Flamenco Protests and A Private Peek Into the Pain in Spain

My sister has lived in Spain since Franco was in power (for…what?  Almost forty years?) raising her Spanish children and doting on her Spanish grandchildren, and at this point is primarily Spanish with a little bit of American fringe still hanging around the edges.

Lately, she’s been keeping us all informed on what’s happening on the ground over there as the Spanish economy unravels.  Her latest email was full of interesting little tidbits and news links and I asked her if I could share some of it here, to which she graciously agreed.  I thought it might provide some insight into not only the current hardships, but the soul of Spain as well.  They’re such passionate, artistic, curious people, these Spaniards.  So cynical, proud, and joyously expressive at the same time.  No wonder they endure.

And so from Mi Hermana:

     …I suppose people will just be eating and smoking and drinking …less  That’s what’s happened here.  This happened just the other day:
     Please note how NBC deems it a “Robin Hood-style supermarket looting” whereas in mainstream Spanish press they are calling it “assaults on two supermarkets” and fail to mention that the purpose was to take the food to food banks- which are struggling more and more to cover increasing needs.
    There is no food stamp program in Spain. When laid off or when your contract ends you get 6 months unemployment and then 4 months of a bit over a 400-euro monthly payment to buy food- if you qualify.
     When deciding whether you qualify they do not take into account any family member over the age of 26 that you might be supporting- which is rampant at this point. Here in the south the unemployment rate for 18s to 34s is now 58 percent. Wowie zowie! And there are thousands upon thousands of families in which all members are long-term unemployed with no social benefits left at all.
     People are leaving in droves to northern Europe, just like during the worst period under Franco (although Brazil is a close second). So much for the starry- eyed days of “welcome to democracy” in the seventies.
    Also, what was once a health system with universal coverage went to a private-sector model some years ago, but the public was not informed. They take out a portion of your unemployment check for the health care system, and you have “universal coverage” for three months after your unemployment runs out.
     Oh they WILL mend your broken leg or sew up cuts and deliver your baby. So, people THINK they have universal coverage, but they don’t- so they don’t buy private insurance (supposing they could afford it). Then, when they get cancer or some sort of chronic disease, they get a BIG surprise – no government health coverage and they can’t buy private insurance once diagnosed with those types of illnesses.
     I do suppose that morphine to ease you through your last dying breath is freely administered- to ward off a revolution.  They’re trying to figure out what to do in cases of people with contagious diseases- like HIV, tuberculosis, et al. They’ll have no choice but to treat them or run the risk of people with coverage (including German tourists- GASP!!) getting infected- which would not be cost effective.
     Aside from the recent Robin Hood action, people are protesting in different ways: Lots of flamenco protests (banquero means banker). This is a good one, a kind of flamenco rap – no time to translate- but the lyrics are fantastic.
     Check the body language and the symbolism. In Spanish, good economic times are called “tiempos de vacas gordas” (fat cows) so of course, hard times are “vacas flacas” (scrawny cows). Note at the beginning the dancers rubbing their thumbs against their index and middle fingers- that is the symbol for money. And the man at the end lining his pockets- that’s pretty universal.
     And note the patent dilemma of the actual banker thinking “What do I do? Call the police and say we’re being assaulted by a flamenco show?”
     This one is against the rating agencies- in front of the offices of the Bank of Spain (Spain’s central bank) in Seville. Each of the girls represents the greed enabled by one of the three main agencies.  (Editor’s note: If you can only watch one…make it this one. These women are fabulous.)
     Things are definitely heating up. At some demonstrations the police have become quite violent- even attacking other policemen and firemen that were demonstrating. People have been throwing flower pots at violent police from their balconies. Oops. Not so good. But I can understand how that can come to happen- you can only watch fellow ex-consumers, I mean, citizens, being truncheoned with billysticks for so long and still remain an innocent bystander I suppose.
     Surprisingly, the main feeling I got from the atmosphere at the unemployment office was not of anger, but of extreme fragility- like a window pane being pushed against so hard that it was just about to shatter into a million pieces. 
     And broken glass cuts. It is the nature of broken glass.
     As they say in Spain, raise crows and they will peck your eyes out. There might be some eye-pecking due. Flamenco dancing doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect. France had the guillotine, but Spain, Spain will have eye peckers. They can use broken glass and wear black flamenco dresses.
     (Sorry, ran away with myself there.  Michael always has these zombie films on and I’ve become inured to gory imagery.)
     …When I saw what was happening back in 2007 I thought, hmmm, this looks like we’re heading towards feudalism. But instead of the crown, the church and the barons owning everything, it will be the banks as they repossess all the assets with which the loans are backed.
     Which they have of course done.
     So now they have a huge inventory of unsold brand new and/or unfinished homes and buildings. 
They are approving loans, but only to government workers- who can’t be fired (for now anyway!) , and large foreign financial interests, and only for their own repossessed properties. And as close to the 2007 market price as possible- especially where government workers are concerned.
     Also, almost to the last one, home mortgages in Spain are only approved as full recourse debt- so they can take away your house AND go after any other assets you may have, including future income, until the loan is fully repaid. Including compound interest. Needless to say, there is not much default on home loan mortgages in Spain. People will do ANYTHING to continue payments, including going hungry.
     I think that is why the banks have been able to show less losses on their books. Under current laws, home mortgages are an iron-clad asset. Even if you mark to market, which they don’t, they will eventually get all the original money and projected interest back. And that is why they HAVE to keep inflation down- to maintain the value of the loans.
     Commercial mortgages are another matter entirely. And that is the big problem. Huge defaults- all swept by the government into a new bank called Bankia- whose shares were aggressively sold to Spanish citizens without bothering to tell them the shares were just turds tied up with pink ribbons.  They apologized profusely to everyone last month, so everything is ok – but they did get severely assaulted with some violent flamenco dancing. So there. ¡Olé!
     Do I hear something cracking? Sounds kinda like ice on a lake in early spring.
     I can affirm that poverty definitely causes social exclusion- you kind of exclude  yourself from the company of friends not in the same situation where the conversation includes the latest great finds in restaurants and where the best buys are for clothes, good movies to see, concerts and stuff like that which require extra income for non-basic (i.e. eating and transportation) needs.  You simply have nothing to add to the conversation!
     You tend to seek out people in your own situation where you compare recipes for soapmaking, where to get the best price for broken electronic equipment, old clothes, metal, paper and the like. You patch someone’s bicycle tire in exchange for fixing a broken plug on an electric fan. Stuff like that.
     Thank god I have lots of friends in the same situation so we can get together and laugh our heads off about it- we really do, believe it or not. It’s an endless source of humor and fun. One of these days I’ll have to do a compilation of Andalusion jokes on the theme. It definitely brings people together in surprising ways. And of course, humor in the face of distress can be very healing…
     …But you really can’t talk and joke about it with people who are not experiencing it because they feel uncomfortable or seem to think you want them to feel sorry for you or that you want something from them, so you have to pretend everything is fine and dandy and you can’t go to that concert because you have to tend to the garden, or you didn’t see Snow White yet because you just haven’t had the time. And no matter how cheap those sandals on sale are, you just don’t really like them.
     The very thought of being in this situation terrifies those who are not in it and maybe they need to be shielded in order for the meme of abundance to stay alive and start to grow again. Kind of like how the hobbits were shielded from the dark lord and his plans by those who could endure and fight it. The thought really endears the little buggers to you.
     The way things are going, I’m afraid it’s those with jobs and extra income who will eventually be feeling socially excluded as they are becoming scarcer and scarcer.
     But we will be here ready to teach them how to laugh about it, and about soapmaking (thank god there’s plenty of used olive oil around for that from everyone frying with it!) and bicycle patching whenever they might need the info… 
copyright Dia Osborn 2012 (for my sister)

 

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4 responses

  1. Dia and your sister, thanks for this! These are the things/facts that we don’t hear about here in Canada….unless of course we have family there as well.

    • It’s the same here in the U.S. We mostly hear large numbers and economic percentages quoted, news about banks and agencies and government leaders, but rarely about the real human toll. I imagine the numbers feel safer, more manageable, than real people with real lives and losses, but it still seems so callous.

  2. The dancers were amazing, were they not? I was prepared to laugh when I first started watching the videos but wound up finding them quite stirring. Such an ancient dance form. Who over here knew that it was so will suited for political dissent? Thanks for the prayers my friend. I’ll definitely let her know.

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