Spain and History

As a history buff it was interesting to see “saber rattling” in Spain as regions consider leaving the central state, under pressure of an immense fiscal crisis. This article describes comments made by current or retired Spanish officers regarding potential independence for Catalonia:

First we have the robust comments of Colonel Francisco Alaman comparing the crisis to 1936 and vowing to crush Catalan nationalists, described as “vultures”.
“Independence for Catalonia? Over my dead body. Spain is not Yugoslavia or Belgium. Even if the lion is sleeping, don’t provoke the lion, because he will show the ferocity proven over centuries,” he said.

The Spanish civil war of course began in 1936. While in the popular imagination of the world it featured a battle between the power of the Catholic Church and those demanding reform, and was a proxy war for the Germans and Soviets (both true), it also was a battle of the Spanish regions against Madrid. This third narrative is now on full display as Catalonia is calling an election, tied perhaps to a renewed independence drive.

These problems are made worse by the fact that 1) Spain is broke and needs to go to the ECB for funding 2) much of the money and bills are handled by the regions. This BBC article summarizes many of the key elements of the current situation.

Thus the Spanish central government effectively quieted the restive regions over the years by either crushing the revolt (the ETA) or by granting the regions fiscal autonomy (Catalonia). However, the buy-off was essentially done with borrowed money and now the regions need to come to terms with being part of the Spanish state and collectively work to solve their daunting problems or attempt to go out on their own.

While Spain was a critical part of the world’s geography in the years prior to WW2, today Spain and Portugal are far on the periphery of the world’s economy, with a great tourist industry, agriculture, and a few competitive companies, but mostly an uncompetitive place with an over valued currency and massive structural unemployment broken only by “infrastructure” projects such as underused airports, ports, and the like.

In other countries, the regions that have boiled and chafed under central government eventually left and found their own way. Look at the USSR, the Czechs, and many others. Spain was able to buy off their restive regions with EU largess over the years, but now the gravy train has halted dead in its tracks. It will be interesting to see how events play out in Spain, and whether the military really has the stomach for the types of events that are necessary to bring a restive region to heel. I highly doubt it.

Cross posted at LITGM

27 thoughts on “Spain and History”

  1. I was in Madrid with my daughter two years ago. It is a delightful city. On my blog I posted a clip of a singer on the Metro. We also went to a bullfight. She had spent a year in Grenada and is in a PhD program that includes all expenses of two more years in Spain. She has wisely taken a leave of absence to take a job and we will see how attractive Spain is in a year or two. Her accounts of Grenada, where she was accompanying her husband on his school year-long session, are interesting and show that some areas of Spain are still close to third world conditions. She speaks Arabic and was able to visit Morocco, the only Arab country I would consider safe for women. While they were there, they rented an extra room to a student who spoke Portuguese and he taught her that language. My older son visited her there and has been back for vacation since. It’s too bad to see what is happening but I like Greece, too, especially the islands. I don’t think I will be visiting Athens again any time soon. The Greek islands must be hurting because the Athenians would catch the ferries every summer weekend to go to the islands. I suspect that has mostly stopped.

    What remains to be determined is what will happen to us. If Obama, by ill luck, should be re-elected, we are heading for a Spain or Greece style future. My youngest daughter, who is majoring in French, wants to live in France. That might be a good step for her. Her uncle works for a French aerospace company and France seems to have learned enough from World War II to keep itself rational whereas we seem to be losing that ability. We’ll see in the election. Too many people have a Micawber view of life. They have forgotten the principle, however.

    “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

  2. If Obama is re-elected, Greece or Spain will look good by 2016. If it is re-elected, I foresee kinetic, economic and demographic challenges to Pax Americana unseen since 1945 and a significant possibility that they will not be overcome.

  3. The first day the Chicago Teachers Union struck, they flooded downtown, snarling traffic, making people force their way through red-clad blocks of teachers (and if you saw the famous photo on Drudge, you know how much physical space just a single teacher can take up) to get to their trains, etc.

    I thought to myself, “Here’s out future. Mobs of government employees disrupting the streets.”

    Considering how federal and state agencies are the top employers in Chicago, look for more of this as the host animal (the taxpayer) slowly succumbs to the bloodletting.

  4. “Here’s our future”

    Oh the horror. Free people freely associating, making a public plea for their cause. Actually snarling traffic, once every few years. This must be suppressed with an iron fist. Or something.

  5. You are right Joe. The union activists exercising their right to free speech are indeed free, (and in Chicago very well paid I might add.) It’s the low to lower-middle class children trapped in their failing public schools, unable to afford an alternative education that aren’t free, and are the ones currently being “suppressed”. Therein lays the problem.

  6. Jason – in CA the powerful California Teacher’s Association quashed a bill that would have made easier the process of firing teachers accused of child molestation.

  7. “…made easier the process of firing teachers accused of child molestation.”

    I don’t know any of the specifics here, but why is it that someone should be easily fired when they are only accused of a crime? I assume there is no problem with firing people convicted. I seem to recall some phrase I heard somewhere about losing ones liberty or property and due process of law or something like that. You know what I am talking about?

    Of course one might want to get someone accused away from the children, just in case the accusation is true – but why should you actually fire them before you know if it is true or not? And this would be the government doing it. Don’t they have to follow the Constitution?

  8. “children…unable to afford an alternative education that aren’t free”

    Hmm. Now that is a fascinating idea. I kinda like that. People who are poor are not free…by definition, eh? To not have money is to be politically suppressed.
    I think you have here an animating principle that could drive a good lefty revolution.

  9. Bill,

    Thanks for the link.

    First off, the tone of the piece should tell you right away where these people are coming from. Is this the kind of places you get your basic information?

    I see that the union’s objections are just as I thought – a concern for due process. The legislator fumes about how he carefully crafted the bill to focus on accusations of sexual activity or drug use. Of course, that is besides the point – the point being that a teacher should not be subject to dismissal merely because of an accusation – no matter how egregious the crime.

    What kind of power do you want to put in the hands of people who have a grudge against a teacher, or who want to blackmail a teacher, or even students who want a better grade? “I can get you fired in two minutes”???

    Thank goodness there are unions to fight back against nonsense like this – and hopefully a judicial system that would strike down such laws. Does the Constitution mean nothing to you?

    If you are interested in firing teachers who do not deserve to be teaching, then you should realize how important it is for you to support proposals that really do focus on just those who deserve firing. To rally around any moronic shotgun approach to expand the power to fire teachers will simply confirm to those on the other side that your intentions are malign (which is what they suspect), and will inspire a vigorous opposition to your proposals.

    I realize that it is the right-wing red-meat method, but is seems pretty self-defeating.

  10. Dont be lazy Inspector, make an argument. I follow the news and know about the rubber rooms. I don’t see that as a justification for going to the opposite extreme.

    I imagine that most people would actually find common ground on issues like this. Which is why I find the rightwing argumentative approach so bizarre. Nobody wants pedophiles around our children. Nobody wants incompetent teachers in the classroom – especially good teachers, since they have to clean up the mess that the incompetent ones leave, and see their profession dragged through the mud. One would think that advocates of school reform would have a relatively easy time of it – so long as they actually did have respect for the good teachers, and were willing to listen to them as they craft a new solution.

    But the standard RW approach is to demonize the entire profession, to attempt to cripple the mechanisms in place for collective bargaining, to alienate everyone who is not already a loyal partisan, and then to wonder why it is all so hard to ever accomplish anything. Its like everyone on the right is a little Limbaugh wannabe, and thinks that this is an effective means of communication with the public at large.

  11. Joe Citizen,

    This discussion started as a post about Spain. You waited for an opening and now you are diverting the discussion into an argument between you and everyone else about one of your hobbyhorses. You have done this in other posts as well. If you can’t stick to the topic at hand please limit yourself to one or two brief comments and then move on. You can always post to your own blog, and even link to it from your comments here, if you feel that you must correct our errors. It’s not helpful to the flow of the discussion, or considerate of the other participants and readers, if you monopolize a thread.

  12. excuse me?

    The first comment here offered some travelogue comments about Spain, but quickly pivoted to Obama-bashing. After that, no one said a word about Spain. You don’t think Mrs. Davis diverted the conversation? Or Percy? Is Chicago in Spain or something? I only came in after that.

    I responded with one sentence. Then others ran with Percy’s new topic.
    And now you – you have nothing to say about Spain? But you think I am the one to hijack the thread??? Really?

    Maybe nobody has anything interesting to say about Spain. Are conversations not allowed to go where they will?

    [Jonathan responds: Our blog, our rules. Accept this fact or go elsewhere. If you reduce your rate of posting we may allow you to continue to comment here.]

  13. I lived in Spain – admittedly as a military member domiciled off-base – for about six years, from early 1985 until late in 1990. I lived in an urbanization (a suburb) on the outskirts of town, and did a lot of shopping locally, and traveling while on leave, all around. (Zaragoza is one of the duller parts, kind of the Spanish approximation to Lubbuck or Bakersfield – OK to live, but just about everywhere else has got better and nicer.) The thing about Spain is that the various areas are all very, very distinct, geographically and otherwise. Until the days of ‘los Reyes Catolico’ Spain was a collection of very separate kingdoms, who were as eager to fight each other as they were anywere else.

    It’s an interesting supposition – if the Catalan portion of it should decide that they are sick and tired of economically supporting those portions of Spain that are an economic sink-hole. What if … say, the citizens of Texas were to decide that they are sick and tired of supporting a failing state like … oh, suppose – California, where the voting citizens have gone wrong (in the eyes of voting citizens of Texas)? So, how far do voting citizens have to go in supporting those who have been … to put it bluntly – total dumb-a*ses? How far does the national social contract have to go, in rescuing those who have been dumb-a*ses against all advice?

    How far does an organization need go, in rescuing and supporting those who maybe aren’t worth the metaphorical candle?

  14. The Spain issue with too many governmental employees certainly is correct, and there are analogies to Chicago.

    The difficulty with the general analogy is that the US didn’t fight a civil war in relatively recent memory like Spain – and one in which the results (union of restive regions) was not really discussed until the end of Franco and even beyond that it was semi-taboo.

    The restive regions never wanted to be part of Spain and now the financial problems of the host country compound their desire to separate. Certainly in some distant future the US states could get testy with one another but civil war seems highly unlikely because of inter-mixing between states and the fact that we speak the same language and have a common tradition (at least of 150 years or so post the civil war).

    The US also has a common history and military and many other institutions to bring us together. These are often absent in Spain in those regions.

    The nature of peoples with different languages and cultures is to want to separate – we have seen it everywhere in Europe. It is strong in Spain and the economic depression will likely enflame it further.

    Hopefully if it does happen it is done with little or no bloodshed.

  15. Joe – believe the facts as stated in the link – or not. Either it happened – or it didn’t. Personally if I had a small child with this “teacher” I’d want him out. Without waiting for the courts to wind their way through.

  16. “What if … say, the citizens of Texas were to decide that they are sick and tired of supporting a failing state like … oh, suppose – California, where the voting citizens have gone wrong (in the eyes of voting citizens of Texas)?”

    Well, Texas is ok but, perhaps not the most trenchant comparison.

    A rough approximation would go: blue states give, red states take.

  17. “Personally if I had a small child with this “teacher” I’d want him out. ”

    I can understand that. Which is why I said that I could support removing the teacher from the classroom, even though we only have an accusation. The children come first, and if we err, we can err on the side of protecting them. But that doesn’t mean you destroy the life of the accused until it can be determined whether they are guilty or not.

    “Either it happened – or it didn’t.”

    AH, yeah. So? Don’t you think it is our responsibility to find out, before we impose punishment?
    I think our founding fathers addressed this issue straight-on.

  18. “The nature of peoples with different languages and cultures is to want to separate – we have seen it everywhere in Europe.”

    Yes, there has been a certain amount of that in Europe, but you are kinda ignoring the fact that over the past half century, Europe has given us one of the most dramatic counter-examples in all of history.

  19. “Our blog, our rules. Accept this fact or go elsewhere. ”

    Joe, I think this would be an excellent idea. I suggest Washington Monthly where you will find kindred spirits.

    I like Spain a lot but it has terrible problems, not the least of which is its enthusiastic adoption of the “green agenda.”

    I am currently reading a book on the development of modern France. Southern France is quite different from Northern France. The south is/was very religious and the north has long been secular. Southern France did not speak french until after the revolution. There is considerable difference in demography and social customs. Spain may be the same.

  20. Mike K – I have been to the Ariege and Haute-Pyrenees departments the last two years to ride my bicycle in the Pyrenees (and am going back this year). I will attest first hand to the religious dedication of the inhabitants there. There are (mostly Catholic) icons literally everywhere in the countryside, including on remote mountains where the livestock far outnumbers the human inhabitants.

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