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Entries in Gibraltar (1)

Saturday
Jun232012

The monkeys and politics of Gibraltar

While staying in Marbella, we made a delightful day-trip out to Gibraltar, that British rock clinging to the south of Spain.

When we were visiting Gibraltar we found out that Hayden had chickenpox. Happily we could use the rare situation of being in an English-speaking country to purchase medicine, but unhappily, after the pharmacy had closed for the day Hayden's medicine was stolen by a monkey. In fact, this monkey:

The barbary macaques are the most famous residents of Gibraltar. Irritatingly, everywhere they are referred to as Rock Apes or the apes of Gibraltar, despite clearly being monkeys and not apes. These monkeys are the only wild non-human primates in Europe, although many tourists obviously struggle with the concept of "wild". Despite many signs and verbal warnings given about the monkeys being wild and biting people who get too close, we saw many visitors touching them. One little boy even went up and hugged a large adult male. Okay, he was young, and years of soft toy monkeys would obviously confuse him, but the idiotic parents just pushed their other son over to take a group photo. Fortunately, there was a local nearby who yelled at the parents to get their children away before the "ape" gave them a lesson in natural selection.

"I can see Africa from my house". View of Jebel Musa, Morocco, from the top of the rock.

Gibraltar was captured from the Spanish in 1704, and while it was officially ceded to the UK in 1713 "in perpetuity", Spain has long wanted the mountain territory back. Oddly enough, for a rock surrounded by Spain and far from the motherland, the citizens of Gibraltar are enormously, defiantly, British. They are certainly far more British than anyone living in, for example, Britian - I doubt England, Scotland or Wales would get a vote of nearly 99% to stay part of the UK. It was probably heightened by the Diamond Jubilee and the royal visit that weekend, but the number of flags flying over the city was even greater than you see at a 4th of July picnic in America.

I was talking to our guide in Istán about the issue of soverignity over Gibraltar, and while he said that he personally would not shed any blood over Gibraltar, it was a hot button topic within Spain, that the area should rightfully go back to Spain, regardless of the feelings of the residents. When I asked about Ceuta and Melilla (two Gibraltar-like outposts on the coast of Morocco, occupied by Spain), he responded "We have a saying in Spain, what does a pig have to do with speed?" The answer, of course, being "nothing", as if the British enclave in Spain and the Spanish enclave in Morocco drew no parallels. When I asked whether Ceuta and Melilla should be given back to Morocco, he said of course not, since the residents want to be Spanish. 

Personally, I think the principle of the residents' right to determine their own soverignity is correct, so I'll agree with Spain over the Ceuta-Melilla issue and with the UK on Gibraltar. But it is not only Spain that is being hypocritical - the UK uses the "residents' right" argument for Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, but consistently denies the use of that argument by the residents of South Ossetia to gain independence from Georgia. As I commented earlier, there is only one country in the world that has consistently applied the "residents' right" argument to both South Ossetia and Kosovo, so I don't give the UK much credit for applying it solely in those cases where it is beneficial to them.