Daylight time: Politics makes for strange time zones

What's 30 minutes here or there? From Newfoundland to North Korea, politics and geography make for strange time zones. And in Spain, time is an issue in the debate about Catalan independence.

Perpetual daylight time, 30-minute offsets are some of the world's time-keeping quirks

Old train station clocks are on display at the Train World museum in Brussels, Belgium, Sept. 21. Clocks in Canada move back to standard time at 2 a.m. Sunday. The EU made the change a week earlier. (Laurent Dubrule/EPA )

On time zones, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland are not alone on this planet.

At 2 a.m. Sunday, Saskatchewan will effectively remain on daylight time, while the other provinces return to standard time. 

Going by the sun's position in the sky, Saskatchewan should be on mountain time, the same as Alberta. The border city of Lloydminster gets it right and uses mountain time but the rest of Saskatchewan is effectively on daylight time year round, while the province says it's on standard time.

Lots of places do the same, and some by more than an hour.

And Newfoundland, where the clocks are 30 minutes ahead of the ones in most of Labrador and the rest of the Atlantic time zone, can claim to be in minute-sync with all sorts of places.

The 30-minuters added another one to their list this year.

A political 30 minutes

On Aug. 15, the 70th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan, North Korea moved its clocks back 30 minutes, so now in the North, the time is half an hour earlier than in South Korea or Japan. The goal is to "root out the legacy of the Japanese colonial period," the Korean Central News Agency explained. Better earlier later than never, they might say.

The clock atop the tower of the train station in downtown Pyongyang, North Korea on Oct. 7 shows an official time that is 30 minutes earlier than the time in South Korea. North Korean time changed on Aug. 15. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

The North Koreans do have a point, though. Although saying, "The wicked Japanese imperialists committed such unpardonable crimes as depriving Korea of even its standard time," may be a bit over the top. North Koreans are now using the time zone Korea adopted in 1908, two years before the Japanese occupation. South Korea reverted to its old time in 1954 but put its clocks back into sync with Japan in 1961.

Venezuela rejoined the 30-minuters in 2007, after its president, Hugo Chavez, issued a decree that moved the clocks back an hour. Chavez claimed school children wouldn't be as tired in the morning after the half-hour change.

The move put Venezuelans into the same time zone they were in until 1965, and makes Venezuela the only country with a time zone 4.5 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (now also known as Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC), exactly two hours earlier than Newfoundland.

Other countries using 30-minute offsets from GMT include India, Burma, Iran, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Like Canada, parts of Australia have 30-minute offsets (they have 15-minute offsets, too).

Nepal's time is offset by 15 minutes (GMT +5:45).

War leads to permanent daylight time

Daylight saving time has its origins in Europe during the First World War. Then, during the Second World War, a number of countries moved their clocks ahead and left them there, on German time, starting with Spain in 1940. Closer to Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands also left their clocks on German time after the war ended.

Spanish clockmaker Jesus Lopez Terradas checks and adjusts the clock at the Puerta del Sol Square in downtown Madrid, Spain, Dec. 30, 2013. Official time in Spain is about an hour later than solar time. (Emilio Naranjo/EPA)

Portugal did return to GMT after the war. For the Galician area of Spain north of Portugal, when the country is on daylight time the clocks are about three hours ahead of their solar time.

Now politicians in Europe and elsewhere are talking about getting rid of daylight time or going on perpetual daylight time. Russia first tried permanent daylight time but then in 2014 switched to permanent standard time.

Dictators Francisco Franco of Spain and Benito Mussolini of Italy speak in Italy, Feb. 12, 1941. The year before, Franco had moved Spain's official time ahead one hour, so it was in the same time zone as Adolf Hitler's Germany. (Miguel Cortes/EFE/EPA)

Probably nowhere than Spain is time change a bigger political issue.

In 2013 a parliamentary commission recommended Spain put its clocks back an hour, returning to its natural time zone. "It was Franco who put us in the Nazi time zone," Fabian Mohedano says, referring to Adolf Hitler's ally Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975 .

Last week, the Catalan regional government named Mohedano the chairman of its Advisory Council for Time Reform.

With Madrid failing to act on the recommendations, this year a Catalan parliamentary commission also recommended rejoining GMT. Mohedano, interviewed by phone from Barcelona, the Catalan capital, says that region has had particular awareness of the issue and more support for the time change.

Changing time zones, changing habits

"However, the problem is not just a matter of changing time zones, it's a problem linked to habits that 
have been developing in the last 50 years," he told CBC News through an interpreter.

He says Spaniards sleep an hour less and work more than other Europeans, and eat meals way too late, but it wasn't always this way. "The collective amnesia brought about by Francoism and fascism makes the majority of people think that in Spain, daily schedules have always been like that."

Strange things happen with time when politicians get involved. Britain's Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are seen through a Salvador Dali sculpture of a clock in London. May 23, 2007. Before 1940, Spain and England were in the same time zone. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Occupying an earlier time zone and the Spanish timetable are connected, and Mohedano favours changing both. That means, for example, making working hours more flexible and more akin to a 9-to-5 day.

A majority in the Catalan parliament supports independence from Spain, following elections in September. 
Mohedano says some independence supporters have used the slogan "New state, new time" but even the pro-federalists in Catalonia favour the time-change proposals, saying "we will start in Catalonia and then implement it in the rest of Spain."

He also observes that a comparison of store opening times and restaurant closing times shows life in Madrid operates at about 30 to 60 minutes later than in Barcelona.


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