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The Literary Digest May 22, 1937

The Literary Digest May 22, 1937

Snow-bound: Andorra Perches and Shudders on Pyrenees as War Seethes in Spain

Spring’s warm sun thawed the high Pyrenean passes last week. Andorra’s* eight Months’ isolation from the outside world was over.

Also over was her security from the slop-over of the war boiling in Spain. Wasting not a day, the twenty-four lean and wrinkled “Councilors” of the midget State dug their way through the last soggy drifts and, in soggy boots, scrambled seventy miles by foot and bus to the French foot-hill city of Perpignan. There, to French Premier Léon Blum’s nearest administrative official, the Prefect, Andorra’s General Syndic, **Francis Cairat, handed a wallet stuffed with 960 French paper francs ($33). “O Prince!” Carat cried, and in ancient formula first spoken in 1278, he beseeched “the Prince” to guarantee the independence of “The Valleys and Suzerainties” (treaty name of Andorra) another year. To the State dining-room the Prefect led the Councillors, sat them down to a banquet of mountain trout, truffled chicken, steaming roasts and white and red wines carefully chosen to enhance the flavour of the food. Worth many times the $33 “tribute” were the wines alone. After a winter of mutton, the Andorrans smacked their lips over the French provincial chef’s masterpieces as if they were food for gods. Black, bitter coffee and burning brandy brought the final touch of supreme comfort. Then, to the beaming mountaineers the Prefect made his ritual speech. A “co-Prince Protector” and in the name of France he reassured the Andorran Council that the ancient protection of their State would be continued. Happily the Councillors took a motor-bus back to Mont Louis, whence the remaining twenty-five miles by foot and mule-back.

Far less enraptured, the French Prefect forgot all about Andorra. His immediate problem was what to do with forty-three Americans, the second batch within a month, arrested trying to cross the mountains to join the Spanish Loyalist Army in violation of the non-interventionist agreement. All forty-three Americans had passports as Spanish citizens. But they spoke only English and looked like college-boys tourists. The Prefect’s job was to prove they were what they looked and sounded like, not what their identity papers said they were.

Back in their rocky bowl on the top of the Pyrenean range, with the effects of the banquet wine thinned by time and altitude, Syndic Cairat and his colleagues felt less secure than when their feet hereunder the French Prefect’s table. To complete the terms of the ancient treaty which guaranteed their perpetual independency, they now should carry twelve goat’s-milk cheeses, twelve chickens, six hams and Spanish money to the equivalent of $50 down to the opposite side of the mountains to the Spanish Bishop of Urgel. That they could not do, for the Bishop of Urgel had fled.  Hard-eyed young Catalans ( their own race) from Barcelona patrolled the foothills hunting aristocrats and clerical refugees; and a few stalked menacingly through the streets of Andorra’s Capital. Should the Catalans use the pretext that Andorra had not fulfilled the Spainish half of the ancient treaty, should Catalonia decide to occupy Andorra, would France really carry out her role as protector? Would France send soldiers in? Andorrans won’t know until it happens.

*Smallest State in Europe vest-pocket feudal survival ; miscalled a Republic : nested among high peaks between France and Spain; two-thirds the area of Greater New York; thirty villages and hamlets; 5,500 population; dates from Charlemagne’s campaign against the Saracens in 777.

** Elected from the Council of twenty-four to be head. Salary: $15 a year.


— An unauthenticated version of the origin of the tiny State is that the valley’s men helped Emperor Charlemagne beat back the Saracens in 777 and that, as a reward and also because he liked buffer-states between him and his enemies, he let them stay free. At any rate, they beat the Saracens and some one who knew his Bible compared the struggle to the battle of Endor, from which was derived the name Andorra.

By the thirteenth century, feudal lords on both sides were threatening to gobble up Andorra.

In 1278, the most powerful lord on the northern side of the mountains was the Count de Foix. With the Bishop of Urgel, nearest powerful  figure south of the mountains, he signed a “ Pageage” by which “ The Valley’s and Suzerainties” in return for the small tribute which the Andorrans still pay, should be autonomous. The Bishops of Urgel have held their rights as “Co-Prince Protectors,” tho Spain as a nation has no legal rights or obligations towards Andorra.

But the titles and properties of the Counts of Foix drifted, by marriages, into the hands of Henry IV, King of France, From Henry IV to Louis XVI every French King was “Co-Prince Protector.” When Louis XVI lost his head his obligations, powers and properties were seized by the French Revolutionists.

No Changes

— Until the big boom in 1929, mule-paths were Andorra’s only roads. Pasturing sheep, weaving a little homespun, raising a little tobacco and barley and smuggling were its occupations. Modernity touched it not at all. In 1904, France and Spain had agreed to build a railroad up to the passes, but the first rail never was laid. But in 1929, the modern world began to thunder at Andorra’s gates. An International gambling syndicate tried to buy its way in, promising to make every one indecently rich by turning the valley into a second Monte Carlo. High-pressure persuasion turned the placid Andorrans into factions of fighting bear-cats who nearly tore the little State apart. But something happened in the world outside after the passes were plugged with snow. The syndicate never came back.

Four years later came revolution. Since 1278 the vote had been limited to landowners. Until 1933 a boy had to wait until his father died before he could vote. Then in April of that year the young men burst into the locked council-room and forced the Council to vote universal manhood suffrage, setting the next election for August.  So bitter was the campaign that the Council requested France to send soldiers to keep order. Spain shrieked that France was annexing Andorra, closed her side of the frontier, allowing nothing to pass but mails. But French troops stayed until the election was over, then withdrew. Winter came and the passes were snowed up for eight Months


— With the earliest thaws of 1934, news burst upon the startled Andorrans that an American was offering $54,400 for their whole country. The Council held a fevered session to reject the offer. The same year mysterious strangers made bewildering proposals for the use of the little country as headquarters for the Irish Sweepstakes. More high-pressure foreigners made incredible offers for water-power concessions.

In a State whose head is paid a salary of $15 a year, this talk of millions created permanent delirium. One dream materialised. A motor-road, rocky, bumpy, but passable, was built up the Spanish side to the biggest notch in the bowl. A skeleton bus-service was opened.

With modernity thus crowding them, Andorrans established a police force of six, dressed them in snappy French uniforms, armed them with revolvers and thus joined the armament race.

In July of last year civil war flamed at its worst in Catalonia just below Andorra. Hundreds of refugees, monks, priests and nuns among them, sought asylum: and their pursuers, tho they used no actual violence in Andorra, glowered forbiddingly as they stalked among the grim stone houses.

How much longer can the outer world be shut off? The Andorrans blink and shudder.

The Literary Digest May 22, 1937 – page 11-12