Over the past few weeks I’ve had the chance to speak to Spaniards of different origins and social classes concerning their views on Spain’s recent economic and social travails. Among the genteel middle class there’s an overwhelming ennui, a distinct jadedness. Spain has long been a poor country with higher-than-average unemployment. Much of this is the result of Spain having one of the highest numbers of unskilled workers in Western Europe. Even before the economic collapse of 2008 nearly 10pc were officially unemployed. More interestingly, perhaps, is their view of the EU and Northern European policies. They embrace the EU with little challenge simply because they know nothing or hear nothing else. The media establishment are entirely pro-EU and with the exception of Podemos, so are all major political parties. There’s hardly any discussion on the matter and many have come to attribute far too much of Spain’s post-Franco economic development to the EU.
That Spain was growing rapidly in Franco’s final years due to reforms that the hated Caudillo put in place is ignored out of social and historical expedience. Franco was much like Portugal’s Salazar. He had his place and much of what he did was necessary. Were he to have stepped down after a decade or so in power, after the country had stabilised and the economy returned to something approaching normal he would have likely been remembered more favourably. However, by clinging onto power for decades until nature took its course he became a figure of popular contempt. Yet, there is a growing sense that Germany and its northern allies are incredibly self-serving and hypocritical. Spain has done what was demanded of it. Spain committed itself to the “European Project” fully, but others, many have complained, only when it suits them. One woman complained about a recent holiday she took with her two young sons to Germany. She is well-educated and skilled with a good job in Madrid. Yet, many in Germany, she said, treated her like a gypsy and acted as if she was there for charity. She’s in no great hurry to return to said country. There’s still much desire to “make it work”, but even among the remaining affluent there is a growing sense of disgust.
The tone is very different among poorer Spaniards. Although Spaniards in general have no more confidence in the quality of their politicians than they do in the reliability of a Trabant, those who have been hit hardest often speak bitterly. Some have said that their politicians don’t give a toss about Spain or Spaniards, only about Brussels and Berlin. One woman said that she will leave Spain late this year because she can’t take it anymore. She works her hands to the bone but is struggling to survive. She has a university education but finding employment beyond menial labour is a struggle for many, especially younger Spaniards. She will move with her fiancé to his native Bolivia. She can buy a house for the money she will get for selling her SEAT saloon and her income as a teacher, a position has already been secured, will provide her with a better quality of life than she could hope to have in Madrid. She’s given up on her homeland. Many Spaniards have given up on Spain. They are still proud of Spain, but there’s little hope that things will get better unless something changes in Madrid. Spain deserves a lot more than this.