International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Spain
many of you can still remember the good old days of cheap holidays
on the Costa Brava, sipping plonk under the shades of
a tatty umbrella and ogling at the local señoritas as these
were just beginning to use bikinis in Francos Spain? How about
the constant blaring of Manolo Escobar as he sung Viva España
for all of you on your way back to the airport, or as you crossed
over to France in your 10 year old VW Combi, after a couple of weeks
of bliss in Benidorm.
What about the
hit Cuando calienta el sol that lasted for more than 30
years as the top tourist song for all newcomers to Spain? Sure, Spain
and music have gone hand in hand for years and have fascinated both
composers and music lovers alike for over decades. Aside from the locals,
Albeniz, Rodrigo and Falla, many others such as Bizet with his famous
Carmen and Ravel with the even more popular Bolero
continue to rattle the loudspeakers in millions of Iberian homes and
cafes despite the onslaught of todays teenage honky-tonk rubbish.
Music is just another one of the many magnets that attracts foreigners
to this incredibly fascinating land of bullfighters and corrupt politicians.
Im one of them!
A few years ago I ran across a copy of Fodors Spain 1971
on one of my last visits to Portobello Road in London. It was sitting
on a dusty shelf in one of the many antique shops that lure the onlookers
to enter and browse; where Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant frolicked on
Saturday mornings. The book is a concise compendium of tourist information
on the country written towards the end of Francos dictatorship
but in certain ways still holds true as in many of todays modern
versions. An introductory quote summarises its content:
Perhaps the main attraction of travel in Spain is the all-pervading
presence of Spains national style and folklore. Vestiges of its
glorious past and the manifestations of its dynamic present are on display
at every turn. In most Western European countries, the traveller has
to dig for genuine folklore. He will encounter it in Spain without effort.
James Micheners classic Iberia had as much
or even more impact on me as an excellent description of Spain having
lived the era which he describes towards the end of the book. I bought
my copy over 30 years ago. Although Foder did not criticize nor lambast
the Generalissimo, Michener did, yet managed to stick to the main theme
of describing Spain and his own adventures during his travels despite
political and other repressions. Even Graham Greene had a go with his
novel Monseñor Quijote although Greenes
obsession with Catholicism overshadowed some of the exterior beauty
of the country itself. He did write the novel however after Franco died
and hence the story evolves during the new period of Spain that was
on the verge of crossing over into the modern and democratic world at
the end of the XX century.
Many moons have come and gone since those early days. Franco died in
1975; a transitional government took over and within four years a modern
constitution was introduced subsequently followed by general elections.
After 40 years, a revived socialist government was sworn in and Spain
entered the exclusive club of democratic nations; it opened its doors.
Thirty years have gone by since those fascinating eighties, so what
has happened since those glorious days that followed elections held
for the first time in decades?
The most important change was the constitution itself that laid out
the framework for a new geopolitical country. Apart from the many organisations
that had been secretive for years and suddenly came out of the closet
such as trade unions and the communist party, Spain was divided into
17 autonomous regions, each allowed to organise their own regional governments
including full blown parliaments and legislative assembly. The constitution
also opened the doors to a series of laws that introduced radical social
reforms. These have been growing ever since. From divorce to abortions,
from religious freedom to strike action, all the goodies earned over
the years in mainland Europe were growing in leaps and bounds in this
explosively alive Latin country. And of course, the trillions of spondulix
that kept pouring into Spain as European Structural Funds helped build
the necessary infrastructure for the country to progress. So where is
Apart from the present economic chaos that is affecting the whole world,
Spain somewhere along the line went off the rails and like so many others;
the rot began to creep in. Over construction of housing (greater than
other countries in the same boat) plus overstretching credit channels
and a lack of industrial clout led the country to join the queue of
failed economic states. Sound familiar, right? So whats new, one
might ask? There are four areas that differentiate Spains financial
woes from the rest, and are somehow causing or may cause more pain in
the future. The first is a top heavy government system. As stated earlier,
with a central government, plus 17 regional parliaments and town councils
galore, not to mention the weird sub-regional delegations and deputations,
the political and civil service system is extremely overcrowded. Added
to this scenario is that no local politician in the different power
sectors is willing to cut costs, thus, whilst unemployment is growing
in the private sector in leaps and bounds, public servants and politicians
continue to live the life of Riley!
An added setback is that when the present socialist party took over
they had to come to terms with a few rather extreme left
wing minority parties, especially those in Catalonia and Galicia to
be able to form a government. These newly elected party members, now
sitting in the main parliament in Madrid have what is well known as
the golden vote. Result? The tendency is a change to more
radical left wing policies, including a sleuth of hand out
social benefits, rather than those of a modern XXI century socialism
(if such socialism still exists!) that combines globalization with social
policies. Or so it should! What is even more dangerous is that these
representatives are now demanding more autonomy for their regions and
further independence from Madrid. The original statutes that were designed
back in the eighties are no longer applicable, so they argue. What Europe
is facing is a possible split up of the country, in the not too distant
future, into at least four new states; Catalonia, Basque country, Galicia
and the Rest. Coming back to the economic turmoil and because
of these regional political disputes, the present distribution of cash
from taxpayers has turned into a free for all, not to mention the handouts
from the social security contributions.
A second problem is tourism. Spain has for decades lived off a booming
tourist trade. In 2006, over 16 million Brits alone visited the country,
not to mention millions from other parts of Europe and the world. So
far, 2008 has spared Spain with a small drop in income from this sector.
However, the summer season has not yet started and many in the trade
are bracing themselves for an income downturn that could be felt later
on in the year. Thousands of those plush sidewalk cafes, tapitas
bars and beer parlours, so well known by several generations of holidaymakers
may go belly up adding more humans to the list of unemployed. Trouble
is that no government official or economical guru has dared to mention
this forthcoming financial Tsunami despite the warnings from the tour
operators and travel agencies.
The third setback is part of a tragic-comic operetta; the judicial system.
May sound odd that this should be included as an added financial problem
to the economic slump but the fact remains that Spain has somehow run
aground in a swamp of legal bureaucracy. A case can bounce around for
years before it comes up for a hearing. The courts are so overstretched
(and the penitentiary system) and lacking in an upgrade of facilities
that nearly half the judges of Spain staged a one day strike two weeks
ago, something that had never happened in the whole history of the country.
Why did it turn humorous? The Minister of Justice, Mariano Fernandez
Bermejo was so fumed about it that he swore to introduce a law to prohibit
judges never again to go on strike. Meanwhile, the famous (or infamous)
Judge Baltasar Garzon (who had chased Pinochet all over London in Maggie
Thatchers time) was busy digging up dirt (corruption) on members
of the opposition party, the Peoples Party. I must add at this
stage that both the Basque country and Galicia are up for regional elections
and depending on the outcome it could be a crucial swing in politics
in the whole country, i.e. centre-right or more extreme left. The following
will explain why, so back to the judges and the Minister. Right in the
middle of all this kafuffle, Sr. Bermejo and Sr. Garzon together with
the public prosecutor designated on the PP trial decide to go on a hunting
trip over the weekend, whilst several of the suspects were
held, incommunicado in jail. Not only did they travel to
an exclusive and private hunting ground on the Spanish plains, but their
end-of-the-day trophies were not partridges or rabbits but 20 large,
beautiful and protected reindeer.
The press got hold of the story, plus photos and a few days later, Sr.
Bermejo, because of the scandal was forced to resign, whilst judge Garzon
was hospitalised with stressful chest pains! No kidding! Its a
true story! As I said before, all this as the Peoples Party are
fighting in the regional elections.
final and fourth problem looming in the wings is the European funding.
Spain ceases to be a receiver and turns into a contributor in 2012.
All the remaining super-projects such as high speed rail, power
stations, waterworks, roads, hospitals and many etceteras are still
on the drawing board. Where the future lolly will come
from is anybodys guess.
Over the years Spains
macro-investments have been mixed. A great deal has been beneficial
but a similar amount has literally been squandered, particularly at
town council level, i.e. corruption at its best! Nobody dares mention
this fact as it could literally blow the lid off the cauldron.
So what about the bright side?
No doubt the world is in a great mess and despite Barak Obama, G20,
Uncle Tom Cobbly and many other superheroes in todays political
and economic arena, nobody has a bloody clue as to how its all
going to pan out. Despite Spains differing problems, they are
really a spit in the ocean compared to the global scenario and no doubt
the country will ride the storm together with the rest. They have no
In the meantime, I look out of my window and still see cars driving
carelessly down the street, mothers wheeling prams with screaming newborn
babes, sidewalk cafés with the odd Spaniard sipping his morning
coffee. So far, the rioting has not yet started nor has the pilfering
of food at supermarkets begun. The kids still make love, the younger
ones continue to chat on their mobiles or other diabolical computer
machinery and the old folk sit in the sun watching the day go by.
As for yours truly, Im off for my midday glass of wine and tapa
at my local. Pepe the waiter is waiting patiently behind the counter.
See you next month!
© James G. Skinner. March 2009.
March 2nd 2009
Well, democracy prevailed in Spain. In the autonomous regional
elections, the nationalists were ousted in Galicia and the Basque country
and the countrys sovereignty has been secured. ETA has finally
been licked, democratically speaking and the fear of another Balkans
has rescinded. Sadly, the rest of Europe (or the world for that matter)
does not realise the significance of these dramatic political results.
Consul and the Serpent Pt 1
Its been two years now since I resigned as Honorary
British Consul in this north-western part of the Iberian Peninsula.
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibility
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.