Sunday, April 22, 2012

Taking A Closer Look At Spain

Americans who live on the west side of the Atlantic Ocean, and who do
not spend much time in Europe, are often rightfully accused of being
ignorant of what takes place on the east side of this body of water. No
matter that conflicts in Europe have brought Americans into two "hot"
world wars and a "cold" war in the course of the 20th century, that the
population of Europe remains larger than the U.S., and that its economy
(at least for now united in the European Union) remains one of the world's

But as Americans are learning at the outset of the 21st century, the major
economies of Europe, Asia and (now) South America affect our economy
in a major and critical way, and it is no longer wise or useful for Americans
to be deliberately unaware of the so-called "global marketplace."

Europe, to put it mildly, is in deep economic trouble. Various continental
economies are virtually bankrupt from accumulated debt, much of that
debt resulting from prolonged social welfare economies. One by one, the
small and middle-sized nations of Europe, including Greece, Portugal, and
central European nations which are not now members of the European Union,
have faced dire crises that require the largest Euronations (most notably
Germany and France) to bail them out. Every "crisis" seems to be "solved"
in the short term, but the solutions increasingly appear to be temporary,
keep recurring and appear to be growing.

The latest nation in Europe in public economic crisis is Spain, one of the
more fascinating nation states of Europe, a nation which, having been
a dominant force in the Western World in the 15th through 18th centuries,
and previously having been ruled by the Arab empire, had declined in
influence for more than a hundred years until the late 1930's when revolts
threw off the monarchy and then a brief democracy. A fascist uprising
(1936-39) led to a dictatorship which was sympathetic to Hitler, and
resulted in the isolation of Spain until the 1970's when the Spanish
dictator Francisco Franco died, and his government was replaced with a
constitutional monarchy/democracy that increasingly rejoined Europe and
increasingly prospered.

Spain once had more colonies than Great Britain or France, but by 1900,
those colonies were mostly gone. Nevertheless, Spanish law, culture and
language was a legacy in North and South America, and in spite of Spain's
dramatic global political decline, Spanish literature, music and art held their
place as major contributors to world culture. Names of artists such as
Picasso, Miro, Dali, Gris, Tapies, Unamuno, Garcia Lorca, Aleixandre,
Baroja, Arlt, Ortega y Gasset, Otero, Jimenez, Goytisolo, Albeniz, De Falla
and Granados, are among the most prominent in the past century.

Soon after dictator Franco's death, the far right falangist forces which
flourished under his 36-year "reign" attempted to recover power with a bold
coup d'etat. The young king, Juan Carlos, who had been installed by Franco
as his "figurehead" successor, however surprised the world with a  personal
courageous defense of the young Spanish democracy, the far right was
defeated, and modern Spanish democracy was established firmly in place.
Since that time, Spanish prime ministers, freely elected, have represented
both the left and the right, with the current government led by a conservative
who recently replaced a socialist.

King Juan Carlos, after heroically defending his country's new democracy
in the early 1980's, became a national hero. His role as a constitutional
monarch was (as is Great Britain's) very limited, but his personal popularity
and stature gave stability to Spain as it prospered. He reinforced his stature
when a few years ago, he confronted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at
an international conference, and famously told him "to shut up."

As the British have learned with their constitutional monarchy, however,
royal families with their elite society and extravagant lifestyles paid for by
the state, can run into problems with the children and grandchildren, as well
as royal cousins, of even a popular monarch. This, sadly, has happened to
Juan Carlos, first with business controversies involving the spouse of one of
his children, and now, with the king's own alleged improprieties associated
with an elephant-hunting safari in Africa.

Today, as well, the Spanish nation is divided by its regions, its languages,
and its violent history. Semi-autonomous Basque-speaking and Catalan-
speaking states have arisen, with groups there calling for complete
independence. Spanish is spoken in Galicia (northwestern Spain) side by side
with Galician (which is closer to Portuguese), and immigrants to Spain pose
challenges as they do throughout Europe. Memories of the brutal Spanish
civil war still haunt Spain today.

As a long-time admirer of King Juan Carlos (and in full disclosure, his
classmate at the University of Madrid, although I did not ever meet him
personally), I am saddened by all these developments, including Spain's
economic woes and the royal family's problems. I lived in Spain at the
end of the Franco era, and revisited it after its new democracy was
established (and its prosperity revived). I speak Spanish, and am a long-time
student of Spanish culture. The new Spain, in my opinion, should be a vital
part of European long-term recovery. Its language and culture has contributed
heavily to the world we now live in. (More than 400 million persons speak

My point is that, for very good and self-interested reasons, we Americans
should pay attention to Spain, its tribulations and its still-hopeful promise.
A very recent challenge, the nationalization of the Argentine oil industry,
much of it owned by Spanish investors, has greater implications than just a
controversy between Buenos Aires and Madrid. The Spanish debt crisis
could have, probably will have, major consequences for the larger European
crisis. Whoever is elected president of the United States in 2012 will need
to pay a lot of attention to Spain. and its former colonies in South and Central
America, as they affect U.S. foreign policy and global economic well-being.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

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