Wednesday, January 09, 2008

2008, A Year To Celebrate

Anyone who lives in Madrid will soon be aware, if they are not already, that there is an anniversary to commemorate in 2008. French residents of the Spanish capital might even want to consider taking a few weeks holiday around May, because the anniversary in question is the bicentenary of the 2nd May 1808 (dos de mayo) uprising against Napoleon’s troops. It was the event which sparked the war of the Spanish Peninsula and we can expect to hear much about the heroism of the city’s population.

Someone who has already raised the flag and started to advance on the French positions is our beloved regional president, Esperanza Aguirre, who dedicated her New Year address to the issue. La Espe has set up her own commission to supervise the celebrations, whilst her good friend and colleague Alberto Ruiz Gallardón seems to have decided he will be safer on the national government’s committee. The regional government has also commissioned a film to be made about the uprising, and has assigned an impressive budget of 15 million euros to the project. This in a region where financial assistance to the cinema industry is normally at a level more or less equivalent to the amount of small change you might carry in your pocket. The film will be directed by José Luis Garci, whose normal output is an annual nostalgic literary adaptation released just before the country’s nominations for the Oscars are decided. His effort this year will be an all action swashbuckling affair as brave Madrileños fall before the French cannon.

As anyone who has spent time in the city should know, these events used to be commemorated on a weekly basis with the holding of a mass botellón in the square that bears the name of the uprising. Somehow I suspect that such an event isn’t on the official agenda this year, whether we will get confrontations with the riot police on the eve of the anniversary is an open question. With Espe so heavily involved it seems almost inevitable that there will be at least a token attempt to extract political advantage from the celebration. I wonder how long it will be before we hear something along the lines of “our martyrs didn’t shed their blood on the streets of Madrid so that Zapatero could hand over the country to terrorists”.

The event will be commemorated as the beginning of a struggle for liberty, but it also had significance outside of Europe. The power vacuum the subsequent war created gave impetus to the independence movements in the Spanish Empire and the next 10-15 years are going to see many more bicentenaries as much of Latin America commemorates the end of Spanish dominance in that continent.

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