13 Religious wrangles continue

Last week, government and opposition MPs joined forces in Parliament to defeat a proposal submitted by the Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left) and the ERC (Catalan Republican Left) to eliminate religious symbols from the swearing-in ceremony. In the past, prime ministers and ministers swore loyalty before the King by placing their hands on an open Bible on a table dominated by a large crucifix, as they read the words of the oath printed in the protocol book next to the Bible. Members of Felipe Gonzalez’s first Socialist government were opted for “promising” rather than “swearing”, and laid their hands on the protocol book rather than the Bible. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and his ministers have followed suit since the Socialists returned to power in 2004, with a few exceptions – most notably former Defence Minister and current Speaker José Bono, who is a practicing Catholic. IU and ERC spokesman described the religious symbols as “an anachronism, lacking any sense and superfluous” and defended the proposal as a step towards the creation of what IU leader Gaspar Llamazares called a “non-denominational protocol” – in reality, towards the IU’s declared intention to do away with religion altogether. Other MPs criticised the proposal as a frivolous waste of time, because Parliament had much more important matters – like the current economic crisis – to worry about. Socialist Party spokesman José Antonio Alonso said the government wished to avoid creating “unnecessary tension and ruptures” and pointed out that what he called “prohibitionist” laws were unnecessary in a country where more and more people are deserting the Catholic Church. The government has encouraged this desertion by removing religious instruction from the list of obligatory courses in State schools and replacing it with the Citizens’ Education course, which sounds like something straight out of George Orwell’s 1984. According to pro-Church newspapers, the most recently published textbook for this course attacks the Catholic Church’s moral doctrine, makes fun of the election of the Pope and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, criticises capitalism and proposes Cuba as the economic model to be followed. Excerpts from Citizens’ Education textbooks published in the past have read like tracts published in the old Soviet Union, and this should surprise no-one, seeing how they appear to have been written by Communists who now belong to the Izquierda Unida. The IU was formed in 1986 by the remnants of the Spanish Communist Party and a collection of other left-wing parties who all yearn to return to their particular Eden, that is, the Second Republic (1931-36). It is currently stirring up support for the abolition of the monarchy and the founding of the Third Republic, obviously totally unaware of the fact that all opinion polls and surveys indicate that over 70% of the Spanish people accept the monarchy and less than 10% want a republic. These polls also reveal that around 80% consider themselves Catholics at heart, even though a lot of them don’t attend church regularly. The IU and the ERC were the main promoters of the Historical Memory Law which caused a lot of controversy during Sr Zapatero’s first administration. The law was enacted to “redress the wrongs of the Franco dictatorship”. It ignored the fact that many Republicans who remained in Spain after the end of the Civil War and endured the hard time Franco gave them have been receiving official financial help since the first democratic government of the post-Franco era was elected in June 1977. The Communist Party won just over 10% of the votes that time, even though many people expected them to emerge as the main opposition party. However, that slot went to Felipe Gonzalez and his brand of Socialism, which he made more appealing by eliminating all traces of Marxism in 1980. He went on to win the 1982 election, in which the Communist Party was almost wiped out. The man who had kept it together during the long years of exile, Santiago Carrillo, was expelled in 1985, accused of leading the Party down a social democratic path. During the Transition (1975-77), Carrillo had played a prominent role in helping to re-establish democracy and ended up admiring King Juan Carlos, a definite no-no for a Communist. In fact, what the Communists had been unable to admit was that anyone who knew anything about the Spanish Civil War blamed the Communists for losing it. They were so busy killing off anarchists, trade unionists and anyone else who didn’t want Spain to end up in the Stalinist camp that they more or less gave Franco a free hand. But in 1986, realizing that “Communist” was a dirty word for many on the Left, they decided to hide behind another name. Votes for the IU have steadily dwindled since it reached a 9% high in 1989 and this year’s showing was disastrous, mainly because of its insistence on turning back the clock to pre-Civil War days. Someone should tell the IU to get a future.


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