Two years ago this May, Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and Barcelona’s Plaza Catalunya, Spain’s two most important city squares, were occupied by thousands of indignant protestors. For many of the nation’s highly educated but disillusioned youth, enough was enough, and for a short while it seemed that a new era of political mobilization beckoned.
A few weeks later, however, such hopes were brutally dashed when the riot division of Catalonia’s police force, the Mossos D’esquadra, unleashed the untamed fury of the state upon the protestors’ makeshift camp, under the rather dubious pretext of ridding the city of a health and safety risk (this is Europe, after all!). The message was clear: all attempts to resist the new European economic reality, no matter how peaceful, would be brutally suppressed.
In little more than an hour, a whirlwind of police violence cleared the square of all the occupants and pretty much all of their belongings, many of which were never returned. All the while, a thick, dense ring of shell-shocked protestors and curious bystanders gathered around the square, looking on in a mixture of bewilderment, fear and anger.
And I was one of them. As I strolled around the square, with one wary eye on the aggrieved protestors and the other on the fearsomely armed and highly unpredictable mossos d’esquadra, a placard caught my attention. Its message was beautifully simple: “No soy anti sistema, el sistema es anti yo” (I’m not anti-system; the system is anti-me).
The placard was held aloft by a small child riding on his father’s shoulders. The cynical realist within me knew full well that the boy, who must have been no more than five or six years old, was merely channeling his father’s thoughts. But that didn’t stop my more romantic side from imagining that the child was, in actual fact, eloquently speaking out for his soon-to-be lost generation.
For if there is one thing of which you can be sure about present-day Europe, it is that its political and economic systems are not meant to serve or protect the interests of the youth; on the contrary, they have been designed to gradually erode their last-remaining freedoms and rights and, by leaving them the tab for the transgressions and greed of the global banking sector, deprive them of all hope of ever attaining the standards of living once taken for granted by their parents or grandparents.
Spain is a perfect case in point: In the two intervening years since the country’s 15-M moment, the economy has spiraled into a bottomless depression. Official youth unemployment in the country has reached a mind-boggling 60 percent. Thousands of Spanish savers and pensioners have been robbed of their life savings, victims of the national banks’ cunning (and, it goes without saying, unpunished) preferentes sleight of hand.
All the while, taxes continue to skyrocket and essential welfare spending has been mercilessly sacrificed on the altar of bank recapitalization. Countless of the nation’s homes have – and continue to be – repossessed, to later be given away at a fraction of their value to wealthy international property speculators.
Perhaps worst of all, the country’s current government, which took the reins of power six months after the inception of the 15th May movement, has proven itself to be the most corrupt and incompetent in living memory.
But Spain is by no means unique; it is, if anything, a mere symptom of what is happening throughout the eurozone. From Cyprus to Portugal and from France to Slovenia, an all-out war has been declared against the continent’s industrious middle classes.
And now, with Winter turning to Spring, and Spring soon to Summer, the people of Europe face the starkest of choices: resignation to the EU’s neoliberal, neofeudal agenda, and with it, the gradual elimination of the few remaining freedoms and opportunities we still enjoy; or a spirited last-stand against the encroaching totalitarianism of the European superstate.
Before you make your choice (if, of course, you are European), let me first make a few of my own personal observations vis-a-vis our current situation and future outlook.
1. In case you hadn’t noticed, we are already owned, lock, stock and smoking barrel, by the international cartel of too-big-to-fail banks.
2. Pretty much all our political representatives and institutions, whether at the national or EU level, have also been bought off by the same banks, whose agents – the national central banks, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the ECB, the European Commission, the IMF, OECD and World Bank - now stand head and shoulders above all other players in the global political order.
3. Said banks are, to all intents and purposes, bankrupt, both financially and morally. They are also quite literally a law unto themselves. By allowing them to continue to operate in a mark-to-model fantasy world as well as gorge themselves on virtually interest-free central bank credit and regular transfusions of tax-payer funds, our politicians have shown all too clearly on which side their bread is buttered. As such, as long as the current financial system remains in place, the banks and their senior executives will be free to continue bleeding dry our national economies and personal bank accounts.
As Golem XIV recently wrote in his blog, there now exists an official list, drawn up by the Financial Stability Board, of 28 banks that are now free to operate beyond any legal jurisdiction. Like HSBC, they can consort with and engage in business with some of the world’s most wanted criminals, at absolutely no risk of legal action. And as Golem notes, this month (April 2013), we can look forward to the announcement of “another list, this time of Globally Systemically Important Insurers (G-SIIs). They too will be above the Law.”
4. Democracy has absolutely no role, beyond a figurative one, in the European Union. The continued survival and expansion of the European superstate supersedes all other concerns, whether moral, political, social or economic. As such, no genuine form of democracy or civic political engagement will be allowed to take root. As in Stalinist Russia, complete power and authority will reside in the hands of faceless, unaccountable apparatchiks, all doing the bidding of the large global banks and conglomerates.
5. As the real economy (i.e. everything that is not the stock exchange) continues its descent into the abyss, businesses will continue to close down, jobs will continue to vanish at an alarming rate and taxes will continue to rise. What’s more, at a politically expedient moment, the final nail will be driven deep into the coffin of Europe’s welfare state system, once the envy of the world. Needless to say, the newly privatized healthcare, education and pension systems that will take its place will be the sole preserve of the upwardly mobile (i.e. not us).
Instead of paying for essential public services and utilities such as health care, education, pensions and infrastructure, the public’s ballooning tax burden will be directed toward two purposes: keeping the big banks afloat and sustaining the ever-expanding police-state apparatus that will be needed to keep the collapsing civic society in line. Put simply, we will be forced to finance our own enslavement.
6. Most importantly of all, the global financial system’s days are already numbered. Put simply, the system is buckling under the combined weight of unsustainable debt, unpayable pension schemes and a derivatives market whose total value dwarfs global GDP by magnitudes that exceed all human logic.
The question is, once it does collapse, who’s going to pick up the pieces and rebuild a new, more sustainable system in its ashes? Will it be us, the people, or will it be the same bankers, central bankers and heavily compromised political half-wits that got us here in the first place? Will we bravely stake our claim to a new future, or resign ourselves, in fear and despair, to the global bankers’ totalitarian nirvana?
Whatever choice Europeans make in the coming months and years, one thing is clear: the human, social and economic costs will be tremendous either way. For the unpleasant truth is that we have allowed ourselves to be led so far down the rabbit hole of exponential debt that reemerging into the light of day will take years of collective struggle and sacrifice.
Don Quijones is a freelance writer and translator based in Barcelona, Spain. His blog, Raging Bull-Shit, is a modest attempt to challenge some of the wishful thinking and scrub away the lathers of soft soap peddled by our political and business leaders and their loyal mainstream media.
Also by Don Quijones: Spain’s Descent Into Banana Republicanism
- EU growth strategy a ‘failure so far’, study finds (irishtimes.com)
- How The Criminal Banking Cartel Is Destroying America (blacklistednews.com)
If a Million People March for Catalan Independence in Barcelona, Do They Make Noise?
Last Tuesday, over a million people took to the streets in a European city that has, in recent years, become one of the more popular tourist destinations in the world.
And as anyone who was there to witness the run-up to the event in recent weeks and months knows, this was no routine exercise in blowing off steam.
No, this was a march in which nearly one fifth of the population of the Catalonian Autonomous Region —led by a who’s who of its long-cautious and decidedly non-radical political class—took to the streets to show support for the idea of seceding from the rest of Spain.
Most well-informed Europeans and Americans are aware that a sizable part of the population of the Basque Country–which straddles the Spanish-French border on the Atlantic end of the Pyrenees—do not consider themselves Spanish or French and would thus be quite content to have a state of their own.
What most of these same people don’t know, however, is that in Catalonia, which straddles the same Spanish-French mountain border on its Mediterranean extreme, the population’s sense of belonging to a society that is quite distinct from that of the rest of Spain–in language, in culture and, yes, basic modes of social comportment—is probably just as widely subscribed as it is in the Basque Country.
The big difference in this game of perception is the role that strident rhetoric, and with it, carefully planned acts of violence, have played within each nation’s drive for greater political power.
Since the late 1950s, a small but important faction of the Basque nationalist movement has spoken openly about independence and how one is justified in using violence to achieve that end. Though most of these same groups have now renounced the use of force, their half-century record of bombings and assassinations are hard to overlook, especially for a media establishment that craves blood-soaked story lines.
During the same period, neither the rhetoric of independence nor the mythology and practice of armed struggle were ever major parts of the of the Catalan nationalist movement.
True to their deeply ingrained tradition (forged during their thousand year experience as traders all across the Mediterranean basin) of resolving social conflicts through negotiation rather than violence, the Catalans have always sought to pursue their national interests through pacts with the national government in Madrid.
This, despite the fact that Madrid has never shown much reticence about using violence to quash Catalan national aspirations whenever it felt the need to do so, as was the case in 1714, 1923, and most recently, during the nearly four decades of the Franco dictatorship (1939-1975).
To put it simply, if the Basques are the wild children of the Iberian mix of nationalities, then the Catalans are the prudent uncles, always careful to choose their words and avoid the possibility of unnecessarily inflaming tensions with the rest of Spain.
In this sense, we can speak of Jordi Pujol, the man who led the Catalan Autonomous government from its inception in 1980 until 2003, as being an emblematic figure within the country. A doctor by training and a banker by vocation before entering politics, this Catholic father of seven is admired for building the region’s (but in his view, his nation’s) modern political and cultural infrastructure.
His long tenure in office was marked, to the frequent chagrin of his critics in both Catalonia and Madrid, by endless triangulations and obfuscations regarding the once and future role of Catalonia within the Spanish state.
Needless to say, he never came close to speaking about independence during those more than two decades in power.
Well, guess who proudly and prominently marched in last Tuesday’s million-person demonstration in Barcelona?
You guessed it, Jordi Pujol.
And almost all of the significant figures from across today’s Catalan political spectrum were right there with him.
After watching Walter Cronkite editorialize on the futility of the Vietnam War, Lyndon Johnson is said to have exclaimed to his assembled aides, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America”.
Well, Spain is now having its Cronkite moment with Catalonia.
During the last few months, I have talked with hundreds of Catalans (a number of whom are quite prominent members of the academic, journalistic and policy-making sectors of the society) about their relationship with Spain. In these conversations, I have heard people who as recently as two years ago would never have dreamed of supporting independence, now saying in clear and matter-of-fact-tones, that it is the only truly sensible destiny for Catalonia.
A big story right?
I can see the headlines now.
“Millions in Spain’s Richest Region March for Independence”
Or if you prefer the personal interest approach,
“Many in Mild-mannered Country Can No Longer Take It. Set to Ask for Divorce after Years of Neglect and Abuse”
Well, that’s not exactly how it played out.
The evening news on the Spain’s publicly-funded national network (widely seen as being a plaything of the deeply centralist, conservative ruling party) put the story at 22-minute mark of a thirty-minute broadcast!
And Madrid’s El País, which likes to think of itself as the Spanish-speaking world’s New York Times (and has the smugness and cozy relationships with officialdom prove it), gave the march and its many important related stories the minimalist treatment.
Seeing the way its journalistic cousins in Spain dealt with the event, the New York Times dutifully followed suit, publishing short reports that studiously avoided explaining any of the historical backdrop to the present Catalan dissatisfaction. Rather, they sought to frame—as did the ruling PP Party and the state TV it controls–as an annoying, but largely insignificant sideshow within Spain’s larger financial crisis.
And as we all know, if the New York Times decides that something overseas is really not news, seldom will anyone in the US journalistic establishment ever dare try and prove the contrary.
That would take actual work and, perhaps more significantly, it would expose those pursing this contrary path to the possibility of being seen as an outlier, the ultimate stigma for “journalists” on the make in today’s America.
The million or so Catalans marched through Barcelona the other day know what they did, and why they did it. It seems, however, that the rest of the world, taking its cue from big media, is bent on pretending it didn’t really happen, or that if it happened, it really wasn’t that significant.
It will be interesting to see who has the last word in this struggle to control the world’s perceptions of Catalonia’s shouts for freedom.
Thomas S. Harrington teaches in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College.