In the latest move aimed at using the territory of Gibraltar to bolster political support, the Spanish foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, has announced the closure of the Cervantes Institute, a Spanish language school in Gibraltar.
Gibraltar has always been a bone of contention between Spain and Britain which has been used by the ruling class in both countries to whip up nationalist sentiment when a politician needs a poll boost. This is much like the role the Falkland Islands have played in the past, most notably for Margaret Thatcher.
Margallo has announced the closure of the institute because he says that he believes the Tripartite Forum, which brought together representatives from Spain, Britain and Gibraltar for the first time in 2006, to be finished. He has said that treating Gibraltar on an equal footing to Britain and Spain is unacceptable.
In times of economic and political crisis exploiting divisions between people and fostering nationalism is a cheap way of garnering some support among certain layers of people. Politicians enjoy a chance to be seen as decisive and principled while society and the economy is collapsing around their ears. This is very much the situation that Margallo’s Popular Party currently find themselves in and his attack on the students of the Cervantes Institute can be understood in this context.
Contrasted against the Popular Party’s nationalism, which is the mirror image of the British imperialism that led to the capture of Gibraltar by the British in the first place, is the internationalism of the students at the Institute. Anne, an interior architect from Denmark explained that “[the Institute] is such a good benefit for us as foreigners to learn about Spanish culture” and Tamsin from Britain said “it’s helped change the attitude of Gibraltarians”, while Pawel from Poland said “[the closure] is a real disaster for the foreigners living here in Gibraltar”. All the students recognised the political nature of the move as just the latest in a long running tit for tat battle between the Spanish and British bourgeoisie.
But Margallo’s actions have not been as popular in Spain as he might have hoped. An official statement by the La Linea branch of PODEMOS, the political party with the most support in Spain according to the polls, condemned the closure of the Institute as a “clear failure” by the government.
Marxists often say that, along with private ownership of the means of production, the nation state is a barrier to human development. This is the case as regards economic development, but it also applies to cultural development. Capitalism’s inevitable crises undermine the system and its political representatives, which push these bureaucrats into shoring up their position by trying to turn workers against each other using the poison of nationalism. Instead of advances in culture through an exchange of ideas and traditions, we get the stunting of cultural development by narrow prejudice and bigotry.
Only by fighting for an end to capitalism and by tearing down the now defunct national barriers between people can we ensure the free and full cultural and economic development of humanity. This is the only way, in the long run, to save the Cervantes Institute and defend all those students around the world whose education is caught in the crossfire caused by capitalist crisis and national prejudice.
by Ben Gliniecki, MSF Executive