— Fragments

Yugoslavia and Spain

The implosion of Yugoslavia was a geopolitical tragedy. Yugoslavia was a vibrant multicultural and multiethnic republic with a proud history. It had thrown off the yoke of Hitler and of Stalin. It was a rare socialist state that allowed worker-run enterprises, a mixed economy, and free emigration. It helped to found the Non-Aligned Movement which played an instrumental role in ending colonialism around the world.

As we know, in the 1990s Yugoslavia disintegrated in an orgy of vandalism. The rape of Bosnia, the massacre of Srebrenica, the cruelty of Operation Storm. The senselessness of the Yugoslav wars claimed more than 100,000 lives and ruined millions more. To what end? What was one country is now seven weak republics crippled by their hate for one another.

Yugoslavia wasn’t a paradise. The atrocities committed in two world wars meant that ethnic tensions among the south Slavic peoples certainly simmered throughout the post-war period. But the breakup of Yugoslavia was no mere tribal squabble.

The economy of Yugoslavia was severely punished by the oil shock of the 1970s. It never really recovered. By 1988, a debt and inflation crisis had brought the economy to a standstill and in order to obtain a $1.4 billion bailout from the IMF, the government imposed a policy of austerity. Suffice to say, the medicine did not cure the patient.

It was in this context that vain and cruel men like Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic were able to rise to power in their regions. Instead of working together to solve the nation’s problems, they shored up their narrow support by scapegoating their adversaries and appealing to the worst impulses of their followers. When Yugoslavia most needed statesmanship and courageous leadership, its political class destroyed the country for its own benefit.

Is this too simplistic an analysis? Perhaps. But let’s bear in mind that in 1984, as the world celebrated the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, no one would have guessed that just a decade later that the Jerusalem of Europe would be suffering a plague of mortar and sniper fire in a bloody siege. Yet it happened.

So what has this got to do with Spain? Nothing at all, is my sincerest hope.

Spain is a country haunted by an ugly history. The scars of the civil war of 1936-39 have not healed. In Navarre, the province where my father was born, fully 2% of the adult male population was murdered by reactionary repression during the war. After 75 years, my grandmother was still emotional as she described to me this summer how a boy from her village had been dragged from his home and executed without trial. This was terror.

If they want, right-wingers can complain too. One month ago, Santiago Carrillo, the historic leader of the Communist Party of Spain died without ever having been made to answer for his role in the slaughter of thousands of rebel officers at Paracuellos.

After the Franco dictatorship, during the twenty-five fat years between 1982 and 2007, Spain attained a spectacular prosperity. After centuries of exporting people, people actually went to Spain in search of a better life. Unimaginable!

Today, despite all the sporting success, the party is over. Unemployment is over 25%. More than half of young people are out of work, the state is bankrupt, and hunger once again stalks Spanish streets. The economy is getting worse. In the midst of this misery, Spain has become the most economically unequal country in the eurozone.

One might suppose that in this environment, the leaders of Spain would be desperately finding ways to revive the economy and rescue the country. Instead, headlines are dominated by the invective of Mariano Rajoy, the prime minister, and Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia.

While bad relations between Madrid and Barcelona are nothing new, the intensity of the negative feelings is quite surprising, mostly because the disagreements between the two leaders on the fundamental question of economic recovery are minimal. Both are committed to policies of austerity and have slashed public spending, which increases the pain that their people feel every day. Both are unable to admit that Spain’s banking sector is totally insolvent. And of course, neither of them will to stand up to continuing German demands for further turns of the screw.

In the absence of a plan to fix what is together with Greece the worst-performing economy in the world, we are left with debates and analysis that lose contact with reality. “The problem is that the Catalans don’t speak Spanish!” says Ignacio Wert, national minister of education. “The problem is that we give too much money to Andalusia,” says President Mas, whose region grew wealthy from the labor of immigrant Andalusians.

Spain has many problems and it’s right for politicians to disagree on solutions. But it remains unclear how encouraging chauvinism and ridiculing solidarity addresses any of them. What can we say about Rajoy and Mas? That they are irresponsible and short sighted? Let’s remember, in 1990, that’s the worst we could have said about Milosevic and Tudjman.

Throughout the Spanish economic collapse, consumption of luxury goods has continued to rise. More Lladró figurines are being sold than ever. But the biggest luxury Spain allows itself is a political class that cares more for its own privileges than for the nation’s problems.