Everything up for grabs as Spanish fear what lies ahead
BACKGROUND: Some think the country’s banking crisis could rip apart its post-Franco freedoms
THERE IS a long-established tendency in sections of the Spanish commentariat towards an exaggerated embrace of impending catastrophe.
What is different in recent weeks, as the shadow of a bailout has loomed ever darker, is that this tendency has spread to the calmest of columnists. And there is depressing evidence that they may not be exaggerating at all.
José Luis Barbería is a phlegmatic and veteran journalist. He endured a decade under threat from the Basque terrorist group Eta without ever losing his professional cool. But he recently wrote in El Pais that, at the very moment when Spain should be celebrating the evaporation of Eta’s violence, “our system is coming apart at the seams”.
He was talking about the democratic system, reinstalled in Spain after a difficult and – many believe – flawed transition from the 40-year dictatorship of Gen Francisco Franco in the 1970s.
Barbería cited a recent poll which recorded that the number of Spaniards who think that democracy serves them better than any previous system has dropped from 72 per cent to 56 per cent in the last six months.
The conservative Partido Popular (PP), elected with an absolute majority last November, has plunged from a crest to a trough in popularity in the same period. It has blundered from one gaffe to another, while insisting that Spanish fundamentals are sound, in the face of the evidence.
The PP’s mantra is that the party it ousted, the centre-left Socialist Party (PSOE), is solely to blame for the crisis. Every weary dog in the Spanish street knows all too well that the PP shares about half the responsibility through its maladministration of many of Spain’s autonomous regional governments.
The blame game between the two major parties, writes Santos Juliá, another usually mildmannered columnist, “is a legitimate motive for weeping in the street”.
The public response is to wish plagues on both political houses.
If the “men in black” – an unfortunate phrase last week from a PP minister insisting there would be no bailout – fly into Madrid this weekend, they will find no opposition party ready to step up to the mark and sort things out. That was what the PP had been supposed to do since last November, and a discredited PSOE remains on the floor in the court of Spanish public opinion.
Barbería points out that, over the same brief period, egregious scandals have tarnished not only the once-untouchable monarchy, but also the highest echelons of the judiciary, and of course the financial and political establishments.
What, he asks, are the 90 per cent of citizens who describe themselves as “devastated” by the savage cuts on health and education imposed by both parties in succession, to make of the fact that double the sum saved by those cuts has just been sunk into a failing banking system from the taxpayers’ pocket?
He describes Spain’s condition as shifting rapidly from “economic shock” to “democratic shock”. He does not speculate on the consequences.