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,

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