Thursday, 19 April 2012

*Off* to the dogs

I've been in Spain for almost five weeks now. Five weeks somewhere you miss, you love, you hate, can prove to be quite stressful.
On a personal note, they have been amazing. I've laughed loads and experienced stuff I'd never lived before (such as this), I've got to see most of my friends and relatives, and whilst a few have disappointed, with most it's been amazing. And I have done almost no revision at all, which kind of shows I am well-adapted to uni life already!

But to the student of politics, there ought to be at all times another dimension when they are somewhere. That of observation. Since I left, I have tried to disengage myself with politics, at least in its stuff-happening-now sense. I try to think of everything within a theoretical framework now, and so, while I keep myself well-informed, I try not to judge, not to express my opinion on anything. My grandpa used to tell me "Sergio; tú, oír, ver y callar" which roughly translates to "Sergio, you must hear and see, but remain quiet". It is ironic how I am obeying this premise now more than ever. He would have been proud of me. But I reckon he would not agree with me. He, as my other grandparents, even like my parents, grew up in a country where talking politics could cost one's life, or those of your partner, your children, etc. Perhaps it is because of this that Politics degrees in Spain take a much more administration-oriented approach. In other words, they churn prospective civil servants. To be a politician, Law or no degree at all are the most common paths, in this country.
As I was saying, however, I have tried to disengage myself from the politics of Spain. I am a sort of spectator now, but I do not really feel entitled to express an opinion on it anymore. Theoretically I have a right to vote (even though for the last election I could not!), but in reality, I come and go, come and go, but this is not my base, so I limit myself to observe everything and jot down some stuff. I'm more of an analyser now, rather than someone suffering it. I do not dislike my position. My BlackBerry does, perhaps, as I save quite a lot of drafts and take some pictures to remind myself afterwards about stuff I want to write down and share.
This Easter break I have had the opportunity of observing much more than I could during Christmas break. This time, I have had no assignments, no Christmas commitments, I have had more time, and I have had the chance of travelling around, North and South. I have travelled by car, by bus, by train, even by plane, these weeks. I have seen people from the upper and from the lower classes, nationals and foreigners. And I have been careful to the utmost to observe every detail I could.

Politically, Spain is going to the dogs. A few days ago it was Trending Topic on Twitter the hashtag #ThisIsSpain, it might as well have been #ThisIsPain. The government has bought itself a brand new pair of scissors and is employing it in making huge cuts and rising taxes. In itself, this is not bad, but it is not enough. If you just cut the edges of the tumour, the cancer will eventually spread, no matter how long you continue cutting. You need to attack its roots, try and remove it. Apart from making redundancy cheaper for employers and not creating employment in any way, they have announced an amnesty for tax evaders who return their money to Spain. So yeah, while rising people's taxes and making people much, much poorer, they are forgiving tax evaders and encouraging them to come back because they will pay less.
At this very moment, corrupt politicians are allowed to continue in office and are indeed voted en masse, the 'café para todos' policy (literally, 'coffee for all' policy - the concept rose in the Transition after Franco's death in 1975 as a way of giving autonomous powers to all regions in Spain instead of just to those with historical rights to them) is proving wrong, debt is high and chances are some regions will go bankrupt sooner than later.
Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards have been scammed and lost their life savings, by savings banks, while the government says nothing on the matter and instead helps out banks.
Not even the Royal Family is saved, this time. On the anniversary of the foundation of the Second Spanish Republic, known as Republic Day, the King was in Botswana hunting elephants (a bit ironic given he's honorary president of WWF Spain). He broke his hip and had to be returned to Spain to get surgery. Very bad timing, to do this straight after his grandson shot himself on the foot with a rifle he cannot touch by law, due to his age, and very little after his son-in-law has been found to be corrupt and have stolen ridiculously high sums of money.
Spain may still have relatively cheap alcohol and tobacco, but education and taxes are getting more and more expensive, and stories of hunger are beginning to be heard of. People like you or me, people we know, people who may be close to us.

Poverty is beginning to be noticeable. People still travel, people still go out, but the underlying circumstances have changed. Never had I ever seen so many people on a plane with a foiled sandwich from home before, as now when I flew from Barcelona to Alicante, just over two weeks ago. At the airport, in Barcelona, just after security, I was able to see something which made me think a lot. There was this Latin American man, employed at the airport. His task consisted in putting trays back in the other side of the control, so passengers in the queue can use them to leave their stuff while it is X-rayed. Well, I was putting my belt back on, and my watch, phone, passport and some coins still were on the tray, so I put it in a small table, next to my suitcase, whilst I could not hold it. A couple with two children, Spanish-speaking (with a perfectly Spanish accent) but foreign passport holders had just left two trays in that table and left. The man came, and out of one of the trays he got a T-10, the best-known transport ticket in the Barcelona area (9.25€ for 10 journeys, while a single ticket ranges between 2€ for metro and 3.60€ from the city to the airport). Every time you use it, it gets checked, so you can see whether it's been fully used or not. This man stopped working, looked at the T-10 for almost half a minute, and finally, while smiling complacently, he put it in the pocket of his shirt before resuming the collection of the trays. He looked at me and found me looking at him, he realised I had seen the whole scene, and his face changed. I smiled and carried on with my business. When I was done he was coming back, and with a smile on my face I handed him my tray while wishing him a pleasant day. He looked strangely relieved. To this day, I still do not know how to feel about this all, but it made me think. An employee at the ninth busiest airport in Europe surely should earn enough to do his work efficiently and not stop for a whole minute just to check if he can save a few euros on transport - I also saw him texting straight after he put the ticket in his pocket.

Also, anecdotes apart, I see more and more beggars everyday, and it is weird taking a train and not seeing some random guy playing the accordion seeking some coins. I get the same commuter rail line regularly, when I am here, and some of the guys, I have seen them so many times once one even greeted me as he knew me. Security people at Renfe, the Spanish national rail, do not tolerate fare-dodgers who actually can no longer afford to pay for ever-more expensive transport but do tolerate these guys. Society no longer trusts the police, who beat, sometimes even to death, for no apparent reason. Train services are more expensive but are actually worse, with continuous unexplained delays and a few accidents in a row.

Talking to an old man a few weeks ago, he told me his convictions were simple: "The King, Justice and the Trade Unions ought to be neutral at all times."
Simply, this is not the case in Spain.
Society is angry. At the government, at the King, at the state itself. Nationalist movements are taking hold and are making the situation even harder, at least over here in Catalonia. The Catalan government has bought itself another pair of scissors and Catalonia is probably the region where more cuts have been made. The Catalan people are angry, and are right to be so, at both the Spanish government and the Catalan government.
Independence would hardly help to solve this anger, as Catalan politicians are as bad and party-focused as Spanish ones and would continue to be so, with the added set-up costs of a whole new state. Some Catalans look at Scotland and hope, others simply realise problems go further than that and a whole new conception of state is needed to start responding to the grievances of the people. Both in Catalonia and in Spain. It is not the time to start messing around with sovereignity debates when the territory is as politically, economically and socially destroyed as it currently is.

As for me, I have a day and a half left in Spain before flying back to the UK. Distance will help me see things clearer and try to think of something to do. Over here everything is just too blurred.
I have been told by quite a lot of people I should come to Spain, I should try to help. People give me their ideas and put their hopes in me, should I become anyone one day. I try to smile and feel honoured, but deep down I know this is something impossible to solve. It is not impossible, but it would take all of residents of Spain to actually do something, and old scars and divisions and a complete lack of patriotism, rather, the existence of 'harming the state and others for my own benefit' state-of-mind, largely applauded in this country, make it impossible.
And idealist Politics students who would like to fight become even more frustrated.

Hopefully, revision for my Politics and Arabic exams coming up in the next few weeks should take my mind off all this. If it does not, I should understand it. There is a reason why I picked the degree I am doing, after all!

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