Friday, February 24, 2012

Waiting For The Great Leap Forward

Spain's ruling party, The People's Party, held it's 17th Congress last weekend as hundreds of thousands of Spaniards took to the streets in an unprecedented show of defiance to the hardline regime. The congress saw the re-election of Kim Jong Rajoy as party leader. Regime mouthpiece PPravda reported that Kim Jong Rajoy, normally referred to as the Dear Leader, was endorsed by an overwhelming 161% of party delegates. The paper compared this to the previous congress in 2008, when the party's leader only received the support of 142% of those attending. 

Speeches at the congress focused overwhelmingly on the dire economic situation of the country. Kim Jong Rajoy, in his acceptance speech, warned the country of hard times that lie ahead before leaving to take his afternoon nap. A controversial policy of sacking 80% of the Spanish workforce was presented to delegates as an important measure to assist job creation, under the slogan "We must first destroy in order to create". A new four year plan to revitalise the moribund economy was also presented. 

Bold new production targets have been set for key industries, notably those producing tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, police batons and other crowd control materials. Other key modernisation policies include the mandatory use of shackles in the workplace. Party officials pointed out that these shackles were made from highly resistant plastic rather than the more traditional iron. Another sign of the country's technological prowess, they claimed. Important changes were also announced for workers salaries. Delegates at the conference unanimously supported a motion describing the monthly salary as an outmoded, petit-bourgeois concept. 

One notable absentee from the congress this time was Francisco Camps from Valencia. A hero of the previous congress, which was held in Valencia, Camps has since fallen into disgrace following the discovery of unspecified irregularities at the Number 4 Suits R Us factory. Kim Jong Rajoy left almost immediately following the congress for talks with the regime's key allies in the Eurobloc Pact. German and French leaders provide occasional assistance to prop up Kim Jong Rajoy's regime under the strict condition that the only beneficiaries of this aid should be the banks.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Gallardón The Moderate

When Mariano Rajoy announced his new government in December there were some who chose to see it as a selection of moderate, almost technocratic, ministers. The reality is that Mariano made his ministerial choices on the basis of loyalty to Mariano above all other considerations; apart from the now obligatory inclusion in a senior position of a banker. Only two months later, the idea that this is a moderate administration is already very difficult to sustain. Take the case of the justice minister, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón. As mayor of Madrid he was of course rightly famous for having bankrupted the city and for having won a gold medal for failed Olympic bids. But he was also seen as a centrist politician capable of reaching out to those voters who disliked the fundamentalist, taliban wing of the Partido Popular. 

The trick worked well for quite a few years, but it was just a trick. Gallardón's mask started to slip before he made the leap to national politics, the papal visit last summer saw him enthusiastically joining the competition to hand over as much of Madrid as possible to the Pope and his pilgrims. Now installed as a minister, it is Gallardón who will steer through what promises to be a thoroughly reactionary abortion law reform. Quite possibly taking us back to the position of the 1980's when women wanting an abortion and health professionals could never be absolutely sure that what they were doing was legal. Just the sort of precarious ambiguity that suits the PP on issues like this. 

Gallardón, who has never hidden his ambition to lead the PP and who prospered under the patronage of eminent Franco-democrat Manuel Fraga, is now perhaps more concerned about winning over those still to his right. So, yesterday, it was Gallardón who led the charge in defence of the brutal police violence we have seen in Valencia in the last few days. Fully equipped riot police beating up school kids has led to some shocking scenes, but the moderate Gallardón sees none of this. Instead he would have us believe, alongside the ever more servile right-wing press, that it is all the work of anti-system radicals intent on attacking the police. Oddly enough, as the riot police were withdrawn yesterday, there was an outbreak of entirely peaceful protest in Valencia. It's almost a perfect portrait of the way that region is being run, kids and their parents who protest about having no heating in their schools get beaten by riot cops whilst the corrupt political leadership who don't pay the heating bills continue to go peacefully about their business. 

It's fairly clear that the new government has let the police off the leash in dealing with any protests against the severe cutbacks being implemented by Rajoy's administration. In Madrid Esperanza Aguirre was threatening to form her own regional police force last year, as the then PSOE administration refused her repeated requests to crack heads in the Puerta del Sol. In compensation for not getting her own private police force (a truly frightening prospect), she instead got one of her people installed as the Delegada del Gobierno in Madrid, the government's local representative. The change is already being noted with the police putting any meetings of the 15M movement held in the Puerta del Sol under intense pressure. 

The excuse for this pressure on protest movements is that such actions have not been authorized by the government. It's a common PP refrain that the 15M activities are illegal because they do not ask for permission. Back in the real world there is actually no legal requirement in Spain to ask those in power for permission to demonstrate - just as well! The Spanish constitution guarantees the right to assembly and there is only a legal requirement to communicate the intention to meet if the event in question affects the use of areas of public transit. Failure to communicate this isn't even a serious crime, the penalty would be a fine. But for the right it's sufficient excuse to send in the riot police, and to use the law when it suits them to use it. Sports fans who come on to the streets to celebrate their team winning a trophy are unlikely to be baton charged by the police. 

Occasionally, very occasionally, the police are forced to account for excesses. With huge media coverage of the violence they used against peaceful protestors in Barcelona last year a judicial case against the senior officers responsible on the day is leading to the possibility of a trial. But will it matter? In 2009 five Catalan police officers were found guilty of mistreatment and illegal detention. Oh, I almost forgot, they were found guilty of torture too. The details of the case are appalling. Last week the PP government pardoned them and they will soon be back on duty 'upholding the law' with no penalty of any kind. How safe does that make you feel? The more you hear the vacuous rhetoric about how we are all equal before the law, and we hear it a lot these days, the less likely it is to be true. Meanwhile, let's not forget that the moderate Gallardón is STILL on the left of his party.

From Vergara in Público:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Time Machine

If you want to know how life was before the internet, you don't really need to travel through time or even go any further than last Sunday's Goya film awards in Madrid. For the president of the Spanish film academy the web is still a thing of the future, not of the present. Just as well for him, then, that one of the first acts of the Rajoy government was to approve the regulation of the anti piracy Ley Sinde. Spain's cinema industry can still continue to regard the internet as the enemy, rather than as a business opportunity.

The trouble is that the new government may not be helpful in other ways. There were several references in the ceremony to the important role played by the national television company, RTVE, in the production of many Spanish films. That could well be about to change, the state broadcaster is in deep financial trouble with the future of many of its flagship programmes in doubt. The Partido Popular has little sympathy for the Spanish film industry in general, some remarks in speeches at the ceremony about not forgetting the victims of Franco's repression or in defence of public education were unlikely to go down well with the PP politicians present.

As for the awards themselves, the big winner this year was Enrique Urbizu's thriller No habrá paz para los malvados (No Rest for the Wicked). The result was a little unexpected, this year's ceremony was supposed to be one of reconciliation between the academy and Pedro Almodóvar, the latter having decided to show up this time in the expectation that someone would scream "Peeedrrro" from the stage when the award for the best film was handed out. But La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) didn't do particularly well as some of the major awards went to Urbizu's film.

No habrá paz para los malvados is one of the few nominated films that I've managed to get to see this time. It's not a bad film, and Jose Coronado was a worthy winner of the best actor award for his portrayal of the corrupt cop attempting to deal with the only living witness of his crimes. But in general I found the film a bit difficult to follow, nor is the idea behind it so original for it to stand out. I can't compare it with the Almodóvar film, because the accumulated prejudices of the past few years (with the sole exception of Volver) mean that Pedro's latest release usually ends up near the bottom of my list of films to see.

Yesterday I went to see Iciar Bollaín's latest film, Katmandú un espejo en el cielo. I like most of her work but had lower expectations of this story concerning the attempts of a Catalan teacher to set up a school in Kathmandu for poor children from the shanty towns. Inspired by, rather than directly based on, a true story perhaps it was the trailer that led me not to expect too much. Looking like a mixture of Himalayan travelogue with a bit of social content mixed in. You shouldn't rely too much on trailers, and the film is significantly better than that image although still lacking for me the impact of other Bollaín productions like También la lluvia or Te doy mis ojos.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What's The Matter, Lost Your Sense Of Humour?

When thousands of Spanish football fans made monkey chants every time a black player touched the ball, this was of course hysterically funny and only a few humourless hypocrites failed to get the joke. Equally, who could forget the fine, subtle irony displayed by the Spanish basketball team pretending to be Chinese by stretching their eyes? But then a French puppet show makes a joke about one of Spain's poor defenceless millionaire tennis players and this is an unacceptable affront and official government complaints must be made to the French authorities.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Body Language

It's not hard to see why Mariano Rajoy's minders are doing their best to keep their man out of public view. Spain's prime minister had his first European summit this week and displayed his absolute lack of communication skills. Not that he practices very much. Say what you like about Zapatero, he knew how to look an audience in the eye and speak to them. Even if he was constantly moving his imaginary box from one side to another. Rajoy always looks as if he can't wait to get away, and as if he has a bad taste in his mouth. 

When he was officially greeted in Spanish by Herman Van Rompuy, who is allegedly someone important in the EU, Rajoy couldn't even muster a smile of acknowledgement. Instead we got the Mariano grimace and that bad taste again. The only time he smiled was when he told the Finnish prime minister that the imminent labour market reform would cost him a general strike. The remark was not intended to be reported and someone had to go and wake up Spain's union leaders to tell them what was expected of them. The outcome is that they are now almost obliged to call the strike, otherwise they'll make Rajoy look stupid!

If you want to know what plans Spain's government has for the economy then you really need to read the foreign press. The economy minister (or should that be one of the economy ministers?), Luis de Guindos gave quite a precise description of the content of the proposed labour market reform to the Wall Street Journal. All of which is curious when you consider that no such description had been offered to the Spanish people, and when the details were supposedly still being thrashed out between employers and unions. It's all part of the game, the content of this reform is said to be part of the letter sent to the Italian and Spanish governments prior to the European Central Bank acting to reduce pressure in the debt markets. We know the Italians got the letter, but both Zapatero and Rajoy have been allowed to act as if they are just deciding themselves to implement these measures instead of being told what to do.