THUS wrote Sir William Napier in his
highly-readable 1808 history, The War in the Peninsula: "The Spanish
character, in relation to public affairs, is marked by inordinate pride
and arrogance. Dilatory, improvident, singly and in mass, they cherish
an absurd confidence that everything suggested by their heated
imaginations is practicable; they see no difficulties and the obstacles
encountered are attributed to treachery."
Hold hard; you lovers of Spain and the Spaniards, I am also an
aficionado of that country and its talented, hospitable and industrious
people, but by the high-topped sierras, the languorous gardens of the
Alhambra and that colourful, violent, tragic, triumphant, jumble of
history, architecture, bullfighting blood and sand and the chicken íní
chips and "tea like mother made" Gehennas of the British-tourist-sodden
coastal strips, Napier probably had a point, at least as far as pride
and arrogance are concerned. The haughtiness of the hidalgo and the
Lucifer-pride of the don are still deep in the Iberian psyche,
combustible and ready for display in matters that affect Spanish dignity
and territorial integrity.
Proof of that is shown in the childishly-absurd stew over the
islet of "Parsley" - or Perejil to give its map name - between Spain and
Morocco, two grown-up nations thought to be observant of the protocols
of international politesse and not given to nursery-type howls of
anguish and physical force over some minute, geological bauble.
Yet when Morocco dispatched 12 soldiers to establish what it
claimed was its sovereignty over the tiny, goat-haunted wart on the
Mediterranean lip, the Spanish government reacted as if the nation were
being reinvaded by the Moors. To oust the Moroccans, clinging to the
rock like limpets on a shipís hull, Spain deployed submarines, aircraft
and frigates around the island and sent in a helicopter-borne, commando
raid that overwhelmed the dazed, remaining half-dozen and dispatched
them bloodlessly back to the mainland.
Moroccoís foreign minister, Mohamed Benaissa exploded, "This is
equivalent to an act of war," but in Spanish tavernas, the nation
rejoiced at the "reconquista" of the island, an act in which lives might
have been lost, but seen, in the pulsations of Hispanic pride, as
possibly as significant as the expulsion of the Moors from Granada.
Meanwhile, Gibraltarians are grimly pointing out the mindset and
double standards of Spain that wants full sovereignty over the Rock but
keeps a tight grip on its own North African enclaves, however
insignificant, and would, say Spanish military sources, have shed blood
to retake Perejil.
With further confirmation of Spainís territorial attitudes, it is
hardly surprising that the Rock residents are entrenched even further in
their desire to remain linked to Britain. There they are, 28,000 of them
clinging to two and a half square miles of territory with the Rock, a
1,396-feet-high lump of Jurassic limestone, like a ring on the earlobe
These people are an awkward political anomaly. They are proud to
live in a British possession and are - can you believe it? - patriots.
Britishness to this mixture of Italian, British, Maltese, Jewish,
Moslem, Hindu and Spanish descent means a moral force bolstering
democracy, law and order, commonsense, courage in adversity and
responsible global citizenship: a tall order to live up to for a nation,
crime-ridden, drugs-sodden and where corruption at national and local
government level is rife. Still, the Gibraltarians cling to their old
loyalty to Britain, now critically strained by the recently-announced
shared sovereignty with Spain objective.
When I was in Gibraltar a few years ago, I was told by an
administration official, a fervent supporter of the fight for the Rockís
self-determination, "Britainís declining interest in Gibraltar has only
whetted the appetite of a predatory Spain. If the Spaniard wants to kill
you, he comes with a knife. The British," he added, "are splendid at
killing by kindness. We will not give into Spanish pressure to be taken
over or by the slow, benign pushing of Britain."
A local tourist coach driver told me, "We are proud to be British
and we will not give that up." A Gibraltar Information Bureau official
commented, "Spanish control would mean the loss of our rights and our
identity. Even the apes," he added, "never go to Spain."
I salute the awkward Gibraltarians. A little drop of parsley on
the Spanish territorial plate may have done them some good.