In Spain, public distrust feeds economic meltdown
In Spain, misinformation and cover-ups have undermined Spaniards' trust in their government and its plan for economic recovery, with repercussions that could resonate all the way in Brussels.
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Spain's response to the banking crisis has been the exact opposite of reassuring to Spaniards, and Rajoy and the ruling Popular Party's obfuscation is not limited to the bailout. For weeks they shielded government officials and executives of the rescued banks from questioning, despite an irate public's demand for answers. The ruling party also told Spain's Central Bank not to make any public comments.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The debt crisis: Europe's fragile union
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It wasn't until after the public initiated a class action suit that the government requested an investigation. Spanish courts are now looking into possible fraud at Bankia, as well as criminal mismanagement in other rescued banks.
European leaders have blamed Spain for its handling of the banks. "This is the worst way to do things, because in the end everyone ends up doing the right thing but at the highest possible cost," European Central Bank president Mario Draghi said last month.
Unlike Greeks, whose fury has been directed at the EU, Spaniards see Brussels as the honest broker – albeit one in disarray – and their own government as the deceiver.
"Spain is strange that way. A common saying here is that Spain is the problem and Europe the solution," says José Álvarez Junco, a leading historian and an expert in social and political movements at Universidad Complutense de Madrid. "[The EU is] bureaucratic and not very transparent, but Europe will be more rational and impose better things than Spain."
Spain's democracy is more fledgling than many realize, making blows to its credibility particularly damaging.
"Our democracy had a good start," says Mr. Martínez, referring to the years that have elapsed since Gen. Francisco Franco died in 1975 after an almost 40-year dictatorship. "But it has degenerated. Political parties just think of themselves, not about the people. All of them. Proof of that is that they should all be coming together to save our economy, but instead they just keep fighting among themselves."
"There is a great deal of mistrust in politicians and institutions. There is serious damage," Dr. Álvarez says. "Spaniards realize this government offers few solutions, but the good thing is that there is no radicalism in Spain, no real effort to change the democratic system."
The distrust could catalyze a revival, pushing society to overcome its complacency, both economic and political, says Álvarez.
In 1898 the mighty Spanish empire lost the Spanish-American War and most of its colonies. The defeat spurred a period of vast political and social transformation, known as the "renovation."
"Then we also felt inferior; we suffered a collective depression. Back then, it was also the crisis of a rich country, and it led to a regeneration because everyone agreed things had to change." But Spain can't do this alone. Europe needs to step up, Álvarez says.
"They're concentrating on protecting the euro currency, but they've neglected everything else. What is happening is also the EU's fault for not stopping our governments [in] time."