it can raise its own taxes and set its own policies on health and social care, education and cultural development.

It is run by a body called the Junta de Andalucía, whose headquarters are in Seville. Its parliament is elected by Andalusian voters every four years on a system of proportional representation. The next election is on 25 March, and the present PSOE (Socialist) majority is expected to be overturned by the right-wing Partido Popular for the first time ever. Unlike the municipal elections, when EU nationals registered on the Padrón can vote, those of us resident in Andalucía can't vote in this one.

The green and white flag of Andalucía can be seen everywhere, flying from flagpoles and hanging from balconies. The green symbolizes hope and union, and the white symbolizes peace and dialogue. The coat of arms shows the pillars of Hercules, the ancient name for the promontories that flank the Strait of Gibraltar, gateway to the Mediterranean. Hercules is shown dominating two lions, representing the power of animal instinct. Its inscription reads Andalucía por sí, para España y la Humanidad ("Andalusia by herself, for Spain and Humankind").

Monument to Blas Infante
on the site of his execution
near Carmona (Sevilla)
The flag, the coat of arms and the anthem were adopted in 1918 at the Assembly of Ronda, which approved a charter proposing Andalucía as an autonomous republic inside a Spanish Federal State.

The driving force behind Andalusian independence, and the designer of the flag and coat of arms, was Blas Infante Pérez de Vargas, known as the Padre de la Patria Andaluza. Every town in Andalucía has a monument or a street named after him.   During the Second Spanish Republic he led the Junta Liberalista, a federalist party dedicated to Andalusian independence, but like the independence movements in other regions of Spain such as Cataluña, the Basque Country and Galicia, it was swiftly crushed by Franco's nationalist regime.  Blas Infante was executed in 1936 without trial.

Today the Partido Andalucista (PA) still has some support, particularly in Cádiz and Sevilla, as does its splinter group, the Partido Socialista de Andalucía. Neither have any seats in the current Andalusian parliament, although they are more successful at local level.

Nevertheless there is a strong cultural pride in the region, and an emerging indignation fired by the long history of snobbery and contempt shown towards Andalucía by its northern neighbours. Andalusians are sterotyped as uneducated, lazy and wilful, descended from Moors, Jews and gypsies. People speak with a strong dialect, often difficult to understand, and use many words and phrases not heard in other parts of Spain.

Andalucía has always been poor economically, and until Spain joined the EU received very little investment other than from the tourist industry keen to exploit its favoured location in the Mediterranean sun. It has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, up to 40% in places, and what work there is is mainly seasonal.  But culturally Andalucía is one of the richest parts of the country.  Many of the things regarded as "typically Spanish", from flamenco to gazpacho, originated here.

Footnote: You will often see Andalucía spelt with an s, Andalusia. That is the English spelling.  In Spanish it is spelt with a c and has an accent on the i to indicate that the penultimate syllable is stressed - AndaluTHEEa.  This itself is the Castilian version of the Arabic El-Andalus, and was adopted in the 13th century to refer to the part of Spain still under Moorish rule.  If you want to be consistent (which I rarely am) the adjective in Spanish is andaluz (andaluza in the feminine).  There is no such word as "Andalucian".

The Andalusian anthem, sung by the late Rocio Jurado from Chipiona

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