The International Writers Magazine: From our Spanish Correspondent
Invasion and Freedom - Life in Spain Now
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.
*See update at end of article
Sure, the government has presented and the parliament has approved next year’s budget with further cuts in spending praised by the international financial gurus. They involve austerity in the major public expenditures such as education and health but they still haven’t gone far enough to hit hard at the duplication and triplication of Spain’s enormous governmental bureaucracy that has been growing over the past thirty years. It remains to be seen whether or not the pension fund will be affected or whether a proper rescue plan from the Troika will be requested. The EU has giving Rajoy their blessing and as I go to press that is enough for the time being.
So what else has happened in October?
Madrid – and other cities around Spain- suffer from numerous street demonstrations. To date there have been over two thousand. What ever grievance you can think of there’ll be a group of rabble-rousers hollering obscenities, carrying banners and blocking traffic. Most are non-violent. But last month we had a new and rather menacing one aimed at storming the Spanish Parliament. It’s one thing to rant and rave and another with a specific purpose in mind, in this case to interrupt the daily parliamentary sessions in progress. Can you imagine thousands of angry citizens trying to enter Congress in the USA or the House of Parliament in London? Memories of the famous coupe that the military tried on the 23rd of February 1981 when a civil guard, Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero and his men almost overturned the embryonic Spanish government suddenly came back to haunt the country. The recent event ended with riot police beating back the most violent and naturally, the international press once again concentrated on police brutality. Wrong image! They were only doing their duty. The majority of democracy minded persons blessed the stoppage.
Then we’ve had the awaited elections in two autonomous regions that the international press has been voicing as a possible turning point for the government. The results in the Basque country were as predicted – more on this later – whereas the Galician one was not so obvious. Five of my own family had a right to vote as I told my wife, ‘the whole world is watching you!’ I even had bets with my local newspaper editor that the present conservative government (PP) under Alberto Nuñez Feijoo would not obtain a majority vote and hence would be thrown out. I was wrong. Although there were a higher number of abstentions Feijoo once again won with an even larger overall majority. What was surprising was the increase in number of regional parliamentary seats obtained by AGE, a Nationalist/Communist coalition, under the ageing Xose Manuel Beiras. The good news for those in favor is that Rajoy’s overall national austerity plan was reinforced and can continue its course as planned. However, the new Galician parliament will no doubt turn into a circus over the next four years.
Now to the real problem facing Spain’s future!
Back in 1985 Michael Caine starred in a relatively unknown gem of a movie called ‘Water’. It’s the story of a fictitious island in the Caribbean called ‘Cascara’, a British colony that has more or less been forgotten by Westminster until the government decides to turn it into a toxic waste dump and transfer all its inhabitants to neighboring Saint Lucia. During the shooting of a television commercial for an oil company, the derelict remains of a well suddenly star gushing out what turns out to be ‘designer’ mineral water. To cut a long story short, although the island is no longer a drag for the British Empire the local inhabitants, realizing their newly acquired wealth decide to go for full independence. The film is obviously a comedy and during the struggle for autonomy they present their case before the United Nations Assembly where Billy Connolly, supported by Ringo Star and George Harrison rock-an-roll away pleading for ‘Freedom’ for the island. This may not have had a ‘real time’ impact on other areas of the world seeking the same treatment by the UN, but another film with a completely different script did. In ‘Braveheart’, based on the life of Sir William Wallace in XIII century Scotland, Mel Gibson cries ‘Freedom’ at the end of the film just before he is torn to pieces. It was echoed by audiences in Scotland from John O’Groats down to Dumfries with the result that we now have a situation in Europe whereby part of a member nation of EU is seeking independence. We all know that a Scottish referendum will take place by 2014 to see whether the Union Jack will become a historical item in some museum or whether it will survive for future generations to wave as the Royal Family travel down the Mall to Buckingham Palace.
The ricochet effect has moved into Spain and we now have a similar situation with Catalonia followed shortly by the Basque country and Galicia waiting in the wings. So let’s kick off this month’s report with what is really the most important issue facing the present government of Mariano Rajoy; the autonomous regional revolts. We’ll start with the Basque country.
Ever since democracy the regional government has been in the hands of the PNV, Basque Nationalist Party and although its leader Juan Jose Ibarretxe had tried back in 2004 to seek independence from Spain the plan had fallen flat on its face. In 2009 the nationalists lost the regional elections and the Basque country has been governed by a coalition formed between the conservatives (PP) and the socialists (PSOE). There have been no further talks about ‘freedom’ that is, up until now. But first of all we need a short recap of the real problem in this region; its armed struggle for independence.
About ten years ago I wrote about ETA, the Basque terrorist group, how it was formed in the 60’s during the Franco dictatorship and was the armed wing of the PNV. When they began murdering members of the Civil Guards, the political party broke off relations and ETA formed its own party, Herri Batasuna. After thirty years of democracy, the murderous group were still at it until the previous Socialist government, under Rodriguez Zapatero began secret meetings to try to reach a ‘cease fire’ agreement. At great political cost that included the Constitutional Court’s approval of ETA’s ‘new’ political arm, Bildu, they declared a cease fire and have not carried out any terrorist attempts for over two years. On paper this all sounds fine, the international world applauded and it all looked as if Spain had finally rid itself of its decade’s long struggle to eradicate the scourge of terrorism.
Not so fast!
I reported back in May, 2011 that during the municipal elections, the conglomerate of ETA’s political parties finally made it into several of the town councils including the city of San Sebastian and that the terrorist group had finally obtained their first milestone. Why shoot themselves in the foot – pardon the pun – by continuing with their armed struggle? Naturally the Spanish Government, still in the hands of the socialists claimed a victory. The opposition and the Victim’s Association were up in arms. Come the General Elections in November and lo and behold, Amaiur, yet another weird ETA formation makes it into the Spanish Parliament. It’s another feather in their cap. There is further rejoicing in the Basque country. So why not accept the results? The two reasons are that ETA has refused to hand in their weaponry, there are still hundreds of hidden arsenals including loads of explosives and secondly, they still won’t admit to their previous atrocities by saying they are sorry. Meanwhile Rajoy’s government, instead of complying with his electoral promises – see my previous essay – has more or less given in and looked the other way. The unnecessary release of a notorious ETA murderer, Josu Bolinaga, under the pretext of suffering from terminal cancer is a case in point. But we now have an entirely new scenario.
The recent Basque regional elections have thrown out the coalition government and allowed the PNV and Bildu to obtain the majority of autonomous parliamentary seats. Next move is obviously ‘Freedom’. However, the Basque are smart people and they are taking their time. All eyes are on Catalonia. So we move on to the other area that is definitely on the road to breaking away from the motherland but this lot has all the guns blazing and focused firmly on what is going on in Scotland.
Catalonia, as opposed to the Basque country is in a financial mess. It is far worse that most of the other regions, except possibly Andalucía. But when Sr Artur Mas, it’s president met with Rajoy to ask for a bail out, far from just the lolly he also placed on the table his intention to hold a referendum on independence as per the wishes of ‘his people’ and that he was going to call for anticipated regional elections. Rajoy showed him the door. I’ve reported many times on the complex political labyrinth but the present situation is now more serious than ever because, in theory Sr. Artur Mas will be breaking Spanish law and going against the Constitution. Article 155 states categorically that any region ‘getting out of hand’ will give the government authority to ‘intervene’. Some persons in high up places on both sides of the fence have interpreted this as ‘military intervention’. This will not take place but nevertheless the cat is out of the bag and the ghost of what happened in Spain back in the 30’s of the last century is back.
So what will happen?
I’ve reported extensively in the past on this self-determination project that has been brewing since the end of the dictatorship both in Catalonia and the Basque country, the latter with ETA violence included. It has now come to a head. The Basque are still in the ‘design’ stage but the Catalans have literally pulled out all the stops. To add fuel, as I mentioned earlier they are following closely the goings on in the UK over Scotland.
So what is the difference?
The most important ones are that the agreement reached in Britain was approved by the British parliament and secondly, those that will be allowed to vote are the UK citizens actually resident in Scotland, be they of Scottish, English, Welsh or Northern Irish. The Catalans have done completely the opposite. They are placing the horse before the cart and just going for an all out referendum regardless of Madrid’s blessing.
I’ll leave it just there as the first step is going to be the elections in Catalonia already set for the 25th of November. What will happen in between will be trumpet blowing, mass demonstrations both in favor and against, thousands of debates and even more analytical commentaries in the media but no actual positive moves in either direction.
The rest of the news continues bleak with the odd glimmer of light. Unemployment is still high, many well educated youngsters continue to emigrate to Germany, UK and other parts of Europe, street beggars are everywhere and the doss houses are full. Good news is that tourism increased by about 3% and as usual, the restaurants and tapas bars are still surviving.
© James G. Skinner. November 2012
Nov 6th Update:
Since the end of October several items of news have come to light that emphasizes the precarious situation this county is in just adding to the existing problems in the EU as a whole. The latest unemployment figures for October have increased demonstrating that the ‘timid’ labour reforms that were brought in by the conservative government are just not working. Add a continued battle with the communist trade unions that will just not give in does not help the economic recovery of the private sector. The banking system is even more of a mess than was thought of. What with the ‘preference’ accounts – hundreds of thousands of small investors have lost their money – plus the impossible flow of loans to small and medium size businesses for at least another 2 years until their recapitalization kicks into effect just adds to the dramatic financial mayhem in this sector.
They are trying to create a ‘bad bank’ to offload all the toxic assets – read unsold property – but in the mean time the foreclosures continue to such an extent that the judiciary have stated that it is now a civil problem and not a banking one. It’s all a mess!
We also have Catalonia’s president, Artur Mas going on the rampage for full independence going against Spain’s Constitution and despite the fact that he has been warned by the EU that they would be forced out of the Union. Regional elections are up on the 25th of November. ETA has finally won in the Basque country thanks to political recognition and we await the outcome of ‘their’ plea for independence. If we add the drug store sector going on an indefinite strike in Valencia, due to 6 months backlog of medicine bills not paid for by the Social Security and a forthcoming general strike on the 14th. All hell will break loose at the end of this month. Just watch this space for further news. It is all very scary!
Spain Spins out of Control
Whilst Greece burns, Portugal sinks further into the quagmire, Ireland appears to be surviving and Italy is on the brink of joining the PIGS (short for the European countries in trouble) not to mention the remaining international chaotic arena, Spain is literally running wild.