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On Andorra.


Last month I set foot on Andorran soil for the first time in three decades. I'd come to think of this country in the way the Catalan media have come to present it in recent years – as a tiny annex to Catalonia – but no sooner do you cross the manned border post, than you are clearly in another realm. Portuguese restaurants cater on every second corner to the 20,000 construction workers from that nation. Although Catalan is the only official language (and mandatory on all shop signs) not a Catalan flag is to be seen (the ubiquitous Andorran flag smacks uncannily of the Spanish Republican one). Indeed, native Andorrans deny they are Catalans, despite being brought up with Catalan culture and being, in the main, unconditional Barça supporters. (Pooh-poohing the Catalan government's consellers, Andorran ministers prefer to hob-nob with their opposite numbers in Madrid). To achieve Andorran nationhood, you have to reside in this valley of a country for all of 20 years. The steel and black glass of private banks – most with branches in distant tax havens – peek out brazenly from the endless strings of department stores and fast food restaurants. A public radio and TV station similar in size to the Catalunya Ràdio installations in Barcelona (which reach seven million people) broadcasts exclusively to just 60,000 Andorrans. A third of whom speak Catalan, the same third which presumably maintains the four Andorran dailies as well as two private radio stations. There are two cultural centres and one, small bookshop. There is no unemployment, no income tax, and no army. There are sixteen known juvenile delinquents, who the police follow around like bloodhounds. The economy depends on winter tourism (expert Chileans and Argentinians man the snow equipment); on border tariffs (almost everything is imported); and on the locally grown tobacco, Andorra's only native product together with Andorran veal (considered the best in Europe). All the non fast-food restaurants are small padded leather, family-run affairs serving exquisite local cuisine. There is an average of three cars and two cellphones per citizen. The suicide rate is one of the world's highest. I really liked the place.

- Textos i contingut: Matthew Tree - Disseny i programació: Nac -