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The International Writers Magazine: Letters from Spain

ETA, the Pope and Spain
James Skinner
August has been a rather hectic month with all kinds of horrors occurring in the world. Libya and Syria have contributed with the never-ending saga of citizens’ revolts that nobody really knows how it’s all going to end.


Algeria has joined the band wagon with Al Qaeda raising its ugly head thanks to a couple of suicide bombers, whilst the Horn of Africa, Somalia in particular is crying out for water and grain to save its people from dying of hunger.Colonel Gaddafi has perhaps skedaddled to Algeria, but the Middle Eastern fun and games continued right through Ramadan. Back in the UK an incredible mob of all sorts went on a rampage hardly seen in previous bouts of hooligantistic European behaviour. Hurricane ‘Irene’ has left its mark on the East Coast of the US as yet another example of the world’s physical condition on the brink of disaster. Fortunately in Spain, we’ve ended the month on a happy note, at least for some. Pope Benedict XVI visited Madrid to celebrate the 2011 Roman Catholic world youth gathering event known as the JMJ. More than 2 million young Catholics from over 200 countries gathered in Spain’s capital to see and hear the words and preaching of their church’s highest representative. There were all kinds of activities both religious and folkloric and the whole city was one complete jamboree of festivities.

Despite the joy and happiness expressed by most evangelic ‘pilgrims’, the so called ‘indignados’ or 15M anti-establishment mob that had been literally camping in Spain’s city centres over the last few months carried out their own protest marches against the devotees. As the Spanish government is at the threshold of national elections in less than 3 month’s time, the Ministry of the Interior, in charge of law and order explicitly instructed the police not to attempt intervene should there be the slightest hint of any disturbance. Ironically, the events in London overshadowed the few ‘condom-throwing ’ demonstrators who dared confront the massive human wave of Christianity that took over the streets of Madrid during the Pope’s visit. Ratzinger won out in the end.

Whilst all the fanfare concentrated on the events in Madrid, the recently acquired political power of ETA (Bildu) in dozens of town councils, including San Sebastian continues to grow in the Basque country. The terrorist organisation is playing a sort of cat and mouse ‘tongue in cheek’ game with the future Socialist candidate ‘Freddie’ Rubalcaba not quite announcing a permanent cease fire, yet hinting that their so called armed fight is now over. Their next step is to form alliance with all the remaining splinter groups that ‘theoretically’ form part of their political arsenal, some like Batasuna that has been declared a terrorist organisation by the European Union in order to present a candidature list for the forthcoming national elections. Should they obtain one, just one parliametary representation it will mean that for the first time in the thirty or so odd years of democracy, ETA will have a voice in Spain’s national assembly. The European Union should take note, as the next step is a move towards total independence no similar to that sought after by the Catalans; and who knows a European Parliamentary representative perhaps?

The next vital event that is taking place is an incredible agreement reached between the main political parties, socialists and conservatives to seek a ‘change’ in the Spanish Constitution in order to place a ceiling on the percentage of deficit allowed by both central and autonomous government budgets. The duelling cavaliers, Merkel and Sarkozy have agreed that the Mediterranean ‘lot’ should sort out their finances once and for all and stop spending money they don’t have. This has opened up a series of national debates, as it is the second time that the embryonic Spanish Constitution has been brought up for revision. The last time was the modification back in 1992 following the Maastricht Treaty that allowed voting rights in town council elections for all resident Europeans - your truly included. This latest move has sparked off yet another series of demonstrations by all and sundry including trade unions and the anti-establishment movement that request a national referendum on any attempt to modify the Constitution. Whether they understand the reasons behind the modification is another matter!

The economic front continues to hurt. Despite an increase in tourism by over 5%, thanks to British and German sun seekers, the unemployment figures don’t seem to improve. The housing bubble is still hurting. The banks are trying their hardest to satisfy their shareholders. As more and more mortgage holders default on payment the greater is the increase in foreclosures that naturally reverberate back to the bank’s balance sheets, especially the Savings Banks that in turn are struggling to find finance to increase their capital. It’s a real messy economic merry-go-round! One light at the end of the horizon is that the politicians are at last ‘mentioning the war’ by admitting that Spain’s public structure is top heavy. I’ve said all along that 17 autonomous regions, 8000 town councils plus hundreds of deputations and other hidden government administrations needed trimming. Many electoral candidates are coming out of the woodwork and voicing a need to cut back the same in order to meet budget constraints in public spending. Halleluiah! Finally you’ve got the usual rabblerousing trade unions that pip squeakily voice their opinion. If the political colour changes at the elections and the right wing mob take over all hell will be let lose by the end of the year!   

Not much else has been going on except that the holiday season is coming to an end. The kids are going back to college, those that still have a job are returning to work and apart from the political build up for the forthcoming elections, the ‘tapas’ bars are still active. The remaining dregs of the summer wine are being consumed amidst a mixture of uncertainty and hope for the future.

At least the football season has started. Barcelona and Real Madrid will overshadow any gloom, as their weekly battle on the pitch will now hit the headlines every Monday morning.       

© James G. Skinner. September 1st 2011.
Zapatero's Game Plan - Spain will vote
James Skinner
The decision has finally been taken. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the President of Spain has announced on Friday the 29th of July, just before everyone’s off on holiday that early general elections will take place on the 20th of November instead of March next year, the official due date.

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