The schools are off and Spain is celebrating the Easter holidays. Whilst many people are leaving Zaragoza for a well-deserved break, I will be staying here and relaxing. Fortunately there will be many events happening in Zaragoza to keep me occupied. Whilst back in the U.K, Easter is quite a secular holiday, Easter and Holy Week is a serious event in Spain, which is celebrated in the streets and brings in a lot of tourism. This week is a testament to the presence of the Catholic religion in Spanish society and is an event that is worth visiting. Around Spain, there are processions in the streets and other religious activities; In Logroño they celebrate Holy Week with some men lashing themselves with whips for example.The processions are organised by the local churches, and are normally comprised of marching bands, people holding big statues of the Virgin Mary and a station of the Cross which is held by six people. The other participants hold candles, which are a great sight during the evening processions . The people in the procession wear ‘el Navareno’; a long dress and a coned shaped hood which covers their face. This is a picture from a procession in Malaga in 2009.
In Zaragoza, Holy week is celebrated with daily processions, which began on Palm Sunday. Due to road works in the city centre, the route has been changed, but it is still a moving experience. There are several processions each day which are leading up to the big procession on Good Friday, which starts in the early hours of the morning. The processions are well intended it is impressive to see the commitment shown by the people who are carrying the massive statues.
The scenes in Zaragoza are imitated throughout Spain with most cities celebrating processions. For anyone looking to visit Spain at this time of the year, the best place to go is Seville, which is without doubt the best place to experience Holy Week. The celebration of Holy Week is one of the highlights in the Seville calendar, with a weeklong celebration of processions and masses. The processions are so popular that they are recorded live on local television. I had the opportunity to visit the Andalusian capital in 2009 and it was a great experience. The processions produce an unimaginable atmosphere, with people crying in the streets, overwhelmed by the events. The highlight of the week is La Macarena procession, which lasts for over 14 hours, starting at midnight on Maunday Thursday and finishing at 1430 on Good Friday. It is one of the biggest processions, which includes Roman soldiers and others in the traditional ‘Nazareno’ dress.
The crisis in Spain worsens
This weekend Mariano Rajoy celebrated 100 days in power coming under increasing pressure from within and without Spain. The week started very badly, with the defeat in the Andalusia autonomous elections, and it is still unclear if they have lost in Asturias. Although Javier Arenas, the Popular Party candidate won more seats than the PSOE, the PSOE will govern the autonomy with the help of the IU (the United Left). Although Andalusia has been held by the socialists for 30 years, the Popular Party were convinced that they would win the election, especially given the big victory they had in Andalusia in November during the General Election. What is more worrying is that the Popular Party have lost 430,000 voters since November, which may suggest that public support is dwindling.
Also, on Thursday, the first General Strike against the PP government was a success, with the strike paralysing transport and public services. Spaniards protested over the Labour Reform, which will facilitate laying workers off and also reducing wages. They were also protesting over the austerity measures which had been imposed on them. Over one million people took to the streets in what was a relatively peaceful protest in all parts of Spain except in Barcelona, where many banks and buildings were damaged, and the police fought with some protesters.
However, the government vowed to carry on with the reforms, and in spite of the strike, the government announced the most austere budget in Europe on Friday. The cuts amounted to €27 billion, with an average of 17% cut in all ministries. The finance minister Luis Guindos, argued that the budget had been set to give confidence to the European Union and also to investors. Civil servants have had their pay frozen again and there will be a tax amnesty, where businessmen who have avoided tax will be allowed to pay a one off sum of between 8 – 10% with no questions asked. The economy is likey to shrink a further 1.7% this year and there will certainly be more cuts to come in Spain.
On Monday, Mariano Rajoy was feeling the pressure, as news continues to worsen. Unemployment figures on Monday show that unemployment has continued to rise, and at 23.6%, it is the highest in Europe. Even more worrying is the fact that youth unemployment has hit 50.5%. Whilst there have been labour reforms, economists predict the job situation to worsen this year, with more people losing their jobs, particularly in the public sector. The Popular Party hopes that, with the Labour reform, employers will lower wages rather than lay off workers. In the last week Spain has been caught in the eye of the European storm, with many economists seeing Spain as the biggest threat to the Eurozone’s stability. All focus remains on the country to push through reforms, with Angela Merkel supporting the government and claiming that they are going down the right path.There is no easy solution to this crisis in Spain and Rajoy has assured the Spanish public that there was no choice to the harsh cuts in the budgets; it’s either austerity or intervention from Europe.