Spanish military Easter flags spark row
Spain’s defence ministry has sparked a row in the secular state by ordering all military sites to fly the flag at half mast over Easter to mark the crucifixion of Jesus.
The same order was issued last year to all “military units, bases, centres and barracks, as well as the ministry of defence and its regional departments”.
A ministerial spokesman said that flying the flag at half mast was “in keeping with tradition” and was “part of the secular tradition of the armed forces”.
Ombudsman Francisco Fernández Marugán said Spain was constitutionally a secular state. The 1978 constitution says: “No religion shall have a state character. The public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and shall consequently maintain appropriate cooperation relations with the Catholic church and other confessions.”
A recent study by the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research estimated that 69 per cent of Spaniards saw themselves as Catholic and 26.4 per cent as atheists. It said Spain had 2 million Muslims and 50,000 Jews but fewer than half of Spain’s supposed Catholics ever attend mass.
The ministry said a ruling last year stated that its personnel were authorised “to take part in celebrations of a religious nature in which the military traditionally takes part”.
The ruling, according to Fernández Marugán, did not anticipate “military funeral honours for religious motives, such as the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ”.
The national ombudsman argued that “even if this tradition has acquired a ‘secular’ connotation over the years there is no doubt that it also has a religious one”, and “these practices could lead people to think that the state was more inclined to honour one religion than another”. A secular state had to demonstrate religious neutrality, Fernández Marugán said.
A European arrest warrant issued for five former Catalan ministers continues to stir nationalist discontent but looks unlikely to change the EU’s view of the separatist impasse with Madrid.
The arrest of the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont in Germany last weekend, and the decision by his ex-education minister, Clara Ponsatí, to hand herself in to Scottish police during the week, increases tension in the on-running issue.
The incidents sparked protests in Germany and Scottish, Spanish and Belgian nationalists but the EU show little sign of changing its position that Catalan independence movement is a domestic, Spanish issue.
Spanish troops in Afghanistan. Picture credit: Wikimedia