The promise of Europe and a better life that defined post transition Spain is dead. Today, there seems to be no hope of national renewal.
Looking back, Barcelona in the summer of 1992 can perhaps be seen as the zenith of Spain in the post transition era. All Olympic events to my reactionary left-wing viewpoint are folly but if ever there was a case of the Olympics being a truly national celebration, this was it. Here was Spain, making her final emergence from the cocoon of isolation of Francoist Spain to become the butterfly of the European community. Crucially it would not be Madrid but Catalunya, a region of the country that had been systematically repressed for decades, that would be the showcase to the world and Catalan residents would cheer as vociferously for the Spanish national heroes as Andalusians. It was free, bold and confident heading into the new millennium. Comparing the state of the nation from then to now is a horrific story of national decline.
Throughout the late 1990’s and 2000’s both employment and youth unemployment, which in Spain had been notoriously high in the post transition era, would sink to levels on par with most other European nations. By 2019, youth unemployment would be 33% with no real recovery from the late 2000’s recession.
The housing speculation of the early 2000’s has meant today that although housing prices collapsed in the housing crash of 2007, there was entire generation of Spaniards locked out from home-ownership as the deposit required proved impossible. This meant the only people who could buy houses were, once again, property speculators and the greatly escalating cost of rent in the places people fled to find a job (Barcelona saw a more than 50% increase in the years from 2013 to 2019) has meant there was never a real recovery for millions of Spaniards.
What is worse (for those of us of a conservative disposition), is that this inability to have housing security has left the average age of a Spanish women having a first child going above 31 in 2018 and we have already had more deaths than births in Spain since the Civil War, as an entire generation of Spaniards cannot afford to have children. All of this was before Covid.
The political situation is just as broken. The two-party consensus that had maintained Spain has now collapsed, with PSOE and PP being buffeted by regionalists on all sides. I was in Barcelona in 2017 for the Catalan referendum, failed UDI and weekly round of protests which split the region in two. These images undoubtedly helped Vox nationally and by the time I returned to Spain in 2019, Barcelona had become a place of makeshift barricades and fire over consecutive nights in October. The idea any of this is going to be helped by the impending collapse of the economy is delusional.
Added to all this, is the divulgence of the former King’s ‘financial irregularities’. The former King could previously be held up as a symbol of unity and if not love, or at least be begrudgingly respected for his role in the transition era. He is now causing institutional damage to the Royal Family that could become comparable to the Rif War.
As I write this, the ongoing meeting of European Heads of State shows just how far Spain has fallen. The Dutch PM has an election coming up next year and is in no position to give out grants. If the Spanish Government is forced to make reforms at the behest of other EU countries then the government here will likely collapse. Spain was fragile economically and politically before Covid, it might be ungovernable after.
Plus, what options does a Spanish Government really have? They have a currency that makes their products perpetually uncompetitive compared to their northern neighbours and are unable to devalue the currency. The historical trend of northern countries gleefully creaming off the youngest and brightest Spanish citizens, the very people on which any future tax base of Spain would depend on, will only increase as those very countries demand Spain becomes more productive and raises taxes to pay future loans. The move towards mass tourism to combat this has actually only increased problems by turning their cities into glorified tourist resorts, in which few of their own citizens can afford to start families. Covid has buried even this poor model.
South America, a young continent with potential for enormous growth that largely shares the same language, will be a lost opportunity for Spain to capitalise on due to being a member of the EU. Spain is trapped in a club that increasingly seems only to lead Spain on a path of demographic decline and national humiliation, regardless of who is in office.
I cannot find a single optimistic note to end this on as even if Spain could swiftly return to the ‘old normal’, this would only be a return to the decline of Spain that has characterised large parts of the last three decades. Maybe I will become a millionaire in Pesetas if Spain is cut off. Perhaps the almost inevitable running battles between police and Catalan protesters will destroy Barcelona property speculation to a level where normal people can have kids. This is the best I can do. Right now, whatever the outcome of European packages and support, the walls are closing in on Spain and it looks as if there is no way out. Barcelona 1992 wasn’t just a different country, it was a different world.
Photo by SubtlePanda on Flickr
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