Socialists win Catalonia elections but nationalists increase their majority
February 15th, 2021. Published by The Irish Times.
Strong performances by moderates in both the unionist and independence camps in Catalonia’s election on Sunday are likely to pave the way for increased engagement between the region and Madrid in the coming months.
The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) scored its first-ever victory in a regional ballot. With 33 seats, the PSC was tied with the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC) in parliamentary representation and it won the popular vote. (See article)
February 7th, 2021. Published by BBC Online.
When Carlos Soria leaves his house to train in the mountains outside Madrid, wearing a facemask brings back memories of the Himalayas.
“It’s difficult to breathe, so it reminds me of when I’m at high altitude,” he says with a smile.
The 81-year-old expects to experience the thin air of the Himalayas once again this spring, when he plans to climb Dhaulagiri mountain in Nepal.
Then, in the autumn, he hopes to summit Shishapangma in Tibet. If he manages both, he will become the oldest person to have reached the summit of the world’s 14 highest peaks – all of which surpass 8,000m (26,247ft).
Carlos, a retired upholsterer born in Ávila to the north-west of Madrid, has climbed throughout his life. But in the past two decades or so, his feats in breaking a flurry of age-related mountaineering records have made him unique. (See article)
Town removes emblem because of association with dictator Franco
January 22nd, 2021. Published by The Irish Times.
On January 19th, in the southern town of Aguilar de la Frontera, a workman with an electric saw cut into the base of a tall stone cross outside a convent. Once he had sawn through it, the cross was taken down and driven away in a truck.
It was just one of dozens of statues, monuments and street names that have been removed from public view in Spain in recent years as part of an effort to purge the country of symbols of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
But while that broader historical memory campaign has long been divisive, a recent focus on removing Catholic religious symbols because of their associations has been particularly controversial. (See article)
December 2nd, 2020. Published by BBC Online.
“This is not a good way to travel here, for my brother or for anyone,” complains Mohamed Zitouni, a Moroccan man who has lived in Spain for 20 years.
He was looking for his younger brother Rahali – who is one of more than 19,000 migrants who have made the perilous journey across the Atlantic to the Canary Islands in boats from North and West Africa so far this year. From Morocco, the journey takes five days, but from countries further down the coastline it can take twice as long.
The number of arrivals in 2020 is more than 10 times the total number for 2019. “I wouldn’t want this for anyone because it’s not good, but if it’s the only way to make a proper living, what can we do?”
Mohamed Zitouni had gone to find his brother at a wharf on the southern tip of the island of Gran Canaria where at one point some 2,600 migrants had been staying in tents or sleeping rough.
Arguineguín wharf had been used as a makeshift migrant camp ever since the surge in numbers of people arriving or being picked up at sea by rescue services.
They had spoken by phone the previous day, before Rahali’s battery ran out. Days after they were reunited, the camp was dismantled. (See article)
Opposition accuses government of siding with radicals as defunct Eta still a live issue
November 21st, 2020- Published by The Irish Times.
Spain’s government faces accusations of pandering to separatists and conniving with the political heirs of terrorist group Eta as it attempts to maintain a fragile parliamentary majority.
The Socialist Party of Pedro Sánchez formed the country’s first national coalition of modern times in January, with the Podemos party to its left. But, with their partnership falling short of a majority in congress, they have required the support of an array of smaller regional parties.
Now, with some major legislation facing crunch parliamentary votes, these alliances are being tested and scrutinised. (See article)
Madrid Letter: Antidisturbios offers a hard-hitting view of modern-day Spain
November 16th, 2020. Published by The Irish Times
Spain’s television output and its riot police may not appear to have a great deal in common, but take a closer look and there are at least some similarities. With each on a tight budget and having fostered a reputation for a lack of subtlety, over the years they have each been derided, and even reviled, by many.
But a new TV series has helped challenge such perceptions on the way to becoming a runaway commercial and critical hit. Antidisturbios (or Riot Police) is a mini-series that follows the fortunes of a six-member police unit after an eviction they are called out to enforce goes horribly wrong. (See article)
Government to unveil Democratic Memory Bill, focusing on a range of issues linked to Spain’s past.
September 15th, 2020. Published by POLITICO
MADRID — Nearly a year after exhuming his body and 45 years after his death, Spain’s government is presenting new legislation that seeks to tackle the legacy of Francisco Franco.
The leftist coalition administration of Pedro Sánchez is to unveil a Democratic Memory Bill on Tuesday, focusing on a range of issues linked to Spain’s past, which many argue have never been fully addressed since the transition to democracy. (See article)
Podemos leader defends coalition government in exclusive interview
August 3rd, 2020. Published by POLITICO.
MADRID — Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain’s leftist Podemos party, was an outspoken critic of the EU’s handling of its last economic crisis. This time around, he has words of praise for the bloc and even for Angela Merkel.
Since founding Podemos in 2014, Iglesias has gone from being a radical opposition figure to a deputy prime minister. But he insists it’s the EU that’s changed, not him.
“The reaction of Europe, the European Council — the European institutions — to the world economic crisis provoked by COVID-19 goes in the opposite direction to the response to the financial crisis of 2008,” Iglesias told POLITICO in an interview in his office in central Madrid, a short walk from the Prado art museum. (See article)
Conspiracy theories and grudges characterise approach by right-wing opposition
April 9th, 2020. Published by The Irish Times.
It’s a horrific image. Dozens of coffins, each wrapped in the Spanish flag, filling Gran Vía, the main commercial street running through central Madrid. “This captures perfectly the pain the government and its media satellites want to hide,” reads the caption.
The image is not real – the coffins were digitally added to an existing photograph. But for the far-right Vox party, which posted the doctored picture on Twitter, it serves a clear purpose: to blame the leftist government of Pedro Sánchez for the deaths caused by coronavirus – currently over 15,000 – and accuse it of a sinister cover-up of the extent of the tragedy. (See article)
Major cuts and wave of privatization has left health care system unprepared to deal with an epidemic.
March 28th, 2020. Published by POLITICO.
MADRID — The staggering rate of coronavirus infections in Spain — where nearly 5,000 people have died since the start of the outbreak — has trained a spotlight on a health care system left badly wounded after years of austerity.
Like elsewhere in Europe, the crisis situation has forced hospitals and doctors to reach to extremes to cope with the surge of critically ill patients: Hospitals have called retired doctors under 70 to the front lines and recruited medical students to do administrative work; in Madrid, a massive conference center has become the country’s largest hospital and an ice rink has been repurposed as a morgue.
As politicians of all stripes line up to heap praise on the efforts and sacrifices being made by Spanish health workers, many argue that the excessive pressure on hospitals is at least partly a result of painful austerity measures that have left the country ill-equipped to deal with an epidemic. (See article)
The government’s confidence that it could contain the spread of Covid-19 has shattered
March 21st, 2020. Published by The Irish Times.
On March 7th, Fernando Simón, Spain’s head of medical emergencies, was asked whether it was advisable for people to take part in the following day’s International Women’s Day demonstrations.
“Everyone expresses themselves as they see fit,” he replied, calmly. “If my son asked me if he could go along, I’d tell him he can do as he likes.”
At the time, Spain already had just over 400 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, which had caused a handful of deaths. But the government seemed confident that it could handle the epidemic and for many Spaniards the spiralling crisis across the Mediterranean in Italy seemed a long way off indeed. The March 8th demonstrations went ahead in cities across Spain and in Madrid; 120,000 people marched shoulder-to-shoulder through the streets. (See article)
The far right Vox party surged at the expense of center-right Ciudadanos.
November 11th, 2019. Published by POLITICO.
MADRID — Socialist acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was again the winner in Spain’s general election on Sunday, the second of the year and the fourth since 2015.
Although his party lost a handful of seats, it was well ahead of the runner-up, the conservative Popular Party (PP), which recovered some of the seats it lost in April’s election. The biggest gains, however, were for the far-right Vox, which more than doubled its seats and vaulted into third place, ahead of Podemos on the left, and Ciudadanos on the center right.
Here are three takeaways from election result that has done little to resolve Spain’s political deadlock…(See article)
Dublin-born Lorca biographer honoured with Granada and Irish awards
December 8th, 2019. Published by The Irish Times.
‘If God continues to help me and one day I become really famous, half the celebrity will be due to Granada.” So said the poet Federico García Lorca in 1929, as his literary star was on its meteoric rise.
Ian Gibson, the Dublin-born biographer of Lorca, might have been tempted to repeat those words during his own career, given how closely associated he is with both Granada and Lorca, its most celebrated son.
Now, the Andalusian city is acknowledging the work of the 80-year-old Irish writer, awarding him the Granada Gold Medal of Merit. For over 50 years, Gibson has explored the lives and championed the work of some of Spain’s most extraordinary artists and intellectuals. In the process he has also shone a light on the country’s fraught relationship with its own past. (See article)
Spanish economy minister Nadia Calviño outines ‘proportionate’ approach to crisis
November 6th, 2019. Published by The Irish Times.
Spain’s acting Socialist government is pursuing a “moderate and proportionate” approach to the ongoing crisis in Catalonia, amid extremist behaviour from both unionists and secessionists, according to economy minister Nadia Calviño.
Calviño (51), a former director general for budget in the European Commission, has been one of the Spanish government’s most prominent voices on the Catalan issue in the international sphere.
“Moderation is a sign of strength and we are absolutely committed to keeping a moderate and proportionate approach, which means not falling into the hands of those who want to further destabilise the situation,” she told The Irish Times. (See article)
Jordi Cuixart says his nine-year term will help his region achieve self-determination
October 29th, 2019. Published by The Irish Times.
Jordi Cuixart, one of nine Catalan leaders recently given lengthy jail terms for sedition, says his imprisonment will help his region gain independence from Spain.
On October 14th the supreme court found Cuixart, the president of the pro-independence organisation Òmnium Cultural, and eight others guilty of charges related to their role in a failed bid to secede two years ago.
“For me, prison is a necessary step towards achieving the right to self-determination,” Cuixart (44) said in written answers to questions from The Irish Times. He is in Lledoners prison, north-west of Barcelona.
“Prison is a platform from which to denounce the violation of rights and the bad news for the [Spanish] state is that for some time now prison has lost its effectiveness as a coercive tool.” (See article)
Reburial of dictator’s remains has raised questions about the legacy of his regime
October 26th, 2019. Published by The Irish Times.
To reach the Valley of the Fallen, you drive up a steep, winding road through a pine forest 60km northwest of Madrid. It’s an idyllic spot, offering a glimpse of the Guadarrama mountains and a commanding view of the wooded valley below. It is only when you are at the site itself that its significance starts to become apparent, lending it a sinister edge.
A 150m-high stone cross – the largest in the world – is the monument’s most recognisable feature. At its foot, a huge esplanade stretches out either side, as if designed to hold thousands of troops. Behind it, on the facade of a basilica drilled deep into the mountain, religious imagery combines with the shield-and-eagle symbol of the Franco dictatorship.(See article)
Some extreme incidents have overshadowed the movement’s many peaceful demonstrations.
October 18th, 2019. Published by The Irish Times.
On Wednesday night, thousands of pro-independence demonstrators gathered in central Barcelona outside the region’s interior ministry. Nearby, two youths, their faces partially covered by scarves, pushed some large rubbish containers into the middle of a side street before lighting the contents.
As smoke seeped out of the containers, a man leaned out of the window of a first-floor flat nearby and started remonstrating with the youths.
“Put the bins back!” he shouted in Catalan. “Idiots!”
For most pro-independence Catalans, burning wheelie bins and angry bickering was not what they had hoped to see this week in response to the supreme court’s jailing of nine leaders for sedition. (See article)
Both Iberian states face general elections. Only one can currently expect a stable outcome
October 2nd, 2019. Published by The Irish Times
Across the street from the Socialist headquarters in central Lisbon, an opposition party has hung an election campaign poster with a provocative message. “Honk your horn if you’re fed up with socialism,” it reads. But, on this weekday morning, there are hardly any car horns to be heard.
That could be interpreted as a reflection of the lead that Socialist prime minister António Costa is enjoying over his rivals as he goes into this Sunday’s general election.
Five weeks later, his Spanish counterpart, the Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez, will do the same, also expecting to emerge from the ballot as the winner (See article)
Although separatist group ended its terrorist campaign eight years ago, its legacy plays a prominent role in Spain’s politics.
September 16th, 2019. Published by POLITICO.
ALSASUA, Spain — ETA ended its terrorist campaign for an independent Basque Country eight years ago. But the separatist group’s legacy continues to play a prominent role in Spain’s polarized politics, with politicians on the right claiming its influence is still alive and well in the north of the country.
Over the last three years, the small town of Alsasua has been the backdrop to a deeply controversial judicial case that epitomizes the fraught relationship between Spain’s conservative unionists and its nationalist periphery. (See article)
June 12th, 2019. Published by Politico.
MADRID — The battle in court is coming to a close. But the political fight is just getting started.
The case against 12 Catalan leaders on charges that include violent rebellion and sedition is scheduled to conclude Wednesday, exactly four months after it began.
April 23rd, 2019. Published by BBC Online.
Less than a year ago, Pedro Sánchez was lagging in the polls as the leader of Spain’s opposition, bruised by two resounding electoral defeats.
Yet he goes into this Sunday’s general election as prime minister – and is widely tipped to secure the first victory for his Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) since 2008.
“He has used his time in government to project an image of gravity and of being someone who is suited to the post of prime minister,” says Josep Lobera, a sociologist at Madrid’s Autonomous University (UAM) – who adds that being in government has boosted Mr Sánchez’s standing among leftist voters. (See article)
Popular Party’s Pablo Casado has ramped up his fiery rhetoric in a bid to become PM
April 22nd. Published by The Irish Times.
“If we want to finance pensions and healthcare, we should think about how we can have more children and not about aborting them,” the party’s leader said.
His use of Spain’s fragile pensions system to justify rolling back a 2010 law making abortion freely available pleased anti-abortion campaigners, while outraging many on the left. It also received a mixed response within his own party, where moderates fretted that Casado (38), who is the PP’s candidate for prime minister, had strayed into territory that was unlikely to win votes.
The incident was typical of Casado’s tendency to wade into sensitive issues with strong language and an unabashedly right-wing message. With a general election approaching on April 28th and his party trailing the governing Socialists in polls, Casado has made this strategy an integral part of his campaign. (See article)
Podemos among targets of political spying, theft and smears as ‘state sewers’ stay active
April 13th, 2019. Published by The Irish Times.
The hacking of a security camera outside the home of a leading leftist politician is the latest episode to cast light on a deep-state apparatus in Spain, which has used espionage, theft and fake news to discredit perceived enemies of the conservative elite.
This week it emerged that the leader of the Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, had complained to the police last autumn when he discovered that footage from a camera installed outside his house near Madrid was being streamed on a website available for free viewing. Iglesias shares the property with his partner, Podemos spokeswoman Irene Montero, and their two children.
Pablo Echenique, a senior figure in the party, linked the incident to a series of scandals apparently exposing the involvement of police officers and government officials in plots against politicians.
“I think there’s a lot of work still to be done to clean up the state sewers,” he said.
While it is still not clear who was behind the hacking of the security camera, Podemos has frequently complained of being the target of such subterfuge and revelations about the activities of the so-called state sewers have snowballed ahead of the April 28th general election…(See article)
Vox expected to perform well in elections in Ceuta and Melilla on anti-immigrant platform
April 1st, 2019. Published by The Irish Times.
In Ceuta’s bustling commercial centre, large panels on the pavement advertise the fact that the local Burger King’s meals contain halal meat. This meeting of Western and Islamic values is just one of many ways in which the city’s ethnic and cultural mix makes it stand out from the rest of Spain.
Although it is a Spanish territory Ceuta is perched on the North African coast, separated from Morocco only by a six-metre-high border fence. Ceuta and its sister city Melilla along the Mediterranean coast have Europe’s only land borders with Africa.
“Ceuta has a great deal of cultural diversity,” says Mohamed Alí, spokesman for the Caballas political party, which represents many Muslims in the city. “Some of us want to deepen that multiculturalism and respect for plurality.” (See article)
February 11, 2019. Published by The New Republic.
By the time Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez go on trial on February 12 they will have been in jail nearly 500 days. The grassroots organizers for Catalonian independence will be tried by Spain’s Supreme Court on charges of rebellion and sedition, alongside 10 other defendants, including former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras, several of his cabinet colleagues, and former Catalan parliamentary speaker Carme Forcadell. All are accused of defying the Spanish state in the fall of 2017 by mobilizing two million Catalans to vote in an unlawful referendum on secession from Spain which led to a unilateral declaration of independence by the region’s parliament…(See article)
Twelve independence leaders to be tried by Spanish supreme court
February 2, 2019. Published by The Irish Times.
Spain’s foreign ministry announced this week it was preparing to launch a campaign that would explain to the world, with total transparency, the details, as they unfold, of the trial of Catalan independence leaders due to begin this month.
Irene Lozano, secretary of state for the ministry’s Global Spain department, is charged with the task, which she said will include countering a torrent of “fake news” produced by the Catalan independence movement.
“We realise how much is at stake and we have to do this right,” she told EFE news agency.
“It’s clear that they want to discredit our democracy and the Spanish state as much as they can.”
Lozano’s comments underline the expectations that this trial, the most politically explosive in modern Spanish history, has generated…(See article)
January 23, 2019. Published by Politico.
The far right has made the battle against ‘supremacist feminism’ a key part of its message.
MADRID — There’s a new force in Spanish politics and it has its sights set on women’s rights.
Support for feminism has snowballed in recent years, but now there’s a backlash led by the far-right Vox party, whose success in a regional election in Andalusia has propelled it into the mainstream.
The party recently posted a video onlinethat shows women’s rights activists shouting “abortion is sacred” in the parliament and a politician from the leftist Podemos party bemoaning the situation of women in modern Spain and their vulnerability to violence at the hands of men. After each clip, female Vox supporters respond by saying: “Don’t speak on my behalf.” The video ends with the words: “I am a woman and I don’t want your ideological burqa.”
Andalusia has become the epicenter of Spain’s gender debate…(See article)
A day of planned demonstrations in the city follows a year of turmoil for Catalonia
December 21, 2018. Published by The Irish Times
Earlier this week, the words “Go home Pedro” were sprayed in English on the outside of the Casa Llotja de Mar building in central Barcelona and a Catalan independence flag was daubed underneath.
On Friday, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez is due to gather his ministers there, the first time in the democratic era that the central government will hold a cabinet meeting in the city. The presence of the Spanish government in the Catalan capital was supposed to reflect their determination to engage with the region, with Sánchez expected to announce several progressive economic and social measures…(See article)
Country braces for upheaval as it celebrates anniversary of democratic transition
October 31st, 2018. Published by Politico
MADRID — Forty years after its creation, Spain’s constitution is back in the political limelight.
Drafted three years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, the document — seen as the linchpin of the country’s so-called transition from authoritarian rule to parliamentary democracy — has attained an almost mythical status among many Spaniards.
But as supporters gathered at a flurry of commemorative events in the Spanish capital this month, calls to reform a democratic system some have taken to calling a “sham” are getting louder…(See article)
Spanish region is split between unionists and separatists, a year on from independence vote
September 28th, 2018. Published by The Irish Times
It is two o’clock on a Tuesday morning and in the seaside town of Canet de Mar a dozen people are hard at work in the darkness. Dressed in white laboratory overalls and goggles, they move silently, plucking cardboard yellow ribbons off trees. Some of them have long-handled gardening shears, which they use to cut down the ribbons that are out of arm’s reach. They gather up the debris in black bin liners and move on.
It may look like an eccentric gardening club but this is in fact a group of political activists who believe they are on the front line of the campaign against Catalan separatism.
The yellow ribbons have become a symbol of solidarity for nine Catalan independence leaders who are in jail awaiting trial for their alleged role in the outlawed referendum on secession held on October 1st, 2017. For the independence movement, the jailed nine are political prisoners. But that’s not how this self-denominated “cleaning brigade” sees them…(See article)
A year on from Catalan referendum, tensions still simmer over independence from Madrid
September 16th, 2018. Published by The Irish Times
Anna, a 42 year old with tattooed arms and aviator sunglasses, is standing on a bridge looking down on the AP7 motorway between Tarragona and Barcelona. On the railings in front of her a large yellow banner, in view of the motorists below, states: “Catalonia, new European state.”
“Coming up on to the bridges is a way of making ourselves visible, because a lot of foreign people, a lot of tourists, drive along here,” she says.
About 25 people, young and old, are spread along the bridge. Some are brandishing the estelada, the red-and-yellow-striped flag with a single star that symbolises Catalan independence. Others are waving excitedly as cars approach, many of which beep their horns. Pop music pumps out of a large portable speaker and a teenage girl is passing around vermouth served in plastic cups.
This is a Committee for the Defence of the Republic (CDR), one of dozens of small groups that have sprung up over the last year or so to defend what they believe is a mandate for Catalonia to break away from Spain…(See article)
Spain’s transition out of fascism occurred within living memory. And it meant ignoring the dead.
September 17th, 2018. Published by The New Republic
“Exclusive: Photograph of the remains of Franco,” a Twitter user posted in late August. It was a joke: The accompanying picture showed not the dusty bones of Spain’s former dictator, but a portrait of the current king, Felipe VI.
Before dying, in 1975, Francisco Franco anointed Felipe’s father, Juan Carlos, to lead the country and keep in place his authoritarian, quasi-fascist “National Catholic” ideology. Instead, the new monarch led Spain into a process of express-speed modernization, helping create a modern parliamentary democracy. Yet four decades on, that transition still feels incomplete to many Spaniards—and nowhere is that more apparent than in the debate over what to do with the former dictator’s remains.
Last Thursday, Spain’s congress approved a motion to move Francisco Franco from his resting place, a war memorial known as the Valley of the Fallen… (See article)
Increase follows clampdown on central Mediterranean route
July 30th, 2018. Published by Politico
MÁLAGA, Spain – After his sister was lynched for being a lesbian and he was hounded for being related to her, Lassana Koulibaly fled his native Mali.
With the vague idea of reaching Europe, the 20-year-old traveled through Algeria and Libya before arriving in Morocco, where a friend told him to try to get to Spain.
“I had heard that they respect human rights there and that they take people in and would treat me better than in all the other countries I’d been through,” he said. “I needed to have a better life and I knew I could die trying. Either I won and got to Europe, or I would lose and die.”
More and more migrants are making the same journey. As a clampdown on the route between Libya and Italy has taken hold, an increasing number have moved west, making Spain the biggest European destination for those seeking a better life. For Spain itself, their arrival could add another complication at a trying time for its political system… (See article)
As the Popular Party chooses a new leader, members grapple with a threat of extinction
July 20th, 2018. Published by The Irish Times
EL MIRÓN, Spain — It’s mid-morning in El Mirón and the main square is empty, except for a large stork, which glides overhead to its nest on top of the church nearby. The children’s playground, a strip of grass on the edge of town with some swings and a slide, is empty. And beyond stretch the plains of Castilla y León.
“People here have always had what they needed: a few cows, a home, the countryside,” says Ricardo Enríquez, a local pensioner who was born here, speaking in the local bar.
He describes the main economic activities of the town as “livestock and drawing your pension”, as he points to the predominantly elderly population and the fact that no children live here. (See article)
July 9th, 2018. Published by BBC Online
When Estela Martín got a black lotus flower tattooed on the upper part of her right foot at the age of 18, her parents were unhappy about it, but she saw it as a positive symbol.
“I’ve always liked the idea that the lotus represents, which is that you have to fight for what you want,” she says.
But 12 years later, that same tattoo has left her fighting to save her ambition of a career in the Spanish military.
In June, Ms Martín took part in a civil service exam to become a military psychologist. She had left her previous job, in a Madrid hospital, two years earlier in order to study and prepare herself for the highly competitive selection process…. (See article)
Interview with Arnaldo Otegi
April 30th, 2018. Published by Politico.
GERNIKA, Spain — Arnaldo Otegi, who is widely credited with helping persuade ETA to abandon its four-decade terrorist campaign, says the peace now in place in the Basque Country is irreversible and dismisses as “impossible” the prospect of dissidents breaking it.
“Although it has taken a long time, I’m happy that we’re going to see the end of an armed group in Europe,” said Otegi, leader of EH Bildu, the leftist pro-independence Basque coalition…(See article)
March 17th, 2018. Published by BBC Online
César Strawberry has found it hard to concentrate on his music recently.
The singer found fame in Spain with rap-rock band Def Con Dos and their notoriously explicit lyrics.
But his controversial commentary has also brought him into direct conflict with the Spanish state.
“It’s a co-ordinated strategy aimed at making people scared of speaking out, of expressing themselves and at cutting back a system of freedoms,” says Strawberry.
“Sadly, in Spain the government of Mariano Rajoy has embarked on a path which seeks to copy Turkey, rather than France, Germany, Britain or Sweden.”…(See article)
Flawed judiciary system and legacy of fascism continue to plague Spain’s political parties.
March 7th, 2018. Published by Politico.
MADRID — The stench of corruption clings to Spanish politics — and especially to the ruling Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy.
Between July 2015 and September 2016, 1,378 officials or politicians from across the spectrum faced trial on corruption charges, according to the General Council for the Judiciary.
The PP is desperately trying to keep its litany of scandals off the political agenda. But, with the liberal Ciudadanos party breathing down its neck in polls and high-profile cases rarely out of the headlines, the party has been forced to shift its position. Where it previously insisted allegations were either unfounded or politically motivated, Rajoy’s PP now acknowledges there has been a problem.
Yet in a country frequently wracked by scandal, one particular case promised to shed new light on the shady wheelings and dealings of the ruling party. Even so, few anticipated the frank admission of wrongdoing that a key defendant in the case offered….(See article)
Seven families lead an exhumation of the country’s fascist past.
February 5th, 2018. Published by Politico.
EL VALLE DE LOS CAÍDOS, Spain — In a wooded valley some 60 kilometers northwest of Madrid, the wounds of Spain’s violent history are being torn open.
El Valle de los Caídos — or the Valley of the Fallen — has stood largely untouched since a massive war monument was completed in 1959. The site is the resting place of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the leader of Falange, the far-right party that supported him. It is also one of Europe’s largest mass graves, housing the remains of 33,700 people killed in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939…(See article)
A quarter century after Olympic glory, the Catalan capital counts the cost of success
December 27th, 2017. Published by The Irish Times.
Perched on a hill to the west of the city centre, the Montjuïc Communications Tower overlooks a large esplanade in front of Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium. A coiled spike of white that spirals into the sky, it was designed by star architect Santiago Calatrava for the 1992 Olympic Games.
Down below, to the south, the Mediterranean calmly shimmers and stretching away to the west is the Zona Franca industrial area. From this vantage point, the landmarks that help draw around 17 million tourists to Barcelona each year – the unfinished Sagrada Família church and the Güell park, or the bustling Ramblas promenade – are not visible. But the connection between Barcelona’s hosting of the Olympics and the city’s current status as a hyper-tourist hub is undisputed.
A quarter of a century on from the euphoria of that sporting event, the Catalan capital appears to have reached a kind of reckoning. The influx of tourists to the third most visited city in Europe has become so great that it has sparked fierce debate. Meanwhile, the development that has accompanied this popularity has raised concerns that the home of the eccentric modernist Antoni Gaudí is in danger of losing its identity, of being swallowed up by franchised coffee shops, international fashion retailers and tourist traps…. (See article)
October 6, 2017. Published by BBC Online.
The front page of Barcelona’s La Vanguardia newspaper on 4 October was dominated by the ongoing Catalan crisis.
An aerial photograph showed tens of thousands of people demonstrating in the city centre the previous day, when a region-wide strike had been staged in protest at attempts by Spanish security forces to stop people voting in Sunday’s independence referendum.
The article below the photograph underlined how successful the strike had been.
In Madrid, meanwhile, Catalonia was also hogging the headlines but a different version of events was being presented.
El País’ front-page photograph of the strike was of two dozen youths running on to a road to stop a car, suggesting chaos rather than organised protest.
“The Catalan government takes its insurrection on to the streets on a day of disorder,” read a headline above it.
Such contrasting interpretations of what is happening in Catalonia reflect the deeply divisive nature of Spain’s territorial crisis and the media has been a key factor in fuelling the polarisation… (See article)
Spanish government’s crackdown over controversial poll widens rift with region
October 1, 2017. Published by The Irish Times.
Pepa Mainou was the first person to vote in L’Arenal de Llevant school on Sunday morning. She, like dozens of others, had queued outside the building, in Barcelona’s Poblenou district, since 5am. Four hours later, after casting her vote in favour of independence, she was clapped and cheered as she left the building.
“This means a lot to me,” she told The Irish Times. Born in 1935, when Spainwas still a short-lived republic, she said she had waited decades for this vote, which offered the possibility of creating a new republican state for Catalonia.
“I only hope everything can be resolved and will be alright,” Mainou added, bursting into tears. “This is important to me, and for my children as well, they’re with me, hoping things will be sorted out.” (See article)
Catalonia on verge of biggest upheaval of modern history if poll goes ahead
September 30th, 2017. Published by The Irish Times.
On an overcast evening in Can Dragó, a recreational park, locals are gathering for a small rally in favour of Catalan independence, ahead of the referendum on the issue scheduled for Sunday. The event is organised by the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), a pro-independence party that is a member of the Catalan region’s governing coalition and a small tent has been set up bearing the red and yellow colours of the region’s flag, where volunteers hand out fliers.
On the stage a singer is strumming lively rumbas on a guitar and making jokes about Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, whose opposition to the referendum has made him a figure of both disdain and ridicule to many Catalans.
The mood is festive and there is little here to suggest a region on the verge of the biggest upheaval of its modern history, or that the Catalan situation has thrown Spain into its deepest political crisis for decades….(See article)
Many Catalans, who favor neither independence nor the brand of unity advocated by Madrid, feel left out in the cold ahead of independence vote.
September 27th, 2017. Published by Politico.
BARCELONA — On September 3, a woman tweeted that she had just seen Inés Arrimadas, spokesperson for Spain’s centrist Ciudadanos party, speaking on television and called her “a disgusting b–ch” who deserved to be gang-raped. Ten days later, death threats against the anti-capitalist politician Anna Gabriel, of the Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), were painted on the sidewalk outside Valencia University, where she was due to talk later that day. “Shoot Ana [sic] Gabriel,” read one, with a crosshair below her name…(See article)
August 19th, 2017, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
RIPOLL — The Plaça Cívica is at the heart of the small Catalan town of Ripoll. On one side of the square sits a Benedictine monastery founded in the ninth century, while a large Catalan independence flag hanging from the town hall next door reflects the nationalist leanings of many of its residents. A handful of cafés and shops sit on the other side of the square.
However, this calm spot in the Catalan highlands, a 90 minute drive north of Barcelona, has been stunned and bewildered by the news that several of its residents were involved in the two terrorist attacks that killed 14 people and injured dozens…(See article)
Can this man kill Uber?
Tito Álvarez may be remembered as the man who cut short the tech giant’s European ambitions.
June 29th, 2017, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.
MADRID — Alberto ‘Tito’ Álvarez is a short, pot-bellied taxi driver from Barcelona. He’s also the man who might one day be remembered for bringing Uber to heel.
As a founding member and chief spokesman of the Élite Taxi cooperative, the 40-year-old Spaniard has waged running battles against the California ridesharing company he accuses of unfairly undercutting taxi drivers. As part of his three-year crusade, Álvarez has spent countless hours lobbying his country’s politicians for support, blocking the centers of European capitals together with hundreds of cab drivers and facing down riot police in sometimes violent confrontations…(See article)
Brexit exiles on Costa del Sol fear for their future
For many pensioners, Britain’s divorce from the EU raises the prospect of having to return home.
May 28th, 2017, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.
MÁLAGA, Spain — Taking aim at the dart board at a pub in Fuengirola, Alf Brewer looks every bit the British retiree living the good life on the Costa del Sol. But despite his beachwear and sun-reddened face, he stands out among a politically detached British expat community. A long-time member of the Labour Party, he has been tirelessly campaigning for its international branch since moving to Spain 10 years ago.
At Europe’s only land border with Africa, would-be migrants dream of a better life in Spain.
April 27th, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico
MELILLA, Spain — The immigrant temporary stay center in Melilla is a long way from John Masal’s glamorous idea of life in Europe. But the 19-year-old from Sierra Leone says he’s happy because this is Europe — Spain, to be precise.
Situated on the edge of Melilla, one of two Spanish cities — the other is Ceuta — perched on the North African coast, it is a functional-looking building with a large green gate that occasionally emits distorted loudspeaker announcements. Masal says it is crowded inside and there is a shortage of drinking water. Meanwhile, 100 meters or so away, a six-meter-high triple security fence stretches into the distance. (See article)
Basque terrorist group to hand over weapons in south of France
April 7th, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times
A group of civil intermediaries is expected to inform the French authorities in Bayonne on Saturday morning of the whereabouts of several arms caches belonging to Eta, culminating, a few hours later, in the disarmament of the terrorist group.
Eta has not killed since shooting a French policeman dead in 2010 during a botched car robbery and in October 2011, it formally declared the end of its four-decade campaign of violence. This decommissioning, therefore, has been a long time coming and is far from unexpected. But it reflects the weakness and desperation of a group that at its peak both recruited and killed with ease. (See article)
African kingdom invites migrants to remain instead of risking trip across Mediterranean
April 3rd, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
Niamke, who is from Ivory Coast, says business is good. “[Sub-Saharan] Africans come, Moroccans come, even French come,” she says of her customers. “Life is good here,” she adds. “I prefer it to Europe.” (See article)
“The alternative to independence is decline”
February 23rd, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
After several years of steadily increasing tensions between Madrid and Catalonia, in recent weeks the relationship has become particularly strained.
The Catalan government wants to hold a legally binding referendum on independence by the end of September, as part of its so-called “roadmap” towards creating a new state. The Spanish government says any such vote would be unconstitutional. The standoff has been played out recently in the courts, with several high-profile Catalan nationalists on trial or under investigation for allegedly breaking the law by promoting the independence project.
As president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont (54) is the political figurehead of the independence movement and his mood seems to be a mixture of optimism at the prospect of fulfilling a lifelong dream and exasperation at the behaviour of Madrid.
“Finally, we have before us the chance to have the structures of our own state at our disposal and it depends entirely on us,” he tells The Irish Times, in the Catalan government building in Barcelona. (See article)
Leaders will battle for the soul of the leftist party at its conference this weekend.
February 10th, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.
MADRID — A battle at the top of Podemos, the leftist anti-austerity party that took Spanish politics by storm three years ago, has spilled out into the open ahead of a big membership conference this weekend.
On January 31, journalists and politicians in Spain’s Congress watched as the party’s leader, Pablo Iglesias, became locked in what seemed to be a bitter argument with his deputy, Íñigo Errejón, seated next to him. (See article)
Trial of a former banker and economy minister gives hope to Spanish ‘mortgage victims.’
February 2nd, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.
MADRID — On a January morning outside a government building in central Madrid, a group of campaigners from the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) gathers to hand a document to the authorities, calling on them to ensure that banks pay back in full money to those who have suffered financial abuses.
Among them is Caridad Lomas, a frail-looking woman of 70.“Before, I thought the banks were important,” she says. “But since they’ve bullied me so much, I think they’re bad people — they’ve made me cry a lot.” (See article)
Former bank robber Jason Coghlan says he is the lawyer ‘a Paddy’s going to call’
January 13th, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
Sitting in the offices of one of his law firm clients, Jason Coghlan, wears a blazer and tie that lends him an air of formality. He could almost give the impression of being a conventional lawyer. However, the illusion is shattered when he starts recalling his shady, often violent past, which has taken him from the criminal underworld of northwest England to professional respectability on Spain’s Costa del Sol.
“I was a gangster,” the 46-year-old Stockport native says matter-of-factly. “I was a bank robber. That was my chosen profession.” Indeed, he was one of the UK’s most notorious, serving 15½ years in jail. (See article)
Pro-independence parties prepare for mass acts of civil disobedience against the Spanish state.
December 14th, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.
BERGA, Spain — A large Catalan independence flag hangs from the city hall of Berga, a town of 16,000 inhabitants in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Known as the Estelada, the red-and-yellow striped design with a single star is also visible on almost all the surrounding buildings in the medieval square of Sant Pere, reflecting the depth of feeling about Catalan nationalism in the town. (See article)
Region split on independence from Spain, but secessionists still dominating debate
December 3rd, 21016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
Viladecans town hall is a faux-medieval castle. An ochre-coloured building situated in the middle of this small Catalan city, complete with tower, turrets and ramparts, it is tempting to see it as as a garish metaphor for Viladecans’s status as a stronghold of unionism. (See article)
Hip-hop trio Flow Kaló make history by recording CD while imprisoned in Burgos jail
November 10th, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
Burgos doesn’t look like a hotbed of hip-hop. Situated on the plains of northern Spain, this picturesque city is known for its quiet streets, 13th-century cathedral and as a stop on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.
But behind the picture-postcard facade is a less manicured place, where joblessness, petty crime and drugs are as common as in many other Spanish towns. (See article)
Demonstrators blame police for death of Mouhcine Fikri, killed by garbage truck grinder
November 3rd, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
Morocco’s king Mohammed VI is desperate to prevent a recent wave of protests, sparked by the grisly death of a fish seller, from escalating into the kind of instability the country’s neighbours saw during the 2011 Arab Spring. The death of Mouhcine Fikri (31) last Friday unleashed demonstrations across the northern Rif region, leading to speculation that North Africa’s most stable nation could be facing major unrest. (See article)
Madrid expected to reject Catalonia’s Scotland-style referendum, slated for 2017
October 15th, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
Last Saturday, the Catalan soccer player Gerard Piqué revealed he will retire from the Spanish national team after the 2018 World Cup.
The surprise announcement followed a bizarre controversy sparked by Piqué’s decision to trim the sleeves of the shirt he wore for a game against Albania. Many outraged fans assumed he had done so as a political statement, to remove the Spanish flag from his shirt. In fact, there had been no flag on the sleeves – Piqué had simply been adjusting their length for comfort – but the damage had been done. (See article)
All-out, very public war unleashed in heart of party over Sánchez stance
October 1, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
Long-time socialist voter Francisco Gómez chained himself to the railings outside his party’s local headquarters in the city of Mérida, in western Spain this week. He was protesting about the rebellion against his party’s leader, Pedro Sánchez. A few hours earlier, 17 members of the socialist executive had resigned in a bid to unseat the leader, and as Sánchez and another 17 loyalists stood firm, an all-out, very public, war had been unleashed in the heart of the party. (See article)
Local traditions are under fire for the animal cruelty at their heart and reveal political faultlines of a country in existential crisis
September 29, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.
TORDESILLAS, Spain — The town of Tordesillas has held its annual festival, known as Toro de la Vega, on the second or third Tuesday of September since medieval times. A bull is set loose and runs across the bridge into nearby fields, where locals on horseback spear the animal to death with lances.
Traditionally, Toro de la Vega is a day of celebration. Locals fill the town’s bars in the morning before lining the streets in anticipation of the bull chase as traditional music blasts out over loudspeakers. But this year was different. (See article)
Rajoy’s position strengthened after Galician victory
September 26, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
After two years of political upheaval and fragmentation, on Sunday Spain saw something like a return to stability. Regional elections in Galicia and the Basque Country saw the incumbents strengthen their positions with resounding victories which left no question as to their ability to govern over the coming four years….(See article)
Ciudadanos party allies with Rajoy in a fight for the political centre – and its own survival
August 30, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.
MADRID — Ciudadanos portrays its deal to help Mariano Rajoy secure a second term as prime minister as an act of selfless patriotism. The risk for the party is that it undermines its leader Albert Rivera’s promise to clean up Spanish politics…(See article)
Popular Party wins, but still lacks majority
June 28, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
Profile of Spanish prime minister ahead of June 26 general election
June 24, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.
MADRID — As Mariano Rajoy and senior politicians of his conservative Popular Party (PP) gathered in Madrid’s Retiro park in late May for a photo shoot for the coming election campaign, things took an unexpected turn. A man suddenly dashed toward the smartly dressed group, clutching a megaphone and shouting: “Mariano Rajoy, you’re the mafia.… The PP is the mafia!” (See article)
María José Jiménez hopes to become first Roma woman to reach parliament
June 24, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
When María José Jiménez was campaigning for a seat in Spain’s congress of deputies on behalf of the leftist party Podemos in last December’s general election, she knew she faced a challenge. Not only was the seat she was fighting for in the deeply conservative province of Salamanca, but she was attempting to become the first gypsy woman to reach Spain’s parliament…(See article)
Spain’s most divisive politician wants independence for Basque Country within two legislatures and insists there will be no return to violence.
June 14, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times.
As he gazes out across the Bay of Biscay from a restaurant in San Sebastián, Arnaldo Otegi ponders why many Basque nationalists expect so much of him. “I think people want to see in me a reference point to cling to, someone who represents their values, their projects, their principles,” he says, “but that’s asking an enormous amount, that’s frightening. I’m just another person who was born in this country.” (see article)
Protests in 2011 set out to break up a political duopoly. In that, if not much else, they succeeded.
May 13, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico.
MADRID — Sunday May 15, 2011 was the day Jon Aguirre Such felt the full impact of the new protest movement taking over the Spanish capital. As a spokesman for what would soon become known as “15-M,” or los indignados, the 26-year-old architecture student from the Basque Country climbed onto the back of a truck and took the microphone. (See article)
First ever such ruling to search for victims at dictator’s controversial resting place
May 9, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times
Profile of regional leader Carles Puigdemont
April 30, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times
Campaigners celebrate victory against Catholic Church
April 21, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times
Controversial pastime is lumped in with a past Spain’s left wing seeks to obliterate.
March 18, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times
Release of convicted Basque nationalist Arnaldo Otegi reignites dreams of independence.
March 18, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico
ELGOIBAR, Spain — The main square in the small town of Elgoibar fills up fast as men, women and children arrive, many of them carrying the ikurrina, the red-white-and-green regional flag. A stage had been erected in front of the town hall, decorated with a large image of Arnaldo Otegi, Elgoibar’s most famous son, released from jail just a few hours earlier. His prison number — 8719600510 — is also visibly displayed on a banner… (See article)
Can the PSOE leader put an end to Spain’s political impasse?
March 1, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by Politico
Roadmap envisages new state by 2018.
Feb. 27, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe. Published by The Irish Times
Drugs, guns, explosives dominate a scene in which “a new life can be created with ease”
Feb. 19, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by The Irish Times
Spain has long been characterised as a refuge for criminals fleeing the law enforcement agencies of their own countries, a place where fugitives could relax in the sun, safe in the knowledge that the local authorities would not bother them. (See article)
A court case in Argentina forces a fresh look at the civil war.
Jan. 29th, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico
GUADALAJARA, Spain — On a chilly January morning in a corner of Guadalajara cemetery, a piece of Spain’s history is being exhumed. A group of men dig into a patch of ground they believe to be a mass grave dating to the aftermath of the 1936-39 civil war. (See article)
Politicians are being urged by a frustrated electorate to get on with forming a government
Jan 29th, 2016, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by The Irish Times
Real Madrid look set to sack their coach.
Dec 29th, 2015, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico
The euro zone’s fourth-largest economy is on a knife edge.
Dec. 18th, 2015, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico
The town of Navalcarnero has lived Spain’s recent economic rollercoaster in a particularly dramatic fashion.
Dec. 12th, 2015, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by The Irish Times
After a meteoric rise, Spain’s radical left loses its lustre.
Dec. 4th, 2015 by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico
MADRID — Pablo Iglesias stood on a podium in the massive Puerta del Sol, delivering a speech to 100,000 supporters on January 31. It was the biggest political gathering Spain had seen for years, confirming that the left-wing Podemos — and its leader, Iglesias, dressed in a windcheater, his ponytail swishing behind him — had become a phenomenon. (See article)
Forty years after his death, Spain still struggles with a dictator.
Nov. 20th, 2015 by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Politico
MADRID — A few years ago, the artist Eugenio Merino put Francisco Franco in a Coca-Cola refrigerator. It wasn’t really Franco, of course, but a life-sized, silicon sculpture of the former Spanish dictator, which Merino titled “Always Franco.” The work, Merino says, shows how the former leader is frozen in Spaniards’ consciousness and “still present in Spain. How is he present? He’s present in our politics, he’s present in our historical memory.” (See article)
Tensions within separatist movement may stall “democratic disconnection” from Spain.
Nov. 18th, 2015 by Guy Hedgecoe – published by The Irish Times
Tensions as Melilla refugee centre overflows.
Nov. 7th, 2015 by Guy Hedgecoe – published by The Irish Times
In Spain, a dispute breaks out over a medieval Islamic place of worship turned Catholic church.
May 24th, 2015, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Al Jazeera America
Making EU leaders nervous, populist left-wing political group aims to roll back austerity and renew welfare policies.
February 12th, 2015, by Guy Hedgecoe – published by Al Jazeera America