THE Balearic Islands, for centuries an important factor in the strategy of the Mediterranean, are again in the public eye as a result of recent brusque changes in the equilibrium of Mediterranean forces resulting from the Italian conquest of Ethiopia and the military revolt in Spain.
The islands are unimportant economically. Their area is less than 2,000 square miles and the population is only about 350,000. They have no valuable mineral resources; and their fruits and vegetables, though they would be useful in a minor way to northern powers like Great Britain or Germany, would certainly not be worth fighting for. They are interesting internationally because their naval ports dominate the sea-routes between France and French North Africa and the British imperial route to India via Gibraltar, Malta and Suez.
England was in possession of Minorca, the easternmost of the Balearics, during most of the eighteenth century; but she was there purely for reasons of strategy. Port Mahon, the chief city of Minorca, has a spacious and easily defensible harbor. Its surrender in 1803 nevertheless represented no great loss to England, since by that time British interest in the eastern Mediterranean had made Malta, captured in 1799, a better base. With the exception of this British interlude at Minorca, the Balearics have, since the Moors were driven out in the Middle Ages, followed the fortunes of Catalonia, first under the kings of Aragon, later as part of united Spain. The leaders of the separatist movement at Barcelona always include the islands in their plans for a "Greater Catalonia." And, indeed, Catalan is the language commonly spoken by the inhabitants. Despite this fact, the islands were not included when the Spanish Republic set up an autonomous Catalonia.
The position of the Balearics athwart France's communications with her North African possessions makes it important that they remain in friendly hands and accounts for the constant efforts of the French Government to cultivate the good will of Spain. For similar motives -- to protect the route to India
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