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The International Writers Magazine: Spain Unravels + Dec 21st Update

Losing Identity in Spain
• James Skinner
Here in Galicia the small group of ETA style hoodlums known as 'Galician Resistance' that have been blowing up cash registers and the like have been 'officially' declared as a dangerous embryonic terrorist organisation. This means that those that are caught will be facing trials in Madrid and stiffer jail sentences.

Spain Breaks Apart

It’s been quite a month for the beginning of winter. The tourists have gone as the sun has lost its warmth, the rains have turned up and the national sadness has been lowered yet another notch on the ladder of gloom. The trade unions called a one day general strike that paralyzed the nation thanks to the ‘criminal’ pickets who made sure that those that still had a job did not turn up for work. Unemployment grew again adding victims to the merry-go-round of reshuffling dying banks whilst a few billion Euros coming from Europe put a smile on the government’s Finance Minister trying once more to sort out the financial mess.

Toxic assets, doomed savings banks – those that are left - a constant flow of mortgage foreclosures and the ugly aftermath of the so called ‘preference’ investments masquerading as pension schemes that has caused thousands of families to lose their life’s savings continue to arrive at his desk every morning. Hundreds of protests with banner waving mobs flock the streets of every city and town on a daily basis pleading for mercy and a stop to their misery. One doesn’t really know what the main theme is anymore. They are watched by dozens of beggars outside food stores hoping for the odd Euro to fall into their ‘tin cup’. We mustn’t forget pensioners that somehow are the only breadwinners in hundreds of thousands of families that expect the ‘chop’ any moment as the government digs into the ‘emergency’ funds to hand out their monthly paycheck. No need to mention the government cutback programs of austerity and the tax hikes imposed by the ‘Men in Black’. It’s obvious throughout the country that those that could afford a monthly outing are now relying on the corner pizza take-away to feed the family. Stores are closing down by the bucketful yet the odd ‘tapas’ bar is still open. Finally we have the Monarchy. The King has had a second hip operation.

Yet the real deep rooted problem is none of the above. It’s geo-political. The economic mess is worldwide and will somehow be resolved. But if a country’s foundations are at stake the solution is far from clear especially if it is about to be torn to pieces.

The name Andrew Sachs may not ring a bell amongst today’s generation but over thirty years ago he was a leading limelight in one of the BBC’s most successful comedy series, ‘Fawlty Towers’ that ran from 1975 to 1979. Basil Fawlty, a psychotic hotel owner (John Cleese) and his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales) operated a small seaside hotel on the Southwest coast of England and one of the staff was a waiter called ‘Manuel’ (Andrew), a simple minded Spaniard who hardly spoke English. He came, as Basil constantly reminded the audience whilst he clipped him across the ear, ‘from Barcelona.’ In most of the episodes, Manuel was subjected to all kinds of humiliations by his obnoxious boss and whenever his ‘Spanishness’ was highlighted the script writers erroneously showed him as an ignorant peasant. Years later, Andrew went on to feature in a documentary series called ‘Manuel’s Spain’ mixing his original character with a more intelligent approach as he travelled throughout his ‘native’ land. One must remember that when the series began Generalissimo Franco was still alive and many in Britain saw Spain as a backward yet fun loving country. That was a long time ago and a great deal has changed including a move towards democracy and the formation of seventeen different regions, Manuel’s Catalonia being one of them. I wonder how Andrew, now in his 80’s would feel today about his ‘native’ Barcelona?

Catalonia Let’s start with their regional elections that have come and gone. The international press has covered the event in their top stories. Artur Mas the reigning President was after the blessing of a second term to fight for the approval of a referendum for Catalan independence. However, instead of a confirmation of his party’s present overall majority he lost votes and there is now a powerful political mixture about to enter parliament with every type of ideology set to stir the pot.

We’ve got Nationalists, Conservatives, Socialists, Republicans, Marxists, Monarchists – in minority – Ecologists and spread across many of them is the in-built anti-Spanish sentiment. They are all vying for the imposition of their political agenda. Two elements will be facing the new Catalan government – whenever it is finally formed - the economy and independence. Although both are intertwined the recipe for a civil democratic program of management remains to be seen. One point is certain; a move towards separation from Spain is stronger than ever. The central Spanish government’s power house will now have to put its head together and wonder what to do next. Why has this happened?

Ever since democracy Catalonian politicians and their institutions have slowly been indoctrinating their citizens that Catalonia is different and should be considered as a separate nation. For years they have manipulated the education sector, including the silent monopoly of the Catalan language over Castilian to the extent that today’s young generations firmly believe they are not Spaniards. Their history, their geographical demarcation and their culture revolves around Catalonia. All the rest is foreign. Many even believe that Spain is an enemy.

They are not the only part of Spain on the move towards independence.

Basque Whilst all this has been going on in the Northeast, the Basques have silently been working out their own program of severance from the motherland. As reported in previous essays, their recent regional elections have given ETA more power and their political party, together with the Basque nationalists (PNV) has ousted the bi-partisan government of the Socialists (PSOE) and Conservatives (PP) that had ruled over the past 4 years.

Although without a majority of seats; they are now firmly in charge and have carried out a very clever move. Arnaldo Otegi, the head of Batasuna, the main and illegal political arm of the terrorist organization has publicly stated that he is ‘sorry for the victims of the past terrorist crimes’. This will kick off a program of reconciliation, including prisoner releases that will give the Spanish government yet another headache. It won’t be long before a similar request is set in motion for a referendum on their independence. The key issue however is that they still haven’t handed over their arsenal of weapons and until they do, many persons believe, including the ‘victims’ associations that ETA could still ‘drop a bomb’ or two. Relate this issue to the IRA in Ireland and the final ‘Peace Accord’ and you’ve got the picture.

Then there is Galicia where I live. They also have a small but significant group of politicians that are after independence. Although they have regional parliamentary representation the Galician’s are more conservative – the PP has regained power - than the others to the Northeast. Nevertheless the seeds have been sown in the usual garden; education. Slowly but surely they have finalized the first stage. Galician language has been gradually imposed in the region over the nation’s Castilian and will soon take over as has Catalan in Catalonia. The program is no different to Catalonia’s thirty years ago!

In the not too distant future, these three regions are poised to cause a possible split up and the danger of this happening is that Spain would lose its identity. This in itself, regardless of the politics or the economy would be a major disaster, not only for the country but for Europe and the world. It is still a prominent powerhouse with enormous wealth. The richness of its history – not withstanding the horrors of its recent past - the beauty of its geography, from flat plains to green mountains, the diversity of its culture, from bagpipes to flamenco dancing without forgetting its contribution to the classics with the likes of Falla and Albeniz is indescribable. Its monuments, universities, institutions, festivities and above all its openness to foreign influence, especially emigration is amongst the most democratic in the world. It’s all there in one lump sum called Spain.

My hope, over the past few years is that the major political parties, that is, the Socialists (PSOE) and the ruling Conservatives (PP) put their heads together and reach a state pact that would require a change in the Constitution to halt the rot. It is the only way to reverse the trend of a complete break-up of a country that was magnificently described in Michener’s ‘Iberia’ nearly fifty years ago.’

© James G. Skinner. December 2012

DECEMBER 17th Update
Spain drifting endlessly in the direction of nowhere! Don't believe everything you read in the European press about the magnificent meetings in the EU with Rajoy smiling all over. One has to come down to ground level to see what is going on. Catalonia is passed the point of no return and unless the EU steps in firmly to put them in their place; well, you know the answer. The Basque country is now run by a coalition of Nationalists (PNV) and Bildu (ETA). No statements yet on seeking national sovereignty and independence, nor what is going to happen about ETA (this will be another serious issue in the future).  
The Galician regional government is in the hands of the PP but the second major force in the regional parliament is a similar lot to the group down in Andalusia made up radical nationalists and communists. Another future attraction that the rest of Spain and Europe are unaware of. There are other things going on, especially in the banking world which is really going to put the cat amongst the pigeons in about a month or mores time. I've placed it in the 'future reference' file. It's Christmas time and New Year is just around the corner. The bad weather is putting a damper - pardon the pun - on the gloomy atmosphere but I'm afraid things are not going to get better for some time unless two issues are addressed. One is the labour laws and market - read trade unions - and the other is the resolving of the political mayhem as a result of the never ending 'war' between Socialists (PSOE) and Conservatives (PP). Although my Brussels journalist friend calls me an optimist it is the only solution. They have to go back to basics (the 1978 Constitution) and start from scratch to cut away at all the rot.

The situation getting worse by the hour here. We’ve got Iberia going on strike – at Christmas! The Catalans hell bent in leaving Spain, the education minister crashing down with his new law (that would eventually give Spain a decent curriculum at EU standards) and here in Vigo we have a public transport (the only bus service) strike for the past week. Commerce is screaming blue murder as they are losing valuable Christmas shopping and university students can’t get to their classes. These are just two examples.

On top of it all you’ve got the violent pickets destroying and burning rubbish containers and causing the minimum services to fall down by paying in 1 cent coins for a bus ride thus delaying the route. The ambulance crews are on strike this week and the vandals have already stolen an ambulance and dumped it into the sea. The government is shutting down some of the emblematic Paradores and cutting staff in others; yet another strike including the beautiful Parador in Baiona. This is the kind of rot that is gradually growing and Europe has no idea what is going on here. No need to mention any in depth analysis of the banking system which is in chaos as I’ve said all along. The trillions of Euros in toxic and other assets are being sorted out but the eventual effect (shutting down of museums, auditoriums as examples) is yet to surface.

Brussels have given the Savings Banks another 4 years to get rid of the whole shebang that is not related to banking. We’re building a brand new High Speed Train terminal in Vigo. Not sure if we’re talking about 150 or 180 million Euros worth. Just for a few hundred passengers per day? Again, just another example of excessive public work expenditure still going on. The 17 autonomous regions and 8000 town councils are intact and the trade unions continue with their subsidies. Boy; are we in for a rough ride! This is just a sample.

Dec 21 Update:

I think the Catalonia political scenario is boiling over. The right wing nationalists (CiU) lead by Artur Mas have come to an agreement with the communist republicans (ERC) to form a government and allow Mas to be president of the autonomous region. The speaker of the house, who is a republican has vowed independence. They have set a date for a referendum in 2014 on a parallel line to the Scottish one. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Spanish government has said that the case will be taken to the Constitutional Court that should rule the move illegal; i.e. breaching the Spanish Constitution. Former conservative (PP) president has stated that if Catalonia goes ahead with its intentions it will, in his words 'blow the country's democracy to smithereens!' Charming panorama awaits Spain in the New Year added to its economic woes that are yet to the eased let alone resolved.
In addition we now have a new regional government in the Basque country and the President has already asked to meet with Rajoy, the Prime Minister to discuss the future independence of this region. 'We asked for it before the Catalans,' he reminds the Spanish government. They had presented a plan in 1981 and 1991 that was 'thrown out of court' by the then central governments of Spain. In the meantime Rodrigo Rato, ex head of Bankia, the rotten bank full of toxic assets and other dirty money has promised to 'blow the lid' on all the shenanigans that went on in the Savings Banks.

Invasion and Freedom
Life in Spain Now 1.11.12
James Skinner

I reported last month that Spain was out of control. Well, I haven’t changed my mind although some of the outside press may differ and those mysterious rating agencies that feed the stock markets have given the country a breather for the time being, the situation is far from clear as to the final outcome.
Blaming Mrs Merkel
James Skinner on Spain
in crisis 9.20.12
The new government is running into trouble for a variety of reasons and has become a sort of ‘loose cannon’ with a bunch of ministers firing in all directions, ‘Wild West’ style. They cannot seem to pull the country together no matter how hard they try.
Spain - Rescued At Last?
James Skinner

It’s very hard for the outside world to understand the deep rooted economic woes of Spain. My theory has always been that the whole mess started thanks to the 1978 Constitution when the country was broken up into 17 autonomous regions with their own budgetary control and the 8000 odd town councils were given similar power.

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