Thursday, 19 October 2006

Thin-skinned candidate leaves interview in a huff

My goodness, there seems to be no shortage of news stories in this heated election campaign!

The story of the last hours is the following.

Xavier Sala i Martin (english) is a Professor at Department of Economics at Columbia University. He is something of a celebrity in Catalonia and in Spain because:

- He dares to challenge the Left on their ‘social’ economic policy.
Just to put you in the picture, in Catalonia it is becoming something of a struggle not to be a communist or a pseudo-socialist, progressive, anti-globalisation, pseudo-leftie. The word liberal (which in the US the Right uses to refer to the Left or the Progresives in a derogatory manner) in Spain and in Catalonia is used as a quasi-insult to refer to those who believe market forces is often a better resource allocation mechanism than the State. This simple concept is anatema to many in Catalonia and Spain, where some people still fly the Communist flag as a symbol of freedom. For them, private capital is bad and public good is achieved through public allocation and management of resources.
Mr Sala is a liberal, or worse still, a neo-liberal! (A neo-liberal in Spain is like a neo-con; bad). His work on global wealth distribution and poverty indicators is often quoted in the FT, The Economist, etc.

- He was interim President of the FC Barcelona at last elections. He has a few good pictures of himself with the club touring the USA on his website.

- He wears extremely colourful jackets. Check his site if you want to see the ultra-bright jackets for yourself.

Now we know a wee bit about colour-mad Mr Xavier Sala i Martin.

La Vanguardia is a Barcelona-based, Spanish-language newspaper. It is a middle-of the road, quite centrist newspaper, as opposed to the left-leaning, PSOE-controlled El Periódico and El País. La Vanguardia is against independence but moderately in favour of improving the political settlement between Spain and Catalonia towards a more devolved framework. La Vanguardia has a good business and literary section but its sports coverage is rather poor. La Vanguardia was the only Catalan newspaper that was not banned under Franco. Its owners have always had the ability to get on well with whoever was in power: Franco, or PSOE or CiU or more recently the tripartite coalition in Catalonia. La Vanguardia is pragmatism and moderation.

Now we know a little bit about La Vanguardia.

Well, La Vanguardia commissioned Mr Sala to conduct interviews with the 5 main candidates at the next Catalan elections.
Mr Sala interviewed the socialist candidate (José Montilla, PSC-PSOE).
It turns out that Sr Montilla lost his temper during the interview and left in a huff accusing Mr Sala of being “sectarian”. The newspaper published the interview except the last exchanges, in which Mr Montilla insults Mr Sala. The word in the street is that this was due to lobbying by the PSC-PSOE apparatchik. Being a true liberal, Mr Sala duly uploaded the interview onto his own website at the University and also a transcript in Catalan and Spanish. Sadly, Mr Sala has not found the time to translate it into English for the benefit of his University colleagues. Perhaps he wants to avoid the ignominy of having to explain to them that Mr Montilla will probably become President of Catalonia on November 2nd.

An mp3 file of the interview can be found here (mp3 file, 9MB). The interview was conducted in Catalan.
An audio transcript of the interview in Catalan can be found here. And the translation in Spanish, here.

All in all, it is quite amazing stuff. What surprised me when listening to it is how quickly Mr Montilla loses his temper; how he struggles to keep composure under intense questioning (for Spanish standards anyway, nothing of the kind of interviewing you find on the BBC). I fear to think what could happen to our thin-skinned candidate if he ever appears in the BBC News 24 Hardtalk programme or in Radio 4The Moral Maze’. No way José!

Mr Sala also questioned Artur Mas, the candidate of the CiU party. This is the party (two parties in fact) that ruled Catalonia for 23 years. It is a pity we cannot hear the audio of the interview. But in print at least, Mr Mas appears to have more resilience to answer uncomfortable questions than Mr Montilla. Now, Mr Sala has been accused in the past of being close to CiU, and probably he is, if not by conviction at least by default: he would find difficult to support any of the three left-ish parties or the Spanish nationalists of the PP).

The campaign is being quite nasty for Catalan standards. There is a lot of vile and aggression. Whoever is the most voted candidate, it will probably fall short of an absolute majority. A coalition government after all what is being said will not be easy, although we all know by now that politicians have a short memory span…

1 comment:

Tom said...

I'm sorry but your explanation of the use of 'liberal' seems completely inaccurate to me. I only ever see or hear 'liberal' in Catalonia or on the web in Spanish as a self-applied label. Those who apply the label to themselves are almost always social conservatives with a thin sheen of economic theory which covers up the more extreme aspects of their political philosophy.

Libertad Digital is one example of the use of 'liberal' in Spanish political debate... ther are plenty of others about but nearly all are as unpleasantly right-wing and Spanish-nationalist.