the Joan March Avenue. | Jason Moore


At the start of September last year, the mayor of Sa Pobla, Llorenç Gelabert, stated that, for now, he had no intention of changing the name of a street.

A council meeting motion for the name change had been successful. It wished to change Carrer Rei Joan Carles I to Carrer de ses Marjaleres.

The former king’s affairs had prompted the call for his name to be substituted by that of the women who worked in the farming marsh area of Sa Pobla.

Gelabert, a member of El Pi, was and is part of a governing party with three other groups - Més, PSOE and Independents. While the councillors from these parties, with the exception of one of the Independents, supported the motion, councillors from Gelabert’s party abstained.

They weren’t against the name change, but the mayor’s reasoning was that “now was not the time to carry out the motion”. The town hall had more pressing concerns; residents of the street and many others in Sa Pobla would not understand why this change was being made now.

A different cause to that of Juan Carlos, but in Palma there will be those wondering much the same thing. Why, given everything that is going on, has the town hall deemed it necessary to change the names of a dozen streets and squares? The reason is not the old king but association with Franco, the Nationalists and the regime.

Altering the street names will not cost a vast amount - 40,000 euros it is said. Out of a total town hall budget for 2021 of 463 million, this is nothing, but it might be argued that the forty grand could be spent on helping out a few businesses which have been devastated by the pandemic; the town hall has faced criticism in this regard.

Still, the money is apparently to go to businesses in the affected streets so that they can alter signs and stationery.

Despite the changes hardly being urgent, it is fair to say that not everything has to stop because of Covid - in Palma at any rate; Sa Pobla is a different matter.

And in Palma there is the additional fact - as has been suggested by Mayor Hila - that the name changes are not those of the town hall as such.

The commission overseeing the law of democratic memory in the Balearics is responsible for eliminating Francoist symbols.

Perhaps so, but where at least one new street name is concerned, this has very much been a Palma desire.

In April 2018, when Antoni Noguera of Més was mayor, he signed a decree to substitute the names of the Alemanya and Portugal avenues with that of the Gran i General Consell.

This was to have been a Palma initiative pure and simple; the regional government’s secretariat for democratic memory wasn’t in existence at the time.

As things were to turn out, it was eventually agreed that Alemanya (Germany) and Portugal could stay. Former fascistic connotations no longer applied; they are democratic countries.

The same rationale was applied in sparing Via Roma from a name change. Nevertheless, Gran i General Consell has clearly been uppermost in town hall minds, the previous recommendation having been driven by the town hall’s own toponymy commission for names.

The most celebrated, or infamous if you prefer, of the street names to go is the Joan March Avenue. Franco’s banker, his notoriety is known to all. He continues to spark controversy, such as in his home municipality of Santa Margalida, where there has been a row over his “illustrious son” honour.

His avenue is now Gran i General Consell, the body which existed from 1249 until it was abolished in 1718 under the Nueva Planta decrees of Felipe V, part of the “Bourbon imposition” that followed the conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession.

Resonant of the past and the one-time Kingdom of Mallorca, the old Council had evolved from the notion of Catalan municipal councils. Using it as a street name is steeped in symbolism.

Eliminating the March name seems perfectly reasonable to me. Replacing it with Gran i General Consell also seems reasonable. But I have wondered if any of those willing the March elimination are holders of Banca March accounts.

The bank is obviously now very distant from Franco’s banker and is highly regarded at home and abroad, but one can’t get away from the fact that it took its name from Joan March.

There is so much apparent agonising over these names, yet where can it lead? To Mayor Hila having been branded an idiot for failing to understand that three streets named after admirals had nothing to do with warships bearing their names; two of these had, in any event, originally been Republican ships.

In the general scheme of things, certainly at present, it might just have made sense to focus on more urgent matters.