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Spain: A country falling apart

By Carlos Alberto Montaner | Firmas Press

Originally published September 20, 2005 | While Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero tries to unify the planet with a fanciful dialogue of civilizations, Spain crumbles dangerously before his frozen indifference.

The two most evident, most immediate fragments are Catalonia and the Basque provinces, the nation's most developed regions. But the centrifugal spasms won't end there, of course. Eventually, once regionalism strengthens, separatist tendencies will increase noticeably in Galicia and the Canary Islands.

In Galicia -- where the independence movement was barely perceptible some years ago -- a party with that tendency already shares the power. It is a severely radical group, which flirts with communist ideas on some subjects. In the Canaries, a breakaway embryo that was thought to have disappeared in the 1980s is in slow rebirth.

Nationalist phenomenon

Of course, the nationalist sentiment is not a subject that enthralls most Spaniards. It is not a popular clamor. Barely 20 to 30 percent of the Basque or Catalonian population really wish to establish an independent state.

Among Galicians and Canarians the pro-independence fringe is even smaller: It doesn't rise to 5 percent. Most members of society have other priorities: to improve their jobs and wages, educate their children, buy another car, go on vacation or watch their favorite soccer team win a game.

But nowhere does the nationalist phenomenon feed from frenzied masses. It is always the tenacious task of groups that are emotionally committed to a cause that they consider sacred, a cause for which the boldest and most unscrupulous individuals are willing to die or kill. It has always been thus.

On the other hand, the fact that an overwhelming majority of Spaniards don't want their country fragmented into several independent states doesn't necessarily mean that they're willing to sacrifice themselves to prevent fragmentation.

Spain, after all, is an abstraction. The country even lacks myths, historical heroes and shared symbols. That was a rightist vision that vanished after Franco's death. There isn't even a clear consensus on the national flag and coat of arms.

`Spain hurts me'

That explains the general prevalence among pro-Spain advocates -- the españolistas -- to be as indifferent and hold the same values (small and sweetly homespun) as people in the regions.

What's really important is one's salary, one's car, or the party with friends to watch a game of soccer. The militant españolistas who can quote Miguel de Unamuno's statement that ''Spain hurts me'' don't exceed 20 to 30 percent of the census.

Can this growing process of rupture be halted, or at least be substantially slowed down? Realistically speaking, it is unlikely. It might, if the two major parties, Socialist and Popular, forge a pact to defend the Spanish state. But Zapatero's Socialists prefer to govern with the support of regional separatists, even if they have to surrender increasing chunks of authority. They are even willing to reach secret accords with ETA (Basque) terrorists, rather than move closer to their right-of-center adversaries to buttress the central government.

It seems, therefore, that the political landscape in Spain has entered a critical period that could lead to a truly dangerous alternative: (1) Some regions invoke the right to self-determination, break away from the state and set up their own tents. Or, (2) the government is redesigned into a model where the central power barely retains a symbolic value, with no duties other than printing postage stamps and entertaining foreign ambassadores assigned to Madrid.

Historical adventure

And, what about the monarchy?

* In the first of these two scenarios, it will most probably be abolished. The crown's principal function is to be the point of convergence of all Spaniards. If it no longer fulfills that function, what sense is there in retaining that failed institution? After all, it would be the fourth time the Bourbon dynasty disappears from Spanish history. And although the first three times it was restored almost miraculously, this time it would vanish forever.

* In the second scenario, it might be possible to save the monarchy by totally sacrificing the office of prime minister, because the existence of a central power would no longer make sense.

In either case, Spain would die. And with Spain would disappear one of the most extraordinary historical adventures of the past millennium.

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