Gonzalez left to rue a bagpipe blunder

Click to follow
THE CELTS of Galicia, in Spain's wild and windy north-western corner, are used to being put down. Even the apostle St James reckoned their land must be the End of the World and called it Finisterre. Gallego (Galician) jokes are the Spanish-speaking world's equivalent of Irish jokes for Brits, or Belgian jokes for the French.

But when the Prime Minister of the nation, at present a southerner from Seville - Galicia's equivalent of a Sassenach - comes out against Galicia's customs, particularly its bagpipes, enough is enough. Galicia's pipers have got the wind up and its conservative regional leaders are threatening to 'blow him away' in the general election on 6 June.

It was on national television the other night, in a debate with the opposition conservative leader, Jose Maria Aznar, that Felipe Gonzalez put his southern foot in it. 'If we're talking about squandering money,' he said, apropos of general corruption allegations from Mr Aznar, 'could you imagine for one moment that I would have 1,500 pipers at my inauguration as prime minister, as did the leader of your party, or rather the ex-leader of your party.'

Mr Gonzalez was referring to the inauguration of Manuel Fraga, 70, Prime Minister of Galicia, one of Spain's 17 self-governing regions. He is Galicia's second most famous son after another - deceased - politician, Francisco Franco. So Mr Fraga had 1,500 pipers blowing their lungs out on the square in front of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela when he took the oath as regional prime minister in 1990. Big deal?

Well, maybe a little big. Local Galicians privately confess that the band of 1,500 pipers was perhaps 10, 15, well, yes, even 100 times the normal quota considered necessary for the region's beloved muineira (folk dancing). Still, if, as they say in another Celtic region, 'a rerr guid time wuz had by a', who's complaining? Mr Gonzalez, that's who. But the Prime Minister, it was assumed, had politics, not race or culture, on his mind when he got his dig in at Mr Fraga. The latter was interior minister under General Franco, founder of the Popular Alliance that begat Mr Aznar's Popular Party and, indeed, the man who groomed Mr Aznar, 40, for the new party's leadership. In other words, Mr Fraga - and therefore read Mr Aznar - represents the dreaded 'right' that is going to take Spain into another four decades of dictatorship. According to the Socialists, that is.

Mr Fraga reacted yesterday: 'Squandering money? We paid the pipers with nothing but tapas de pulpo gallego (portions of octopus - a Galician delicacy),' he said. 'Tell Mr Gonzalez I'll have 3,000 pipers next time I'm sworn in.'