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The International Writers Magazine
: New Left - New beginning in Spain

(Popular US slogan in 1898)

James Skinner

ou’re either with us or against us,’ said George Bush to the rest of the world, soon after the tragic terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York. This statement ricocheted around the world like lightning. Most of the US’ enemies shuddered in their boots; others came running to the fore eager to join the ‘with you’ club. Spain’s PP (People’s Party) President at the time, Jose María Aznar was one of them.

After the United States lead coalition, strongly backed by Britain and Spain, successfully crushed the Taliban’s in Afghanistan and the Hussein regime in Iraq the road was paved for a super Anglo-Spanish relationship never before achieved in the history of both countries. At least at face value, that is what it seemed like.

But not all was ‘sugar dandy’ with the modern day population of ‘al Andalus’ as Spain was known during the Arab occupation of the earlier centuries. Ever since the Cuban War in the late XIX century when the USA liberated Cuba and the Philippines and Spain lost the remainder of its empire, animosity towards Uncle Sam has run deep, very deep. There isn’t an intellectual, philosopher, journalist, trade unionist or (mainly left wing) politician that over the past century has not held a grudge against ‘Big Brother’ across the pond. Every time the US government imposed its world strategy in international affairs, Spanish society was bombarded, mainly through the press with anti-American rhetoric. It came as no surprise, therefore that when the Bush Administration decided almost unilaterally to invade Iraq that all these ‘lefties’ hit the trail with a renewed hate campaign. The PSOE (Spanish Workers Socialist Party) opposition party, and its leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was no exception.

Over the past year Sr. Zapatero has objected, criticised and even insulted his opposite number regarding world policy. He cleverly prepared his future political program, should he ever win the upcoming Spanish national elections to completely revise Spain’s international relationships, specially those with the European Union. Internally though, his proposed changes were nimble and therefore not taken seriously. Spain’s economic statistics, including low unemployment, steady growth rate and other factors were too sound. Hence the opposition had no leg to stand on if they should try any radical change in this area. Sr. Aznar made mincemeat of any argument of change in Spain’s economic forum. Meanwhile straddling the side wings of the country, the nationalists in the Basque country were giving the government a hard time with their constant request for a reform of the Spanish constitution which in turn could spell independence for the region. Sr. Aznar kept telling them to go to hell. The Catalans followed suit after their own regional elections earlier this year and Galicia, another nationalist stronghold continued to stand on the sideline awaiting the results of these regional debacles. Most nationalist parties were also strongly anti-American.

Although Sr. Aznar was due to step down by his own choice in the forthcoming March general elections, leaving way to his successor, Mariano Rajoy, he was riding on the crest of a wave. All indicators therefore, pointed towards a renewed PP victory.

Then came the horrendous terrorist attack in Madrid on the 14th of March. Three days after the attack, Spain held its national elections and, lo and behold the PSOE won, albeit with a minority number of seats in the Spanish parliament.

Aside from political ideologies, Sr. Zapatero portrayed an image of complete contrast to his predecessor Sr. Aznar. To many he appealed as a breath of fresh air. During his period in the opposition, he vowed, were he elected Prime Minister to lead a government of consensus, dialogue and reconciliation. He constantly battled his opponent on the nationalist issues mentioned earlier accusing him of using tactics reminiscent of the old Franco regime. Unable to challenge Sr. Aznar on economics, Sr. Zapatero focused on such topics as women’s rights, sounder employment regulations, education and research. He vowed to crush the exploitation of the work force, subjected for years into forceful ‘temporary’ job contracts. He promised equality for women in his government and the reduction of fees for students in higher education. However, his views on the fight against terrorism were no different to that of his predecessor. On the international front he insisted in further integration within the European Union (this meant stronger alliances with France and Germany rather than Britain), a friendlier approach to the Arab Nations and of course, the return of the Spanish troops from Iraq.

To many others, these views had the seal of weakness, immaturity and political naivety. Some had even nicknamed him ‘Bambi’ with too soft a touch to be in charge of one of the major world powers. Most conservatives felt that if voted into office, Sr. Zapatero would succumb to outside pressure and most of his promises would dissolve into thin air. So what has taken place in the last few days since the elections?

In the order of least impact, Sr. Zapatero has formed a government comprising an equal number of males to females as his leading Ministers. He has annulled the implementation of the recently approved education law and reverted to the ‘old’ socialist system. He has ‘had’ to form an alliance with the leading Basque, Catalan and Galician nationalists in order to govern, but in turn has agreed to review the present constitution to favour an increase in autonomy for these regions. And last but not least he has instructed his new Defence Minister, Sr. Bono to proceed with the immediate return of the Spanish troops stationed in Iraq. In a nutshell, Sr. Zapatero has shown that he meant what he said and, despite his critics has proved that he has the guts to go through with his plans. He has also opened up a whole new can of worms both internally and internationally.

For the time being the troop removal order has placed the new and incumbent Prime Minister in the limelight of the rest of world and is probably his most immediate and serious challenge. This whole issue is so complex that it is impossible at this stage to diagnose, let alone assess it. Will other nations follow? Will fundamentalist Islamic terrorism increase? Will NATO suffer? Will the relationship between the European Union and the USA with regards to the war on terrorism alter? And probably the most important question will be, will it reduce or increase Spain’s vulnerability in the event of further attacks? None of these questions nor many other similar ones can be answered at the moment but one effect is sure to be felt in the near future.

Spain has changed its suit and tie and replaced it with jeans and a T-shirt. Whether the next change of clothes is into a djellabah and a burka is yet to be seen.
© James Skinner. 2004.


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