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Friday, March 26, 2004

Our Opinion

The Second Battle of Madrid: From “¡No Pasarán!” to “¡Pá

We have found the weapons of mass destruction. They were in Atocha, El Pozo, and Santa Eugenia.
— A banner hanging in Atocha station

No blame can be put on our honesty and our achievements. We did not lie. It is not in our character.
— Outgoing Spanish foreign minister Ana Palacio

Good Morning, Old Europe.
— Soledad Gallego-Díaz, El País, March 20

Thirteen months ago, we wrote:

Mr. Bush and his gang…have decided to summarily humiliate a number of European nations…pour encourager les autres. It will not work because it cannot; indeed, like all such strategies, it reeks of manifest desperation….And, lest anybody have any illusions, all those politicians who now side with the US — but especially Tony Blair and José María Aznar — will pay the price of putting Mr. Bush’s welfare above that of their own countries. (Señor Aznar is particularly peculiar; memories of his Francoist youth, apparently, have lately given him delusions of grandeur for which he will undoubtedly suffer sooner rather than later.) [See, “Old Europe, New Europe, and Real Europe (A Last Roll Call Before War),” February 17, 2003]

We could not have imagined how horribly right we would be, or, more precisely, how many Spaniards would suffer much more terribly than their prime minister.

Rarely are elections so volcanic, and rarely do they so quickly alter the landscape, not only of the country in which they’ve taken place but of the entire world. With the shouts of “asesino” and “mentiroso” still ringing in his ears (and in those of his collaborators), José María Aznar was ignominiously dispatched to history’s judgment by his fellow citizens in the extraordinary elections of March 14, 2004. You did not have to be Catholic in Spain on the evening of March 14 to believe in divine retribution.

It’s amazing what democracy is capable of when it’s taken seriously. This was not the way the script was supposed to have played out (but the Meseta surrounding Madrid allows for a kind of clarity impossible to find in the swamplands of the former Spanish domain called Florida). As most residents of Madrid know from the city’s own recent history, however, liberty has a price. On March 11, the cost came to 202 women, men, girls, boys, and babies. Pundits in Spain and all over the world were quick to point to the similarities with September 11. We suspect that for more than a few Madrileños, it must have seemed like 1936 all over again.

Ah, but we’re not supposed to say that. The New York Times last week ran two stories on successive days on — of all topics — the Spanish Civil War. This rare attempt at enlightening the Times’ readership on matters beside property values and the latest restaurants in Manhattan was, as such endeavors go, rather transparent. The Times’ own analytical perspective was best summed up by the Basque philosopher, Fernando Savater, who was duly quoted in the second article [“In Spain’s Vote, A Shock From Democracy (and the Past),” Elaine Sciolino, The New York Times, March 21] as stating that “Francoism is the joker you pull out of the deck when you have no other argument.”

We actually agree with Savater’s peremptory dismissal of ideology. Indeed, we have a great deal of respect not only for his intelligence but, even more so, for his courage. The New York Times, in its inimitable way of telling only half the story (if that much), described Savater as “one of Spain’s best-known writers and philosophers.” He is much more. He lives with bodyguards because he heads the Basque organization, Basta Ya, which is committed to ending Basque violence — and therefore actively opposed to ETA. In the event, precisely because he has taken such unyielding personal risks to oppose terrorism in his own land — and especially in the Basque country, where he was born — Savater is, like most of his fellow citizens, deeply opposed to the war in Iraq, which, he says, “has nothing to do with terrorism.” As for George W. Bush, Savater is scathing: he is not, he says, “on the side of civilization” (see “Bush Is Not On the Side of Civilization,” interview with Miren Gutierrez, Inter Press Service, March 2003).

How could it be otherwise? Savater’s philosophy of “active pessimism” is fundamentally at odds with the active optimism of an American administration that considers freedom to be a manufactured good and, therefore, easily exportable. If one substitutes “terrorism” for “Francoism” in Savater’s epigram, one has succinctly described the organized mendacity that Karl Rove has, for the last two and a half years, turned into the political platform on which he will ask the American people to reelect — or, more accurately, elect — the current administration. The good news is that Spain has proved that democratic rage — another form of “active pessimism” — can defeat systemic deceit; the bad news is that democratic rage is, by definition, a temporary phenomenon whereas systemic deceit is…well, systemic.

It was impossible to watch the electoral returns on the evening of March 14 and not get the sinking feeling that Spanish democracy was about to be spun not merely into extinction but into the very negation of itself. Seldom has the Orwellian nature of the Western media been so starkly exposed as on the night of March 14 and the days that followed. Social unity was turned into political capitulation, democratic wrath into self-interested appeasement, and national defense into international surrender and defeat. Meanwhile, the perpetrators of the most shameless, grotesque, and incessant deception were transformed into paragons of virtue, resistance, and even martyrdom. (The only dramatic element missing from this mise en scène were the tumbrels manned by vin ordinaire-besotted sans culottes dragging poor Aznar, his dauphin, Mariano Rajoy, and all God-fearing, Saddam-fighting, and ETA-hating Spaniards to Dr. Guillotin’s machine at the Place de la Révolution, as the screeching, knitting Jacobin — read: socialist — masses shrieked for their heads.)

Perhaps the most audacious ideological — indeed, cognitive — achievement of Bushism has been its transformation of deceit into a law of nature. Of course, Stalin accomplished this decades before, but George W. Bush has managed to reprise the Great Helmsman’s feat within the context of a free society. The Bushites make Richard Nixon and his gang look like petty chiselers and second-story men. In the parallel universe of George W. Bush, we cannot believe our eyes, we will not believe our ears, we do not believe any of our senses. As for our minds, they regress into cocoons of received opinion and fixed, immutable prejudice as duplicity becomes the definition of the natural order.

The facts: the corpses and devastation at Atocha, El Pozo, and Santa Eugenia; 80 to 90 percent of Spaniards in firm opposition to Spain’s participation in the war in Iraq; the obdurate decision of José María Aznar’s government, from virtually the first moment following the atrocities of March 11, to blame the carnage on ETA; the rapidly clarifying reality, again almost from the first moment, that Al-Qaeda and/or elements of its network were responsible for the attacks. For anyone who knows anything about ETA specifically, let alone European terrorism generally, the images from Atocha on March 11 immediately provoked the most obvious question: Why?

More than anything else, the attacks in Madrid resembled the attack, almost a quarter of a century ago, on Bologna’s train station, which resulted in 85 deaths and over 200 casualties. That attack was, notoriously, the worst atrocity of the “strategy of tension” put in place by the Italian extreme right at the time. Why would ETA, three days before an election in which Basque nationalism’s worst enemy, the Popular Party, already seemed to have the slight edge, undertake a massacre so horrific as to drive the vast majority of outraged Spaniards into the PP’s arms? No matter how much one despised ETA, one could not look at the images from Atocha and not think of Bologna. But that meant that either ETA had truly degenerated into a fascist pandilla or that it simply could not have undertaken such mindless mass murder — assuming, of course, that it still possessed a crumb of connection, not only to contemporary Spanish reality but, even more relevantly, to contemporary Basque reality.

This is not to defend ETA; this is simply to try to understand the nature of the crime and, therefore, the nature of the threat. Which is, of course, exactly what Spain did as an entire nation from the moment the crime was perpetrated — and which is why the nation as a whole turned so quickly, and angrily, on its prime minister. Nonetheless, Mr. Aznar and his ministers continue to insist that they never lied to their own people, or to the world at large, about the evidence they had — or did not have — during the first hours following the attacks on March 11.

But then why did the UN Security Council unanimously pass Resolution 1530 condemning ETA for the attacks on the very day they occurred? And why did Javier Solana, the European Union’s chief foreign-policy official, repeatedly go on television the same day to accuse ETA of the slaughter? Finally, and worst of all, why did a message go out on March 11 under the signature of Ana Palacio, Mr. Aznar’s foreign minister, ordering all of Spain’s missions around the world “to use any opportunity to confirm ETA’s responsibility for these brutal attacks, thus helping to dissipate any type of doubts that certain interested parties may want to promote” (our stress, see “Many in Europe Suspect Spain Misled Them About Attackers,” Elaine Sciolino, The New York Times, March 16)? Those “interested parties,” by the way, were presumably the socialist opposition.

Seldom has a more incriminating, or despicable, memo come to light so quickly after its transmission. We remind our readers that Mr. Solana, who so expeditiously responded to the appeals of the current Spanish government, is not only a former secretary general of NATO but also the former foreign minister of the last socialist government of Spain. When asked by the New York Times to comment on his country’s electoral results, he would only respond that “society [had] reacted in a very clear manner” (“Many in Europe…”). The day after the election, Ms. Palacio sent another letter, this time to the fifteen members of the Security Council. She wrote, perversely, that, “It is not possible at the moment to arrive at definitive conclusions”! Needless to say, she did not apologize for her previous actions. “We are very, very angry,” the Times quoted one ambassador as saying.

So were the Spanish people, which is why José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero will be sworn in as the country’s prime minister next month. But that is what is most difficult for the principals and propagandists of the coalition of the willing to stomach. And so, they’ve done the only two things they know how to do well: slander and lie. We will only focus on the most unconscionable slander here, which not only humiliates an entire people, and cynically distorts its history, but also insults the very principles of self-determination and -government on which the West is presumably founded — and which it is supposed to be defending against the “evildoers.”

The notion that, in exercising their right to determine their own government, Spaniards have “appeased” some terrorists specifically (Al-Qaeda), or the terrorist threat to the world generally, is so offensive that we can’t believe it is still being circulated in the Western — and especially American — media so brazenly. Is it appeasement to demand accountability from an elected government that has arbitrarily — and seemingly capriciously and with undisguised arrogance — engaged in a war that is opposed so overwhelmingly that the opposition effectively constitutes national unanimity? Is it appeasement to demand to know why a year and a half after this opposition became manifest, several attacks in the country’s capital directly linked to this war left 202 people dead and more than 1,500 wounded? Is it appeasement to demand from your government the rationale for a foreign policy that seems to further the interests of another nation, to compromise — if not actually undermine — the interests of your own, and, worst of all, to leave your country at the end vulnerable to a threat that is thoroughly the result of this policy?

Mr. Aznar knew why he had to blame ETA for March 11. Because he understood better than anyone else how resolutely Spaniards stood in opposing terrorism. For several years now, Spaniards have demonstrated in the millions against ETA — including in cities such as Vitória, Bílbao, and San Sebastián. He knew that if ETA had been responsible for this most recent, and heinous, brutality, his fellow countrymen and women would have reacted in the same way they have been reacting in the last decade to the organization’s crimes: in anger, disgust, refusal to submit, and, above all, solidarity. It should have come as no surprise to anyone that they reacted in precisely the same way as soon as they learned — or suspected, because their own government was not telling them — that another group was responsible for March 11. Eleven to twelve million people on the streets of Spain — two million in Madrid alone: a quarter of the country’s population. These are not numbers that point to appeasement; they are numbers that, classically and historically, signify — and precede — resistance.

Yesterday, Javier Solana set down his thoughts on this issue of “appeasement” — and the European response to terrorism in general — in an article in the Financial Times. First of all, he warned:

No cause justifies terrorism, but nothing justifies ignoring the causes of terrorism. Clearly, there is a fanatical fringe that is beyond political discourse. But it is nourished by a pool of disaffection and grievance. When these grievances are legitimate they must be addressed, not just because this is a matter of justice but also because “draining the swamp” depends on it.

Then his comments became personal:

Those who detect a new climate of appeasement in Europe towards terrorism are wrong. I marched together with more than 2m others in the streets of Madrid the day after the bombings. The mood was not one of fear. It was of quiet resolve — to honour the dead, to prevail in the face of terrorism, to defend the democracy that Spaniards hold so dear.

In Spain, as in throughout Europe, people are united in their determination to fight terror. At the same time, there is also a legitimate political debate about how best to proceed in that fight. To suspend that debate would be a betrayal of democracy. (See “Three ways for Europe to prevail against the terrorists,” Financial Times, March 25)

Most of the people who were murdered on March 11 were workers and immigrants, and they lived in what was once the “red belt” surrounding the conservative heart of Madrid. Many of those who could vote stopped voting a long time ago, having given up on a socialist party that once promised dignity and participation and now could not even offer opposition, let alone self-respect. As for young Spaniards of all classes, voting seemed — as it does to most of their peers throughout the developed world today — a ritual of self-abasement, in which one is compelled to ratify a social complicity so complete that it verges on omertà. Three days after the people of Spain were attacked by Al-Qaeda, 77 percent of the population — 80 percent in Madrid — voted in their national elections, up an astounding 22 percent from the previous elections in 2000. The most extraordinary statistic is that while the Popular Party received only 700,000 votes less in this election, the socialists received three million votes more than they did four years ago. What happened is clear: in Spain, as in so many other countries in the world — including, most pointedly, in the United States — it is not that the electorate has become more conservative (not to say reactionary), but that it has disappeared altogether. People in the West have stopped voting in massive numbers because they no longer see the point in doing so. In Spain, there was finally a reason to vote again on March 14.

There will be many more reasons to vote again in many countries of the West, as a new, democratic coalition of the willing coalesces in wrath and purpose. Nothing could ever be the same again after March 11, and March 14 confirmed the historical change. The major accomplices to George W. Bush’s conspiracy to remake the world in his image were Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland, Australia, and (bizarrely enough) Denmark. We think it is a relatively safe prediction that the sun is setting on the current prime ministers of Denmark and Australia.

In Poland, within days of the Spanish election, the country’s president, Aleksander Kwasniewski (a former communist apparatchik and unceasing opportunist who has now discovered the virtues of “freedom”), was declaring that he had been “misled” — or, depending on your sense of standard spoken Polish, “deceived” — on Iraq. In any case, with some of the latest polls in Poland showing only a third of Poles supporting the war, he was certainly discomfited.

As was the pagliaccio-in-chief in the opera buffa called the Italian government. We are assuming that the outcome of the coming electoral mano a mano between Silvio Berlusconi and Romano Prodi has already been decided. (We cannot help but add here that the demise of “the American,” George Papandreou, in Greece foretold the coming tide. We must also add that Greeks have not even begun to understand how fortunate they are to have a genuine conservative — as well as a man with a mind — as their prime minister, as opposed to the kind of Bourbon reactionaries saddling Spain, Italy, and, above all, the US.)

Which leaves us, as always, with Tony Blair. Any examination of the British prime minister’s actions in the last few years is less a matter of politics or history and more of psychoanalysis. In the event, we will leave Mr. Blair — for the time being — to his Maker, which is apparently just the way he wants it. Suffice it to say that we will not be shocked to learn sometime between now and the next British elections that the Labor party will be led to the fray by Gordon Brown.

As for “the war president,” the United States has not had a clearer choice in two generations; we will all see in November if its citizens deserve to keep the Republic they inherited.

Two last points, of collective ethics and individual morality. First of all, as we said above, following the attacks on Madrid, a quarter of the Spanish nation took to the streets in solidarity with the dead, the maimed, the survivors, and the fortuitously unscathed. Need we point out that a quarter of the American population did not take to the streets in solidarity with the people of New York on the days following September 11? Second, as happened with September 11, following March 11, everywhere across Europe and throughout the civilized world, people observed a minute of silence in solidarity with the dead of Atocha, El Pozo, and Santa Eugenia — everywhere, that is, except in the United States. Americans are notorious for their short memories; most other people in the world are famous for their long ones.

Which is why it’s hardly coincidental that Madrid’s heroic and glorious “¡No Pasarán!” found its natural linguistic and moral echo almost 70 years later in the high-tech and cyberpolitical — and just as wonderful if of a different degree of civic courage — “¡Pásalo!” “Pass it on,” the people of Madrid transmitted from one cell-phone and computer to another: Pass on the fact that our government is lying to us and that we need to defy it. ¡Pásalo! They did — and they are.

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