photo by Max Landerman: citizens of seville after the demonstration of the past general strike of march 29th, 2012

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In order to compete on a global scale, the Andalusian capital faces challenges adapting to modern society while still preserving its rich traditions. We talk about the city and its future with Juan Carlos Blanco, director of El Correo de Andalucía daily, and Raquel Rico, president of the civic movement for change, Iniciativa Sevilla Abierta.

A pleasant climate, picturesque buildings, rich history and dazzling sunshine… To a visitor, Seville seems to breathe with the rhythm of a relaxed atmosphere and a slow, friendly ambiance. One need not look further than the enchanting Holy Week or the Maestranza ring by the river that waits for the bullfighting season.

People of Seville are proud of their society as a piece of preserved history. However, there is much more to the city than its presence as a tourist magnet and an anachronism, says Juan Carlos Blanco, director of El Correo de Andalucía, the oldest newspaper of the city (founded in 1899).

“The Sevillano feels very much a Sevillano. He or she is very much identified with the place where he or she lives. But they do not feel very responsible for the state of things there. Their sense of belonging is much more sentimental than political. People lack any sense of citizenship or obligation.”

He explains that there is too much emphasis placed on tradition and that people with the power to incite change seem to share the same mentality. “Seville is too conservative. There are all types of currents, but religion and conservatism are those that lead and concentrate informative discourse. They have a lot of force. This is seen in the publications and in other media.”

Indeed, he thinks that the relationship between citizens and those who represent them is marked by a lack of responsiveness or connection. “There is a problem of representation. There is no muscle of civil society. The politicians are a mirror of their own city. This is a society that permits politics to enter into everything. It is strongly controlled by its religious collectives and brotherhoods that are conservative expressions of popular religion.”

This failure to adapt to a changing global culture may come at a cost to Seville, the journalist warns. “We need more than fun and entertainment. The main social actors should reward, incentivize and motivate the effort toward modernity and talent. They should be more forward-looking. There is no cultivation of attitudes of entrepreneurism or reformism, but rather the opposite. This is not the brotherhoods’ fault, but the fault of the citizens. They do not embrace the cultivation of talent or creativity.”

As a response, the civic movement Iniciativa Sevilla Abierta (ISA), or Open Seville Initiative, promotes a local society “which is less self-absorbed, more open to innovation and the contemporary and more cosmopolitan, without ceasing to identify [the city] with the most attractive parts of its history.”

Raquel Rico, the president of ISA association and a University of Seville professor of History of Law, explains the difficulty in breaking past these barriers. During the last local elections in May 2011, “we met all the candidates and presented them with the document called Agreement for Seville, in which they would promise to listen to the citizens’ proposals. All of them said they agreed, but in reality they haven’t changed anything.”

Rico thinks that attempts at creativity and novelty have been met with apathy. Or even hostility. She cites an artistic example of this allegedly anti-change mentality. “The sculptor Anis Kapoor, who created The Bean in Chicago, also made a similar statue here in 1992. Now, it no longer exists. The one in Seville was destroyed. Where the statue used to be, now we have Isla Mágica, a theme park. This shows that there is no contemporary sensibility. There were 13 statues and almost all of them are no longer standing.”

In light of this resistance to creativity from a significant part of Seville’s society, the youth are perhaps the most alienated group, according to Juan Carlos Blanco. The older generations “knew the difficulty of transitioning to today’s democratic system,” but the younger ones, born after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, have been raised in a period of stability and liberty and “they have been given everything by right.” That’s why, in Blanco’s opinion, “young people have a stronger sense of entitlement” and fight less to achieve things, even now that the economic crisis is affecting them the most. “One of two young people is unemployed. The unemployment leaves them out of the traditional system and prevents them from feeling an individual identity.”

Raquel Rico has witnessed firsthand the lack of activism in her own classroom. “In the university, there is less movement for change. It is a more conformist society. For example, there is no ecological movement as there is in other parts of the world among younger people. There is very little activism among the youth, especially in the university.” For this reason, she emphasizes the need for a more European mentality.

Audiovisual communication student Karla Nahra Illesca of the University of Seville agrees that activism simply isn’t present among the university population, and she echoes the beliefs of Blanco and Rico that this is due to a culture of passivity.

While the students do have certain forms of representation, their scope is limited. She explains, “each academic department has a delegation of student representatives, but the delegates fight only for educational rights. Assemblies are held when there is a budgeting or money problem, but they don’t deal with more social themes.” She states that neither she nor her peers feel much personal connection to their representatives.

The rise of social networking has encouraged more people to talk about issues, but Illesca believes that there is a great difference between talking about issues and actually working toward change. “The young people prefer to complain behind a computer screen rather than taking to the street to fight for their rights.” Bit by bit, the groundwork must be laid for Seville’s future. The director of El Correo de Andalucía suggests that both personal and collective sacrifice may be the key. “Many people complain and protest, but few participate. There is an anti-system attitude, but you have to work to change something. If not, your conduct will be passive and will not serve to improve the situation.”

“Some have woken up and others have not,” Blanco adds. “Many people have realize that they, as individuals, must focus more and that sacrifice is necessary to achieve an objective. Seville needs to learn, collectively, the importance of innovation. A recurrent and self-contained image will not work. It has a lot of potential, but it needs progress. It lacks the ambition and desire to improve. It needs to look more beyond itself. It looks at itself very much but it doesn’t look to the rest of the world.”

No one intends to demonize regional pride or eschew tradition. Rather, coexistence between the historic side of Seville and the contemporary world would open the door for a more multifaceted and fruitful society. Blanco summarizes his aspiration for Seville’s future: “Seville needs to have more strength, more rhythm and to believe more strongly in itself. It needs more imagination, and not just for its celebrations and traditions. Seville is much more than that.”

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