The International Writers Magazine: Comment from Spain
Save the P.I.G.S.
This is not an essay about farming. Nor is it intended to help the ‘save the planet’ campaigners against global warming who may have a grudge against the big fat animals that are slaughtered daily so that that we can have our bacon and eggs for breakfast. ¡No Sir! We’re talking about P.I.G.S. an acronym used today to point fingers at the weaklings of the Euro zone, Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain.
At the moment, it’s the poor old Greeks that are in for a hammering for not complying with their European financial commitments, whatever they are, and allowed their country to go to the wall economically speaking through overspending their budgets and handing out ‘jobs for the boys’ in the public sector. They’ve also been accused of actually lying about their whole system of monetary control. In the eyes of the rest they have been very naughty indeed. But who can blame them? Anyone who has either seen ‘Zorba the Greek’ or more recently the show and film ‘Mamma Mia’ should know what Greece and the Greeks are all about. They are fun loving, extravagant, lazy, and happy-go-lucky, an example of what life should really be. That is if, as a nation you can afford it. Unfortunately, the roof has caved in and poor old Aphrodite’s empire of love is suffering from one of the worst nightmares of the modern world. They’re virtually bankrupt.
I’ll take a short break here to point out that I am no economist, nor do I fully understand all the financial jargon and gobbledygook that the media pumps out everyday describing the Greek crisis. Thus I do not intend to present figures, statistics or other economic equivalents to describe the plight of Greece and the PIGS. Dozens of experts, commentators, politicians and all those freakies in Brussels (I refer to the European Union bureaucrats) are constantly explaining to us laymen the ins and outs of both the Greek tragedy, pardon the pun and the bail-out plans or whatever is in store for Melina Mercouri’s disciples that should be adopted to save the people from going under. What they don’t explain is that the measures they wish to take will affect the millions of citizens that live on the mainland or the thousands of those beautiful islands caressed by the Mediterranean Sea and hit at the heart of their daily bread. It sounds obvious, but rest assured the population just doesn’t know what’s in store for them. The belt tightening may be too strong for any stomach to swallow! But as I mentioned before, Greece is not the only country in trouble. At the moment they have taken centre stage but, if a miracle occurs and they begin to pull out of their economic rubble, the grey and sinister beings that make up the team of policy makers of the EU will turn their attention to the remaining members and guess what? They’ll suddenly realise that the problems related to the countries represented by the composition of their respective letters and applied to a single animal that is a PIG, are a spit in the ocean. On adding the letter ‘S’, representing Spain the same lexical mathematics could be applied to humans. Spain outnumbers the other three countries in almost every aspect of economics including its population. Hence the EU is really worried.
Being a local Iberian correspondent I will not address the PI lot despite the fact that Portugal is about 20 miles from where I’m writing this and, similar to Greece, is a fun loving country that will somehow survive the turmoil. However, a large gap still exists between the elite and the rest in the land of Port wine. The middle class has remained static since the days of Salazar and the country will continue to rely on its rural wealth to support those in need not to mention the old trade of moonlighting. Most unemployed have a relative with a small farm to keep the family’s belly full. Ireland is another matter and a sort of mystery. We all know that they indulged in massive housing programs that ended up by collapsing the mortgage market and the construction industry. Yet they had it all going for them. In the early days of the boom they concentrated a great deal on educating their younger generations plus research and development plans at higher education level with the added advantage of the English language as a fantastic export tool. They were the ‘Golden Child’ of the new Europe.
Today, Ireland’s ‘ball and chain’ ghost towns that nobody can now afford are equally abundant in Britain as well as Spain, which brings me to this beloved country I still happen to enjoy despite the ups and downs that are now hurting a once proud nation of poets, classical music composers, intellectuals, anarchists, bullfighters and flamenco dancers. Where do I begin with the update is another matter.
I’ll start with a profound statement. Spain’s problems are due to a combination of politics, economics, and ignorance. Starting with the first, ever since that old boy Generalissimo Franco snuffed it thirty odd years ago the new found democracy turned overnight into a political caldron with the creation of a plethora of parties left, right and upside down and inside out of centre fighting their way into the power seats each peddling their own brand of bullshit into the everyday life of its citizens. During the dictatorship that lasted forty years nobody even dreamt of politics, save a few commies and resentful poets. People talked about sport, marriage, the church, chastity, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, the Beatles, but never politics. Some say it was prohibited. I say it was low interest on the conversational priority ladder. Along came freedom, open arms from Europe, plenty of money, lots of British and German tourists and presto, the country turned into a European fun fair and the place everybody wanted to live in and enjoy. The trouble is that politics filtered down into the soup. May sound familiar in other neck of the woods but whatever happens, be it a climatic catastrophe, an epidemic, the neighbour’s noisy dog or the supermarket price hikes, everyone blames the government or the opposition, doesn’t matter. Sides will be taken over the most trivial of matters. Now that the chips are down and the economy is about to implode the arguments are increased tenfold but due to a surplus of political powerhouses everyone looks in the wrong direction for a solution.
On the economic side Spain’s unemployment is its main drag. It started when the housing bubble burst and thanks to the domino effect it crossed boundaries of business and industry that affected every sector of the community right down to the High Street. It stands at 20% and rising; double the European Union average. Next step is the national debt, or the money the government is borrowing on a massive scale to keep paying out the dole to those that just cannot find any work. Third problem is the lack of initiative on behalf of the government to cut public spending. As I explained in an earlier essay Spain is not one country; it is seventeen different nations. All this lot literarily does their own thing including budgets and expenditures. We then break down these autonomies to umpteen numbers of provinces with eight thousand town councils that again control their own monetary destiny. And what has come to light just recently is that one third of these little hamlets around the place are bankrupt. The expenditures by far outnumber their income thanks to the breakdown of business and employment.
Nobody wishes to admit it but there is just no control on how all the lolly gets spread around and where it comes from. The European Union has recently rapped Spain over the knuckles to put its house in order, at least on this important issue. The Spanish Finance Minister visited Brussels recently with a proposal to reduce public spending by 50000M Euros and cut the national debt to the agreed limit by 2013. Nobody believes a word because the four million civil servants have jobs for life and the Trade Unions, who virtually run the country anyway, are just not going to buy it. Strikes are on the cards and the whole country is set for a super turmoil over the next few months that will make the financial problems of Greece and the others seem like a deficit in a kiddie’s piggy bank. The Anglo-Saxon press also brought to light Spain’s economic turmoil and an ex Nobel Economy prize winner has gone even further stating Spain is on the edge of the precipice and in a much worse position than Greece. What does the government do? It accuses the stock markets on the one hand and this media on the other of boycotting Spain and the Euro region! Nobody in Europe believed it but Mr. Zapatero, the Prime Minister’s road show goes on.
Finally we come to ignorance. This is the saddest part of all. Despite all the hoopla about being a developed democracy with plenty of freedom including the freedom of expression a great deal of the population just has no idea of what is going on. When the world crisis started about two years ago the PM, or Mr. Bean as he is known to the satirists, pooh pooh'd it as a US problem of greed. A year later when the shit hit the fan in Europe he continued to pontificate that Spain was the greatest thing since sliced bread and nobody need worry. He said that Spain was in the Champions League (a reference to the European Football championship) of the economically sound countries and that his banking system (because of the collapse elsewhere) was the best in the world. The banking system is now under heavy scrutiny by the European Central Bank. As unemployment began to hit the high streets Mr. Rodriguez Zapatero just pulled the handle on the slot machine and began to pour money at those who lost their job. He hasn’t stopped doing it. But what is worse, he continues to tell people that the worst is over and that everyone will see green shoots in the not too distant future. The media is no help. Most people don’t read the intelligent press nor do they watch any sensible debating on economic affairs on the box. The information is also skewed towards the monumental leftist movement that has been in place in Spain for 30 years. Result? Everyone prefers to watch a good football match or a reality show on the telly rather that figure out what goes on in the collapsing world around them. Then there is Internet. But the kids and not so young are more intent in playing video games and sex chatting than search and paste the different economic scenarios that are building up around the world. The oldies don’t know how to use it.
Despite my horror story on Spain’s future, there is hope around the corner. It’s still a rich country with plenty to offer including a degree of sound people. All it has to do is get its act together, bite the bullet when the real crunch comes and receive that long awaited wake up call that says, ‘stop being an ostrich, pull your finger out once and for all and clean the mess that has been created over the past several years like everyone else is trying to do around the world!’
The Real Madrid versus Barcelona football final can be put on the back burner for the time being!’
© James G. Skinner. 28th February, 2010