The Valley of the Fallen

The Valley of the Fallen

Over the weekend we headed to Madrid for a little break away from Zaragoza. Being one of my favourite cities, it was great to get back to the Spanish capital and get immersed in the atmosphere there. However, instead of doing the traditional tourist activities, we decided to take a trip to La Sierra de Guadarama to pay a visit to one of the more unusual sites in Spain; el Valle de los Caídos. Approximately 50 km from Madrid, the Valley of the Fallen is a memorial dedicated to the fallen in the Spanish Civil War, and also the final resting place for Francisco Franco, the dictator that controlled Spain for nearly 40 years. It is a very unusual monument given that it is, as The Guardian Spanish correspondent labelled it, ‘the largest and most recent piece of fascist religious monumental architecture to be erected in Western Europe’[1].

After 18 years of construction, the Valley of the Fallen was inaugurated on 1st April 1959; twenty years after the war finished with the victory of the Nationalists. Hidden in the mountains, the most visible piece of this gigantic monument is the 150ft cross, which is visible from over 32km away. The architecture itself is very impressive and the Basilica is as big as St Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican. The remains of Franco and José Antonio Primo de Riviera (the founder of the Falange, the Spanish fascist party which was to help Franco whist he was in power) lie next to the altar, and there are many paintings and sculptures demonstrating to the glory of Spain. Around 40,000 bodies are buried beneath the monument, and are recorded in the Valley of the Fallen register. These bodies were brought there from all over Spain, and are the remains of men who died during the Civil War. The Bodies are predominantly from the Nationalist dead, although Republican bodies were brought in to be buried here also. Although some of the Republican dead are buried here, one cannot forget that this monument was made purely to celebrate the Nationalist victory, rather than reconciliation. Inside the Basilica, there is a plaque that says ‘Caídos por dios y Espana 1936-1939’ (‘for those who fell for God and for Spain’). This is a reference to the Nationalists rather than Republicans, who were considered ‘anti Spanish’ and enemies of Spain by the Nationalist’s forces. Given that Franco maintained a policy of dividing the victors of the war from the defeated right up until his death in 1975, this monument reflects his ideas of Spain and what the victory of the Civil War meant. Furthermore, there is controversy surrounding the construction of the Valley of the Fallen. It is estimated that 10% of the workforce were prisoners, who were forced to work there and gained reductions in their sentences.

There has been great controversy surrounding the place, as Spaniards are divided on what to do with a place which overtly celebrates the Nationalist victory and the dictatorship. Given Spain’s uncomfortable relationship with the past, it is not difficult to see that this place is at the forefront of the discussion. In the immediate aftermath of the dictatorship and the  transition to democracy in the late 1970s, many believed that the best way to not reopen old wounds was to simply leave the past in the past, which came to be known as el Pacto de Olvido (the pact of forgetting). However, in recent years, with democracy well and truly consolidated, a generation which never experienced the polarisation of the Franco dictatorship started to ask answers about what happened to their grandparents. This started in families researching where their relatives had been killed and buried, and culminated in the digging up of the many common graves where the murdered where left after being taken out to be shot. In 2000, the first disinterment took place, and thanks to the efforts of La Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica, by 2011, 1311 bodies had been recovered throughout Spain[2], although many more are still in the thousands of common graves around Spain. By recovering the bodies of relatives, families have been able to give their dead a dignified burial, and close some wounds. Last year, the Ministry of Justice published a map so people could find out what graves had been dug up and which ones remained.[3]  In fact, 11 families who have relatives buried in the Valley of the Fallen have tried to pursue leagal action to try and recover the remains of their relatives who died fighting for the Republic.[4]Under the last socialist government, there were many advances in changing the attitude towards the past. The Law of Historical Memory, which was passed on 27th December 2007. This law prohibited political rallies at the Valley of the Fallen, and also brought measures in to remove Francoist symbols and statues. Over the last few years, the last Franco statues have been removed, and street names have been changed. However, the Valley of the Fallen still remains a controversial issues, and is the matter of a highly polemicized debate. Whilst organisations such as Patrimonia Nacional, the group that maintains the valley of the fallen, claim that the monument is a homage to all Spaniards who died during the war, many on the left want to radically change the monument. Some would like to change it into an information centre, whilst last year an expert commission under the previous government suggested that the remains of Franco and Riviera be removed from the Basilica, with Franco’s remains being moved to a cemetery close to El Pardo, his residence.[5] However, the Franco family have said that they would never accept this proposal, and the Popular Party and the recently elected government will not contemplate removing his remains; the PP are vehemently opposed to Historical Memory, and argue that it has unnecessarily opened up old wounds.

There is not a simple solution for this site. For a tourist, the Valley of the Fallen is well worth a visit due to its unusual architecture and grandeur. However, it is, and always will be, a monument glorifying the Nationalist cause, and the Franco ‘crusade’. One only has to look around the place to see the type of visitors; older generations sympathetic to Franco and a well-represented group of younger Spaniards who support the extreme right.  It is quite a unique place to visit and although the whole experience inside the Valley of the Fallen may be uncomfortable, the views around the Sierra de Gudarama are spectacular.

Posted in History, Life in Spain, Politics | Leave a comment

Real Zaragoza and ‘El Movimiento Avispa’

As an Englishman living in Spain, it is a pleasure to be able to watch La Liga as much as I can, and keep up to date with one of the greatest leagues on earth. For me, it is a great league and one that certainly competes against the Premier League. In fact, Real Madrid and Barcelona are quite a distance ahead of their counterparts in England. However, Spanish football has been deeply affected by the crisis. Whilst Malaga may have rich new owners, and Real Madrid can rely on help, many clubs are simply fighting for survival. Erratic spending whilst the times were good have put clubs either in administration or on the verge of it. Players in teams such as Rayo Vallecano have gone months without getting paid. Valencia has severe debts and has only survived as a club due to the sales of David Silva and David Villa. Their problem is that they spent €300 million  building a new stadium without selling the old one. For now, they remain in La Mestalla, although the new stadium is in an advanced stage of construction. Before Christmas, there was special report on the terrible financial state of Spanish football. It’s clear that the high wages and demand for success has strained many clubs, who are now struggle to pay unmanageable debts.

Living in Zaragoza it is hard not to keep up to date with the local team. Many people in Zaragoza will proudly say that Zaragoza is one of the biggest teams in Spain, and should be competing against the best. Since their famous victory against Arsenal in the 1995 European cup winners’ cup final, the club have had some success, with two Copa del Rey wins in 2001 and 2004. In 2006, they had a team that boasted some of the best players in La Liga, with Diego and Gabriel Milito, Pablo Aimar and D’Alessandro. However, since their relegation in 2008, they have struggled greatly. Although they won promotion at their first attempt, they have not exactly settled down in La Liga. They have been flirting with relegation ever since they returned to the top flight, with last year being particularly close; a victory against Levante on the final day of the season saved them.

Part of the problem has been the fact that they have been in administration, and owe over €112 million to their creditors. The board have spent massive sums in the last few years, which includes paying Jermain Pennant €80,000 a week for an unsuccessful spell, which is remembered more for his indiscipline and the rumour that he left his Porche abandoned in the Zaragoza train station, five months after he had left the city. Thanks to poor spending, they have struggled to build a team capable of competing in the top flight.

Last week, I finally made it to la Romareda for the first time this year for the match against Real Betis. Real Zaragoza is currently rock bottom of La Liga, and survival seems highly unlikely, given that they are 12 points off it. Real Zaragoza has had many problems this year, and although they went into the game against Real Betis with a victory away to Espanol, another victory was too much to ask for. Although they started the game brightly, the first goal was always going to be crucial. A poor defensive error allowed Ruben Castro to score on the 41st minute. After that, Zaragoza never really looked like getting back into the game and as Castro scored in the 68th minute, the players and the supporters were resigned to defeat, with many fans leaving the stadium straight after the goal.

Whilst the club may be suffering, the fans are trying their hardest to protest against the president Agapito Iglesias. ‘El movimiento avispa’ (the wasp movement) has been working hard to bring pressure on the president. The manifesto of the movement insists on the continued support for the team, whilst trying to change the clubs infrastructure, and force Agapito to sell the club.

Around the city there is a lot of graffiti, with many walls painted with the slogan ‘Zaragzoa si, Agapito no’. Also, imitating Manchester United’s Green and Gold initiative, the fans go to the match wearing scarfs with Zaragoza’s tradition colours, yellow and black. The group, Salvemos el Real Zaragoza (Lets save Real Zaragoza), have started several initiatives, including La Agapitada, which is a play on words and means ‘whistle against Agapito’. On the 32nd minute of each home match, coinciding with the year the club was formed (1932), the fans blow whistles as a protest against the president. It has been so successful that the President has stopped attending matches. However, it remains to be seen when the club will find new investment. For the fans of Zaragoza, the battle is not for survival in La Liga, but for survival of this big club, which is at the heart of the city.

Posted in Sport | Leave a comment

San Valero

Hello all!

Here is a quick update on my life in Zaragoza. To be honest, we have not done too much since returning to work, we have been meeting up with friends and going to the bar for the odd drink and tapa. January was a relaxing month, returning to the routine of work. This month I have changed my timetable in the high school in order to give more students the opportunity to practise English with me. I will miss the students who I taught for the first four months, but I am looking forward to meet my new classes and see how they are. So far they have been very enthusiastic and they have been very interested in learning about English culture.

On Monday, the people of Zaragoza enjoyed an extra day of work due to the day of San Valero, the ex-bishop of Zaragoza, which was celebrated on Sunday 29th January. Unfortunately, due to my school being outside of the city of Zaragoza, I had to work. However, I visited the city centre on the Sunday to join in with the festivities. The Aragon government hosted a few events around the city, including live entertainment and free entry to all of the museums around Zaragoza. Also, the people of Zaragoza are given free Roscon in the Plaza del Pilar. Roscon is a cake filled with cream, which Spaniards usually eat on the day of the Epiphany as well (6th December).  Inside the cake there is a little toy, and the person who finds the toy in their slice traditionally pays for the whole thing. Aside from the very cold temperatures, it was a fun day, with many people visiting the centre to celebrate.

Here are some pictures San Valero from the Zaragoza newspaper El Heraldo.

Although I have no plans yet, over the next few months I intend to visit a few more places around Spain. I am planning to visit Madrid at some point, where I intend to visit the Valley of the Fallen, the gigantic church erected by Franco as a monument to the Nationalist dead in the Civil War, which was also his final resting place. Also, I would like to get up to the Pyrenees to spend a weekend in the snow.

Around Spain

This week in Spain, the newspapers have been filled with articles about the trial of Judge Baltasar Garzón, which could end his career on the Supreme Court. Garzón, a Human Rights judge, is well known around the world, and has worked hard fighting corruption and terrorism in Spain, and also human rights cases in Argentina and other South American countries. He also arrested the Chilean dictator Pinochet in London, charging him with crimes against humanity in 1998, which led to Pinochet being put under house arrest in London for a short time. He is under investigation with three separate cases against him; the first two are for granting permission to record conversations between lawyers and their clients in the corruption case in the Gurtel network,  and the other for payments received from Santander bank and his relationship with this bank, a bank which had charges dropped by Garzón in the past.

Garzón is also being charged for abusing his powers by opening an investigation into crimes committed by the Franco regime, with the complaint coming from the extreme right group Manos Limpios (Clean hands).

The case against Garzón for investigating crimes under the Franco dictatorship started this week, followed by massive demonstrations in the streets of Madrid. Garzón opened a case against 35 dead people, including General Franco, for crimes against humanity.  He opened the case to help victims to get justice for their families, some of which have not even been able to dig up the remains of their relatives, who were left in common graves during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The investigation was very similar to the ones that he successfully completed in Argentina and Chile, although it has brought great controversy in Spain. As part of the Amnesty Law of 1977, a pact of forgetting was agreed,  which meant that there was a general consensus in Spain that the past should be left in the past, and that no one would be prosecuted for crimes committed. Garzón has defended his actions by arguing that he followed the same steps that he took to bring the Argentinian Junta to justice, and that it was his obligation as a judge to represent the victims.

There has been widespread condemnation of the trials throughout the world, particularly in South America, where Garzón worked to bring justice for victims of ex-dictatorships. This week has seen victims of the Franco repression in court recalling their stories, and supporting Garzón. If he is found guilty, he will face a fine and be suspended from practising for up to 20 years.  His supporters believe that his many enemies are out to get him this time, whilst people against Garzón claim that by trying to investigate these crimes; he has tried to reopen old wounds, and is breaking Spanish law.

Articles about the case

A video of one woman’s fight to find the body of her mother, who was killed in 1936.

Rajoy slips up twice

Since taking office, Mariano Rajoy has been very quiet, whilst he has been busy at work creating reforms in many areas. He has given one interview to the press, and not spoke in parliament since his inaugration as Prime Minister. The deputy Prime Minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, has been left to do most of the talking in press conferences, whilst ministers have spoken about their own reforms. However, this week, Rajoy finally spoke on camera about his reforms. Unfortunately, it was private conversation that was recorded accidently whilst Rajoy was in Brussels with other European leaders this week. The leader of Spain has been busy meeting other European leaders this week in Brussels. During an informal conversation with the Dutch leader, Jyrki Katainen, Rajoy was caught on camera complaining that he had inherited a very bad situation, and that his labour reform is going to provoke a General strike. The labour reform will be announced next week, and now it is certain that it will cause problems with Trade Unions and workers, who were initially invited to work with the government on the reform. On Wednesday, the Spanish press were highlighting a second error infront of the cameras, where he was see telling the leader of the Catalan Generalitat, Artur Mas, complaining about his job.

Finally, this weekend the PSOE leadership will be resolved during the Socialists congress in Seville. Alfredo Rubalcaba will arrive in Andalucía as the slight favourite, but Carme Chacon is still in with a chance. Given the upsets in previous leadership battles, like the surprise victory of Zapatero against José Bono in 2000, anyone could win the leadership, with the militants divided over who is the best candidate to lead forward the socialists

Posted in Life in Spain | Leave a comment

La Vuelta a la Normalidad

Hola a todos

Espero que hayáis disfrutado de las vacaciones, y la vuelta al trabajo; no haya sido muy pesada. Me lo pasé muy bien por Inglaterra, viendo a mis amigos y mi familia. De hecho, solo pasé 12 días en Inglaterra, y visité muchas ciudades, incluso York y cruzamos la frontera de Escocia para celebrar nochevieja en Glasgow con un amigo mio.

Por tercera vez, tuve la oportunidad de pasar los reyes en Zaragoza, y me gustó mucho. Salió a la calle mucha gente para la cabalgata, y fue muy divertido. Aunque las obras en Paseo de Independencia han afectado la ruta (como la ofrenda durante Pilares), y era más difícil encontrar un sito para ver  A los reyes magos, los niños se lo pasaron muy bien.

Este mes será un mes de descanso y ahora, puesto que hemos gastado mucho durante la navidad. Esta semana ha sido la primera semana de clases en los colegios, y ha ido bien. Los alumnos han vuelto con ganas de estudiar y están tranquilitos. A ver si siguen así.


Eventos en España

Justo antes de la navidad, tuvo lugar la investidura de Mariano Rajoy como Presidente de España. El miércoles (11/01/12), los recortes de Rajoy han sido aprobados en los cortes con el apoyo de CIU. Los recortes de  €16.5 billones afectaran a todos los españoles. Sin embargo, la subida de los impuestos era la gran sorpresa, dado que durante la campana electoral, Rajoy prometió que no iba a subir los impuestos, y que el PP era un partido de bajos impuestos. Según el gobierno, se vieron obligados a subir los impuestos debido a un déficit 2 puntos más alto que ellos esperaban. Rajoy tiene el apoyo de su partido, con partidarios como Esperanza Aguirre diciendo que si fuera el, tendría que hacer lo mismo ( Sin embargo, hay mucha gente en contra de la propuesta, especialmente porque Rajoy y el PP insistieron que no iban a subir impuestos, y el hecho de que los que tienen trabajo cobraran menos. Habrá más recortes en los presupuestos de marzo. A los españoles solo les espera más dolor y sacrificio. Por otro lado, según un sondeo de El País (8/01/12), la mayoría de los españoles esta de acuerdo con los recortes de Rajoy. Un 53% considera los recortes justos y razonables. Aprueba las acciones del gobierno porque crea que ayuda a España salir de la crisis más rápido. De momento, el gobierno tiene el apoyo de la mayoría de los ciudadanos. Sin embargo, será interesante ver qué opinaran los españoles después de 6 meses de más recortes y si no mejora el mercado laboral. El plan de Rajoy está parecido a lo de David Cameron en Inglaterra. En el Reino Unido, la tasa de paro sigue creciendo y el gobierno no ha logrado la reducción del déficit que esperaba. Si hay problemas así en España, el publico  SE manifestara, dado que el paro ya es mucho más alto en España que en Inglaterra.

Mientras los populares están trabajando duro en los ministerios para afrontar la crisis, los socialistas están recuperando y organizándose para la oposición. En febrero, el PSOE elegirá su nuevo Secretario General. De momento, hay dos personas que aspiran a ser el líder del PSOE; Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, el perdedor de las elecciones generales 2011, ex ministro del interior y vicepresidente, y Carme Chacón, la ex ministra de defensa. Será una batalla decisiva del camino futuro del PSOE. El grave resultado de las elecciones generales en noviembre demuestra que la marca del PSOE está rota desgastada, y necesita alguien que reinvente el partido y consiga la confianza de los españoles de nuevo.

El primer candidato, y favorito, es Rubalcaba. Rubalcaba era el candidato del PSOE en las elecciones generales del año pasado. Es muy conocido dentro de España y una persona que esta bien valorada por los españoles. Traerá su experiencia y credibilidad al puesto, y los españoles le respetan mucho, especialmente por su trabajo como ministro del interior, donde ha tenido mucho éxito contra ETA, con muchas detenciones de Etarras, y el hecho de que ETA hubiera anunciado un cese de violencia. Es un político astuto y lleva muchos años en la profesión; ha sido ministro en los gobiernos de Felipe González y Zapatero.

Sin embargo, hay obstáculos para su candidatura. Primero, como ya ha perdido contra Mariano Rajoy en las elecciones, ¿cómo va a recuperar el voto de los españoles? La derrota era el peor resultado electoral de la historia del PSOE desde la Transición a la democracia. Puede que haya más razones para la derrota, pero la responsabilidad la tiene Rubalcaba, especialmente el margen de la derrota. El problema es que los españoles ven a Rubalcaba como un miembro muy importante del último gobierno socialista. La marca del PSOE ha sido afectada, y hay muchos españoles que echan la culpa a los socialistas por el estado del país y la crisis. El PSOE debe renovar el partido, con ideas originales y tienen que ofrecer una alternativa al PP. También, durante las elecciones, Rajoy le manejó bien; por ejemplo, durante el único debate, Rajoy descartó cualquier propuesta de Rajoy, diciendo que ya había tenido oportunidades para hacer reformas y cambiar las cosas.

Carme Chacón es la otra candidata para el PSOE. Chacón, que tiene 40 años, representa la opción joven para las socialistas, un futuro y un cambio en la cabeza del partido. Intentó presentarse a unas primarias para las elecciones del año pasado, pero barones dentro del PSOE la convencieron de que Rubalcaba era mejor para las elecciones y que las primerias hubieran sido una distracción para el partido cuando necesitaban estar unidos. Ahora ha vuelto a intentar conseguir la posición mucha convicción y ganas. En el último gobierno de Zapatero, fue la primera mujer en obtener el puesto de ministra de Defensa y Zapatero tenía mucha confianza en ella.  Es una persona que tiene experiencia en muchos puestos (ha sido concejal, ministra de Vivienda y Defensa, vicepresidenta del Congreso etc.) y puede reformar el partido y cambiar la opinión publica del PSOE, quien, según El País, siguen perdiendo votos ( También, se marchó del ministerio de defensa con la mejor valoración de todos los ministros en el último gobierno de Zapatero.

Sus críticos dicen que no ofrece un plan concreto, y que los altos cargos del PSOE, como Elena Salgado (ex-ministra de la economía) apoyan a Rubalcaba. Además, Chacón no se ha puesto a prueba como líder. Rubalcaba ya sabe como hacer las cosas, y tiene mucha experiencia y el publico aprobó sus trabajos como ministro del Interior. Chacón como secretaria general seria una apuesta y podría tener problemas fuera y dentro del partido, como Ed Milliband, el líder de los laboristas en el Reino Unido.

En las últimas semanas habrá muchos mítines y discursos sobre el futuro del PSOE y su liderazgo. De momento, parece que tiene la ventaja Rubalcaba, con el apoyo de 11 barones regionales mientras Chacón cuenta con 4 y hay 4 más indecisos. Bajo mi punto de vista, me parece que los socialistas necesitan un cambio radical, y que Chacón sería la mejor candidata para remodelar el partido. Aunque no tenga la experiencia de Rubalcaba, es alguien joven, que puede organizar una oposición fuerte y traer algo diferente al PSOE. Rubalcaba hizo bien la campana electoral, pero en mi opinión, puesto que ya ha perdido contra Rajoy, es hora de cambiar las cosas y permite que la nueva generación encabece el partido.

Posted in Life in Spain, Politics | Leave a comment

Christmas time in Zaragoza

Christmas in Spain

December has been a really busy month for us teachers in Zaragoza. The month started off well with a few days holiday. The Spanish had a public holiday from the 5th December to the 8th December, celebrating El dia de la constitución.  This gave us an opportunity to visit some of the small villages in the south of Aragon, close to Teruel. The highlight was definitely the village of Albarracin. A UNESCO world heritage site, Albarracin is a great place to visit with a nice castle and beautiful scenery. It really was an unreal site, that has been very well preserved. If you are around Aragon, it is definitely worth a visit. Aside from the break at the beginning of the month, I have been working very hard, setting exams and writing reports. December is a busy month in the teaching world! Fortunately, all this is over now so we can look forward to the holidays.

My pictures from Albarracín. For more information see

La Navidad

Christmas has certainly arrived in Zaragoza, and the decorations around the city are looking very nice. Christmas over in Spain is as important as in Spain, but it is celebrated in a different manner. For example, on 6th January, Spaniards celebrate the Epiphany with a visit from the Three Kings, who bring gifts for the children. These two links (in English) will give you an in site into how Spaniards celebrate the Christmas holidays

Although there are some similarities between Christmas and Spain and the UK, there are lots of differences on the way Christmas is celebrated. In the city centre, the lights are very nice, with many banks and shops like El Corte Ingles displaying gigantic Christmas lights. Whilst in England the Christmas tree is normally a centre piece in the City centres, the Belen is the main attraction during Christmas. Belen (Spanish for Bethlehem), is an almost life-size Nativity scene, which takes up most of the main square in Zaragoza. What has surprised me most it the popularity around the nativity, with big queues to enter the free exhibition. Also, the donkey rides for children that go around the nativity scene is something that would never happen in the U.K. Christmas doesn’t seem to be as commercialised in Spain as much as it is in the U.K. Also, it seems that there is an even bigger focus on family during the holidays in Spain, which can be seen by the amount of family meals they celebrate.

News from Spain

At the moment, there have been no real changes in Spain, given that Mariano Rajoy was only inaugrated as the Prime Minister today (19/12/11). As Spanish government is in transition, there have been no dramatic decisions taken, and the country await the plans of the Popular Party. This week, Mariano Rajoy will name his ministers, and the Spanish public will find out more about what awaits them in terms of cuts and austerity. Today, in his inauguration, Rajoy has laid out some of his plans, with the main ones being;

  • Pension reform – following on from Zapatero increasing the age of retirement to 67, Rajoy wants to reduce the number of people who take early retirement and increase pensions.
  • A new labour reform – To tackle the drastic youth unemployment figure, the state will pay the social security for the first year of a contract given to a young person who is being employed for the first time.
  • An extra year of bachilerato for students – Students will have to study Bachilerato ( similar to A levels in the U.K) for  an extra year  in order to prepare them better for university studies.
  • Less bank holidays to increase productivity – according to the European Quality of Life index, a U.K worker should expect to work 13 more days a year than a Spaniard –

However, although he has said that he will reduce the deficit by  €16.5 million, he has remained quiet on how he will do this exactly. He has not mentioned how he will deal with problems such as ETA and their cease fire, or if he will reform the abortion law of 2009, which the PP have been strongly opposed to.

Over the next few months these questions will need answering, and the Spanish public, who acknowledge the need for austerity and cuts, will want to see results. A survey by El País this weekend showed that there had been no change over voting indications, and Rajoy has a clear mandate to push through reforms that were started by Zapatero  Over the next few months there will be big cuts in the Autonomies run by the PP, and no area will be left unaffected.  As someone who works in a Public School in Spain, it seems that the battle lines are already being made against the government, with many teachers in schools around Spain wearing green t-shirts with the slogan Edcuacion Publica si – Recortes no (State funded education yes – cuts no). The teachers fear that other autonomies will follow the Madrid model, with the PP leader of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, reducing the number of interns and assistants in schools, whilst increasing teaching hours. As a result, there will be more students per teachers, which will certainly affect the quality of the teaching and the students results,

My first four months back in Spain have been very enjoyable, and have flown very fast. I will be back in the U.K for two weeks and I will be looking forward to getting back home for a rest.

Gracias a todos que me han ayudado estos primeros meses en España de nuevo. He aprendido mucho más sobre la sociedad española, y sigo pasándomelo bien como el otro año. Después de la navidad escribiré más en castellano, pero espero que me hayáis entendido bien en inglés. Que os lo paséis bien durante las vacaciones navideñas, y nos veremos después de la navidad.

¡Feliz Navidad!

Happy Christmas everyone

Posted in Life in Spain | Leave a comment

Elections and Tapas

In my opinion, one of the best things about living in Spain is the food. Although I love the food back at home, I must say that Spanish food is rich and delicious, whether it is made in the house or in a restaurant. The tapas were one of the things I missed the most when I returned to England after my year abroad. For those who are not too familiar with tapas, you are really missing out. In most bars around Spain, Tapas are a feature which allows people to drink and have a nibble at the same time. Tapas are small bites that you find in bars. For example, it could be a croquet de jamon (ham croquette), or something more distinct like crab sticks and a sauce on a piece of bread. The word tapa means lid, and the food was originally given to the customers to cover the beers so that flies couldn’t enter. In the past, tapas were normally free to anyone who bought a drink, although this custom has mostly disappeared, except for in Andalusia, where they continue to offer tapas to customers who have bought a drink. The tapas culture is very popular in Spain, and el Tubo, the area in Zaragoza which has many tapas bars, is packed every weekend without fail. Many people complement the tapas with rations of patatas bravas, calamares or other dishes. It is a very good way to spend an evening, hopping around tapas bars and having a drink with friends.

This week, in Zaragoza is the 17th Tapas contest, where tapas bars throughout Zaragoza fight for the acclaimed title of the best Tapa in Zaragoza. Each bar that participates has made two specialities for the contest. With tickets, customers can try the tapas and drink a glass of wine or have a beer. The winning tapa is the one with the most votes from the public, who will judge the tapas on the taste and presentation.  If I am being honest, I could not pick a winner from the tapas that I have tried this week, as they have all been exceptional. They have ranged from traditional Spanish ones such as chorizo croquets, to a small chicken curry pie.

Here you have some of the examples of the tapas on offer;

A new era in Spain

Aside from the tapas contest, Spaniards have been voting on more important issues this week. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the General elections took place on 20th November.  There were to be no surprises, and the Popular Party had great success, gaining their greatest ever result with an absolute majority, winning 186 seats out of 350 – the biggest victory since 1982.  Mariano Rajoy has spent the last year and a half in silence, waiting for the elections to defeat the increasing unpopular PSOE government after two failed attempts in 2004 and 2008. Whilst the PP may have the absolute majority, this election will be marked by the implosion of the socialist vote rather than a massive increase of support for the PP.  Whilst the PP only achieved 552, 683 more votes than in the 2008 elections, which they lost, they have achieved 32 more seats. The fact is that the Spanish public have chosen the PP due to the ineptness of the socialist government to deal with the crisis. This can be seen by the fall in the socialist vote; the PSOE lost 4,315,455 votes in this election. However the socialist voters did not move over to the PP, with only 10% of former PSOE voters deflecting to the PP. A big winner in the election was the IU, who have ran a campaign, discrediting both the PSOE and the PP, and promoting themselves as the alternative to cuts and to the big parties. The IU (United Left), have gained 11 seats in congress, 9 more than in 2008. They are a stronger force, although this should not affect the PP’s plans due to their absolute majority, and the fact that they control most of the autonomies due to their victory in the regional elections in May.

The PP has run a shrewd campaign, with the main goal of the campaign to guard the lead they had in the polls, and not to scare swing voters. They had learnt from the Conservatives campaign in 2010, where the cuts rhetoric meant that the conservatives did not achieve a majority, which lead to the coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The PP has not offered many proposals, or explained how they are going to improve the dire situation that Spain finds itself in. The PP electoral programme was critical of the current state of the country but vague on how these problems could be resolved. As the economist argues, by not spelling out his proposals, Mariano Rajoy has caused some problems. For example, he has promised to save guard pensions, and also lower taxes to small and medium business, without concreting how this will be paid for, and arguing that austerity and cuts will be necessary. At the same time, he has promised to protect education and health care. The PP’s discourse instead focused on the problems that the socialists had not resolved, rather than giving a coherent plan to tackle the problems. For example, in the only debate that took place, Rajoy ducked any compromising questions, and stuck to his script literally, as he continued to read his notes during the debate, and explained how the current situation was unacceptable and the socialists were to blame.

The fall of the PSOE

Spain’s most successful party since the return to democracy without doubt has been the PSOE (Spanish Working Class Socialist Party), who have ruled Spain for 22 years out of 33. However this was their worst result ever, with 110 seats in the congress. AS many commentators have argued, the PSOE were doomed from the start of the campaign, and although Alfredo Rubalcaba replaced the unpopular outgoing Prime Minister, Zapatero, there was too much ground to gain, and the PSOE had become a tainted brand, due to the slow reaction to the financial crisis and for not reacting to the housing bubble bust. Socialist voters have flocked to other left wing parties, who have offered a refuge for disheartened PSOE supporters, with the IU being the obvious choice. The PSOE will need time to reflect on this result, and look towards the future. In February, there will be a congress in Seville, where the new leader of the party will be chosen, who certainly needs to look at how to improve the image of the party, whilst being a responsible opposition to Rajoy and the PP. At the moment, it looks like it will be a two horse race between the PSOE’s candidate for the elections, Alfredo Rubalcaba, and the leader of the PSOE in Catalonia, Carme Chacon.

This week, the prime minister elect has remained silent over his plans, working in his office talking to other heads of state, banks, and the current prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. However, the Spanish public wait in expectation as to what exactly Rajoy wants to do. In his victory speech, he claimed that he had not promised miracles, but he would get to work straight away on resolving the crisis; which in other words, means that there will be deep cuts in Spain, as the country tries to tackle its economic woes, with the country still lying in the risk zone, and the markets not responding very well to the change of government, and the fact that they don’t exactly know Rajoy’s plans. As Angela Merkel suggested this week, Rajoy has the absolute majority which will allow him to push through the reforms that Spain need in order to improve the economic situation, and hopefully, his government can get Spaniards back into work, which is the main worry for many who have job uncertainty, or have lost their jobs already.

Posted in Life in Spain, Politics | Leave a comment

Las eleciones generales 2011

Hoy voy a escribir por primera vez en castellano por mis seguidores españoles. Dentro de poco traduciré en inglés también, pero la verdad es que no tengo mucho que contar. Hemos pasado unas semanas tranquilitas, aprovechando el otoño y la ausencia del cierzo. Sigo pasándomelo bien en el trabajo; conozco mejor a los profesores y a los alumnos, y ahora estoy preparando clases más interesantes.

Como ya sabéis, las elecciones serán este domingo. Claro que no puedo votar, pero he seguido las campanas de los grupos políticos. Después unas semanas de mitin, entrevistas y un debate, la carrera acabará este domingo. Como  inglés, la carrera ha sido muy diferente que las campanas británicas con la falta de enfrentamientos entre los candidatos, y el hecho de que Rajoy no diera una rueda de prensa.  Se nota el descontento del pueblo por el gobierno, y también por las alternativas.

El fin de semana pasado, los grupos principales, el PSOE y el PP, estuvieron en Zaragoza. No pude asistir el evento del PP porque tuve un partido de futbol, pero el domingo fui al mitin del PSOE. Pase la mañana escuchando a los políticos españoles más influyentes del siglo XX y siglo XXI; Felipe González y Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.

Primero, debería decir que llevo un par de años estudiando sobre la historia del PSOE, y la transición española. Por eso, tenía muchas ganas de escuchar a Felipe González. El ex presidente de España es un gran orador, e hizo muchas bromas. Sobre todo, lo que me  impresionó fueron sus ideas originales y su estilo. Mientras hay otro ex presidente que quiere criticar el estado del país, Felipe González ofrece su apoyo, y mantiene su influencia dentro de España y Europa.

Aunque sea casi imposible ganar, Rubalcaba sigue trabajando hasta la final. Rubalcaba ha explicado muy bien su programa, pero el último ano y medio ha condenado el partido socialista. Como todos los países europeos, España no ha salido de la crisis, y está claro que los españoles castigarán el PSOE por la tasa de desempleo, que es el porcentaje más alto de Europa. Además, en los últimos  anos, España se ha modernizado gracias a Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.  Es uno de los países más avanzados por su igualdad y derechos humanos.  Zapatero, y el PSOE perdió la confianza del público después de los recortes de mayo 2010; recortes que Zapatero dijo que no iba a hacer. Por otro lado, los recortes impidieron que España sufriera una quiebra total de la economía, como otros países europeos como Grecia, Irlanda y Portugal.


Hay que decir que los populares han hecho bien la campana desde su punto de vista; Rajoy no se ha mojado en nada, y parece que los españoles le darán un cheque en blanco. Me extraña que el PP no haya ofrecido propuestas, ni haya explicado cómo va a crear empleo ni salir de la crisis. La campana de Rajoy se ha centrado en la situación actual, y la economía. No ha dicho exactamente cómo va a resolver todos los problemas del país.

Los españoles en general están descontentos con los políticos. El 15M ha aumentado este descontento, especialmente entre los jóvenes. Los indignados no quieren votar ni a la izquierda ni a la derecha. La crisis ha afectado los jóvenes mucho; con más de 40% en paro. Como en países como Irlanda, ellos solo ven una solución; inmigración, y muchos ya se ha marchado a Alemania o tierras más lejanos. Aunque Aznar dijo que los indignados son de la extrema izquierda, afectarán las elecciones. El PSOE está perdiendo seguidores gracias de los indignados y los grupos izquierdistas como el IU. En Mayo, si los jóvenes del 15M hubieran votado, probablemente el PSOE hubiera tenido más votos. Además, según el País, solo 65% de los ciudadanos votarán este fin de semana.

No digo que el PSOE tenga las respuestas para salir de la crisis. Tampoco quiero decir que el PP vaya a destruir España. Pero, como Rubalcaba dijo el domingo, un cambio del gobierno no significa que la crisis acabe, y  a todos los que les falta trabajo, empiecen a trabajar el 21 de noviembre. Lo que temo es que Rajoy siga el ejemplo de David Cameron y los conservadores. Después de la victoria de 2010, Cameron decidió hacer recortes para reducir el déficit. Ahora seguimos sin crecimiento, y de hecho, la tasa de paro está creciendo según The Guardian.

Sobre todo, el ganador de las elecciones debería sacar adelante las reformas económicas e intentar mejorar la situación laboral. No será fácil – no creo que haya un país que tenga las respuestas para acabar con la crisis – pero lo importante es que los españoles vean una mejora de la situación actual. A ver si gana, y si el PP gana, me interesaría mucho ver cómo van a hacer las cosas, sin provocar quejas de los ciudadanos, especialmente los que confíen en los servicios públicos.

Posted in Life in Spain, Politics | 1 Comment