Monday, 30 April 2018

The Olivenza Dispute

The red dot near Badajoz is the location of Olivenza

People outside of Iberia and rest of Western Europe probably misunderstand the smaller of these countries as also a part of the larger country. These two countries are extremely friendly and often, are seen exchanging twelve points to each other in Eurovision Song Contests. However, little does anyone know that they have a territorial dispute running for over two centuries. The two countries in question here are Spain and Portugal and the territory in question here is the Spanish town of Olivenza in the Spanish community of Extremadura.
Note: Throughout the article, I shall be using the Spanish spelling ‘Olivenza’ rather than the Portuguese ‘Olivença’ because as of today, it is Spanish territory. I don't lean towards the Spanish position, but I merely prefer using the de facto position.

History of Olivenza: A town which kept switching hands
I had the timeline handwritten to add a personal touch, please zoom the image for better viewing

While it was a Portuguese settlement in 12th Century, the town was quickly taken by the Spanish Moors in 1189 and came under Muslim rule. This was retaken in 1278 by the conquest by Castille and Leon (later on Spain) during their long Reconquista.
However, two decades later, Portugal regained the territory through the Treaty of Alcañices in exchange for peace with Castille. Post that, the Portuguese fortified the town and have signed several treaties with the Kingdom of Spain, including the Treaty of Lisbon in the 17th century reaffirming the border between the countries.
This continued till Spain invaded Portugal in 1801 with French support and occupied Olivenza. Post the Franco-Spanish treaty, Portugal was forced into the Treaty of Badajoz which handed over Olivenza back to Spain.
This position exists till date wherein, Spain claims sovereignty over Olivenza by virtue of the Treaty of Badajoz.

Portuguese counter-claim

Portugal, till date, has never officially recognized Spanish sovereignty over Olivenza.
Portugal unilaterally revoked the Treaty of Badajoz during the Napoleonic Wars as they accused Spain of violating the peace treaty, thus, declaring the same void.
Post the defeat of the Napoleon and Portugal being part of the winning British alliance, in the Congress of Vienna, Portugal successfully included a clause wherein:
‘winning countries are to endeavour with the mightiest conciliatory effort to return Olivenza to Portuguese authority.’
However, Spain interprets this clause as being optional and has never acted upon the same.

Olivenza of today

Olivenza is a town with barely 12,000 people living as of today. Spanish is the most dominant language in the town, considering:

·       Teaching in Portuguese was banned since the takeover in 1805.

·       Spanish was made the sole official language for all documents of the council.

·       Spanish was aggressively imposed during the regime of General Francisco Franco in all the regions of Spain ever where Castillian was not the dominant language and Olivenza was no exception.

·       Elapse of time; they have been a part of Spain for over 2 centuries that many of the current generation are not said to associate themselves with Portugal.

With Spain and Portugal both being part of the European Union and the Eurozone, there is practically no practical difference for the residents of Olivenza; even for those who wish to identify themselves as Portuguese as when they cross into Elvas (bordering Portuguese town), there is no hard border and they use the same currency. Only difference is that their taxes go to Madrid instead of Lisbon. Elvas and Olivenza are sister cities as of today and there is a bridge connecting the two paid for by the Portuguese government.
However, the two countries, are still quite sensitive about what the territory. When the former Prime Minister of Portugal, Pinheiro de Azevedo visited Olivenza in 1981, the Spanish responded by sending their Guardia (police force) to prevent any potential trouble caused by Portuguese nationalists in the town.
While rest of Spain is hardly aware of there being a dispute over Olivenza, the Portuguese in general are said to be becoming more conscious of the dispute. As recently as 2010, the Portuguese street names in Olivenza that were forcibly changed have now returned. A few residents of Olivenza who applied for Portuguese citizenship have now acquired the nationality. Going by the trends, it can’t be said as to what would be the situation in a few years from now.
The case of Olivenza is very similar to the case of Nice between France and Italy (which was ceded to France by Italy by means of treaty in exchange for French recognition of unified Italy); just that Italy does not dispute French sovereignty over the same. However, with Portugal never officially ending the dispute, one could never know what could be the situation in the future.
My personal opinion on such matters always is that there is no point in prolonging this dispute considering it is 2 centuries old, the Portuguese minority is not persecuted and is free to use their language and that Spain and Portugal are two very friendly neighbours. However, leaving my personal opinions aside, this is unlikely to be a burning issue till European Union exists and both the states remain members. Nonetheless, it is a very interesting case which I have always found it very interesting to read about.

Have a nice day,

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Plagues of Humanity

The coloured yonder, blots from afar a wail,
A visage of marvel, spotted out dark,
Leading a road to the parts which pale,
Nestling beneath foliage, the infant, hurting and stark,
Dancing around the nest, in blissful ignorant glee,
Creatures hideous, shaming unabashedly, even the ugly,
Playing a dirge, for even the birds, animals, life to flee,
Pricking the innocent, bleeding it snugly.

A creature close, bites upon the nape, gnarls, 
Off with the child, in pursuit the others,
Into an edifice, adorns it, crosses and stars enthrals
From Zion, drop indulgent, faith induced feathers
Permanence of which, unbeknownst to it, imbibes the child,
By providence, its birth, to the cross, star, moon or sun,
The infinite sands, each grain upon, echoes no in mild,
Deities, snatching from the abstract, from which none run.

The nape, another creature, inherits now to bleed,
From the crosses, sprouts the anteroom, inscribed paper,
Fables for posterity, mythical rules into, they feed,
Who is a king, cyclical lives profound, who the leper.
To the innocent, stories, supposed values, ingrained
Each paper, a brick to the edifice, bolstering the height,
The mind, a prison, each fable the bars framed,
A library, the members, foundations for the upheaving might.

The nape, another creature, accepts now to bleed,
 Excerpts of the texts, read between the lines,
To perform acts, to endear with water or reed,
In absentia, the fears of condemned, upon, the ritual dines,
Words with meaning, now archaic, followed unknown,
Once told for sanity, now told to the blind, 
Stagnant, incorrigible, in spite of the times flown,
Commanding obedience, boundaries for the mind.

The nape, another creature, leads not to bleed,
Practices of the yore, descending from the kings, 
Elevation of the sophisticated, plebeians wherein to weed,
Marks of humans, violation of other kingdoms, their links.
Once done, twice repeated, forever they live,
To the innocent, taught it a rule, for it to break
Others of innocence, a cardinal sin they give,
The spirit, once shone, succumbed now, to the fake.

The nape, another creature, passed now to bleed,
The graveyard, etched upon stones, humanity,
Its deeds, misdeeds, highs and conquering its need,
Mistakes for victors, richness of learning, for others, vanity,
Within wailing, is it taught, the tales of heroes, 
Villains, martyrs and empires, all human, 
A glorified past, vast lands torn, endless rows,
Cares it not, to create its history, will be done.

The nape, another creature, pulls now to bleed,
A cellar, brimming with gems, bones and gold,
Though menacing, the creature, its efforts bewilder greed,
Knows not the child, the treasures which unfold,
Relentless, the creature, plagues the innocence till grown,
The glitters of the Earth, familiar now, a little less
Shine and allure, the want of which leaves forlorn,
Innocence into desire, for its life, it to digress.

The wailing worse, darkening the bright day,
Splattered blood, upon it, the creatures cherish,
Vapours red, calling upon more, to the innocence fray,
Clinging onto it, infecting the world, the relish.
The creatures, the plagues, brazen and bold,
Never to be expunged, else the innocent flourish,
Knowing of religion, texts, past and gold,
Nonetheless, not enraptured the creatures, its wish.

   - Victor Van Volkner

Monday, 2 October 2017

Was the referendum Catalonia’s equivalent of Easter Rising?

Is the centuries old union on the brink?

Britain and Spain don’t see eye to eye on most things. Historically, there was the rivalry over Catholicism versus Protestantism leading to wars such as the Spanish Armada. There was also the loss of Gibraltar to the British over which fighting is going on, till date. However, there seem to be many issues on which these two are similar and the most evident is that both have a region to the North of their capital fighting for secession from the larger state.

When Scotland called for an independence referendum in 2012 to be conducted in 2014, while many considered it an internal matter of the UK, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain was quick to announce his support to the British and voiced his opinion against Scottish independence. He went on to announce that Spain would veto an application by an independent Scotland to enter the European Union. All this was done as Rajoy didn’t want the Catalan separatists to be provided a fillip by the Scottish nationalists.
The British soldiers leading the surrendered rebels post Easter Rising

But even before Scotland, in the early 20th century, there was the issue of Ireland and home rule for Ireland. It led to a very violent uprising by the Irish rebels for five days in April, 1916. Even in Ireland, some favoured a violent approach to seek freedom, some were pacifist and some pro-British. However, the manner in which the British cracked down on the Irish (there were more civilian casualties than combatants), even those who didn’t support the rebels initially, the public opinion starting turning and the seeds towards eventual independence in 1922 were planted and thus, the Irish nationalists consider the Easter Rising a success for this very reason.

Now fast forward a hundred years to Catalonia – they have faced oppression in the past, under Dictator General Francisco Franco, Catalan cultural events were banned such as their dance – Sardana, and so was their language, Catalan, with a total imposition of Castilian Spanish. However, ever since General Franco ceded power, Catalonia as a region gain autonomy, today, Catalan has become the primary language of instruction in most schools in Catalonia and of course, Barcelona is one of the most important centres of the European Union.

However, with all this, the resentment is not done away with for some Catalans, with a separatist coalition managing to gain power in the regional government; a referendum was called for on 1st October, 2017 – which the Spanish government and the Constitutional court declared illegal. Similar to Ireland, even in Catalonia – there are people with pro-independence views who support a unilateral referendum, there are pro-independence views who support a referendum within the framework of the Spanish constitution and not a unilateral solution and of course, there are people who are for the union (which some polls suggest are the majority).

The major issue that the Catalans kept raising were to spend the taxes in Catalonia, considering they were receiving €10 billion less than what they were sending to Madrid. Indeed, Catalonia, with the presence of Barcelona is one of the wealthiest regions in Spain and it is only inevitable that the government in Madrid channels some of the money to the regions more in need of the money and those less fortunate than Catalonia. So, on the other hand, unlike Ireland, the reason why Catalans want to secede is mostly economic and has very little to do with civil rights of the locals which further weakens the case as economic fortunes have never been permanent.
Clashes between the police and the public leading to injuries of roughly 450-750 people

On 1st October, 2017, the Spanish Guardia police were indulged in violent crackdown on people going to vote, snatching of ballot boxes, the number of injured are ranging from 450 to as much 750 as per various reports from the resulting violence. There are calls for Mariano Rajoy to resign but the question is – was it an overreaction from the Rajoy-led government? He had already secured a victory in the courts and also the fact that only 42% of the registered voters ultimately turned out for the referendum (of whom 90% voted independence) – the referendum would have lacked any international recognition and the violence that the Spanish police indulged in was perhaps not necessary. Even FC Barcelona (considering their global popularity), staged protest by playing their match closed doors. 
FC Barcelona facing Las Palmas in front of no one

With the extent of violence, maybe, similar to Ireland, those who wanted independence following a referendum within the framework of the Spanish constitution might now start leaning towards the side of those in favour of the unilateral secession.

Whether an independent Catalonia is viable is an entirely different question altogether and perhaps deserves an article of its own. It might also trigger movements in other regions of Spain, especially Basque, Galicia and Asturias. Moreover, on a lighter note, it would be a big blow to Spanish football, considering their 2010 World Cup victory – 6/11 players in the starting eleven of the final were Catalans (Joan Capdevila, Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets) and thus, would be a big blow to the La Furia Roja.

As far as yesterday (1st October, 2017) was concerned, Catalan separatists were probably not the winners, they are unlikely to get their desired result. However, Rajoy surely lost the plot – there was a lesson that was available from the case of Ireland which he has surely chosen to ignore. Have the seeds of Catalan independence been sown? Only time will tell.

Have a nice day,

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Triangular series - the way ahead for Test Cricket?

The last time this was experimented in was in 1912, before the advent of television and internet or even floodlights and before there was money pouring into cricket. The Triangular Test Series played between England, Australia and South Africa, with England winning the series was largely deemed a failure owing to the highly uncompetitive matches and failure to draw crowds, partly due to a much weaker Australian side.

However, right now the talk amongst the cricketing fraternity does seem to be inculcating an interest in test cricket, how to solve the problem of declining viewership, lack of crowds and sometimes, players’ lack of interest (for instance – Lasith Malinga retired from Test Cricket to focus more on being a T20 mercenary).  Many believe that the day night test could bring back the charm of test cricket, including former England captain Andrew Strauss, who said the format could keep the format ‘alive and vibrant’.

So far, ICC has announced their intentions to host a World Test Championship and repeatedly, as the date draws nearer, the tournament gets cancelled, for some reason or the other (financial problems is the norm), both in 2013 and 2017 and instead, back in 2013, a redundant ODI tournament was revived. The 20 over format needed a world tournament, it had one, the fifty over version already had it, since the 70s and there was no point in carrying on another 50 over tournament.

However, 2013 had the revival and considering it was India who won, there was a lot of interest generated in the tournament and thus, the Champions Trophy lingering on became imminent. On the other hand, the chance of a World Test Championship has also become bleak; while the stands remain largely empty during the early hours even on countries. This is not a phenomenon restricted to nations where there are other popular sports such as England, Australia or New Zealand, but also in countries where cricket is the primary sport such as Sri Lanka and India.

Constraints of a World Test Championship


The format and the manner of conducting a World Test Championship has been largely undecided, if there is to be some sort of a round robin with each side playing everyone else at least once, there are twelve test playing nations at present (including Ireland and Afghanistan); the number of matches come to a staggering 66 – meaning a minimum of 330 days; a tournament going for a whole year. There could be leagues or others worked out but the duration is always going to be a constraint.

At present, the proposal seems to be that the top four sides over a four year period will play a tournament but that is something that has not yet been tested and the present situation seems to be that the tournament scheduled for the year 2021 also stands cancelled.

Thus, it is evident that it is difficult to decide on a format that would be interesting and also be good on the time factor.

T20 Leagues

With T20 leagues throughout the year at some part of the world and a lot of players turning out to prefer the lucrative deals over playing test cricket, working around the leagues for a schedule would be very difficult or; the latter is an even more difficult task of retaining the key players. It so happens that most nations have stopped scheduling bilateral series during the time of the Indian Premier League these days, let alone a World Test Championship.

No guaranteed success

There is no guarantee that this experiment could be a success, perhaps it could be a repeat of 1912 and considering that this would be marketed at such a massive scale should such a tournament be scheduled, a flop show would be a disaster for test cricket as a whole and its failure could even mark the beginning of the end. Thus, one has to thoroughly research viewer interest before taking such a decision.

Thus, it seems very evident that at the moment, a World Test Championship has a lot of problems, however, an idea that has not been tried, since 1912 has been a triangular test series and sometimes, adding more diversity to a series could help.

For instance, the upcoming West Indies versus England series seems to be a huge quality mismatch, but at the same time, an experience of playing against a top side is perhaps what the young Caribbean sides need; but the cost of that experience is going to be one sided matches and total lack of interest from the viewers. The same could be said of the recently concluded series between Sri Lanka and India wherein there wasn’t much of a competition between the two sides though this experience could help the Lankan side in the future.

So, to add some flavour to these sort of series, the 1912 experiment could be revived, wherein three test sides play a series, even if we have a simple format where each team plays each other once – and the best two would reach the final – it comes to a total of just four tests, which is similar to most bilateral series. Of course, there is the issue of determining the best two, especially when there is a possibility of matches going for a draw (especially in the final); in which case the entire debate of whether a points system should be in place comes in but I believe this is something easier to come to a consensus to, than a World Test Championship.

A World Test Championship is of course a great idea and if pulled off well, it would be a feather in the cap for the glory of test cricket but at present, it is a lot more pragmatic to go for it step by step. Australia have often conducted tri-series, I hope in future, some cricket board takes up the idea of a triangular test series.

Just to conclude, had it been a triangular series, with a side like South Africa (who had just toured England) along with West Indies, the press would not have declared England as the winners of the series, even before the same was conducted. 

Have a nice day,

Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Enigmatic Friendships

Amidst the numerous social interactions that we, as humans, have in our world, filled with the social media giants which govern our daily lives in ways that aren’t by any stretch of the imagination, infinitesimal, I often end up thinking about the people we term as friends. Due to the distances connected by the social media, people who otherwise wouldn’t have interacted, are now available in the list of friends of a varied demographic. It’s a fun and interesting place to be.

I am not an active participant in social media. I rarely interact with people outside the group which is familiar to me. Being the person that I am, I prefer cultivating friendships that last a lifetime. The fleeting interactions that lead to someone becoming a friend, create acquaintances. A friend to me, holds a much deeper meaning. A friend to me, is a person who makes a person better in all respects. Amongst the few friends that I have, I am certain that all of them know me, my thoughts, my capabilities (or lack thereof), and so on. I know I can go to them with anything I want and not be judged for what I ask or say. These friends, and the friendships they have granted me, would perhaps, last till the times where both parties stop remembering anything.

Friendships are analogous to the life cycle of a tree. Akin to these marvels in nature, friendships have a rugged exterior, malleable interiors and branch out to very finite spaces wherein all the branches are distinct, intriguing in their own accord and is overall, integral to the subsistence of the ecosystem that is a human being. I have observed the parallel tracks a tree takes in its lifetime that that friendships take in theirs.

To elaborate, the various seeds that scatter upon the ground, intentionally or unintentionally, are like the boundless interactions we humans have amongst each other. Not all conversations take root into the tree of friendship. The people indulging in what we tell them, find the right nourishment for their friendship to take roots. The symphony between the waves of thoughts expressed and received becomes apparent, enough to water the tree and beget the once dormant life within. Thereafter, what happens is a natural progression. We converse, exchange thoughts, debate, argue, participate in moments that get etched upon our minds, irreplaceable and irremovable, walk together on the path one wouldn’t otherwise have traveled had it not been for a friend, and other such events, activities and moments that imbibe the tree with vigor and strength it needs to take on the natural forces that oppose its growth.

Like the many friendships a person has in life, many are uprooted; many stand; but the most valuable ones flourish under the most distressful conditions, paying no heed to the forces on the mission to uproot them. Such friendships absorb the best made available to them, filtering out the poisons lurking in the soil, air and water that surround them. Each moment in time that is spent with such friends branches out from the tree, takes its place amongst the many unique branches forming the overall edifice, tall and magnificent. This is the defining stage of any friendship; the stage that determines whether it would inhale the poison and form a contagion, wither away and die, or use the more sentient moments to form branches from branches till such time that it is thick enough to combat and force of nature.

Once the veritable tree has grown to the fullest extent it is permitted to grow, the point comes where the friendships we strived to grow, mature. Thereon, there isn’t a force, available in our everyday lives, which can erode away the friendship. The tree no longer needs water from us as the roots are deep enough to make it self-sufficient. It would have a near unlimited reservoir of nutrients through the endless experiences we have shared.

I am not one to say the tree cannot be shaken or moved. It very well can be. We all can be a handful if we want to be. Others would simply brand us with a term, perhaps derogatory, perhaps uninviting or perhaps distasteful. However, these friends, and their friendships, forged through the trials and tribulations of life, never give up on us. I have known this to be the case with mine. I have stretched them to their limits, infested our conversations with my incessant ranting, fought over trivial matters which would appear highly nonsensical to a witness, and what not. They however, have looked beyond these failings of mine, knowing that that tree that we worked so hard to grow, wouldn’t even budge on such things. These minor incidents have only served to prove that to a true friendship, these incidents would hardly ruffle through the leaves, get resisted by the foliage, and die out as if it never existed. Even if one arose, that could break a branch, a new one would form in its place as the tree is alive and well.

I cherish my friendships and all events and incidents entailed within. These are the people who have made me who I am, shaped a greater part of my life, and nurtured me with humanity. I might have turned out a lesser human than I am now, if not for people such as them. Everyone has friends, who if thought about, would be a parts of your trees, or whole trees themselves. The thought that inspired me to write this was that each person has their own trees, and yet don’t realise that these trees have matured into unshakable friendships. Misunderstandings are easily sorted, however heavy they may seem when they happen.

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Tenacious Warrior Calls it a Day!

Captain Cook with the Ashes urn

The English batsmen are barely known for their ability to handle spin bowling; little did they know that the little known 21 year old batsman from Essex would come to Nagpur facing India in his first test - a side known for famous spinners with the likes of Harbhajan and Kumble; manages to score nearly 160 runs with a century on debut; would solve their crisis in handling spin - and that young lad was Alastair Nathan Cook.

Since his successful debut in India, there was no looking back as he solved England's long term opening crisis by being a sturdy batsman on whom the team could rely on. Using his skills with that bat and great sense of judgement; he managed to grab the spotlight early on in his career where it became inevitable that beyond a point, he was going to be Andrew Strauss' heir-apparent as captain. I'd focus more on Cook's stint as Captain Cook as the batsman is yet to retire from the game and in fact, has at least another five years to contribute to his side.

Cook's captaincy probably started on an rosy path, he inherited a very strong team from Andrew Strauss going on to stun India in their own backyard back in 2012, coming back from 1-0 down to take the series 2-1; probably one of the highest points of his captaincy early on and eventually going on to retain the Ashes 3-0. The honeymoon period came to an end where Pietersen left under controversial circumstances, Jonathan Trott leaves owing to health reasons, the lead spinner Graeme Swann and the wicketkeeper Matt Prior retiring, Cook's ability as a captain came under challenge - it was no longer the strong squad he inherited and he had to use his ability to rebuild the team and be determined throughout the process.

Cook's early taste of success - series win against India

Cook's real trouble began after the whitewash by Australia during the 2014 Ashes; the British media going impatient as always along with former captains such as Michael Atherton and Michael Vaughan going on to question the ability of the young captain and whether he should be replaced. However, the captain had other ideas; rebuilding the squad with the likes of Moeen Ali, Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow and Cook himself significantly contributing with the bat; the fortunes turned for England with victories against Sri Lanka and regaining of the Ashes in 2015. During his captaincy, he also became England's all time highest run scorer (first English batsman to cross 10,000) and also the individual with the maximum number of test centuries to the extent that his critics from the previous year such as Atherton and Vaughan started lauding Cook for his abilities.

Cook becomes the youngest batsman to cross 10,000 runs

Surely, Cook would have liked to resign from captaincy under better circumstances rather than the leaving the post after the debacle in India - he still has a lot to be proud of and the current English team owe him a great debt for the success he given the team; call it conservative, it delivered results nonetheless. Additionally, Cook has not just been a captain who has delivered results in the present but has also had a vision for the future giving opportunities to several youngsters such as Haseeb Hameed, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Joe Root, etc; has laid a strong foundation for the captain succeeding him in the future (most probably Joe Root, incidentally another Nagpur debutant) and what the next captain could learn the most from him is the tenacity and the determination to succeed, despite all criticism.

The silver lining for England is the fact that he is still continuing to play and the fact that he doesn't have the burden of captaincy anymore, the fans could hope to see many more great performances from him to come.

Good luck to the next captain of England!

Have a nice day,