Perceptions of Spain from the Outside

Having recently spent two weeks in Spain at the home of a most amazing Spanish family provided insight into the dynamics of Spanish politics and family life in general. I love Spain. It is an amazing place full of history, culture, and wonderful people, but just because I love Spain, it does not mean that as an outsider I cannot share with others what I found to be a bit unsettling during my brief stay: politics and corruption.

For reasons only they can justify, a couple of regions in Spain, first the Basque Country and now Cataluña, have sought to gain their independence. Does it make sense? Well, some parts of the US have talked about separating from the United States (Texas and Key West), but neither of these two places have taken it to the extreme that the Basques at one point did. In their search for independence, the Basques in years past through Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) carried out terrorist attacks, killing and kidnapping government representatives and innocent civilians as well. Luckily a truce was reached and things are more peaceful now with the Basque separatist movement. For some time, the Catalans have been increasingly more vocal with an extreme sense of nationalist pride, requesting their independence.

I am neither a politician nor a political analyst and my thoughts are expressed from the perspective of a common citizen looking in from the outside. During the Middle Ages, Spain battled continuously to become a united country, a victory it won through the efforts of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel in 1492 with the taking of Granada. As it is well known, one of the downfalls of the Islamic groups that remained in the Peninsula was that they had fought among themselves, becoming separate small kingdoms, which were not strong enough to fight against a united Spanish front. This historical example clearly demonstrates the strength that unity provides.

Language and culture are the glue that keeps a group of people together as an ethnic group or cultural entity. Although maintaining one's heritage is of utmost significance because it is the legacy left to us by our ancestors, perhaps it is important to add that language is not only a unifying factor but also a matter of national security. Today we live in a globalized world and thanks to the advancement of technology, we are closer to each other. From the States, within a matter of seven to eight hours, we can quickly be in the Old Continent. We can instantly communicate via phone, e-mail, or Skype as well. In addition to one's own language, having the ability to speak Spanish provides an individual an edge over others who can only speak one language. As they say, "You are worth two people when having the ability to speak two languages." It is noteworthy that the Catalans want to keep their language, but instead of trying to replace one for the other, why not complement Catalán with Spanish, which is the second most spoken language in the world, even surpassing English?

The other issue casting a shadow on sunny Spain is decisions made based on whim rather than logic. During my visit there, the mayor of Madrid decided to spend taxpayer's money on installing throughout the city boxes, which were going to serve as depositories of "cigarette butts". Supposedly the boxes were meant to keep people from throwing the cigarette filters on the ground and at the same time to measure people's attitude toward which football team would win the Champions in Milan. Nonetheless, in order to rationalize this somewhat absurd concept, it was said that the ulterior motive was to entice people to deposit their cigarette filters in these boxes instead of throwing them on the ground. Adults need to be treated like adults and not with games. Of course, football is very important in Europe, but why not let Real Madrid or the Atlético de Madrid pay for something like this? Or is it that Spain's coffers are in such good shape that they are able to spend money on questionable ideas? How about Barcelona's mayor wanting to use taxpayers' money to buy a building for the Okupas? Why not use the money to generate jobs for these people? Perhaps these mayors are idealists whose intentions are good and who believe there can be a better and fairer world. Unfortunately, in the "real" world these types of social movements end up not being successful. Handout programs have not worked, but have made everyone suffer instead.

Perhaps, what is driving these avant-garde philosophical currents is the number of people from different political parties and levels of society who are being indicted of corruption in Spain. Not one day goes by without the media showing hearings taking place, accusations, and people being taken to court for the millions of Euros that have simply disappeared. "Where have all the Euros gone? When will people ever learn?" With 22% of unemployment and a country still suffering from the aftershocks of a frail economy, it is very difficult for common folks to accept that corrupted individuals are pocketing money that does not belong to them. This situation only promotes social and political turmoil, leading to delinquency and the distrust of official representatives. At the same time, the situation creates the perfect environment for groups that propose extreme ideas either to the right or the left to take charge and begin implementing programs that could eventually lead to social and political demise.

Spain, please wake up from your siesta!