Spanish anger must be converted into action

 03 Feb 2013 - 2:38

by Miguel-Anxo Murado

It is possible to be shocked without being surprised. That’s the feeling that many Spaniards experienced last Thursday when they awoke to the news that the ruling People’s party could be involved in yet another spectacular corruption case. It was a shock because, if the allegations turn out to be true, it would mean that almost all of the leaders of Spain’s main political organisation, including the prime minister himself, could have been receiving substantial payments on the side from seemingly obscure sources for almost two decades. If confirmed, it would be more than just a corruption scandal: we would almost be talking about a tradition.

The lack of surprise is understandable. This latest allegation is merely the icing on the cake in a series of corruption cases, which serve to highlight the generally felt disappointment in Spain’s public officials – figures involved in almost every conceivable institution in the land, from the judiciary and the police to the crown.

But what is new here is not the slush funds, the cash-for-political-favours, the brown envelope discreetly slipped into a pocket, or the nonprofit organisation that collects money for disabled children and diverts it to a personal account in Belize. These practices have been almost routine for many years. The novelty is in the anger or, more precisely, that the anger has turned into something more solid: bitterness. Of course, the economic crisis in Spain has been the catalyst – when the tide is low you can see the rocky bottom of the sea. Starved of cash, the scaffolding of political favours and shady businesses is collapsing, allowing many things to be revealed. But the change comes also from the fact that the crisis has turned politics from a boring documentary into reality TV, vulgarity and naked greed included. 

And what now? If the suspicions about the ruling party are confirmed, even in the slightest degree, the prime minister will have to go. You can’t tell people to pay their taxes if you haven’t paid yours for years. Kickbacks have to turn into kick-outs. It’s as simple as that.

But there is the danger that the case will drag on for months, giving the chance to the two main parties to team up and agree to new laws on party finances. Good idea? No. We’ve seen it all before, the excuse of a “clean break with the past” to sneak in a retrospective amnesty. That was one of the first decisions of this government when it took office: an official amnesty for tax evaders. Even in the rare instance of a politician ending up in jail, he or she will usually be quietly pardoned by the government, which has the power to overrule judges. 

Anger passes, bitterness doesn’t. But bitterness alone is not a plan of action. What to do, then? Some pin their hopes on an early election that could sweep aside the bigger parties, in the naive assumption that the smaller parties are different (they are, but they won’t be once they become powerful). Italy serves well to remind us that voting out Tangentopoli can get you 20 years of Berlusconi. Others put all their confidence in revolutionary change, a peaceful revolt of the street. There was one two years ago, the indignados movement. People supported it wholeheartedly, and then gave a landslide to … the People’s party. Scepticism about our leaders is not enough. We should also be sceptical about ourselves. Could this be the case that bucks the trend? At least we’re now in the mood for change. Until now, we didn’t even care enough. It’s an improvement.

The Guardian 

by Miguel-Anxo Murado

It is possible to be shocked without being surprised. That’s the feeling that many Spaniards experienced last Thursday when they awoke to the news that the ruling People’s party could be involved in yet another spectacular corruption case. It was a shock because, if the allegations turn out to be true, it would mean that almost all of the leaders of Spain’s main political organisation, including the prime minister himself, could have been receiving substantial payments on the side from seemingly obscure sources for almost two decades. If confirmed, it would be more than just a corruption scandal: we would almost be talking about a tradition.

The lack of surprise is understandable. This latest allegation is merely the icing on the cake in a series of corruption cases, which serve to highlight the generally felt disappointment in Spain’s public officials – figures involved in almost every conceivable institution in the land, from the judiciary and the police to the crown.

But what is new here is not the slush funds, the cash-for-political-favours, the brown envelope discreetly slipped into a pocket, or the nonprofit organisation that collects money for disabled children and diverts it to a personal account in Belize. These practices have been almost routine for many years. The novelty is in the anger or, more precisely, that the anger has turned into something more solid: bitterness. Of course, the economic crisis in Spain has been the catalyst – when the tide is low you can see the rocky bottom of the sea. Starved of cash, the scaffolding of political favours and shady businesses is collapsing, allowing many things to be revealed. But the change comes also from the fact that the crisis has turned politics from a boring documentary into reality TV, vulgarity and naked greed included. 

And what now? If the suspicions about the ruling party are confirmed, even in the slightest degree, the prime minister will have to go. You can’t tell people to pay their taxes if you haven’t paid yours for years. Kickbacks have to turn into kick-outs. It’s as simple as that.

But there is the danger that the case will drag on for months, giving the chance to the two main parties to team up and agree to new laws on party finances. Good idea? No. We’ve seen it all before, the excuse of a “clean break with the past” to sneak in a retrospective amnesty. That was one of the first decisions of this government when it took office: an official amnesty for tax evaders. Even in the rare instance of a politician ending up in jail, he or she will usually be quietly pardoned by the government, which has the power to overrule judges. 

Anger passes, bitterness doesn’t. But bitterness alone is not a plan of action. What to do, then? Some pin their hopes on an early election that could sweep aside the bigger parties, in the naive assumption that the smaller parties are different (they are, but they won’t be once they become powerful). Italy serves well to remind us that voting out Tangentopoli can get you 20 years of Berlusconi. Others put all their confidence in revolutionary change, a peaceful revolt of the street. There was one two years ago, the indignados movement. People supported it wholeheartedly, and then gave a landslide to … the People’s party. Scepticism about our leaders is not enough. We should also be sceptical about ourselves. Could this be the case that bucks the trend? At least we’re now in the mood for change. Until now, we didn’t even care enough. It’s an improvement.

The Guardian