Saturday, December 26, 2015

A 2nd Transition? A Spanish vignette; The Spanish Ages of Man; & Romeo and Whatsername.

A SECOND SPANISH TRANSITION?: That is the question: And there's a couple of views on this from the other side of the pond at the end of this post.

A SPANISH VIGNETTE: A couple of years ago, a winning lottery ticket worth €4.7m was left on the counter of a kiosk. If the owner doesn't turn up soon, this will go to the doubly lucky outlet owner. So far, 317 claimants have guessed at the distinguishing feature of the ticket only knowable by the buyer. But none has got it right. There'll presumably be more of these brazen liars before the seller gets his paws on the winnings. I wonder how many there'd be in a society of higher ethics. Or if false claimants were prosecuted.

THE SPANISH AGES OF MAN/WOMEN: A couple of Galician women were killed by a (speeding?) motorist a few days ago, when they were crossing a road at night. They were close friends, aged 68 and 69. I know the Spanish have the greatest longevity in Europe but were they really 'middle aged' as the local press put it. I certainly hope so.

FINALLY . . . . ROMEO & JULIET: I switched on the TV last night to find myself watching a 2013 version of this Shakespeare soap opera. Happily for me, I'd hit upon scenes involving Lesley Manville as the nurse, and Paul Giamatti as the friar. For these were the best performances of the film. Naturally, I went to the reviews on IMDB, to find these ranged from 1 to 10. Utter crap or brilliant. Reading them all and half-watching the film, I veered towards the top half. Yes, it disobeyed the basic rule that Romeo shouldn't be prettier than Juliet and some of the acting was below par. And then there was the modernised Shakespearean English! But other things – such as the scenery, some of the acting and the cinematography – were damn good. And the final scene had me in tears. But, then, what doesn't these days? The take I enjoyed most was this one, taking the purists to task for their hatred of the film:- I love Shakespeare and R&J is probably my favourite. There is some bad about the film but also some very good. This particular version is rewritten in "loose" Shakespeare. It's still poetic and melodramatic but the words are easier to understand. I would NEVER fault anyone for trying to bring literary classics to modern teens. So if this does it for them then that's fine by me. And some of the key scenes are mostly intact. This version is still quite [American for 'very'] enjoyable.

Incidentally, it was disappointing to see how many intelligent commentators don't know when to use its and it's. Most of them, in fact.


The Washington Post

Can Spain weather its post-election political transition?

ON AN optimistic reading, Spain’s contemporary history is impressive, even inspiring. After four decades of the stifling Franco dictatorship, Spain made a peaceful transition to democracy in the late 1970s, emerging as a reliable bulwark of both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. After the Great Recession of 2008, Spain weathered a debt crisis, adopted economic reforms and now ranks among the fastest-growing economies in an admittedly sluggish Europe: The International Monetary Fund projects Spain will grow about 3 percent in 2015 and another 2.5 percent in 2016.

Yet as the results of Spain’s national elections Sunday show, the Spanish people are not inclined, just now, to see things in a positive light. Looking backward at their political development since Francisco Franco, they see not the consolidation of healthy democracy but the entrenchment of a political duopoly in which decreasingly distinguishable conservatives and socialists take turns enjoying the perks of office. Looking ahead at their economic potential, they see not enough growth to make up for the past half-decade’s worth of losses in purchasing power. Spain remains mired in debt, yet accompanying deflation makes the debt burden harder to bear, thus defeating the purpose of the fiscal discipline Europe’s paymaster, Germany, demands.

So the voters denied a parliamentary majority to the right-of-center Popular Party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and to the opposition Socialist Workers’ Party, awarding sizable blocs to two new parties, the ultra-left Podemos and centrist, anti-corruption Ciudadanos. The political possibilities range from a minority government led by Mr. Rajoy, whose party finished first with 29 percent of the popular vote, to a multiparty left-wing coalition like the one that just took power in neighboring Portugal. The former would be unable to do much of anything; the latter might take Spain in dangerous directions, if Podemos’s ideological flirtation with the leftists of Venezuela and Greece is any indication.

Unlike for many other European countries, parliamentary coalition bargaining is a new experience for post-Franco Spain. Some instability was foreseeable, almost inevitable, given the impact of Europe’s multiple crises on traditional political elites everywhere in Europe. Spain’s short-term difficulty could yet lead to opportunity, if its leaders respond constructively, with broader and deeper reforms, to the cry of their people — whose concerns include not only the economy but also the established parties’ corruption and insular thinking. Flexibility and support from Germany, as well as the United States, would help, too, as Spain’s hard-won democratic institutions cope with what might be the most difficult, and most fateful, political transition since the dictator died in 1975.

The New York Times

Spain’s Anger Management - Miguel-Anxo Murado, Spanish author and journalist.

Is this the dawn of a new era in Spanish politics, as some suggest? Judging from the results of last Sunday’s election, we can safely say that the old era has, at least, been dealt a severe blow.

The conservative People’s Party, which just four years ago won a landslide election victory, has now lost more than three million votes. The case of Spain’s other major party, the Socialist Party, is perhaps more telling: It has spent the last four years in opposition, while its Conservative rivals were implementing unpopular austerity policies, yet it lost more than a million votes as well.

The two big parties that have dominated Spanish politics for decades are being punished not for what they’ve done — or not just for that — but for what they represent: a way of doing politics that many Spaniards now deem obsolete, a two-party system that is suddenly seen as the root of many of the country’s ills and is now being challenged by the emergence of new parties. The left-wing Podemos, the heir to the social protests that swept Spain in 2011, took more than 20 percent of the vote Sunday and is set to redefine mainstream politics, perhaps not just in Spain.

In fact, Spain’s was never meant to be a two-party system, and technically it isn’t. The electoral law is fairly proportional. It is in the allocation of seats to the different electoral districts that there is an in-built bias that provides the two bigger parties with extra seats. This is in part a legacy from the 1970s, the years of transition from military rule to democracy, when stability was highly prized.

Then there is the country’s geography. When the Constitution was drawn up, Spain was still largely a rural country and it made sense to give a strong voice to the many small provincial capitals, even if that meant over-representing them in Parliament.

But there is another factor that is mentioned less often. This dominance of two parties, one on the right and the other one on the left, reflected something deeper about Spain, where that right-left divide has always been very profound.

And it continues to be, apparently. Even as new parties have appeared in the Spanish political landscape, the sum of those on one side of the divide and the other remains little changed. Whether we want to refer this back to the divisions born during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 depends on how much we want to dwell on historicist cliché.

But why have Spaniards now turned on their once favorite parties?

Not for ideological reasons. Rather, the transformation we are witnessing is moral, perhaps moralizing. The economic crisis came to many Spaniards as an epiphany. It wasn’t even the crisis, so much as the high-profile corruption cases that were uncovered at the same time.

Of course, there had been scandals before, but the contrast between the pain of so many families, in a country that, seven years after the financial crisis, still suffers from unemployment at 21 percent, and the lavish lifestyles of a few corrupt politicians who were caught red-handed was like a slap in the face for society as a whole.

And that is when Podemos, which translates as We Can, took off. Founded as a far-left party by a group of university professors and led by a charismatic, ponytailed young leader, Pablo Iglesias — a namesake of the founder of Spanish socialism in the 19th century — Podemos pointed a finger not at this or that particular government but at what it termed as “the regime of 1978” (the year of Spain’s Constitution).

By then, people were so angry that, initially, even lifelong Conservatives gave their support to his avowedly left-wing movement. Podemos’s poll ratings skyrocketed.

That was less than two years ago. A few things have changed since then. Podemos has moderated its discourse substantially, especially after the fiasco of the failed attempt to defy the European Union authorities by a similarly populist left-wing party in Greece, Syriza, made many Spaniards fearful of bucking the eurozone economic orthodoxy.

Another relatively new party, Ciudadanos (Citizens), a kind of center-right Podemos, anti-corruption but business-friendly, also entered the race in a bid to prevent Podemos picking up the entire protest vote.

Both new parties did well in last Sunday’s elections, especially Podemos, which came close to overtaking the Socialist Party. But the success of what has come to be known as “new politics” is incomplete. The two-party system has taken a serious hit but retains over half the electorate, and it may well bounce back if the vast experiment in anger management of the election goes awry.

The first test for new politics couldn’t be more daunting. The election has left a Parliament so fragmented that it may not be even possible to form a government. And instability, the usual price of change, is the last thing Spain can afford just now, while it is still slowly recovering from the financial crisis and faces the challenge of the independence movement in Catalonia.

To address this and other pressing issues, all the parties agree on the need for constitutional reform. But when it comes to deciding what kind of reform, they are either vague or only agree to disagree. The parliamentary majorities needed to change the Constitution will be far more difficult to muster now, in any case.

The new situation also offers opportunities. One of the ills of the two-party system was the absence of a culture of compromise. Easily won parliamentary majorities made politicians dismissive of pacts. Bipartisanship is as rare in Spanish politics as a unicorn. Voters themselves tend to frown upon coalitions, which they regard as betrayals. That will have to change now, and fast.

Finally . . . My Boxing Day dawn. Not that it's actually Boxing Day here in Spain . . 

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