Is Balearics Day solely an affirmation of political structure rather than a deeply felt sense of identity? | J. AGUIRRE


Today is Balearics Day. On March 1 1983, the islands were officially granted regional autonomy. The official part is crucial for determining the date. It was the first of March when the announcement was made in the Official Bulletin. The law by which autonomy was approved was in fact passed on February 25.

The day is essentially a celebration of government, albeit that the current minister for the presidency, Mercedes Garrido, stated last week that “Balearics Day is not a government celebration, it is one for the whole of society”. It is as if she feels the need to convince everyone, the day not always having captured the imagination.

Once autonomy was secured, it was only a short time before the first elections were held and the first government in the Balearics was formed. It was an historic development. One-time institutions or organisations which had been at the core of economic, social and political affairs disappeared or were superseded. The Fomento del Turismo (Mallorca Tourist Board) was one such. There was to be a tourism ministry for the first time and so therefore a government tourism promotion agency rather than one that was a private club, albeit a very large club that had done so much for the island’s tourism for almost eighty years.

With autonomy came legislation: the Balearics own legislation, not law foisted upon the islands (or never passed) by a distant power in Madrid. Tourism was but one area to come under legislative scrutiny. The environment was another. The two seemingly irreconcilables - tourism and environment - have been scrapping it out ever since, though it needs remembering that initial tourism legislation took due account, considerably more so than previously, of the fragile earth of the Balearics.

Government spawned its array of “social agents”. Lobbying elevated the status of the hoteliers and of the environmentalists. GOB, a product of the very late days of Francoism, had found its initial protest voice six years prior to the creation of government when it had inspired an occupation of the island of Dragonera; there was concern about “private interests”. Government facilitated a legitimisation of environmental protest. Like the hoteliers and, perhaps ironically so, GOB were to become what they are nowadays - part of a non-governmental establishment, at times seemingly indivisible from policies of certain political parties.

And this autonomy bred its new parties. “Nationalism” in the sense of defending and advancing Majorcan and Balearic claims - to the point of ever greater levels of self-administration - split along left and right lines. A political honeypot was created, around which hovered those whose greed was to eventually be their undoing, i.e. the Unió Mallorquina.

Yet how deep-rooted is any notion of Balearic-ness? Is Balearics Day solely an affirmation of political structure rather than a deeply felt sense of identity? In partly answering this, one has to go back to the time when autonomy was declared. There were no particularly riotous displays of unconfined joy. It was essentially a political development.
Autonomy for the Balearics had never been strongly demanded. Reaction to the possibility of regional autonomy, which arose during the Second Republic immediately prior to the Civil War, had been lukewarm to the point of outright hostility, not least in the islands which weren’t Majorca. Autonomous government was viewed with suspicion and as a means by which Majorca could assert ever greater power and authority over the region.

When this autonomy was to come about fifty years after it had been widely rejected, it did so almost by accident. The drafters of the 1978 Constitution originally sought to establish rights to forms of self-government for regions with historical claims to it, notably the Basque Country and Catalonia. When certain other regions made demands, there was a redrafting. Regions couldn’t be discriminated against. They all had to have their own governments.

While there clearly are common elements among the islands of the archipelago, there are also clear distinctions. History can be drawn upon, from as far back as ancient times if needs be, in order to highlight them. At the time of the Roman occupation, for instance, Mallorca (and Minorca) were backwards in a way that Ibiza was not. That island had more in common with north Africa than its neighbours and a trading system that was far more advanced.

So we come, once more, to Balearics Day, a celebration that we are never quite sure about, rather like Mallorca Day, which the Council of Mallorca has changed to December 31 (Jaume I’s conquest in 1229 and all that) as a way of expressing ever greater Mallorcan identity.

Balearics Day? There’ll be concerts and gastronomy and open days at institutions and museums. And it will also be a day off. For some. A day for society, such as bank employees, but also for government, as it will have a day off as well.