WORLD

SPAIN'S SPLIT PERSONALITY

Wildly liberal. Devoutly Catholic. In Spain, old divisions are reopening.

MICHAEL PETROU October 9 2006
WORLD

SPAIN'S SPLIT PERSONALITY

Wildly liberal. Devoutly Catholic. In Spain, old divisions are reopening.

MICHAEL PETROU October 9 2006

SPAIN'S SPLIT PERSONALITY

Wildly liberal. Devoutly Catholic. In Spain, old divisions are reopening.

WORLD

MICHAEL PETROU

Spain, in the two

years since the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party leader José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero became prime minister, has apparently been transformed into one of the most socially left-leaning societies in Europe. Gay marriage is legal, and gay couples are allowed to adopt children. And the influence and power of the Catholic Church continues its decline.

Perhaps in an effort to reduce the number of divorces that are now so easy to obtain, Spanish civil marriage contracts now require men to agree to do their fair share of housework, child-rearing and looking after elderly relatives. And this month, a fashion show in Madrid banned underweight models from appearing, and promised to provide medical attention for women judged to be too skinny.

It seems as if Spain is rapidly shedding its macho and conservative image, and rushing headlong into a liberal, secular future.

Why, then, did an estimated 1.5 million Spaniards flock to Valencia this summer to hear Pope Benedict XVI back family values and criticize the reforms Spain has undergone? For Robert Davidson, a professor of Spanish and Catalan studies at the University of Toronto, the answer is simple: “There are two Spains.”

Spain went through a bitter civil war from 1936 to 1939. The conflict pitted many segments of Spanish society against each other— with fascists, conservatives, the military and the Catholic Church supporting Francisco Franco’s military rebellion, and socialists, anarchists, Communists and regional nationalists supporting the elected government he eventually overthrew. Franco’s dictatorship persisted for almost 40 years, until his death in 1975. Davidson argues that Spain’s rapid transition to democracy following Franco’s

r~ `ii u~~i r~t~ oi t~xiu~i iii i i ii :r~ `i `ii~i `~i'i

death left many divisions within Spanish society muffled, but still very much intact.

Spain never had anything resembling South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which might have allowed for crimes committed during Franco’s dictatorship to be openly acknowledged. Instead, Spain’s political factions, fearful of a resumption of violence, implicitly agreed not to dwell on the past. On one level, this strategy, an unspoken pacto de olvido, or agreement to forget, worked: Spain is a successful democracy and a thriving economy. “The post-transition period had an explosion of ideas and free expression,” Davidson says. But, he adds, “Spain also went through this process very quickly. There has been massive change, but at the same time how much change can be absorbed in such a short period?” According to Davidson, some of Spain’s old divisions “are starting to bubble up to the surface.”

This is evident in the controversy surrounding the government’s order last year to remove the only remaining statue of Franco

from the streets of Madrid. The monument was hauled away before dawn, but the event still drew both protesters who jeered, and Franco supporters who sang a fascist anthem. It is also evident in Spaniards’ sharply ambivalent attitude toward the Catholic Church. While it is true that more than a million Spaniards turned out to hear the Pope celebrate mass in Valencia, only 20 per cent of Spaniards attend church anymore. Zapatero himself, whose grandfather, a republican army officer, was shot dead during the civil war, declined to attend the Pope’s mass.

Old divisions are also bubbling to the surface over a seemingly obscure dispute regarding the location of one trove of archived Catalan documents rich with reports from the civil war era. The documents, containing personal letters and documents of nationalist forces during the civil war, were seized by Franco’s government after Barcelona fell in 1939, and taken to Salamanca, in western Spain. Last year, Zapatero ordered the documents to be returned to Catalonia, an

autonomous region in northeastern Spain with a strong nationalist movement. The move proved highly controversial. Salamanca’s mayor refused to allow trucks sent to pick up the documents to park near the archive, and the conservative opposition Popular Party also opposed returning the documents, arguing that doing so is simply a ploy to appease the Catalan regional government.

According to Francisco García-Serrano, a history professor at Saint Louis University’s Madrid campus, the controversy regarding the archives speaks to another divide that cuts through Spanish society. “There are two Spains,” he says. But the deepest divide is not between the left and right. “One [Spain] looks to the capital Madrid, the other believes in more regional autonomy. This tension has always been there.”

Zapatero has tried to address these regional tensions. This June, Catalans voted to become a semi-independent “nation” within Spain, gaining greater control of taxation, airports, ports and immigration. Zapatero backed the devolution of power to Catalonia, but many in Spain, including the Popular Party, rejected it, as did some Catalans who favoured outright independence.

Elsewhere in the country, the divide between Spain’s centrists and regional nationalists is potentially much more serious. Zapatero has indicated his willingness to open up talks with the paramilitary Basque separatist group ETA, which declared a ceasefire six months ago. But last weekend, the group announced its commitment to “taking up arms firmly,” and there are fears it could revert to terrorism (some 800 people have been killed by the ETA since its first attack in 1961).

Still, Zapatero has had remarkable success, especially for someone few believe would have become prime minister were it not for the Madrid train bombings on the eve of the 2004 election. Many attributed those terrorist attacks to Spain’s controversial involvement with the U.S. in the Iraq war, and they swung public opinion away from the then-ruling Popular Party, especially when the government blamed the ETA for the blasts and ignored growing evidence al-Qaeda was to blame. But with the PM facing opposition from Spain’s centrists, conservatives, Catholics, and regional nationalists, his support may not be as deep as it appears. “I think the two Spains argument is simplistic,” Adrian Shubert, a historian and expert on modern Spain at Toronto’s York University, says. “There were many Spains in the civil war, and there are many Spains today.” Together, they make up a country that is extremely difficult to govern. M