The International Writers Magazine:Our Spanish Correspondent Oct 12th
The Economic Woes in Spain
Since my last brief October 1st, the situation in Spain is heating up by the hour thanks to the forthcoming elections next month and the complete breakdown of the financial or should I say the banking system. As each day goes by more and more Spanish banks are being scrutinised not only by the outside world (the rating agencies are now having a go at the heavies such as the Santander and the BBVA) but by the internal auditors that have no choice as more and more Spaniards default on their mortgages. Five million unemployed with over a hundred thousand new ones last month just add fuel to the calamity.
The banking system is about to collapse completely. Added to these woes are the constant national, regional and town councils debts that are being uncovered and are flowing like an out of control flood. I kid you not when I say that nobody knows for sure how much money is owed by whom and to whom. Debtors and creditors alike are wandering around like zombies trying to figure out the exact disaster. Just think about it, a town council owes money to a contractor that has just completed a major overhaul of part of the city. This contractor is indebted to the local savings bank and needs to pay several sub-contracted companies that have supplied material and/or labour. These sub-contractors in turn have similar debts and outstanding bills. If the town council declares bankruptcy, which is exactly what is going on in hundreds of the smaller towns everyone is up to their eyeballs in debt. I think you can get the picture. This incidentally is the tip of the iceberg. Transpose the scenario to the major national projects and bingo, the government is going into hibernation and passing the buck at election time.
Finally there is a brief word on the political arena. The trade unions are quiet waiting for the Peoples Party to win the elections and then go on the rampage. The Socialists are in complete disarray and with corruption scandals appearing on a daily basis. The Nationalists in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia are on an ‘I told you so’ or ‘it’s not our fault’ campaign blaming everyone and slowly but surely moving on an undercover program towards independence. And to top it all the legal system is at a standstill with thousand of outstanding cases of all sorts whilst nobody believes in the law anyway since, as an example the Constitutional Court gave the go ahead for Bildu (ETA’s political arm) to take over about 80 town councils in the Basque country and confront the national government with the most aggressive autonomous call for ‘freedom’ from Spain.
If you think Greece and Italy are in trouble just watch for this country over the next, I would say three months. As Obama has warned, if Europe doesn’t get its act together soon, and he has specifically pinpointed Italy and Spain the whole world is in for the chop. I read into this the need for a major overhaul of the European Union to get to grips with the old decrepit continent.’
Poignant event took place in Barcelona on the 25th of September. Catalonia held its last bullfight in the centenary ‘Monumental’ bullring following the decision by the regional parliament to ban all bullfights in the autonomous region. Bullfighter Jose Tomas ended the day before twenty thousands fans with a brilliant kill that brought cheers from the crowds that not only chanted on his performance but yelled the inevitable screams of ‘Long live Catalonia’ in reference to their disagreement with the new ruling.
To the millions of tourists that flocked Spain over the past few decades most would have seen the enormous signs of a large black bull standing firm on many of the hilltops of the Castilian plains. Despite being the advert for a Spanish brandy (Osborne) they were the unmistakable emblem of this country’s culture due to centuries of Andalucía influence that included bullfighting and flamenco dancing.
Castanets, flowing colourful dresses and handheld fans for women could been seen dancing the night away in the ‘tabladas’ accompanied by a single guitar player after spending a day at the ring cheering at men in tight hugging uniforms embroidered in jewels that ventured out before the charge of an infuriated bull eager to tear them apart. This is the image that most foreigners of all nations had and have of Spain even if they’d never visited the country in their lives.
To the millions of tourists that flocked Spain over the past few decades most would have seen the enormous signs of a large black bull standing firm on many of the hilltops of the Castilian plains. Despite being the advert for a Spanish brandy (Osborne) they were the unmistakable emblem of this country’s culture due to centuries of Andalucía influence that included bullfighting and flamenco dancing. Castanets, flowing colourful dresses and handheld fans for women could been seen dancing the night away in the ‘tabladas’ accompanied by a single guitar player after spending a day at the ring cheering at men in tight hugging uniforms embroidered in jewels that ventured out before the charge of an infuriated bull eager to tear them apart. This is the image that most foreigners of all nations had and have of Spain even if they’d never visited the country in their lives.
¡Ah; but XXI century Spain is different! Apart from the anti cruelty campaigners, both national and international that have caused bullfighting to decline over the years that is not the reason for Catalonia’s decision to ban it outright. ¡Oh no! Similar to the Basque Country and Galicia, Catalonia is seeking independence from Spain and is therefore ridding itself of everything ‘Spanish’ including the Andalucía trinkets sold in tourist shops in Barcelona. Banning bullfights is just another step in the direction. Nevertheless, and despite the present economic turmoil, these independence moves by the Nationalist parties in each region are on the move and unless the European Union steps in and reads them the riot act of being left out in the cold (they would been thrown out and would have to join the queue of others waiting to enter the club) there is nothing stopping them. However, each one has a different tactic.
I’ve said all along that Spain could turn into another Balkans but without the armed conflict. To start with Catalonia is governed by a right wing Nationalist Party, CIU and is way ahead in its severance plans including what is known as the linguistic immersion program in their education system. The whole curriculum is taught in Catalan with Spanish and/or English as the ‘foreign’ language, both the latter on equal footing. The law that prohibits the use of Castilian over Catalan has far reaching tentacles from public offices to shop window price tags. The region however, is one of the richest as Catalans are entrepreneurial and hardworking but unfortunately the economic crisis is taking over and although they refuse to abide by rulings from the Spanish government they have literally shot themselves in the foot and are now one of the most indebted regions of Spain. So much so that Artur Más, its President has kicked started tough measures to reduce the debt including cuts in health and pensions. So what about the other independence seekers?
The Basque country is a totally different kettle of fish. As reported in previous essays during the town council elections that were held in May the political arm of ETA (the terrorist group) known as Bildu won a great deal of votes and took over many of the town councils including San Sebastian. They have started their own campaign of independence seeking, but based, in some cases, on quasi violent tactics such as banning the Spanish flag or refusing to accept King Juan Carlos as the reigning monarch. The issue here affects the central government in the forthcoming election campaign because the terrorists are now embedded in governmental institutions albeit local ones. ¿What does this mean? That ETA has announced – through their presently held prison inmates - that they wish to cease the violence. The Socialist government, as well as the presidential candidate Alfredo Rubalcaba has welcomed the move. On the other hand, the conservatives (People’s Party) as well as the Victim’s Associations are up in arms. They realise that unless there is a genuine ‘give-up-arms’ policy come from ETA, the group is still considered as a bunch of outlawed criminals. If the conservatives win the elections the whole applecart could be turned over against them. ¡And they know it! The irony is that the present regional government is a coalition between the socialists and the conservatives. They mutter away partially in disagreement but daren’t upset the status quo for the time being, at least until after the national elections. Once again, the Basques are a hard working lot despite constant terrorist extortionist threats. ¡It’s a real boiling issue that revolves, naturally over the future independence of the region by the nationalists; intentions that are no different to Catalonia!
¿So what about my own home area, Galicia?
Lovely country as the Hackwriters editor found out during his visit last year but in dire financial straits. Galicia has few industrial outputs and its economy is mainly agricultural and fishing. Citroen has its second largest worldwide car manufacturing factory in Vigo and we all know how the car industry has been declining since the crisis. However, they intend to join the bandwagon by introducing a future version of electric cars. It will take years. Another sector that has been badly hit is the medium size shipbuilding yards. They have suffered from strike action over the past few years that has taken its toll by scaring away the few customers they had, but the real crunch came a few month’s ago when their competitors in Holland and Finland accused them of ‘fiddling’ the books and obtaining under the counter funding from the Spanish government. The whole lot has been paralysed pending EU investigation. Result? More workers joining the dole and the area falling into depression as shops, restaurants and other small business shut down due to the crunch. Charming!
So what about the country as a whole?
Luis Rodriguez Zapatero although still theoretically in office has finally thrown in the towel and dissolved parliament making way for the General Elections on the 20th of November. Although the campaign is not officially allowed to start until a few weeks before the date the knives are already out. The shrewd and experienced socialist candidate ‘Freddy’ Rubalcaba has begun to lambast the ‘right’ by stating the obvious. His general words are, ‘they will introduce cuts that will hit at our welfare state. Education, health care, pensioners will suffer!’ The conservative ‘right’ calls him a liar. And so the curtain has been raised; the daily political soap operas with a potpourri of opinions are expressing so many different variations on the same theme that the public are becoming immune.
The real issue though, is that the country is in deep rooted trouble. From obsolete trade unionism to large percentages of uneducated young population constantly on the binge; from top heavy public administration to filthy corruption across the board, the list goes on and on. A simple glimpse at the debt issue is enough to scare most optimists away. Starting with the public sector it is spread right across all the seventeen regions and eight thousand town councils without a real knowledge of how much money are really owed. The private sector debt is even worse with most credit card holders and mortgage foreclosure victims joining the nearly 5 million unemployed. The banks have closed their doors waiting for their own ‘pink’ slip from the international institutions as these uncover the whole bloody mess that this latter sector is in. Greece may be a basket case with Italy to follow - I’ve avoided Ireland and Portugal as they are a minor misdemeanour – but Spain is the real future calamity to watch for. Unless the country as a whole realises that without a proper ‘state pact’ to solve the basic issues that are undermining any possible economic recovery the rest of Europe will pay for the ‘duck soup’ that has been broiled over and over again without being consumed.
I’ve avoided any comments on the rest of the world as most of us are sick and tired of the doom and gloom messages emanating from all sectors of the international media. There’s not much we can do about it except wait for a silver lining or a glimmer of light coming from somewhere. In the meantime it’s ‘grim and bear it’, come hell or high water and hope that the whole lot doesn’t come tumbling down like it did back in 1929.’
© James G. Skinner. October 2011
ETA, the Pope and Spain
August has been a rather hectic month with all kinds of horrors occurring in the world. Libya and Syria have contributed with the never-ending saga of citizens’ revolts that nobody really knows how it’s all going to end