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The International Writers Magazine: Opinion

Spain: Another Balkans?
James Skinner

‘Spain is a fascinating country, geographically diverse, historically rich, comfortably wealthy and extremely hospitable. Its people is a mixture of gypsies, moors, Jews, Celts, Romans, Turks and Vikings that in turn inhabit non other than 17 autonomous regions, each considering themselves different from the others that range from the Kingdoms of Galicia and Asturias to the Republic of Catalonia. Up until the late XIX century Spain ruled over a large area of colonies spread throughout the world competing for first place with Britain and France.

On the dark side, Spain’s history is riddled with rebellions, coupes, military dictatorships, monarchies, civil war, more dictatorship, and finally a consolidated democracy that permitted its entry into today’s modern world and the European Union. Its economy has flourished and what is even more important it is respected in today’s international political arena as a free and peace seeking country. But there are clouds rising on the horizon and although they are somewhat related to the present world economic scenario, Spain’s uniqueness is about to implode.

When Generalissimo Franco died in 1975, after 40 years rule of iron, the country stood still whilst the rest of the world expected the worst; back to the civil strife of the 30’s. However and although never admitted by today’s left, the way had been paved by the Franco Regime, once the ‘old boy’ died, for a young descendent of the Borbon dynasty, Prince Juan Carlos to be crowned King of Spain and Head of State who in turn would form an interim government whilst a new constitution was drawn up to lay the foundation for the future establishment of a modern democracy. It worked!
A transition government lead by President Adolfo Suarez was formed, the Spanish Constitution finalised and ratified, elections held and a Socialist government led by Felipe Gonzalez governed Spain for the next 18 years. Many political parties immerged, including the Communists, trade unions were established, social schemes were implemented and most important of all, Spain joined the European Common Market thus having access to billions of structural funds that allowed it to grow into the modern state that it is today. But like all good things that must come to an end, trouble is now brewing from within the political system itself.

Ever since democracy, the Basques have been ruled by the PNV, the left-wing nationalist party that has constantly flouted the main government with threats of a referendum on independence. ETA, a Basque separatist movement began its own demands through intimidation and terrorist violence although its own political wing Batasuna had been constantly declared illegal by the main government. On the other hand, in Catalonia, although governed by the CiU, a right-wing nationalist party, full independence had never been raised as an issue. The Socialists in Madrid saw to that by flooding the region with European funds. Ignored Galicia, in the northwest, considered as the country’s underdog, had its own bag of nationalism, the BNG just waiting in the wings to see what the big two of the north finally obtained from Madrid. But in the 1995 elections, Spain took a sudden turn to the right. The PP (people’s party) won by a small majority, and thanks to a coalition with the CiU of Catalonia was able, amongst other achievements to maintain Spain united despite the brewing separatist movements mentioned earlier. They won a second term, this time with a huge majority in the 1999 elections and although were set for a third term in the 2003 elections along came Al Qaeda’s Trojan horse, a few days prior to voting date and blew up four Madrid trains killing nearly 200 people and injuring another 2000.

Rodriguez Zapatero, head of the left wing main opposition party, PSOE could not believe his eyes when the final results came in that placed the party ahead of the PP and was proclaimed the new President of Spain. Ah! But Pandora’s Box was about to be opened. ZP, as he is nicknamed could not govern in isolation and had to pact with practically all the left wing minority parties throughout the country. This meant that nationalists, republicans, communists and the odd anarchist, all those that had been declared illegal during Franco’s rule not only obtained seats in the National Assembly but also held the ‘golden’ vote whenever new legislation was introduced by ZP’s socialists. The opposition, PP was left completely on its own although they had obtained nearly half the country’s votes. Result?

Three situations developed in the next few years. The first was that the government turned the whole system on its head after 8 years of conservatism by instituting radical reforms. These naturally upset the opposition who began a campaign of lambasting the left wing. The second was the effect this change had on the country. It was ‘openly’ split down the middle between a right wing and a cocktail of left wing sympathisers. Finally the nationalists in the three regions would only support the main party in power if their ‘demands’ were met that hinted indirectly at full independence.

The first two situations were complementary. Despite continued economic growth, the socialist had literally been emptying the piggy bank. They introduced a great deal of benefits from pensions to single parents, from students to feminist institutions, from subsidised housing to extra free medical services; no pocket of any underdog sector had been left without money. Naturally the conservatives continued to point out the eventual danger of emptying the country’s coffers. So far they haven’t dared hammer the taxation sector because elections are now due in a month’s time and world economics are also having a negative effect in Spain that is hitting the voter’s pockets. Added to the ‘goodies for all’ a major flop has been the government’s disastrous negotiations with ETA to persuade them to lay down arms. ZP tried to imitate Tony Blair’s epic peace agreement in Northern Ireland by carrying out secret meetings with the terrorist group. He tried to make a name for him in the history books. It literally backfired as ETA blew up part of Madrid’s airport, just before Christmas in 2006, killing two people in the attempt. They have been bombing and murdering ever since.

On the international front, the first thing ZP did was to pull out the troops from Iraq. He was lucky; Iraq turned into a complete mess. Had the reverse been the case, ZP would today be eating his heart out. Since then he has snubbed the USA, has lost general support from his buddies the Germans (Merkel) and French (Sarkozy) and what is more surprising, sucked up to the likes of extreme left wingers in Venezuela’s Chavez, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Bolivia’s Morales. Even this has backfired as both Venezuela and Bolivia have nationalised their oil and gas industries and chucked the Spanish investors out of their respective countries. Spain’s international clout and political image, once held in high esteem during the conservative days, has almost disappeared.

Not all changes can be viewed as negative. ZP introduced legislation allowing gay marriages, equal rights for women and is trying, almost in vain to fight for peace in the world by introducing a unique program supported by the United Nations called ‘Alliance of Civilisations’, in order to bring together the religious factions that are continuing to destroy the human balance of beliefs into a consensus of mutual harmony. Trouble is that Al Qaeda is after ‘al Andalus’ (Spain) and this program does not quite gel with the Islamic fundamentalist world. However, it’s the third situation that is the most dangerous and the one that could turn this country upside down.

The break up of Yugoslavia that ended after one of the most brutal wars in Europe following WWII resulted in the independence and emergence of new states ranging from Croatia to Montenegro; all eager to join the EU. Slovenia is already a member. The final episode to this conflict and last remaining state to seek independence, presently supported at United Nations level is Kosovo. If Kosovo is given full independence from Serbia it could have an enormous impact on Spain’s geopolitical future.

If the result of the elections in Spain on the 7th of March reinstall the present political set up of a minority ruling by socialists backed by the three main nationalist parties, Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia, the breakup of the country will be on the top of the agenda and the nationalists will use the outcome of Kosovo as an example. The country will be faced with a similar situation to the 1930’s; unity versus disintegration.
Once again, Spain will be truly divided.
© James Skinner. February 2008.

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The Galician Ganja Trail
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‘We’ve got a real potpourri of world problems going on at the moment with a whole sleuth of experts in all fields trying to solve them.

Read an extract of James Skinner's book here

The Goa File   Author: James G. Skinner
Paperback (pp: 395) ISBN: 978-81-8253-079-9
Availability: In Stock (Ships within 1 to 2 days)
Publisher:, Allahabad, India
Pub. Date: Jan 2007
James G. Skinner, as he is know to his friends in Vigo, Spain was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is a retired telecommunications expert who has travelled the world over having worked for some of the greatest of todayıs conglomerates such as Cable & Wireless, US Sprint and British Telecom. Having lived in many different and disparate countries spread across several continents, his knowledge of and experience with people from different ethnic groups and social backgrounds is second to none. He is a regular writer ­ in Spanish ­ in the local papers of Galicia and is currently the Honorary British Consul in the region. (read more)

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