Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Only 77 years ago, this country was so politicised, it broke out in a civil war notable for its medieval ferocity and cruelty. Now, despite 4 years of deprivation and in the face of at least another year of the same it's so depoliticised that no one expects serious protest, let alone violence. With employment heading for 27%, why is this? I have to confess I don't know. What I observe is that there's a ubiquitous sense of resignation. And perhaps a fear that, when it's all over and things slowly start to get a little better, the shine will not only have been taken off the phoney boom years but several before that as well. Spain, in other words, will have gone backwards. By some way. And no amount of gloss will hide this.

As one searches for reasons why the Spanish haven't mobilised against their corrupt politicians and their thieving bankers and businessmen, one also senses they are held back by a feeling they were complicit in the madness of the euro-driven boom. Yes, the bankers offered them mortgages of 140,000 on properties costing only 80,000 but it wasn't obligatory to join in the feeding frenzy that was the lending boom No one really needs two flats, let along three or four. Or an Audi instead of a Ford. There was a lot of greed. As in any Ponzi scheme. And now it's time to confess and seek absolution through the calvario of the recession-cum-depression. With patience and, as I say, fatalistic resignation.

Stepping back and looking briefly at Spanish institutions, it's a wasteland:-
The monarchy: Thanks to the antics of a womanising and insensitive king, its popularity has sunk.
The national government: Out for itself. Guilty of egregious errors in the past and incapable of remedying them other than by tax rises. On anything and everything.
The provincial governments: Superfluous and expensive.
Regional governments: Corrupt and expensive.
The Courts: Manipulated by the Executive. Too fond of pardoning crooks.
The police: Damaged by incidents of gratuitous violence in the streets of Madrid.
The Guardia Civil: Possibly OK.
The armed forces: Possibly the only solution to remain unsullied, if we can forget about Perejil.

So, who's to blame for this mess, even if it hasn't pushed Spain to the verge of another civil war? Well, again I don't know and I doubt one party can be fingered with confidence. But I do suspect that no one in Brussels had the slightest idea what would inevitably happen in a country like Spain (and Portugal and Greece) when the reins were loosened and full vent was give to the country's 'structural differences'. Likewise, I don't think anyone knew what 'internal devaluation' really meant. It may sound nice in a chapter in an economics book but here on the ground it means misery for people who were in no way responsible for the madness of 2002 to 2007. While those who made millions keep them stashed in Andorra, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein and Switzerland.

And if the objective, as some have said, was forced convergence, then this seem to me to have been a conspicuous failure. Spain is even further away for the likes of Germany than it ever was. And it has no hope of getting there for at least 20 years.

There's no talk here of Spain leaving the EU but, if they were to be offered a referendum on membership now, it wouldn't surprise me if a recommendation for departure wasn't confined to the Galician National Party, the BNG. Last time they felt the EU wasn't socialist enough. This time they might be joined by others with additional reasons.

It isn't going to happen, of course. All we can do is wait and see how the Spain looks when the recession/depression is finally over in, say, 2015.

Final note: Spanish regional politicians took 6 weeks off over Xmas and New Year. Probably a good thing, if it helped to keep the costs down.


Joanna P. said...

You really bummed me out with this post, Colin! But yes, you're entirely right: Spanish people are quite aware of the role they played during the boom, and it does seem to be stopping them from really complaining much about the dreadful situation into which they have been plunged.

I have to say, though, I'm amazed by the dignity and solidarity most of my neighbours and Spanish friends are displaying, now that the nastiest side of La Crisis starts to hit even small villages like mine: por ejemplo, on New Year's Eve a couple of guys broke into our local bar and stole absolutely everything, something which has never ever happened before in the area. Shocked as we all are, the entire village has come together to help out the bar owner, which must count for something...

Anonymous said...

Hello, Colin

This must be your best editorial yet. Didn't mince any words nor pulled any punches. But also keep in mind that Spain has been through other similar crisis and somehow they always float to the surface again. Practice makes perfect?


SF Bay Area

Anonymous said...


Pfew! That was one big sulfurous rant. I guess it just shows your frustration for not getting one single prediction right.

If you can be so negative about the country you live in, why not just leave?


Lenox said...

Hi Colin - amazing editorial. Nailed it! Pobre España

Colin said...

@Moscow. And if you can be (as ever) so negative about a blog why not just stop reading?

Meanwhile, try and understand there's a difference between criticising a county and enjoying living there. Or are you really suggesting every critical Spaniard should leave as well as me?

I was going to say don't bother to reply but that would be pointless since you never do.

James Atkinson said...

Odd isn't it. Joseph De Maistre the french philosopher said every nation gets the government it deserves, or words to that effect. It rolls of the tongue easily enough, but it clearly isn' true. The spanish people in my four month stay a few years ago, deserve better.

Colin said...

@Joanna. Belatedly, thanks for that. As I unwittingly bought a house in the pijo part of Pontevedra, I don't have struggling neighbours. But I', sure you're right about the dignity and solidarity being shown. I see these as Spanish virtues, best demonstrated in hard times.

Colin said...

@James. Agree completely. But there needs to be a groundswell of a demand for change. Maybe the first signs of this are being observed.

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