Spain 2004

March 14

In the legislative elections, the Socialist Party of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero outstrips the Popular Party by almost 5 percentage points. The defeat of the PP, completely unexpected given that the polls gave it an advantage, comes three days after the attacks on the stations in Madrid, claimed by Al Qaeda and cost the lives of 190 people. For Spain 2004, please check

The Eclipse of Aznar

2004 was said to also be the year of the Aznar eclipse. On closer inspection, few politicians have managed to evaporate the legacy of credibility accumulated in eight years of government in such a short time. And although the second popular legislature had seen, especially in the last two years, slips, arrogant sorties and even falls in style, Aznar had undoubtedly managed to carry out an effective anti-inflationary policy, to center the conditions foreseen by Maastricht and to to reach Spain among the first countries to meet the euro, to progressively reduce public debt until it is canceled, to successfully privatize about fifty public enterprises, to create, including precarious workers, almost five million new jobs work.

After leaving the scene, waiting for the fair balance of time, what judgment can be made of the politician and the country he has left? Aznar will probably have the merit of having led the renewal of the Spanish right, that is, the transformation of a quarrelsome mass of nostalgic forces of Franco’s past, statist in economics and centralist as regards the vision of the state, in a modern political structure, democratic, liberal in economics and attached to a Constitution which, especially in terms of the organization of the state and the existence of other nationalities in its context, contains ingredients that the traditional Spanish right had never digested. The paradox of a party aligned with an intransigent defense, that is, against any hypothesis of reform, of a Constitution to the elaboration of which he contributed very little and in which he does not recognize himself for some aspects, speaks volumes about the road taken by Aznar to PP. On the other hand, the situation that the popular leader contributed to create on the domestic level and as regards foreign policy is quite different. He left a country where the contrasts of the Basque Country and Catalonia with Madrid are sharper than he had found them and with their respective nationalisms stronger and on more radical positions than those of eight years earlier. He leaves unresolved the ‘national question’ on which he was so committed, proposing, not always with the necessary tact, the traditional ‘Spanishist’ nationalism just retouched in the key of constitutional patriotism. Turning to the international level, after so much propaganda smoke and having made it clear to the Spanish public opinion that thanks to his friendship with Blair the age-old problem could be solved, he left the situation of Gibraltar as it was; far worse than how he had found them, however, he left relations with Morocco, while the pro-American turn in foreign policy alienated from the Iberian country both the sympathies of some Latin American countries and those of some moderate Arab countries, when Spain had been proud of their particular relations with both. Eight years after his rise to government, Aznar left the scene heavily downsized and as a statesman even destroyed by the mistakes made in the fateful 84 hours which has been repeatedly said in the previous pages. Errors, mind you,


The royal house

A 2004 Spanish balance sheet would certainly be incomplete without a mention of the marriage of the heir to the throne, Prince Felipe with Letizia Ortíz, celebrated with all the splendor of the occasion in the Almudena cathedral in Madrid on 22 May. The ceremony was followed by a large crowd and had a significant media impact. Hence drawing conclusions on the state of the monarchical institution in Spain would be a step longer than the leg. Since the coronation of King Juan Carlos there has so far existed in the Iberian country a sort of tacit understanding to save or otherwise leave the sovereigns out of any controversy. An unwritten pact, without terms of comparison with other traditional European monarchies, scrupulously observed by the media who have spread a kind of protective blanket around the king,

But something also begins to change on this front, not in the sense of shaking the monarchical institution that still appears very solid, but rather in the direction of bringing out the republican component of the country, hitherto silent, and a certain, albeit minimal, debate on the institutional form. According to a survey carried out by the CIS a few days after Prince Felipe’s wedding, 55% of those interviewed agreed with the statement that the monarchy is a long-outdated institution. To the same question in 2000, 48.8% of the interviewees had given an affirmative answer.

The novelty, more than in the varied percentage of those who consider the monarchy as a form of government obsolete, lies in the importance that the press has given to the survey: another sign of the times that this volume dedicated to 2004 cannot help but record.

The problem of regional autonomies

The end of the previous centralism was another of the characteristics that differentiated democratic Spain. A new regional type order was implemented in several stages starting from 1978. In order to mitigate the political impact produced by the granting of effective autonomy to the regions (Basque Country, Catalonia and, to a lesser extent, Galicia) having specific characteristics of differentiation like the language, the whole Spanish territory was divided into 17 Autonomous Communities with their own parliament, government council, administration, flag. The process, inevitably, also took on artificial characteristics as regions that had never existed before had to be created (eg Castilla-La Mancha, Cantabria, La Rioja, Madrid etc.), and it caused current administrative expenses to soar dramatically in a state that in the Franco period was in the last place among the OECD countries. The granting of a special statute, broader than the ordinary one, to the three linguistically different regions mentioned above did not have a great impact in Galicia, which did not show serious separatist intentions, and seemed to substantially satisfy the demands of autonomy of Catalonia, where it quickly consolidated the nationalist-inspired moderate party CiU (Convergencia i unió). On the other hand, in the Basque Country (Euskadi) the recognition of a strong autonomy did not alleviate the existing tensions.

The persistence of terrorism in Spain was linked to the independence demands of a part of the Basque population. The fight led by ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna, “Basque country and freedom”) against the ‘Spanish occupation forces’ did not in fact die out with the advent of democracy. In 1977 an amnesty was granted for Basque militants in prison; by the end of 1979, more than 100 separatists were being detained again and about 450 were refugees in France. Bloody attacks against the police forces, the army and also politicians and magistrates, in the Basque Country but also in Madrid and other Spanish cities caused hundreds of victims in the 1980s. The police responded to the ETA violence by sometimes also using illegal means, such as the physical eliminations of well-known ETA exponents also carried out abroad by the LAGs (Grupos antiterroristas de liberación). On the other hand, the demand for independence continued to enjoy the support of a not inconsiderable part of the population, as evidenced by the periodic mass demonstrations and the electoral results achieved by the Herri Batasuna (“People’s Unity”) party, the political arm of ETA. Furthermore, despite the verbal condemnations of terrorism, the position of the other less radical ethnic-based parties in the region appeared ambiguous.

Spain 2004