More colorful, no doubt, is the campaign of resistance being waged by the leftist mayor of Marinaleda, in Andalusia. Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo has led his band of farm laborers to occupy large estates owned by the government and rich landowners, as well as launch “subsistence theft” raids on supermarkets to feed his followers.
In effect, these local administrations are taking a cue from some of the civil disobedience tactics that have proliferated among protest groups since the initial 15-M coalescence last year. Activists in several cities now use mobile social networks to gather quickly at protest sites before police or authorities can evict them. And they have a lot to protest. Rising unemployment and the bursting of the property bubble have combined to leave hundreds of thousands unable to finance their homes, while the banks have sucked up billions of euros of bailout funds from the government. There is a kind of vacuum, with central government on the one hand enacting policies to meet the external demands of financial markets, while, on the other hand, individuals on the ground and local institutions try to provide solutions to the grave social ills arising from a prolonged recession.
For César Molinas, a well-known financial consultant whose recent essay, “Theory of Spain’s Political Class,” enjoyed phenomenal success when published in El País last month, Spain’s institutions are incapable of dealing with the current crisis. “They have yet to adapt to the fall of the Berlin Wall and globalization,” he argues. The institutional pact between major political parties, business groups and labor unions that grew up in the post-Franco transition of the 1970s and early 1980s did work, says Molinas, in terms of uniting the country around the goals of consolidating democracy and integrating Spain within Europe. But, echoing the arguments of the 15-M movement, Molinas claims those interests have now become “entrenched” and “dysfunctional.”
In the essay, which is an advance extract of the book Qué Hacer con España? (What to Do With Spain?), to be published next year, Molinas describes how political parties have created a self-serving network of regional authorities, savings banks and other subsidized institutions that have led to disastrous investment decisions and a lack of economic flexibility and competitiveness — all of which was cruelly exposed by the bursting of the real estate bubble on the back of the global credit crunch.
But not everybody accepts that the country’s plight has such endemic roots. José Ignacio Torreblanca, a leading political commentator and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Madrid office, contends that this is not a specifically Spanish crisis, dismissing what he sees as “gloomy” arguments that hold that Spain is predestined to underachieve, a common theme down the ages. “There was even a theory about chickpeas — a Spanish staple — which went that they didn’t give enough protein,” says Torreblanca. “But in the United States there was also a real estate bubble, and they are much cleverer than us and eat more proteins.”
“It is not a problem of a lack of scientific knowledge, like a meteorite approaching and no one has the answer. The techniques are known,” Torreblanca argues, though he accepts that the nexus of financial and political power, the unraveling of which can be seen in the 60-billion-euro hole in Spain’s banking system, still requires attention. “We have reformed everything except two powers: the financial sector and the political sector, which, what’s more, are highly interconnected. What we do not know is if in the end the agent of change is going to be Spain’s angry people or it is going to come from the outside, from the troika,” he adds, in reference to the possibility of Rajoy requesting a new bailout overseen by Brussels, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.