All entries for April 2011

April 18, 2011

Marathon vs Palm Sunday procession in Madrid

Procesion de la SoledadMadrid marathon

On the same day of the more famous London one, the Madrid marathon was run last Sunday. It’s a tough, slow one, due to the mix of elevation, up- and down-hills, and heat – even if this time the temperature was perfect, allowing a Madrid record of 2h10 under a beautiful sun (so different from Berlin). According to a friend who run it, Spanish disorganisation was also visible, for instance in the shortage of all kinds of facilities and information. Exactly this week there was much talk in the Spanish media about the latest OECD report on working time, suggesting that Spaniards work very long hours, but in a disorganised and unproductive way.

Yet the most amusing aspect of disorganisation was that only the day beforethe marathon organisers realised that the route was clashing, on its most spectacular point (the Napoleonic Plaza de Oriente beside the Royal Palace) with the procession of Palm Sunday. The clash was resolved to the advantage of the Church: the procession stayed and the runners had to bypass the square through a tunnel, which involved the need for a reclassification of the marathon due to an added 71cm. It would have been even more fun if organisers hadn’t realised it at all: the procession and the marathon would have physically clashed in a symbolic representation of the war between Church and laicism, that has characterised Spain more than maybe any other country in the last century. The big processions will be on Good Thursday and on Good Friday, and an “anti-procession” had been planned for Thursday by atheist organisations. But it has not been allowed: again a victory for the Church, but maybe a wise decision, not to create a precedent for potential anti-Muslim processions by xenophobes in the future.

However, the big clash everybody speaks about in Madrid is neither the Marathon nor religion, but the unprecedented 4-times Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona, in Liga (1-1 on Saturday), Copa del Rey final (Wednesday) and Champions League semi-finals (after Easter). If the unitary Spanish state survives this it will not collapse any time soon.

April 11, 2011

Libya: A New Kosovo???

The intervention in Libya is increasingly complicated and it is also highlighting European divisions, not just on military and foreign policy (nothing new) but also on Schengen. The Schengen Treaty is naked, unable to decide who should host the couple of thousands of boat people and insisting that they should be sent off: a few hundreds have already died, and the Italian government is even threatening to leave the EU - as if Italy had ever done anything for a European policy on refugees, especially when it was Germany, still under Kohl, to propose to 'share the burden' (horrible wording).

But while the issue is very complex, an argument keeps being made that leaves me astonished: a supposed 'succesful precedent' of Kosovo, 1999. Succesful precedent? Kosovo?? Two months of bombing and a huge wave of refugees (after, not before the bombing started), a failed state based on ethnic cleansing, and an enduring military and civil engagement, with no prospect of end in sight. The majority of the UN countries - including, for obvious local reasons, the Spain where I am right now - still does not recognise Kosovo, and the failure of the EU Mission was well described on the Guardian website, a couple of days ago, by a friend who knows the place well.

Describing Kosovo as a success of 'humanitarian intervention is not just setting the benchmark for success extremely low, but it is also dihonest: the intervention is described as a quick, painless solution - shouldn't governments be explicit, then, on the risk of really repeating Kosovo, that is of a military and civilian intervention protracting for another twelve years or more?

Celebrating the bombing of Libya 100 years earlier

Of course the situations are so different that comparing them or talking of precedents is nearly meaningless. On the positive, on Libya there is at least a UN Resolution and a facade of legality. It is an unusual issue displacing traditional war or peace divides: most pacifists are either silent or supportive of the intervention, while to oppose it there are, besides the inconclusive Germans, the racists of the Italian Northern League, who would also like to withdraw Italian troups from Lebanon - the only undisputably positive peace-keeping mission around the world.

Last week I was, as an old Pink Floyd fan, at Roger Waters' The Wall concert in Milan. The concert, by an artist who is an orphan of war, has a very strong antimilitaristic message, which goes down well with the public. The strongest cheers, beside for the initial poignant "Mother loves you baby - dad loves you too" and a strong "No" to "Mother should I trust the government?" were indeed for "BRING THE BOYS BACK HOME" but none, least of all Waters, seemed to mean from the Libyan skies. Even in Italy, which exactly 100 years ago bombed Libya (first ever plane bombing - if of course ineffective...) and, after a year of war, occupied it in a very unpleasant precedent glorified only by protoFascist futurist poets. Let's hope that Libya does not repeat Kosovo - and does not repeat Libya.

April 03, 2011

Milan–Inter 3–0: when it matters…

Milan’s derby is the most important match in the season, regardless of the table and the stake. But yesterday’s was the first one in a generation with an Italian title at stake, with Inter behind Milan by only 2 points. In fact the only derbies I remember with an important stake were in Champions League, the semifinals 2003 and quarterfinals 2005, both obviously won by Milan - as again yesterday. In Milan, a productive, non-nonsense city, you can tell who is best when it really matters. Milan literally dominated the match from the first minute (Pato’s goal) to the last (Cassano’s goal). Inter, on paper the Italian, European and World’s champions in charge, were lost in the fog and their ugly version of football was obscured by Milan’s spectacular lights.

Both teams express the nature of the city, the only cosmopolitan one in Italy. Milan has an English name, from its founders, and Inter stands for Internazionale – an appropriate name given that hardly any Italian has played for them recently. Both teams were forced to change their unpatriotic names under fascism, respectively to Italian “Milano” and to “Ambrosiana” (from Milan’s own version of the Catholic Chruch). Inter was the team of the Church, and the only one allowed to win under Fascism, together with Roma and the royal family’s Juventus. It’s a matter of pride for Milan not to have won titles in that period. Milan was the bourgeoisie’s team, but after the war it was embraced by the masses of immigrants from the South, especially Sicily: I have inherited Milan’s faith from my mother side. As a result of demographic change it became a much more popular team, and in the 1970s and 1980s this was also reflected in a political divide, with Milan’s “ultras” of the South End waving Che Guevara flags and Inter’s preferring neofascist symbols on their North End. Red and black are by far more popular than black-and-blue. The downside of popular support, however, is to be easy prey of populist politics...

Milanese supporters (especially Milan’s – Inter’s are more pragmatic and prefer German players to Dutch and Brazilian ones) have a unique taste for the technical, stylistic act, the opposite of the attitude of British fans. The best personification of Milanese styles were Rivera and Van Basten, players who would often choose form over substance, and a more difficult way to score a goal as long as it was more beautiful.

Art is even endorsed by the fans. Milanese fans, who years ago had won an award for a reproduction of Munch’s scream to mock Inter fans despair, yesterday produced a reproduction of that most famous piece of Milanese painting, Leonardo’s Last Supper, where Judah was the only back and blue figure in a red-and-black, in reference to another Leonardo, who after being a Milanese hero has just ‘defected’ to the other side. The paradox is that Leonardo, both as player and manager’ was an excellent personification of the classy Milanese spirit, and that he left Milan in protest against Berlusconi’s style.


It was nice to see the San Siro stadium (aka La Scala del Calcio) so full and ‘warm’ again, as it always was in the 1980s and 1990s, even when Milan played in the second league. However, in recent times it is mostly half-empty, killed by TV football, ultras’ sectarian violence and excessive rotation of players. Football is a team sport and changing five players every six months kills its nature. Fortunately Milan still has its good ‘old guard’ (Seedorf and Nesta were impressive again yesterday), but the majority of players have a job tenure of a year of two. Which, as an employment policy, is always bad, whether by football clubs aiming to win sponsors at all cost, or university departments aiming to maximise REF results – at the cost of everybody else.

April 2011

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