Last week in Asturias, a northern province of Spain where wolves are protected, a group of twenty were prosecuted for fraud. They’d shared a booty of up to two hundred thousand Euros between them.
They had been faking wolf attacks on their livestock and claiming the compensation which the government gives to replace the sheep and cows that any wolf might have killed.
The group was made up of nine farmers and eleven forest guards they were in cahoots with They couldn’t have gotten away with it for so long if not for the forest guards who claimed these were indeed real attacks. Any forest guard who was not getting part of the money would have seen straight away they were fake.
This accounts for a full fifth of the one million euros that Asturias pays annually in compensation.
In 2014, several farmers were caught getting paid double for their losses – claiming insurance for the loss of livestock as well as the compensation for wolf attacks.
But apart from the monetary damage they’ve done, stealing from the public purse, they’ve contributed to the vilification of the endangered predator, making it seem more dangerous to farming than it really is, and pushing public opinion against it’s continued protection and spread into former territories from which it was eradicated in the last century.
In the last few months several wolves have been killed illegally and their heads hung in various places.
Wolf head hung at a crossroads in Asturias – image from El Pais newspaper article linked below.
Hatred driven by lies?
The Spanish Civil Guard police think so – they say the animal has been criminalised and this fraud has led to an atmosphere of rejection of the animal.
The statistics of wolf attacks were skewed for years. The numbers of wolf-kills farmers claimed was considered “inexplicable from a biological, physical and mechanical point of view.” Once the numbers of claims were presented in a report (65 paid out in one year on one farm alone, for example) the year later there were drastically fewer claims.
Farmers in areas of wolf recolonisation (for example those south of the River Duero) have resisted the recolonisation of the predator on the basis of false data. In fact, the wolf kills very few livestock and there is less to fear in terms of possible losses than the numbers indicate.
Not only that, it leads us to ask the question, how many more farmers might be trying to fleece the system? How many other attacks have been real? How many fake?
The compensation payments are a useful step towards trying to bridge the gap between farmers and ecologists, two groups who don’t usually see eye to eye in Spain (the farmers often claim that the activists – there’s a difference between ecologos, the scientists, and ecologistas, the activists, in Spanish – have no idea how the countryside actually works when they come up with their plans and laws).
Forest guards claim that farmers pressure them, and even threaten them to get them to sign a death by natural causes, or lightning strike, as caused by wolf attack, and many have been sued. Farmers buy cheap horses and leave them alone on the mountain so they’ll be attacked by wolves, since the compensation is more than the horse was worth.
No ecologist claims wolf reintroduction, or protection, is, or will be, completely conflict free. Yet if the farmers pretend that there are more problems than there really are, what are we to do?
One wonders how many wolf attacks would be reported if there were no compensation at all, if it were just a data-collection exercise. If such fraud is found to be more widespread, there might be some calls to find out.
After all, science cannot be carried out on the basis of economic fraud. We need to know the real figures. Otherwise how are we to guide the reintroduction efforts in other countries?
Almost exactly a year ago I suggested the Scots take their chance at independence like a wide receiver clutches an American football to his chest and legs it.
I stand by that.
At the moment, the Catalans – the people of the region of Cataluña or Catalonia in the North east of what we call Spain – are pondering a similar question.
It’s not quite the same because there will be no referendum.
The right wing government in Madrid are insisting such a referendum would be illegal, clinging to a constitution made when everyone was not quite sure some follower of Franco wouldn’t take over and return the country to Fascism for another forty years, so it was best not to ask for too much. They tried, actually, not many years later, on February 23rd 1981 (I know that because my daughter was born on the 23rd of February and everybody makes a comment; not far from the mind of people even now).
So the pro-independence parties of Catalonia have decided that if they get a broad support from the populace in their regional elections this month, they’ll go ahead and announce independence anyway, to come in after eighteen months of negotiations and preparations.
The answer is the same. Yes.
I fully expect them to get the support they want. If there had been a referendum, I reckon the Catalans would have voted to stay inside a federal Spain, albeit with more autonomy. But they weren’t given that option, and when some powerful fucker from somewhere else says you can’t have something, then it’s not too uncommon for the common folk to say, fuck you, I’m going to take it.
The question you might perhaps be asking is if I just last week said it was time to get past this silly notion of nationality, how can I suddenly support the separation of a part of a state from the rest based on that same idea?
I implied patriotism for a place that is just as good as any other place, with people who are just as good, and bad as (equal to, in fact) you and me is a load of wank, there to empower only a few dodgy politicians.
And I stand by that.
And the Catalan question involves a fair few politician of the distinctly dodgy persuasion, who have thus far got fairly rich (actually very fucking rich) off their positions, and a decent handful of whom are being investigated for fraud and corruption and all that good stuff, while they all touted how bad they and their fellow Catalans were being treated by the big bad government in Madrid.
Because the shittiness of their politicians does not negate the Catalan’s right to self-determination. They deserve to decide if they will be a separate country, and they deserve to determine how that country will be run; if it will involve the same kind of structures used up to now or if they’ll try out a whole different thing – or even return to the way things were done during the heady days of 1936 when George Orwell was marvelling at the anarchists of Barcelona, before the war was taken out of their hands by the Nazis and Stalinists.
The patriotism of the Catalans is not better or worse on its face than that of Americans or Afghans. But in the greater scheme of things it will be more positive if we end up with a situation where people are able to run their own small patch of land. I don’t want to say that they’re governed by people closer to them, because I don’t think they should be governed necessarily – I prefer to see politicians as citizen representatives than leaders; which they jolly well should be, to put it nicely.
If the world, or in this case, Europe, was broken up into smaller and smaller pieces then people would have more control over their politicians, would be able to keep closer tabs on them, and make them do what they are supposed to (forward the good of their fellow citizens and the area as a whole) rather than get rich helping out big corporations. Iceland got itself out of debt because the politicians could not hide from the population, and had to do what the citizens said – which in this case was don’t pay those fucking leech banks. Ireland didn’t do the same because our politicians are separated, just a little bit too much, from their constituents, and because they know we’ll vote them back in in four or eight years because we’ve short memories and we’re a little stupid at times, and since we had our independence and a civil war we’re reluctant to go on the rampage again (by we I mean those still keeping their heads above water by keeping their heads down, to mix a metaphor).
Even though Ireland is run by a bunch of arseholes, they haven’t fleeced us as much as the corrupt pigs in Spain have, simply because they couldn’t get away with such opulence if they took all they could. We’d notice if they suddenly had their own helicopters and yachts and private islands. The Spanish have been used to rich nobility for ages, what with that old woman who’d more titles than the queen of England. There is a social circle to which the politicians can aspire, which is kind of lacking in Ireland. Saying that, we did have Charlie Haughey in Ireland, who had his own private island and boat and all that gear, and it took us a long time to ask the question, “how the fuck is he able to afford race horses and the like, and just why is our prime minister called Champagne fucking Charlie anyway?”
But that’s the Irish for ye.
Back to the point.
If Europe is a band of tiny nations, it’s less likely that one arsehole can just do that the hell he wants. Putin rules one huge country, and as such, has power. If we could knock Russia back into a plethora of small principalities (not calling them that, though, since we’d rather not have any princes running them) then he’d only be in charge of one.
It’s hard to do with Russia, but the nationalistic movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that unified Germany and Italy, and Spain and France, too, can be turned back now. It was all well and good (actually, it was shit, cos it caused two fucking world wars) for a while, but we’ve gone beyond that now – we have a unification of Germany WITH Italy and Spain and France into mother Europe, and so it’s fine to go back to having Bavaria and Prussia and Lombardy and Galicia, etc. If Mrs Merkel was the leader of just one Germanic region (not sure where she’s from), then she’d not be able to frog march us all into eternal debt. She’d have to find consensus. And that would be harder to find (a consensus that we all pay back huge banks money they don’t deserve and we didn’t lose) when every other leader had to answer to a population he or she was forced to live closely among.
The smaller the country, the more accountable are the representatives.
And the more necessary for such small nations to band together to pursue common goals.
And those common goals are less likely to be sucking the bell ends of banks and corporations.
So go for it, Cataluña. What have you got to lose? EU membership? Nah. They need you more than they need the Greeks, or the Irish for that matter. Just come back in under better terms.