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The International Writers Magazine
: Spainish Politics
From our archives 2005

James Skinner on the new political divide in Spain

‘All the symptoms are there, it's no different to the initial months of Fidel Castro’s Cuba in the sixties to Salvador Allende’s Chile of the nineteen seventies. An exaggeration? Perhaps. Let’s take a look at some recent events.

To start with, Spain’s new socialist government has got it in for the United States. During a 12th of October military parade in Madrid two years ago, Jose Rodriguez Zapatero refused to stand up as the US contingent passed by his booth. Photographs showing him sitting down, as the large flag of the Stars and Stripes waved before him flashed across Spain. Prior to the elections, his vociferous attacks on the US because of the invasion of Iraq were daily news both on television and in the newspapers. His main pledge, if he became Prime Minister was to remove the Spanish troops from that war torn country.

Somewhere in Al Qaeda’s infamous camp, murderous plotters were taking note of Zapatero’s venomous rhetoric. On the 11th of March, 2004 they attacked four suburban trains arriving at Atocha station in Madrid leaving 190 dead and over 2000 wounded. This occurred three days before the Spanish general elections. The use of ETA tactics to blow up the trains confused the incompetent intelligence services. The government innocently or purposefully, depending on political inclinations, quickly blamed the Basque separatists for the atrocity. The result, after the elections, was a surprise victory for the socialists. Zapatero became Prime Minister.

The first move he made as the new Spanish leader was to immediately remove the troops from Iraq, despite the fact that his original promise was to await a UN decision on the future of the country. His second international act was a swing towards a German and French ‘undercover’ alliance in Europe thus turning his back on Tony Blair’s pro-US government in order to cement a stronger socialist alliance on the mainland. Meanwhile his newly appointed Foreign Minister Sr. Morantinos, a former European Union Middle Eastern envoy, far from stretching a hand across the Atlantic, embarked on a series of liaison trips ranging from Morocco to Cuba reinforcing bi-lateral ties of dubious intentions.

But it’s on the home front where the new government is showing far left inclinations in future policies. Due to their minority representation, they have had to form a series of alliances in order to obtain a majority ruling in the National Parliament. This includes a plethora of left wing individual groups and ‘red wing’ faction parties throughout Spain. A second dramatic event occurred in the region of Catalonia. The autonomous elections, also held a year ago, ‘evicted’ the right wing nationalist party, CIU after over twenty years and paved the way to yet another alliance between Socialists and extreme leftists in the Regional Parliament of Catalonia. This time though, the ‘golden vote’ fell into the hands of the staunch Republican Party of Catalonia. They are staunch Communists and appear to be ruling the roost.

Another dramatic move has been the government’s distancing from the Catholic Church. Even after the end of the Franco dictatorship and return to democracy each successive government has continued to support the Christian faith as the cornerstone of religious belief. Not this one. To start with Zapatero has declared Spain a secular state. To add insult to injury he has revoked the previous government’s education system with the intention of removing religious education in Spain’s schools. Roman Catholic teachings were to be thrown out of the window. Not only did an enormous row erupt with the Spanish bishops but it split Spain’s society down the middle. When Pope Paul II passed away only recently, almost every leader in the world conveyed their condolences and those belonging to the Christian faith such as Brazil and Portugal declared several days of mourning. Not Zapatero or his government. Several members of his party refused to stand up for a minute’s silence in Parliament. Even King Juan Carlos paid his respects despite the government’s silence. It wasn’t until the overwhelming majority of the world’s populous turned up in their millions to pay their last tribute to the Pontiff in Rome that the Spanish leader reacted. He was actually taken by surprise, eventually deciding to attend the funeral and declare a ‘token’ one day of mourning in Spain. The row however, continues.

Franco’s Nationalists won the Spanish Civil War nearly seventy years ago. Franco died thirty years ago. Today’s generations were born into a democracy that recently celebrated over twenty five years of a supposedly binding Constitution that was meant to unite, once and for all, every citizen of this country. The Magna Charta established seventeen autonomous regions with their own regional president and parliamentary representation. Over the years, even with various changes in left and right wing governments, the system has worked relatively well. Thanks to European integration as well as funding, Spain has prospered into a strong and stable nation.
Not anymore.

Since democracy, the Basque region has been ruled by the left wing nationalist party, PNV. Their president, Sr. Ibaretxe has continually upheld a conviction that they are not Spanish, that Spain is a foreign country and that somehow they should be allowed to govern their own future. Up until now, Madrid has been able to hold the lid on the ever present boiling pot in the north. Things have changed since Zapatero took over. Ibaretxe presented a new separatist ‘Plan’ to the Spanish parliament that was rejected by both majority parties, the Socialist PSOE and Conservative PP. It doesn’t matter. He now intends to hold a referendum, declared illegal by the government, for the same purpose. The Basques want total independence from Spain.

The Catalans are following suit. Not only has the ‘weak’ President of Catalonia endorsed Ibaretxe’s plan, supposedly seeking to pursue similar ends, he has out rightly suggested that the Basque socialists join forces with the Communists in the forthcoming elections in the Basque country thus forcing the issue of independence further down the pipeline.

Reverting back to the international arena, Zapatero has recently spent time with another ‘Marxist’ oriented leader, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. He has even sold the country a few gun boats, against the will of the US government. Naturally! He has also suggested to the European Union that they should lift sanctions with Cuba. So far George Bush and his administration have given a blind eye to the whole set up. In fact they seem to go out of their way to completely ignore Zapatero and his ‘lefties’.

In the meantime, a year into this new Spanish government, the majority ratings continue to favour Sr. Zapatero as a good and charismatic leader. Pretty obvious since among other things, he has legalised gay marriages, declared war on domestic violence, increased pensions and minimum wages, promised thousands of housing schemes for the young and filled his cabinet with women. All good for morale.
Big question is how long will the Spanish economy support his lavish left wing tendencies? Foreign investment is dropping and economists are already beginning to fire up warning signals. People are beginning to feel the pinch as the cost of living goes up and unemployment begins to raise its ugly head.
Trouble times ahead so I suggest you watch this spot!

© James Skinner. April, 2005.

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