Accepted paper:

'Culture' and power in the Spanish enclave of Melilla: the ethnicisation of politics in 'The City of Four Cultures'


Eduard Rodriguez-Martin (EHESS)

Paper short abstract:

The paper focuses on the rhetoric of a multicultural discourse in Melilla that uses the term 'culture' to configure a symbolic system in its political life which highlights national membership and tries to question the sense of belonging to the Spanish nation by Melilla Muslims.

Paper long abstract:

Melilla is a small Spanish enclave of 12 km² on the northern-east coast of Morocco. Before the application of the first immigration law in Spain in November 1985, the 40% of the 68.000 inhabitants of the town were originating in Morocco, and they didn't benefit of the Spanish citizenship, even if the majority of them were born in the Spanish territory. After some violent confrontations between the inhabitants with Spanish origins and those coming from Morocco, the Spanish State massively conceded the nationality to all those who were born in the city or lived there for more than 10 years. The year 1985 deeply marks the contemporary history of the city, because it represents the end of the process which brought the autochthonous population from the status of indigenous (stateless person) to the status of citizen (national). But the 1985 mobilisations also marked the entry of some 15,000 persons in the political life of the enclave. This fact was accompanied by the deployment of an institutionalized discourse which describes the multicultural component of the city in four ethnical groups (Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus). By this discourse a community of 15,000 persons (Muslims) is put on the same level as, for example, a minority of 1,500 (Jews) or 50 (Hindus). On the basis of ethnographic research, I will focus on the rhetoric of this multicultural discourse that uses the term 'Culture' to configure a symbolic system in the political life of the city that highlights the national membership and tries to question the sense of belonging to the Spanish nation by the Melilla Muslims. This system tries to keep in mind the fact that in 2010 the autochthonous population of the enclave will certainly be the majority of the population and will have the majority of votes. This majority is seen like a threat to maintain the Spanish sovereignty of the city vis-à-vis the Moroccan claims. I will analyze how the appropriation of the national symbols in every celebration of the Christian community becomes an example of how the construction of the ethnicity is used to maintain a social stratification based on ethnical discrimination. Finally, I will suggest that the deployment of the multicultural discourse in Melilla produces a feedback in each one of the four communities to resolve the question of their representation and how, by this feedback, they have been participating in the maintenance of the social stratification of the enclave society.

panel W014
Anthropology and the politics of multiculturalism (a friendly merger of W014 & W030)