30-07-2020

Behind the name of a street, a road, a square, an avenue is a story. It may be a story of a bird, a tree, a plant, a planet, a place, a person, a date from history, a wind of the Mediterranean. Whichever story it is, the name is a springboard to knowledge, so long as the questions of the curious are asked. What does that mean? What does that refer to? Who was that person? Much of the knowledge of Majorca is stored by these names, so here’s an idea: an app that links information and explanations to these names. A major, a massive task, but repositories of knowledge are massive: they are encyclopaedic.

These names reflect fashion and attitudes. They are symbolic, they are representative. And as attitudes alter, they become unfashionable. They are unpopular, because society and politics make them unpopular. They are for replacement, and so they cause enduring errors when maps (or apps) fail to register the substitutes or when the originals are stubbornly adhered to in rejecting this movement against unpopularity.

Joan Carles I or Juan Carlos I is the name of a square that doesn’t require an app that will reveal knowledge about an obscure personality from the past. Everyone knows who Joan Carles I is, and he is obviously more commonly known by the Castellano. The current king’s father had a square in Palma named after him in 1988. The mayor at the time was the PSOE socialist, Ramón Aguiló. The former king was a regular visitor to Palma, to the Marivent Palace in summer. In 1988 he was popular. Times change.

The square has never officially been named Tortugues (turtles or tortoises). Popularly it is known as this. There are four tortugues on the monument in the square. Popularly known, it would be popular if this was the new name, would it not? Més and Podemos at the town hall believe so. Rodrigo Romero of Podemos has said: “We want the toponym (Joan Carles I) to be removed, and we are in favour of the popular name. The news that has been revealed so far (about the former king) is more than enough for the administration to take this measure.”

PSOE are less concerned. Coronavirus is a priority, not arranging for changes to the names of squares. But one day, tortugues it will probably be. It won’t be Pío XII (Pope Pius XII), which is what it was before 1988. Thirty-two years ago, there may well have been papal defenders who objected to altering the name to a then popular monarch. Renaming the square after some turtles will doubtless arouse some to passions. The old king should stay, irrespective of the mounting evidence. Popularity doesn’t totally evaporate.

In Vitoria (the Basque Country), they’ve already decided on a change. The square’s new name may pose a question for those unfamiliar with the date. The app would need updating - 8 de marzo, International Women’s Day, which, for some, has unpopular connotations: the marches and rallies this year on March 8 were, it has been argued, spreaders of virus.

Why the rush to change the name? There are others which have suffered from loss of popularity, even revulsion, but which have remained for years. Back in Palma, though, they want to finally right this perceived longstanding wrong; they being Més and Podemos in particular.

If you have been following the news of the exhumations of Civil War graves over the past couple of years, it is possible that the name Pilar Sánchez will mean something to you. It is believed that her remains are in the communal grave in Sencelles. From Palma, she was murdered by the Falange in 1936. The city’s councillor for social justice, Sonia Vivas of Podemos, wants an avenue to bear the name of Pilar Sánchez. It would replace that of “a fascist and pirate”, Joan March.

Given that the memory of March provokes the amount of distaste that it does, I have long wondered why it hasn’t already been changed. When the town hall was debating changing the vias Alemanya, Portugal and Roma on the grounds that these were names with fascist connotations which were granted because of support for the Franco uprising, this seemed like the justification was being stretched. In the end and rightly so, they weren’t changed, because Germany, Portugal and Italy are democratic countries.

The Avenida (Avinguda) Joan March has, to me, seemed a far clearer case. But a change to Pilar Sánchez? Well, why not? It comes back to the story behind a name, and the appalling history of 1936 and all that.

The knowledge to be gained from the name would be important. But there again, and much though his memory is unpopular, the same can be said for Joan March.

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