TFF logoFORUMS Power Columns

TFF Home | About us


Iraq Forum

Features by others

Links to all issues

New stuff

Other associate articles

Burundi Forum

Publications on-line

Paul McCartney

Nyt på nordisk

Jonathan Power

EU conflict-handling

The 100 best books

Annual Reports

TFF Associates


Reconciliation project

Øbergs Kalejdoskop

Support TFF on-line

Activities right now

Gandhi & India

Teaching & training

Oberg's photos

Support TFF off-line

PressInfos - Analyses

Macedonia Forum

Lærestof på dansk

TFF News Navigator


Spain's Zapatero is overturning
one applecart after another



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991
Comments to

January 3rd, 2006

LONDON - Spain's Socialist government continues its heady run of the bulls overturning one sacred applecart after another. A few months ago it was legislation to permit gay marriages, the third country in Europe to take this step, and a cold slap on the face for Spain's Catholic heritage. Now there is the cold turkey of stopping the smoking habits of Spain's bar-visiting populace who smoke more than any other nation in Europe except Greece.

Prime Minister José Zapatero who surprised all the pundits by winning the election nearly two years ago and who had no previous experience of government and precious little of leadership appears to have the all confidence of an experienced matador.

Last week he coined a new phrase to mark his philosophy of government- "social patriotism", which presumably means that Spaniards should hold their heads high as their country bucks the United States over Iraq, its economy steams ahead and it pioneers a raft of new social legislation, not to mention offering a new deal of devolved government to the Basques and the Catalans despite accusations from the nationalists that he is dismembering the country.

Well, a majority of Spaniards do appear to be holding their heads high, but it is a thin majority and the reaction is strong. The defeated Popular Party shows no intention of playing opposition sotto voce. Their approach is a barrage of counter attack that makes many commentators queasy, reminding them of the bitter divide between socialist and conservative that precipitated the civil war. Former prime minister José María Aznar still insists that he did not deceive the nation when in the hours after the Al Qaeda bombing of the Madrid railway station he insisted it was the work of the homegrown Basque group, ETA. Even though his ploy backfired and turned voters against him, Aznar and his colleagues still maintain that they were right and that the Socialists won the election by means of subterfuge. The fact that hardly anyone in the intelligence services or the police supports Aznar's position on this seems to do little to slow his party's onslaught.

Rather than drawing back and hunkering down after this shaming episode the new leader of the PP, Mariano Rajoy, fires off rhetorical bullets like a machine gun: "In one year you [Zapatero] have turned the whole country belly up…. You have filled the streets with sectarianism. You have given new life to the moribund ETA…You have betrayed the dead."

Paddy Woodworth, the foreign correspondent of the Irish Times who covers Spanish politics with a perspicacity that others do not match, observes. "It is tempting to contrast Zapatero with Don Quixote…..he has a strong tendency to act as though he were unaware of the legacy of the first transition [to democracy on the death of the dictator, Franco, in 1975]. He repeatedly ignores the implicit and explicit limits that period set on political change."

Would you be reading this now,
if it wasn't useful to you?
Get more quality articles in the future

Zapatero is staking his premiership on resolving once and for all Spain's regional crisis- in the Basque country where ETA has long been fighting a terrorist war if not for independence at least for a degree of autonomy that comes near to it- and in Catalonia, Spain's economic powerhouse, whose present day political leadership is demanding that it be considered a separate nation, (rather similar to Scotland's position in the UK today, although with more financial autonomy).

The PP is averse to such constitutional change and nationalist sentiment is strong in Spain, not only on the right but across the center and even on some parts of the left. Zapatero's willingness to countenance a high degree of autonomy- but not independence- and a preparedness to negotiate face to face if ETA renounce violence has overturned not just the convictions of the previous government but that of Spain's first socialist prime minister, Felipe González, who when in power waged a 'dirty war' against ETA, and indeed Zapatero's own stance before he came to office.

For now Zapatero's star is on the ascendancy. In regional and local elections the PP continues to lose ground. Rajoy's catastrophist rhetoric has not turned the tide of popular opinion, although it may catch fire if the Catalonians push too far too fast and if ETA doesn't grab the olive branch offered and returns to its old murderous habits (it hasn't killed anyone for two years, although occasionally it explodes a bomb).

Zapatero has put himself out on a limb and a false or precipitous move by ETA or the Catalonians could make him look as naïve and callow as many originally judged him to be.


Copyright © 2006 By JONATHAN POWER


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Get free articles & updates


Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the

40th Anniversary of Amnesty International

"Like Water on Stone - The Story of Amnesty International"




Här kan du läsa om - och köpa - Jonathan Powers bok på svenska

"Som Droppen Urholkar Stenen"



Tell a friend about this article

Send to:


Message and your name






S P E C I A L S & F O R U M S

Iraq Forum

Gandhi & India

Burundi Forum

Photo galleries

Nonviolence Forum

TFF News Navigator

Become a TFF Friend

TFF Online Bookstore

Reconciliation project

EU conflict-management

Make an online donation

Foundation update and more

TFF Peace Training Network

Make a donation via bank or postal giro

Basic menu below












The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone + 46 - 46 - 145909     Fax + 46 - 46 - 144512

© TFF 1997 till today