(A Gift for the Sultan—my 388-page novel—is totally unrelated to contemporary Spanish politics or to anything else I've written in the past; it takes place in and around Constantinople in 1402, and features Byzantine nobles and rabble, a princess, a Russian slave, English mercenaries and a Frankish knight, Ottoman Turkish warriors, soothsayers and connivers, a couple of Armenians and a young Serb woman. What fascinated me was the interaction—much conflict, but also collaboration and affection and mutual imitation—among all these very different people in the midst of open Muslim vs. Christian hostilities. Sort of like what's going on in our world today. The only Spanish connection is the fleeting reference to the 1403 visit by the Castilian knight Ruy González de Clavijo, who stopped in Constantinople while on a diplomatic mission to the terrible Tamerlane; his report to his king was a major source on the condition of Constantinople in this period. You'll be hearing more about A Gift for the Sultan soon.)What is most depressing about Spanish politics is that the most unscrupulous, uncivic-minded band of thieves is very likely to return to power here, because the good (or at least somewhat better) guys are pusillanimous, confused about what to do and quarreling with one another. I am talking about the Partido Popular (PP) and the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, pronounced here as "soy").
That the PP is a den of thieves is amply demonstrated in the corruption investigations almost everywhere they govern, most notoriously in Valencia and Madrid. (See the many trials and revelations regarding Fabra and Francisco Camps & co. in Valencia.) They're not the only ones—the fragmentation of supervisory and judicial authority and the wide hiring and contracting powers of local executives in Spain practically invite corruption, and too many mayors and others have accepted the invitation. The PSOE has also had some notorious corruption cases, but far fewer and on more local levels.
That the PP is uncivic-minded, unpatriotic in the sense of desiring the best for the collective interest in Spain, has been evident in their campaign to discredit the PSOE government by undermining confidence in Spain's economy and by trying to sabotage the government's negotiations abroad, most notable with Morocco and Cuba.
There's an ominous spat about nothing between Spain and some Moroccans right now at the border of Melilla, one of Spain's two remaining beachheads on Morocco's Mediterranean coast (the other one is Ceuta; both are tiny urban enclaves left over from colonial days). Relations between the two kingdoms (unlike Spain, Morocco is a real kingdom, that is, Muhammad VI actually rules) have been generally good, but lately two radical Moroccan organizations have been demanding that Spain "return" the territory to the Kingdom of Morocco (which actually never possessed it; Ceuta and Melilla have been Spanish since before the current Kingdom of Morocco existed), and staged a blockade preventing Moroccan produce from entering the enclaves. Whatever the merits of this campaign (given the disparities in wealth and civil rights between the two countries, it's unlikely that most Ceutis or Melillenses would opt for Moroccan rather than Spanish citizenship), what Spain needed to do was to calm things down by patient negotiations with the Moroccan government. The PP's José María Aznar seized the opportunity in a lightning visit to Melilla to denounce the passivity of the Spanish government in protecting its citizens against Moroccan insults, the only possible consequence of his intervention being to further anger the agitators. (See Aznar: "Melilla vive entre el acoso y la dejadez del Gobierno" — ELPAÍS.com)
And as for Spain's Cuba policy, it may not be brilliant but it has managed to get a lot of people out of prison, and for that the PP also denounces the government: the PSOE should not have deigned to deal with Raúl Castro, they say.
All of this is sad. But sadder yet is the inadequate response of the PSOE, fighting with the trade unions that have always been its major supporters and now riven by a primary battle for the autonomous region of Madrid. Primaries shouldn't weaken a democratic party, but Spanish politicians are not accustomed to them and the whole party structure is set up with top-down command, allowing very little discretionary maneuver by party members. The party chief, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who is also the president of the government, is pushing for one candidate, Trinidad Jiménez, for president of the region, and whatever he says should by law. Thus the candidacy by the current president of the PSOE organization in Madrid, Tomás Gómez, is seen as defiance of the president of the party and the government. If he wins, or even if he loses by a small margin, the opposition PP will ballyhoo the vote as further demonstration of the weakness of Zapatero.
eso es lo que hay —that's what we have and what we have to work with. The PP does not inspire much confidence among voters, but if the PSOE doesn't look to be better, it's potential supporters are likely to abstain from the next election or vote for any of the many minority parties, and let the crooks and opportunists triumph.