Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Themes That Can Change An Election....The Madrid Bombings Trial

By tomorrow lunchtime we should know the verdict in the trial of those accused of perpetrating the Madrid train bombings on March 11th 2004. We don't know what is going to happen to the 28 people still accused of participating in the bombings, but the betting is that all but one of those being held in preventative prison can expect to receive a sentence in excess of the full time they have served awaiting trial. Otherwise, the normal procedure would have been to release them. I will be examining the verdict and its consequences in much more detail in the next few days on a blog not too far away from this one. For the moment I just want to look at the potential political impact of the trial.

According to an opinion poll today in Público, one third of Partido Popular (PP) voters still believe that ETA was involved in the massacre, which given the hammering such a belief took during the trial is either a depressing homage to the power of the media to influence opinion, or perhaps an equally distressing revelation of how difficult it is to persuade some people to face reality when they don't want to. How the figure compares to those who believe Elvis is still alive has not been revealed.

The campaign run over the last few years by El Mundo and the COPE radio station, with the PP leadership playing the part of backing chorus, is something that personally I find goes well beyond what could be considered the normal "rough and tumble" of political life. Perhaps they won't receive any punishment for this cynical manipulation of such tragic events, but they certainly deserve to regardless of whether the motives behind it were personal, political or commercial. The conspiracy theorists are already preparing themselves for the possibility of an adverse result. The PP leadership has firmly denied ever having promoted conspiracy theories about the bombings. Fortunately, we have Internet archives to hand to demonstrate just how very untrue this affirmation is. El Mundo is also publishing highly selective comparisons between its coverage and that of El País. Should Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras be convicted of having supplied the explosives used in the bombs, then it is a fairly safe bet that El Mundo will not choose to reprint their extensive interview with him in which they presented him as an innocent choirboy-like victim of a conspiracy.

Despite publicly stating that they will respect the decision of the trial, I expect El Mundo and the PP to continue their efforts to at least confuse the issue. A clear verdict of Islamist responsibility for the bombings carries a political charge. This charge has been made even greater by the mountain of lies constructed to try and cover the original attempt to manipulate the bombings by Aznar’s government. We will hear much about how their efforts have helped to clarify unknown facts about the bombings, together with denials that they ever suggested collusion between the current government and ETA. If the judgement casts even the slightest doubt about any of the key evidence in the case, then expect such doubts to be magnified to the maximum possible extent.

The date of the next election must also take into account the Madrid bombings. Until someone breaks the electoral cycle, and it doesn't look like happening this time, then general elections in Spain will continue to fall close to the anniversary of the train bombings. It will be a factor in the date to be chosen for that election; calling a poll either just before, or shortly after the anniversary will inevitably remind people of the events that took place 4 years before. Very tight security has surrounded the verdict, undoubtedly the judges on the court are as aware as anyone else of the impact of their decisions.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Yes, it will be interesting to see what imperceptible nuances in tomorrow's verdict become major discussion points in the weeks that follow.

As to that Público survey, that's pretty sad.