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“Our forgotten Spanish reality…”

Is Spain a world leader in banking with a prime minister who communicates masterfully with the electorate; or a pseudo-Germany that needs to be bailed out as soon as its delusions of grandeur are exposed? Just ask 'El Mundo' newspaper.


It’s not often that I’d applaud the broad array of opinions published in El Mundo newspaper. During the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, its op-eds ranged, utterly predictably, from anti-Zapatero to rabidly anti-Zapatero. But with a Partido Popular government, things seem to be getting more interesting, especially given that while El Mundo has supported the cause of Spain’s conservatives, it has not been a consistent cheerleader for Mariano Rajoy himself.

So it was fascinating to see just a couple of the opinions published by the paper in the wake of the announcement of Spain’s financial bailout. The general consensus in Spain is that Rajoy committed a major error by not announcing the biggest decision of his tenure so far himself. El Mundo’s editorial on June 12 criticised the “confusing messages” issued by the government.

Along the same lines, Lucía Méndez wrote in her column: “Someone should explain to us why the government has got so used to addressing Spaniards as if we were children who shouldn’t be told about certain things…few times in history has there been such a chasm between the version of reality given by the media and that offered us by the government.”

But El Mundo is El Mundo, after all, and Luis María Anson of the Real Academia Española came to the prime minister’s rescue with a different interpretation of events: “It’s clear that Mariano Rajoy has prevented the intervention that Zapatero’s legacy was leading us towards.” And with an almost Orwellian touch, Anson saw Rajoy’s belated and much pilloried appearance the day after the bailout announcement as proof of his greatness: “Ah, there stood Mariano Rajoy in the flesh and it’s true that, from the altar of Moncloa, he explained things convincingly.” I have to admit that at this point I started to suspect that Anson was having a laugh at the readers’ expense. But, in his curious prose style, he went on to applaud how “Spanish bankers have made our banks among the healthiest and most solvent in the world.”

I wouldn’t usually look to Salvador Sostres to restore some sanity. But on this particular day, the man known for broadcasting his unmentionable sexual tastes and spreading unfounded rumours about Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola was the antidote to Anson’s nonsensical scribblings and it’s worth quoting him at length (The article, ‘Somos lo que somos’, is not available online for free):

The financial bailout is a perfect reflection of our forgotten Spanish reality… Even though it’s a good thing that with the arrival of democracy Spain should believe in itself and recover a degree of self-esteem, it turns out that we actually had delusions of grandeur that bore no relation to what, in the end, we have always been.

Sostres is tough on his own country and even though he can’t help but sing the praises of former conservative Prime Minister José María Aznar, he then swiftly goes some way to correcting himself:

In democracy, we have known corruption in all its possible versions, state terrorism and ineffectiveness with a capital “I”. The only prime minister who really tried to do anything serious was Aznar, who sought to align himself with Britain and the United States, and today he is, inconceivably, one of the most hated men in Spain; although it should be understood that the property bubble started with him and his political class, which led us to economic disaster with their economic policies…The left has governed, the right has governed and while sometimes the problem has been arrogance and others it’s been incompetence, neither the political class, nor the bankers, nor ordinary Spaniards have been up to the challenge. We have betrayed the trust of solvent countries by frittering away their help…

Poor old Sostres seems to be getting himself down at this point. But fortunately, there are reasons to be cheerful:

Meanwhile, we have happiness, sun and football. A powerful cuisine which is exported and refined and which right now is the most interesting in the world. We have ill-feeling, a sense of humour, good poets and an extraordinary ability to be content and even to be happy.

Of course, Sostres is making some absurdly broad generalisations, but he does hit the mark quite a few times. Whatever his own failings, he seems to see those of his compatriots all too clearly, something the bumbling inanity of Luis María Anson clearly doesn’t. Although it has to be said, hindsight is a wonderful thing:

 It’s one thing to be uninhibited about who we are and quite another to think we’re Germans and that we can compete with them with our robust economy. Who would ever think that? That’s where our disgraces and failures have become all too plain to see, the disgraces and failures of our mediocre, lying bankers, of a people who want to turn four pesetas into gold and the stupidity of taking something whenever we are offered it and of a political class that is of an equally low quality and just as loutish.

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Published: Jun 13 2012
Category: Iberoblog
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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4 Comments for ““Our forgotten Spanish reality…””

  1. Reality must be very bleak when the absurdity of it all makes you laugh almost hysterically. This article depicts reality so well in such a well-condensed form that my uninhibited cheers have just woken up the last of my hung-over neighbours.

    It’s Sunday, and it’s time to get the hell outta here.

  2. A few years ago I was responsible for organizing cultural training for a British man who was moving to San Sebastian for work. He was extremely reluctant, but his company insisted. He said he’d lived in countries with very different cultures to the UK (such as the Philippines) and thought that, in Europe, everyone was more or less the same. Of course it’s a typical mistake: it’s precisely the countries with apparently similar cultures that can pose the biggest culture shocks of all. Especially if you make the assumption that we’re all fundamentally the same at the end of the day.

    I often wonder whether those behind the creation of the Single European Currency made a similar error of judgement. Did those in Germany, for example, think that once a country signed up, it would become more ‘European’ by osmosis? And what does it mean to be European anyway? Has anyone ever explored that question? In Spain seemingly, and probably also in Italy, Portugal and Ireland (not to mention Greece), becoming part of one currency meant becoming as well-off as the northerly neighbours they may long have envied. Did anyone think to address the kind of responsibility that such a dramatic change in fortunes would involve?

  3. I looked forward to hearing Guy’s analysis on last Friday’s BBC 4 “PM” news and comment programme but, after a suitable introduction, it turns out he was ¿still in the tapas bar?

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