The International Writers Magazine: Our Spanish Correspondent - Updated April 10th
Back to 1934 - The Spectre of Civil War Looms
1934 was the year Spain had gone completely berserk – politically speaking - that divided the country into dozens if not hundreds of political factions of all sorts that eventually led Generalissimo Franco to come back from Morocco a beat the hell out of all of them during the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War.
I’m not kidding! Before going into the present chaotic economic situation that this incredibly complex country is going through, two events took place, among others in March that highlights my statement. There were regional elections held in Asturias and Andalucía and the results are a comfirmation of how this country is not a country at all but seventeen mini-fiefdoms, almost identical to those of the previous century. Europe – the EU - naturally has no idea what is going on behind the curtains of the political stage and until these are lifted and the full blown cast is thrown amongst the audience will Brussels finally realise what a mess they have on their hands. Back to these elections.
For months the press, especially the conservative has been uncovering all kinds of corruption scandals in Andalucía, some very serious and of far reaching implications that more or less tilted the polls towards yet another landslide victory for the People’s Party candidate Javier Arenas. He is a grey, down to earth no nonsense character and not your guitar swinging Flamingo dancer as many outsider would expect from an Andalucía candidate. Fraud, embezzlement of public funds, political ‘buddy’ favours in all directions and a sleuth of swindling Corleone type public figures kept appearing in all sorts of scandals throughout the region. The Socialists, by the way, have been in power ever since the end of the Franco dictatorship. Felipe Gonzalez, the long standing previous Spanish Prime Minister is an Andalucian. However, our southern Spanish brethren were used to all this conniving type living and didn’t want to change. Come Election Day the whole apple cart was turned on its head. Sure, Javier won the most number of votes but unfortunately they were not enough to form a government. The socialists came second but the surprise was from the Marxist oriented far left IU (United Left Party) that doubled its number of votes. Result? We now have a coalition between socialists and communists and once again the anti-Spanish central government swords are out from yet another autonomous region.
What happened in Asturias was even more bizarre. A former conservative minister, Alvarez Cascos decided to give the PP, his original party the two fingers and go it alone as an independent right winger. He was popular alright – pardon the pun – but not enough to win with an overall majority. He did however split the conservative vote but between them they managed to outnumber the socialists - who had banded with the communists - by one parliamentary seat. Now here comes the real cockeyed situation. A day later, in come the votes from the emigrants scattered all over the world that haven’t set foot here since ‘D’ day. Lo and behold they give the left wing lot that extra seat to equal the opposing right wing coalition. End of story? Far from it! The quiet UP&D party representing the central democrats had also won one seat so they now hold the golden vote that could swing Asturias into the radical left or the governing right.
If we look at the broader picture of these electorate representations we find that in Catalonia the right wing nationalist party CIU under Artur Mas is running the region but he needs the support of Sra. Camacho the PP’s lot to push forward all the austerity plans needed to save Catalonia from going under. Ah! But Sra. Camacho is dead against Mas’s future independence goal to go it alone in Europe. Once again we have nationalists versus monarchists battling it out for power. The republicans (not the US type) are waiting to jump into the middle to start their own jamboree!
Then we have the never ending problem in the Basque country. What’s going on there, politically speaking? Well for decades the left wing nationalist party PNV ran the show until the last elections when both major parties, the socialists and conservatives came to a governing pact and for the first time in Spain’s democracy the two got together and ousted the nationalists. Talk about an odd couple! Nevertheless, now that the PP is in Madrid the situation in this area is running wild because in the meantime the outlawed Batasuna is making heavy noises that could, just could cause this weird left/right coalition to fall apart. Don’t forget, as I reported in earlier essays that Emuir ETA’s political arm (sympathetic with nationalists regardless) has seats in the Spanish Parliament ready to hammer home the release of their terrorist colleagues still in prison for murder. The ETA cease fire reported months ago is still a sore point as no guns or other fireworks kept in ETA’s secret dungeons in France are still to be given up. Sarkozy knows it but he’s got his own problems!
My home region, Galicia has not been so fired up although changes could take place as the naval sector that includes ship building and fishing is taking its toll of economic loss. The other major industry, car manufacturing is still keeping abreast with the crisis although production is declining and hopes are built on the new line of electric vans ready to come off the assembly line in two years time.
That’s enough of the Spanish geo-political fragmentation but in my humble opinion all these political factions trying to run the regions, not to mention the eight thousand town councils that have even stranger bed partners remind me of what went on in Spain back in the 1930’s. So back to the real issue of why Spain is heading for an economic collapse despite all the right moves being taken by Rajoy and his cabinet.
Whilst the trade unions and the whole of the left wing myriad of supporters were preparing for the general strike to be kicked off on the 29th, the Prime Minister was on a round robin trip in Europe and finally in Korea where he met up for the first time with Barak Obama. His aim was to boost his image and assure the world that he was going to mend this country’s ills come hell or high water based on his already announced plans of labour reform and other goodies. He received praises all round although he did have a certain hiccup with the EU. He told Brussels without mincing words that he couldn’t meet the country’s deficit target for this year as he had inherited a massive public debt left over from the previous government that was well over the predicted amount. The country needed to keep borrowing to sustain the fragile welfare state until the books were balanced. This meant that the future budget would be even harsher than planned and further cuts in public expenditure would be needed. The government had already raised income and other taxes to help offset some of the bleeding.
So what does all this turn into?
The axe is out to dig into the autonomous regions massive debts that include hundreds of bankrupt town councils. Reducing duplication of public entities and millionaire subsidies to hundreds of thousands of useless organisations, cutback in costs in vital areas such as education and health and what is even more important complete the restructuring of the banking system is all on the government’s agenda. The labour reform is under way allowing employers a freer hand in hiring and firing and once again the whole plan is going to take time and will cause further hardship over the next twelve to eighteen months. There will be more people begging, more families defaulting on their mortgages and less contributions to the national insurance coffers until the light begins to shine at the end of the tunnel in possibly two years time. That is if it works!
Rajoy has completed 100 days of his mandate and already the fireworks have started.
The trade unions, the whole of the left wing political element, most of the media are dead against all these reforms. Despite having given a blind eye to the disastrous economic situation that the previous Prime Minister, Sr. Rodriguez Zapatero had left the country in, none of these entities can see the wood for the trees and willing to give the present government a chance to change the bets and set in motion the machinery needed to match other supposed recovery programs in Europe and the rest of the world. During the whole of the month of March there have been umpteen numbers of public demonstrations throughout the country with major disruptions to traffic and commerce as a build up to the full blown general strike that took place on the 29th. The strike itself is not even worth describing as the entire obvious rumpus took place from burning rubbish containers to breaking into public buildings. The figures bounced about are that it cost the country another two to three billion Euros of added debt.
From now on it is anybody’s guess to what lengths all the massive collection of bodies will do to disrupt the government’s policies as more and more austerity bites into the country’s economy!
One point is certain, once the EU – and other international finance gurus - wakes up to the real Spanish situation and if the situation hasn’t improved there will be a last minute intervention plan probably sparked off by the IMF to look into Spain’s balance sheet. Luckily Sr. Rajoy has already predicted this possibility as one of the other main laws that will take effect is the one of ‘transparency’. Any public sector that defaults on their budgets in the future will be penalised and those responsible held accountable. At long last we may at least see some honesty creep into the Spanish system. Ironically this has been hailed by most parties as a welcomed change although some that shall be nameless remained silent.’
Update April 10th
‘At the beginning of the month I wrote a summary of events during the month of March with an emphasis on the balancing act between the central government now in the hands of the People’s Party (PP) and the regional (autonomous regions) ones especially the rebellious lot. Well the situation has changed dramatically that will affect the austerities measures that are being implemented to save the country’s economy and hopefully place it on a recovery road over the next decade.
I’m afraid this may not occur.
Despite the heaviest unemployment figures in the whole of Europe and a level of corruption that equals that of many third world dictatorships, it has gone communist. The United Left party (IU) will sign an agreement with the socialists (PSOE) provided certain conditions are met. The main ones are:
- All unemployed are to be given jobs in the public sector for at least 4 months.
- No family will have their property repossessed due to default on mortgage or rental default.
- A public (national) bank is to be created to invest in local productive industries.
This is just a sample of forthcoming attractions totally contrary to the central government’s plans.
The dust has not yet settled as to who will become president of the region. However the UPyD (social democrats) are finally bending towards the socialists. This means that yet another region has gone left and will fight the central government’s economic plans to reduce the deficit and all others for that matter.
Not only has the CIU (right wing nationalist party) refused to accept the new austerity plans but has set its own goals that include firmly going down the independence path. It will soon begin a real separatist campaign to become a new European nation. Just wait and see!
The Basque Country
Probably the most controversial situation (political) in the country is the Basque region mainly because of the ongoing ETA (terrorist) threat still lingering in the air. The myriad of ETA’s political parties are slowly eroding the PP/PSOE coalition that is governing the region at the moment with all kinds of tricks beginning with an amnesty pact for the existing prisoners many of whom have blood on their hands. This region’s future is therefore very uncertain. However, the fight for independence, the same path taken by the Catalans will continue to rise as time goes by. Mark my word.
Finally, it is now evident that whatever Sr. Rajoy, the present Prime Minister is trying to achieve regarding the reduction of the deficit and the labour reforms as he has promised Brussels will depend on whether the regions, especially those mentioned above abide by the terms. This is highly unlikely unless, as one prominent journalist pointed out, the whole of the Spanish Constitution is revised and the redistribution of power between regional to central government is reformed. This includes town councils that are another bone of contention to chew on. The European Union will soon find out when they realise that unless a miracle occurs and a state coalition is reached on major national interests between the main Socialist Party (PSOE) and the Conservatives (PP) Spain will never meet their economic goals and intervention (IMF) will inevitably take place. As this journalist concluded, ‘Spain’s problem is not economic, it’s political,’ as I have been saying all along.
See you soon!’
© James Skinner. April 2012
Repugnant - Spain on the Brink of Chaos
Our Man in Vigo finds Spain on the brink of a confrontation between the left and right echoing the misery of the 1930's.
* James Skinner was joint third in The Wishing Shelf Awards for Fiction in 2012 for his new novel