Church speaks out. The general election is just over a month away – on March 9th – and the run-up was proving to be remarkably dull – until the Catholic Church decided to take a swipe at the Socialist government. Last week, the Episcopal Conference, that is, the bishops, asked people not to vote for parties that support terrorism which, in their opinion, is all of them with the exception of the main opposition party, the Partido Popular (PP). So far, opposition leader Mariano Rajoy has been sticking to his party’s firm stand against any attempt to negotiate with the Basque terrorist group ETA, but has focused his campaign on the country’s worsening economic situation. So perhaps the bishops think they are doing him a favour by highlighting the issue. Only time will tell. On the other hand, their relations with the government have steadily deteriorated over the past four years, mainly because of the quickie divorce and the same-sex marriage laws which go against everything the Church stands for. However, the bishops realise that both laws have been generally accepted by people who remember the bad old days, when marriage was forever and women had no legal rights. One example: if a woman had to travel alone outside her home town for whatever reason, she needed written permission from her husband. We’re not talking about the 19th century but as little as 35 years ago. Latest figures show that the number of divorces is catching up fast with the number of marriages per year. The effect of this on the strong family ties that have traditionally knitted together the fabric of Spanish society will no doubt be felt in the not-too-distant future. As for gay marriage, the vast majority of heterosexuals, who make up an estimated 95% of the population, probably approve of gay couples having the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples but wouldn’t shed any blood in defence of the issue. Given all this, the bishops have decided to go for the Socialists’ Achilles heel and attack their willingness to deal with ETA. In the last election campaign, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero never mentioned his intention of starting the so-called peace process with ETA. We now know that the Socialists have been talking to ETA since he was elected his party’s general secretary in 2000. We also now know that talks continued after the bomb attack that destroyed the Terminal Four car park at Madrid-Barajas airport, killing two people. Justice minister Mariano Bermejo justified this last week, saying: “We had to find out where we stood after the attack.” Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that some 70% believe Sr Zapatero will restart the talks with ETA if re-elected and don’t approve of it. This is a subject that Sr Zapatero has studiously avoided talking about but, as the election draws nearer, he now says he has no intention of doing so. He also says terrorism should not be used as a weapon in the election campaign. This is rich, coming from the leader of a party which used the March 11th bomb attacks to get out the anti-war voters in the election held three days later on the grounds that the carnage was the direct result of Spain’s participation – as peacekeepers – in Iraq. ETA is as unpopular as the Iraq war was and the Socialists should not be surprised if their opponents try to pay them back in kind. On books When I recommended the biography of bullfighter El Cordobes, Or I’ll Dress You In Mourning, by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, I didn’t realise it was out of print. One gentleman rang the paper last week to say he can’t find it at any bookshop around the coast and that Amazon.com don’t have it. However, I’ve just checked out E-bay and there are about five copies of the book available there. My copy is already working its way through a long list of people I know who want to read it and I would be grateful if any reader who has it could do the same. Another book that also captures the atmosphere of post-Civil War Spain is Gerald Brenan’s The Face of Spain. The man who published it in 1950, Harold Nicholson, described it as “the ideal travel book which combined the fresh eye of the tourist with the ancestral knowledge of the oldest inhabitant”. Brenan wasn’t exactly a tourist, having lived in Spain in the 20s and 30s. On his trip back after the Civil War, he found that the average Spaniard was resigned to living under the Franco regime because even though conditions were very bad – he was writing in 1949 – they were less terrible than those of preceding years. Because Brenan lived many years in Churriana and died in Alhaurin el Grande, this book is widely available and much more relevant to foreigners living in Spain today than his South of Granada.
POLITICAL ROUND UP BY MURIEL PILKINGTON – 4th February 2008