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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Sunday, October 19, 2003


Andorra: Playing The Game for 800 years
The Flag of AndorraAndorra is one of the archetypal "small European countries," the sort that novelists and screenwriters prefer to invent out of whole cloth rather than recreate ("I just discovered that I'm the long-lost son of the King of Maledonia!" and so on). This is understandable--there are only 77 thousand or so people in the entire country, and one of them is probably going to notice if you get something wrong. But the question that always arises, for myself, anyway, when it comes to these countries is, "how in the world did they manage to stay independent?" Well, now I know, if only in regards to Andorra. Andorra has remained independent since its founding in the 9th century by playing The Game, and playing it very, very well.

HISTORY: Many of the sources I found on Andorran history contradicted each other when it came to specifics, so the following is a mishmash of what seemed to make the most sense to me.

'Hannibal Slept Here' says AndorraThere have been people living in Andorra for years, as archaeologists have found various artifacts going back to the Neolithic age, between five and eight thousand years ago. Nothing that explains too much, though. The best theory is that the original inhabitants were Basque or related to the Basque, and that the name "Andorra" is of Basque derivation. Our first mention of Andorra comes in Polybius' Histories where the Andosini are mentioned as one of the four tribes in the Pyrenees that Hannibal subdued before heading on towards Rome.

'Thanks for the help, Andorra! Here, have some independence.'We next pick up Andorra in 839, when its six parishes are mentioned in the Church records, specifically the Acts Of Consecration of the Cathedral of Seu d'Urgell. Just before this time, Charlemagne had beaten back the moors from the area and in return for the help the Andorrans gave him, so the story goes, he granted them their independence under the local Bishop. They still have the document that did the deed, the Carta de Fundacio d'Andorra. If you are skeptical about this document's legitimacy, welcome to the club--it includes everyone but the Andorran government, who don't let the document out to play very often, just in case. But it supports their independence, so the Adorrans aren't about to give it up.

Medieval Andorran stuff.After Charlemagne died, his son Louis the Pious reconquered the area and gave control of it to the Count of Urgell, in Spain. The Count and Bishop of Urgell played tug-of-war over the area for a while, until the Bishop appealed to the nearby Count of Foix for help in the 11th century, promising him a share in the region. This seems to have worked out fairly well for about two hundred years, after which the Count of Foix decided that he should control the whole place, and invaded in 1264.

The war ended in 1274, when they wrote up an agreement called the Pareage, which decreed that the Count and Bishop would share sovereignity over the country, which would be independent but pay a tribute to one of the Co-Princes, as were called, a year. Thus cleverly balanced between two powers, Andorra kept that position, more or less, until 1993.

There were a few changes along the way. In 1419, the Andorran people decided they wanted a parliament. They asked their co-rulers for it, and recieved it, setting up the "Council of the Land," with four councilmembers from each of the six Parishes. When Henry of Foix became Henry IV of France, the co-princeness passed to the French king, and remained there until 1793 when the monarchy was overthrown, and Andorra cut loose. They did not like this, there being no counterbalance to Spain and 'Ah ahm alzo a major heestoreecal feegure involved een zee heestory of Andorra!'Urgell, and so when Napolean took over, they quickly asked him to reassert control and Napoleon--never one to turn down an opportunity to assert control--readily complied.

Ever since, the head of the French state, be it king, President, or whatever Napoleon was calling himself that week, has been a co-prince of Andorra. 'King' Boris I of AndorraIn 1933, some Andorrans decided they were tired of this set-up, despite how independent it had kept them, and wanted to play a different game. Apparently this new game involved installing a Russian named king named Boris Skossyreff as king--it was his idea. The Bishop of Urgell sent in guards (five of them) who arrested them, the courts dismissed the Council of the Land who had appointed him, and the French sent in gendarmes to keep things quiet. They eventually got things back together and even set up universal manhood sufferage (women got in on the act in 1970).

Andorra was a major smuggling depot for French goods headed for Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and then for Spanish goods heading for france during World War II. This gave Andorra a taste for that sort of thing, and added another move to their game--duty free shopping. During the 20th century, Andorra became a major tax & duty-free haven, and electronics, alcohol and tobacco sell for far less than they do elsewhere in Europe. This helps their ski-based tourism industry immensely, which is good, as 80% of their economy is based on tourism.

Marc Forné Molné, Sindic of Andorra1981, the Government of Andorra was set up, headed by the Sidinc, or president, appointed by the parliament, now called the General Council, adding an executive branch to the mix, and in 1993, the country brought in a constitution, which limited the co-Princes and paved the way for entry into the UN that year--with the ultimate goal of joining the European Union.

Don't worry, I'll get to that later.

TODAY: Andorra is a member of the EU customs union, and treated as an EU member for trade in manufactured goods--no tariffs, and as a non-EU member for for agricultural products (all of which must be imported, as only 2% of the land is arable. They have an agreement with the European Economic Community that has been in place since 1991, and currently, the EEC and Andorra are engaged in negotiations on a Cooperation Agreement that would cover more ground.

The main international story that Andorra is involved with at the moment involves tobacco. France keeps on adding tobacco taxes, which is making people more and more go to Andorra to buy their cigs--as of tommorow, the average price will go from EUR 3.90 to EUR 4.60, and then to EUR 5.40 next year. Last month, this led to the blockade of the Andorran border by 100 angry French tobbaconists. (The Dissident Frogman has more on how the French are handling this.)

The EEC and EU (is there much of a difference?) is pressuring Andorra to put laws in place that will limit "tobacco fraud," though this looks to be a thinly veiled attempt to get Andorra to stop selling its stuff so cheap. Andorra is also blacklisted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for being uncooperative in altering its tax haven-y nature, and I have seen nothing indicating movement towards complying with its demands.

ANALYSIS: If anyone in the Andorran government is reading this, may I suggest that you run not walk, away from mentions of joining the EU. Andorra has become what it is today through 800 years of playing a very clever game, and has become very successful by keeping its taxes low and government small. That is to say, it has thrived by being the exception to the European rule,. The EU is designed to blot out those exceptions.

Some would say argue the EU will be running Europe anyway, and countries like Andorra should at least grab a seat at the table where their future will be decided. But just getting that seat would fundamentally alter the very structures that have made Andorra so successful, so I don't think that should happen--or will, any time soon.

Andorra really sounds like my kind of Europe--or it would be if there were more evangelicals, anyway. A center-right government, no leftist parties, a small, inobtrusive government, no income tax, a good dose of nationalism. Everything Europe should be. As long as they can keep darting around the big fish, and keep playing the game the way they've been playing it, Andorra will do just fine for quite a while.

FLAG: This is a new section, but I get so many hits from people looking for the explanation of various flags, that I'm going to start putting those into these reports. But I suggest this page if you are curious about "vexillology," and this page if you read Spanish and are interested, particularly, in Andorra's flag, and here if you want to buy it. Andorra's colors are blue, yellow and red, a combination of the colors of France and Spain. Clever, eh? There are two different coats of arms, one for the French version, the other for the Spanish version. They are similar, and both have four quarters, two for each co-prince and one each for two other nearby areas. Clockwise from the upper left, they are Urgell, Foix, Bearn and Catalonia. The words along the bottom are "United strength is better."

FOOD: This may not be a consistent catagory, but this recipe for Escudella de Pages, a traditional Catalonian meal, sounded mighty tasty.

LINKS: Andorra's official webpage is a good place for information, as are a few other Andorra pages, which are all mainly tourist brochures. There are some good pages on history, some provided by travel pages, others by the State Department, but the most detailed is the history in the Catholic Encyclopedia--though the web version is from 1908. Here's a very good history page, if you read Catalan, and here's another very good one if you are interested in Andorra's stamps. Last, if you want to move to Andorra (it's pretty tempting), here's an overview of what that's like.
Agree, disagree, have more information on the topic? Please, feel free to leave a comment. No profanity!

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