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First Chapters

Comment: Modern Europa

James Skinner on modern Spain in a new Europe

‘There is a series on Channel 1 of the Spanish television network that has been running for about two years called ‘Tell me. What was it like!’ It’s the tale of a working class family called Alcántara who lived in one of the suburbs of Madrid during the last years of the Franco regime. It is presented by the youngest member, ten year old Carlitos who reminisces as a grown up in today’s modern Spain.

The uniqueness as well as the subtleness of the script is that the author has managed to present the political situation at the time as secondary and peripheral to the main theme. The core narrative is based on how Spain was growing, evolving and slowly transforming during the late sixties and early seventies as it eventually moved to full democracy and freedom. It also shows the dramatic and sometimes, painful effect it was having on its population, both young and old. It’s breaking every TV viewing record in Spanish television history, even above football coverage!

Contrary to all belief, and as depicted in ‘Tell me’ Spain was a decent country. It had great moral standards often misinterpreted as repression; the family unit was essential for survival. On the other hand the outside world was beginning to have an effect on the bustling and tempestuous younger generations. The Beatles, mini skirts, full mouth kisses on screen films were all creeping in and being permitted. The youth craved for more. Yet the elder generation, although firm in their belief of law and order, were not being held behind.

Spain’s economy was growing at an average rate of 6% per annum, the greatest in all its history. Hence the Alcantara family as many others, were shown to prosper under the newly acquired wealth. There were the occasional student bashing sessions by the ‘Greys’ (Franco’s bully boys), most priests continued to condemn everything that wasn’t related to the Catholic church and of course, the ultimate sin was to even mention the word democracy. Nevertheless, crime was unheard of, drugs and pornography were nowhere to be seen and prostitution was, in Claude Rains’ words, ‘made up of the usual suspects’. But what about Europe during these decades? Were the rest of the Europeans any different?

Sure, Europeans had democracy. They had, for example freedom of the press and religious expression. They were allowed to exercise different political ideologies and participate in governmental elections. They had trade unions, but they also had strikes. You could stand on Hyde Park corner in the UK and insult the Prime Minister or try to vote him out of office. You could refuse to work on the grounds of ‘worker discrimination’. You might’ve been able to get away with smoking a weed or two in Amsterdam, but hard drugs in general were not yet around. You could even have a torrid love affair in Paris without been chained for life to an unwanted partner. But let’s face it, what else was so dissimilar? Censorship both on television and film was certainly much stricter forty years ago, especially regarding sex and violence. Single mother families were few and far between, homosexuality was still taboo and females rights were growing (influenced from the feminism movement in America) but generally women’s options in Europe were limited. But what about Spaniards?
Were they restricted from having a pint with the lads, or watching a football match? Were they forbidden to travel abroad on holiday or start a business? Of course not. They all had similar freedoms. In other words, the rest of life was exactly the same.

In 1975, Spain lost a dictator and gained a King. A transitional government was assembled and a constitution drawn up and approved. Political parties were formed and elections were held. In 1982, Spain joined the world democratic club and the European Community in 1986. From then on, money began to pour in and Spain has now reached a parallel with both the European and the developed world community. They are a full-blown member of today’s European rat race.

Twenty first century Europe is unrecognisable. After ten years of binding yet tumultuous unity following the 1992 Maastricht treaty, the general consensus at the ‘Top’ is that of a prosperous and futuristic master continent. Apart from Britain still contemplating its navel as far as the Euro is concerned, the Union is poised to grow and grow. It will accept ten new members states within the next year and hopefully draft and approve a European Constitution that will catapult its 300 million inhabitants into the annuls of future history books. Utopia is jobs and consumerism galore, world might and power equal to none. The offer of stability and maturity coupled with true democratic values and freedom for its entire people. At least this is what most Europeans are led to believe by the masterminds in Brussels. What hogwash.

As we drop down into the bottomless pit and enter the caverns of everyday life, we find a very different picture. The politicians and rulers are sitting in a space capsule oblivious to the common citizen and his preoccupations. In today’s Europe unscrupulous permissiveness in every sense and in the name of freedom has created umpteen problems unheard of decades ago. Children grow up in broken homes. Drug addiction and crime go hand in hand like a Punch and Judy show. Psychoanalysts are making a fortune. Jobs may be at everyone’s reach but they are precarious. ‘Here today and gone tomorrow’ is the motto of most corporations that hand out food stamps disguised as salaries to the unsuspecting workforce. General instability is the name of the game. The crux of the matter is happiness. Are today’s Europeans any happier than they were in the sixties and seventies? Difficult to quantify but I doubt it. Do I sound like Doomsday Danny? Maybe, but there is worse to come.

‘Hello. This is the police station. I have a Brit who has been arrested for forging credit cards’, was the message I received the other day. I trotted down to the nick and interviewed the sod. He was about 32, fair complexion and dark hair. Spoke in a broad North London accent and refused to comment. It turned out he was an Algerian wandering around Spain with a stolen UK driving license and ripping off hundreds of customers with his pack of cards. Couple of weeks later I got another call. This time it was a Venezuelan who had falsified a British passport and was in jail for armed assault and robbery. So what is so strange about these incidents, you may ask? Illegal immigration and organised international European crime, just one of many cesspits that are sprouting up all over this European haven of ours.

If the Middle East or Africa and a few other areas are part of a list of international problems, let me expand in my next issue on this wonderful ‘old’ continent we live in and see what you think. As Al Jolson would say, ‘you ain’t heard nothing yet, baby’!

© James Skinner. October 20th 2003.
If you want to make a comment for or against this article email James at:

What was Franco's Spain really like see here

Previously by James:

Gadgets. From Pacman to Gameboy

Defining Modern Nationalism

Are Our Oceans Dying? Where's the Fish?


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