Socialism in Spain“Voting, I’ve only slipped once: last March, but it was to get rid of that guy once and for all. He reminded me too much of Franco.” Concha Pérez, 89 year old anarchist in Barcelona, interviewed in today’s El País.
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, leader of the Partido Socialista Obrero de España, has just celebrated his first 100 days in office, with approval ratings higher than ever.
A big part of the popularity of ZP (“Zapatero Presidente,” a slogan invented during the electoral campaign) is that he is not José María Aznar, who as head of the rightwing Partido Popular and the government for the past 8 years turned a blind eye to ecological disasters (e.g., the ‘Prestige’ oil spill), sent Spanish troops into an unpopular war, encouraged the Church to burrow more deeply into the public schools, and reacted to feminist, regionalist and cultural concerns with sarcasm.
There is a sizable group of people in Spain who like those sorts of policies, but they are probably outnumbered by the Spaniards who consider themselves leftists (Socialists, Communists, anarchists, et al.). The right-wing Partido Popular (“People’s Party,” or PP) evolved from an ad-hoc coalition of monarchist, fascist and “National Catholic” organizations, dominated by remnants of Franco’s falangistas, but in order to win elections, it has to appear moderate. That trick worked in 1996, when voters wanted an alternative to Felipe González’s 14-year old PSOE government, which had become enmeshed in financial and police-abuse scandals. After 8 years of Aznar & co., PP support had seriously eroded, but the PSOE was still having trouble arousing enough support to beat the incumbents. But then the government’s attempts to manipulate information about the March 11 bombing in Madrid – the PP wanted it to appear that ETA, the Basque separatist killers, had done it, rather than Al-Qaeda – even anarchists like Concha Pérez (who don’t vote on principle) went to the polls to throw the bums out. (See my article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Bombs and Ballots in Spain.)
Zapatero in 2004 is, like Felipe González in 1982, youthful, energetic, and attractive– approachable, smart, and even courteous to his opponents (even when the PP chieftains reply with sarcasm). The PSOE today is not talking about nationalizing industry, but about protecting natural resources (water, forests, coasts), grossly neglected by the previous government. It promises not to send soldiers to die in foreign wars without popular consent. It has already moved much more aggressively than the PP to advance the rights of women, pushing a law (still being debated) that would apply especially severe punishment to men found guilt of “domestic violence” (reports of murders of women by their husbands or ex-husbands or boyfriends are distressingly frequent in the papers), and naming as many women as men to the national government cabinet (including the first vice prime minister). And it, or ZP personally, has broken with the Aznar principle of tight central control to open up a “plural Spain,” where the governments elected in each “autonomous region” (Cataluña, País Vasco, Galicia, Navarra, Valencia, Murcia, Andalucía, etc.) have a greater say in the distribution of the national budget and decisions affecting their respective regions.
So far those regional leaders are eating it up, even those who are in the PP (Murcia & Valencia, for example, who have a beef with the new government’s water policy). Cataluña’s president Pasqual Maragall, has declared that “Cataluña is a state of Spain,” which is a big move away from the separatism that Catalans sought when Aznar was governing. With luck and cajolery and some long-range statesmanship from the president of the Basque region, el lehendekari Juan José Ibarretxe, ZP may even bring him around to a similar position. Giving the Basques more attention and resources is a gamble, given the strong nationalist secessionist current and, of course, but the prize would be very great, the recognition that their best bet is with Spain, not against it. Such a policy may be the most effective way to undercut the violent potential of ETA.