POLITICAL ROUND-UP BY MURIEL PILKINGTON – 7th July 2008

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS

Spain’s victory over Germany in the Eurocup final a week last Sunday united the country as nothing else has done in recent years. Hundreds of thousands of people celebrated in the streets of cities, towns and tiny hamlets all over the country – including the strongly separatist regions of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Some political commentators dared to voice the idea that perhaps a new generation of Spaniards is beginning to overcome the old wounds caused by the Franco dictatorship in those regions – where he banned the languages and customs in his single-minded pursuit of “One Spain, undivided and free”. He achieved just the opposite, which became very obvious after his death, when Basque and Catalan nationalism flourished as never before. So the whole country’s reaction to the victory, made more delirious by the fact that Spain hadn’t won the Eurocup for 44 years, was extremely encouraging. Zapatero’s presence at the match didn’t jinx the game, despite his reputation for backing the losers, most notably in general elections in other countries, e.g. Gerhard Schroeder in Germany and Segolene Royale in France. And basketball fans here blame the PM’s jinx for Spain’s defeat in the last European basketball championship, when the national side was the clear favourite. But Zapatero was there and the final throw by Pau Gasol, which would have clinched the game, bounced – incredibly – off the ring. Gasol hardly ever misses. But King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia and the Infanta Elena were at the stadium in Vienna and their benevolent presence, according to one El Mundo newspaper columnist, was able to ward off the PM’s evil eye. Even so, Zapatero took a lot of criticism for his comment after the match, when he told the TVE1 reporter in Vienna: “I am the first prime minister since the transition to democracy who has seen our football team win an important Cup.” One blogger wrote: “Forget Villa’s four goals, goalkeeper Casillas’ incredible performance in the penalties against Italy, and Fernando Torres’ winning goal – we wouldn’t have won the Cup if we didn’t have a Socialist government.” While a lot of people wouldn’t go that far, the PM’s words struck a wrong chord for many. Another blogger had a go at him, playing on Zapatero’s insistence on a multicultural Spain and his recent comment that everything is debatable – he was referring to the economy and defending his unwillingness to mentioned the word “crisis”. He said: “It might be debatable that this PM has the capacity to solve the economic crisis, but what is not debatable is his ‘embarrassing opportunism’ when immediately after Spain’s win he appears with his “forced election campaign smile” and without batting an eyelid says he’s the first democratic president to witness such a victory, as if he had won, not the footballers.” The blogger than wrote: “He is also the only prime minister in Spain’s history who doesn’t believe in a national side, because he would feel happier calling it State or plurinational side.” But a more lighthearted episode involves a movement to get a Madrid street named: “Calle de la Madre que parió a Casillas”. Normally “la madre que le parió” (mother who gave birth to him) is used insultingly, implying that the mother of the person in question is a prostitute. However, it can also be used admiringly, when somebody pulls off something incredible – like stopping two of Italy’s penalties, upping the chances of success for the penalty takers at the other end of the field. It’s all a question of the context and the way in which the phrase is said. The beer company Mahou is collecting signatures to support the popular request for the street name and as of last Sunday morning, 42,826 had already signed the petition on www.lamadrequepariocasillas.com. It will be interesting to see if Madrid Community president Esperanza Aguirre will accede to the request. After all, Casillas was born in the very Madrileño suburb of Mostoles – where an unofficial sign has already been put up – and if the people of Madrid want a street named after him, he deserves it. It would not be an exaggeration to say he is the greatest goalie in the world right now. Viva Casillas, Viva España.

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