Thursday, March 01, 2007

Culture - The Legacy of Franco

Catalunya probably suffered the worst during the Franco years. El Caudillo had a special paranoid hatred in his heart for what for centuries had been considered the most cultural and enlightened region of Spain. Aside from the region forming the bastion of The Republic during the war, it was also against the social advances authored by Catalans that Franco staged his military rebellion. And for this reason, in the post-war years up until the death of the dictator, Catalans were subjugated to particularly harsh suppression. Place names were changed --for example, Sant Cugat became San Cucufato-- people speaking their mother tongue were subject to beatings by the Guardia Civil, fines and arrest.

Of course, it wasn't only Catalunya who suffered. Anybody overheard criticizing the dictatorship or even some innocuous element in the system was likely to simply disappear. Over the course of two generations, this began to have a profound effect on the mentality of the population. And this effect can be seen today in the lack of motivation for an essential economic change. The general attitude in the population is, "Keep your head low, keep quiet, don't rock the boat."

A good illustration of this can be made in comparing the country to France. The French are very quick to go on strike and protest in order to safeguard their own economic dignity. But not so in Spain. In a country where the cost of buying or renting a home has tripled in the past 8 years, where the cost of basic necessities has doubled while the average income has grown only 2 or 3% per year, people discuss and complain about the problem in private, but nobody hits the streets en masse to rectify the situation.

A typical salary here can run between €600 and €1,400 per month. But the cost of a flat begins at €500. The situation is in stasis, because those who are older purchased their homes before the spike in housing. And those who are 30 years old or younger still live with their parents. Nobody is happy about the situation, but nobody is willing to do anything about it either. My boss, for example, has increased her prices over 50% in the past few years, but this increase doesn't reflect any investment in facilities or salaries. In other words, it all goes in her pocket. And the other employees, Spaniards, prefer not to complain openly to the boss. They prefer to go about their job without lios. It's a very typical attitude here.

But what's curious about this attitude is that it was the very opposite before the Civil War. People fought hard in order to gain social and economic dignity. Protests were as common as milk wagons on the street. Pamphlets and newspapers were published with enormous headlines in harsh rhetoric, full of exclamation points. But no more. The people have been cowed. And most of them don't realize it or even know why. Es así, is the phrase du jour. It's like that. Very Zen, very Taoist. But, it's also reminsicent of the old adage, "If you act like a victim, you will be victimized."

One thing is certain: The situation will not remain viable much longer. When young people eventually move out of their parents' homes and begin looking for their own apartments, and they discover just how impossible it is to survive with the shit salaries that are being paid, there will be a demand for drastic change. The economy, while stable now, will eventually suffer a profound paradigm shift. Something volatile is on the horizon.

1 comment:


This reminds me of what happened to places in the west back in the 70's and 80's.
Santa Fe New Mexico, or nearly any mountain town. The rich came in and bingo, people were forced to live 50 miles or more from work.