Trans-Iberian

Trans-Iberian

Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

Could 15-M pave way for a decent M-15?

Por: | 29 de julio de 2011

I do not own a car, neither am I legally permitted to drive one. My answer to inquisitions concerning my licence-less state usually leans toward the environmental, but the truth is earthed more in sloth than planet-saving zeal. The closest I have come to moving a four-wheeled vehicle forward is when I and my motorbike were robustly introduced to the back of one almost 20 years ago. I have never had the instinctive urge to be behind the wheel of a car and rarely turn my head to the siren call of a roaring Ferrari. Much like Iggy Pop, in the world of the motor vehicle I am a mere passenger.

Last weekend, thousands of people descended on Madrid -- many of them on foot -- from the far-flung corners of Spain to reignite the 15-M movement. On the previous weekend, residents of the capital were warned to remain indoors during peak traffic hours due to the extreme level of pollution hanging over the city. The foul air in Madrid has become a political hot potato, mostly juggled inexpertly by the city's environment chief, Ana Botella. Called to task by her counterpart at the national level, Rosa Aguilar, Botella fluttered her expensive eyelashes toward Brussels and suggested the European parliament award the city a moratorium on target pollution levels. She went on to say that the only way to slash Madrid's emission totals was to stop cars from coming into the center of town. “We would have to reduce traffic by 50 percent, which does not seem possible at the moment,” Botella said, adding that “the planet is at the service of the human being.”

If this isn't something to get indignant about, what is?Manto_polucion_cubre_Madrid

Thus far, Madrid City Hall's answer to the obvious pollution problem in the city has been to shift air quality monitoring stations from the center to greener pastures on the periphery. Madrid does not make the top 50 on Mercer Consultants' worldwide eco-living survey. Yale and Colombia Universities' Environmental Performance Index ranks Spain at 25, nestled between Belize and Panama. That Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón has not paused to consider the air quality issues facing Madrid in his megalomaniacal, and to date unfruitful, quest to bring the Olympics to town is an act of staggering arrogance: Madrid has neither the political nor economic clout of Los Angeles, or Beijing, and pollution is higher up the global agenda now than ever befote. 

Madrid's Sol square, where much of the 15-M protest has been centered,  hosts a curious landmark, kilometer 0 -- the central point of Spain's entire road network. It would be fitting if it became the focal point for a new branch of 15-M active protest; a blockade of Madrid's thoroughfares. The protesters halted traffic in Sol for around 20 minutes on Monday, with the police apparently disinclined to get involved with the same brutality that met the cordon around Barcelona's regional parliament. Another human blockade was forcibly dispersed around Congress on Wednesday, but much as volunteer citizens have rallied around the Platform for the Mortgage Affected to physically prevent evictions, the public response to a more concerted effort should not be underestimated. I am an armchair whinger at best but I would man the barricades. Why not blockade the city center, preventing all private vehicles from entering? Just two or three traffic-free days could bring the air quality back within EU limits, a place where it has scarcely dipped its toe in over a decade.

That might be enough to persuade vehicle owners and the political parties that a congestion charge should be introduced. Naysayers -- especially the occupants of City Hall, for whom such a scheme represents ballot-based suicide -- will point to the lack of evidence that such a charge noticeably improved air quality in London, but this is due to the sheer size of the English capital and the relatively small area of it the congestion charge covers.

The answer in Madrid, which covers about 600 square kilometers to London's more than 1,500, would be to extend the exclusion zone further afield, perhaps to the M-30 orbital road or the limits of Zone A on the metro system. To avoid too much backlash from disgruntled drivers, City Hall could introduce the charge as a pilot scheme for a month or two. In any case, any revolt on the part of car owners would be assuaged by pedestrians. After all, suggesting an entire city might like to remain indoors at the weekend is hardly designed to endear those in control of its functioning to voters.

And drivers could benefit as well; the money from the charge could be poured into Spain's euphemistically named motorways, which are little more than potholed one-lane construction sites choked with traffic trying to avoid the country’s pristine toll roads. That is the cost of choice. If with the income gleaned from an obligatory charge in Madrid the frankly third-world northbound A-1 and A-2 could be upgraded to something approaching the AP-1 pay road, for example, easing traffic and reducing accidents, of which I saw at least four when on the A-2 a week ago. It could even become possible to reach Zaragoza, Barcelona and Bilbao from the capital in less than a day. And little could be more popular in the aforementioned cities than the thought of Madrid coughing up for it all.

The 15-M movement is a genuine cause, born of the frustration of watching rapacious banks and a largely blundering, self-serving political class drive the nation to the brink of oblivion. But perhaps it is missing a longer-term issue; what's the point in trying to force through change if nobody will be able to go outside and see what it looks like? 

Almagro, tradition with a twist

Por: | 28 de julio de 2011

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At first glance, Almagro (Castile-La Mancha) exudes a decidedly traditional feel. This preciously maintained town is made up of impeccably whitewashed houses and cobblestone streets arrayed around a 16th century, porticoed Plaza Mayor. Its cultural heritage is also reflected in the annual Classical Theater Festival that attracts spectators from all over the world. At the same time, the town’s rich gastronomic heritage is often represented by the pickled berenjenas (eggplants) de Almagro that are everywhere and were first introduced by the Moors in the 10th century. Therefore, expecting to become immersed in this air of classicism, I took the train to Almagro last weekend for the festival’s final days and was pleasantly surprised to find that from the theater to the table, Almagro does tradition, with a twist.

The Almagro Classical Theater Festival takes place in July in some of the town’s most historic hermitages, patios, museums and other monuments. However, many people make it a priority to see a play in the Corral de Comedias, a 16th century, open-air theater on the Plaza Mayor that is oft considered the cradle of Spain’s theatrical golden age. I was fortunate enough to catch the Shakespearean classic, The Tempest, performed here by the fantastic Portuguese company, Chapitô. Under a starry sky, three young actors with nothing but a book and a black sheet made this classic come to life before a delighted crowd. The next night, an Argentinean company directed by Carlos Almeida performed La Vida es Sueño by Calderón de la Barca, enrapturing people with its ethereal, mask-like puppets. This was followed by the visually stunning and enthusiastic interpretation of Don Quijote de La Mancha by the Chinese National Theater Company, (in Chinese with Spanish subtitles). While this was all I could see in three days, the program was packed with plays by Spanish and foreign companies that promised to be equally incredible and unexpected. The person responsible for giving the festival this wonderfully remarkable twist is its current director, Natalia Menendez. In her second year at the festival’s helm, her efforts have focused on the inclusion of these and other unique performances in its program.

Before a 10:45 evening play, the best place for tapas is, of course, the Plaza Mayor. In Manchegan summer tradition, the businesses lining the plaza are subject to mercy of the path of the sun: breakfast on one side, followed by aperitivo on the other, before the entire thing (and the rest of the town) empties out from around 2-7pm while the sun beats down its hardest. In the evening however, both sides of the plaza are packed with people drinking icy cold beers in frosted glasses or local wines, while feasting on regional dishes like lomo de orza (spiced pork preserve), migas de pastor (savory bread crumbs), Manchego cheese or duelos y quebrantos (eggs with chorizo and other meats), to name a few. In addition to this traditional fare, other gastronomic experiences are easily found in Almagro. El Corregidor restaurant is well known throughout Spain for its menu based on wild game and other classic local products such as pickled partridge. At the same time, its cuisine is contemporary and innovative, providing classic dishes with creative solutions like the venison loin with pumpkin puree and grilled pineapple (lomo de ciervo con puré de calabaza y piña braseada) or the duck with eggplant confit (magret de pato con berenjenas confitadas). Another option is Restaurante Valdeolivo, which boasts an incredibly varied menu of local delicacies molded into enticing combinations and complemented by a huge selection of gluten-free options.

Whether it’s theater or gastronomy (or hopefully both), for a weekend of classical culture interwoven with contemporary surprises, Almagro is definitely the place.

Where are Spain's World Cup women?

Por: | 15 de julio de 2011

Large_27wcup

As the Japan and USA teams ready themselves for this weekend’s women’s World Cup soccer final, Spanish fans have been treated to myriad repetitions of the Andrés Iniesta goal which brought Spain global glory in South Africa one year ago. But what of the Spanish women’s team? And does anyone care? This summer’s World Cup in Germany has been the biggest in terms of media attention and public interest in the history of the women’s game, hosted as it is by a country which has managed to develop female soccer along the same lines as the man’s sport – in part due to the the commitment to women athletes shown by the former east German regime. Spain, as it happens, failed to qualify, being pipped by England in its preliminary group. In fact, Spain’s women have not featured in any of the six such events organized by Fifa since 1991. Isn’t it strange in such a soccer-obsessed nation that the Swedish and Danish teams, to take two examples, consistently outperform far more populous Spain?

And it’s not just soccer where Spain’s women are seemingly condemned to trudge far behind the footsteps of their feted male counterparts. Tennis offers a poignant example. In the 1990s Arantxa Sánchez and Conchita Martínez were way ahead of Spain’s men. Replacements did not come through as the likes of Moyà, Ferrero and Nadal joined the victorious cavalcade of Spanish sport in the 21st century. These things run in cycles, maybe, but what is striking is how few now seem to mourn the huge disparity between the men and women’s game in Spain to the point where even the triumphs that female players have achieved tend to be entirely overlooked.

Anabel Medina and Virginia Ruano were French Open women’s double champions in 2008 and 2009, but I recall looking for a report on one of those victories in the (lengthy) sports section of EL PAÍS and being genuinely shocked to find that that Spanish success in a Grand Slam event final had been tacked on as a final paragraph to a report on a male player, who had not at that point won anything.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, just four of the 16 medals won by Spaniards in individual disciplines (two more medals were won in sailing, which is mixed) went to women.

The female basketball team has been consistently successful, picking up a range of European Championship medal and a bronze at the most recent worlds. Players such as Amaya Valdemoro may not be household names but they get enough air time with the national team to be recognized here and there. But someone like Amaya should be used to attention – she has played in the WNBA! 

But back to soccer. Spain’s female Superliga has been up and running for over 20 years. So guess who the 2010-11 champion was... Barcelona? Real Madrid? Maybe Valencia? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Rayo Vallecano won it for the third straight year, ahead of Espanyol, very much Barcelona’s second club in the men’s game. But you won’t have seen it on television, interspersed with ads in which women jockey for position in front of the screen in a packed bar. Real Madrid ladies does not even exist. A former coach of Athletic Bilbao’s women’s team once told me that until Real joined the Superliga, the women’s game was condemned to remain anonymous. It’s not that I have any special desire to see the duopoly of the two mega-moneyed teams in the men’s game become a similarly overbearing presence in women’s soccer. But the media lure of a women’s clásico would raise the profile, and the pressure and the scrutiny could help raise the standard.

So why the mismatch between men and women? Pure, traditional machismo? Surely not. And there are the Arantxas and the Amayas to confound the sexist stereotypists. The trail has been blazed. Children in public schools in Spain tend to get around a couple of hours a week of physical education, where the emphasis is understandably on basic gymnastic skills. Perhaps girls with promise are less likely than boys to be taken to a club to hone that talent.  When this happens, then Spain will become a true global sporting power. 

 

 

 

One Point for Street Justice

Por: | 14 de julio de 2011

IT IS THE PRIVILEGED modern condition to accept injustices as they are presented, as long we are not the victim of them. We’re comfortable, so we tolerate or even embrace the status quo. Ive been alive for 30 years, and I’ve never been part of a successful, meaningful insurrection.  

Perhaps four or five decades ago, things would have been different. Now that I think of it, old footage of the turbulent civil rights-anti-Vietnam-Watergate era may be as close as Ive gotten to Angry America.
 
Granted, I don't live in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker is providing plenty of fodder for collective rebellion; and I don't believe that governments, or the taxes they require to provide services, are inherently evil. I work in international development and have seen the kind of conditions failed states and incompetent governance really produce.
 
But alas, the last time I attended a protest was against the Iraq war; and sadly, that fire died down soon after the invasion.  Now American military families exclusively bear the brunt of two, (now three?) wars while the rest of us preoccupy ourselves with fleeting distractions and petty grievances; that new IPhone Ap;  that bitch at work; not going to the gym, the Groupon for a haircut about to expire.
 
I live in a nice flat in Washington, DC. My friends are well-educated and generally privileged. Its been a long time since anyone I know has really challenged anything with more than just a blog post.

All this useful bemoaning my own complacency brings me to the point.  

On a recent trip to Madrid, where I used to live (and write for this newspaper) I spent a large amount of time playing Devil’s Advocate to friends active in the May 15 movement. Though grossly simplified in the non-local media as youth aggravating about unemployment, the situation on the ground is far more complex, and interesting.

Over the past few months, 15-M, as its known in Spain, has become the umbrella for tens of thousands of people upset with a wide range of injustices, not least among them, rampant political corruption, entrenched power structures, and the inept handling of the economy.

At first they camped out in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, and other squares around Spain. They held topic-based community meetings. Sixty thousand deep, but they hashed out accords. They agreed on principles.  Now, according to a former roommate, they have retreated to the neighborhoods where the revolution's future form is being ironed out.

In hearing him talk about those neighborhood gatherings, it is clear that they are really about civic engagement and community participation.

Unlike many movements, 15-M is not about traditional left and right politics -- at least not yet. Words more commonly used are justice and dignity. It’s non-ideological voice pleads for common sense. According to the indignados, the angry folk, the status quo provides little of all three.

Though Ill admit to having doubts whether 15-M would evolve into a sustainable driver of change, my roommate recently sent me some uplifting footage of Spaniards taking the revolution to the
barrio, shaming a racially-motivated police immigration control out of one of Madrid's multicultural neighborhoods.

Just weeks ago, I recall arguing that the 15-M movement was eventually going to have to acquire political form: start a party or throw its weight behind one in order to have real impact.

Well, I may have been wrong. This video is not about large-scale systemic change. This is grass-roots, home-spun, community-organized insurrection. And it works. As the cops backpedal, protesters can be heard shouting: "This is what dignity looks like," and "No human being is illegal." Go indignados! Go Lavapies!

It remains to be seen whether the revolutionaries will be able to continue to approach the problem from the outside, or will have to gear up as political force when interest wanes. After all, what they are really rising up against is much larger than a bunch of thugs demanding proof of residency. But for now, I’m contented to see them at the neighborhood level, rooting out evil. One point for justice and another for dignity! 

Kelly Ramundo is a DC-based writer and editor of USAID’s magazine FrontLines. She is unapologetically tardy to the blogosphere, where she coauthors Bright Spot. 

For more on the May 15 protest movement see: Spain gets Indignant; Madrid March; Police Beat ProtestorsMovement Packs Bags 

 

 

Rubalcaba promises the earth

Por: | 13 de julio de 2011

Alfredo_Perez_Rubalcaba
For someone who used to excel over the short distance of 100 metres, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba has a lot of distance to cover in the coming months. Not only must he lead the Socialist Party through a long pre-campaign ahead of general elections to be held either this autumn or in the spring of 2012, he also has to overhaul the Partido Popular’s (PP) double-digit lead in the polls.

Given those circumstances, perhaps it was understandable that on Saturday, at his official unveiling as the party’s candidate, Rubalcaba offered a set of policy guidelines that reached out unashamedly to traditional Socialist voters. The interior minister is so relaxed when addressing a room full of people that he may as well be brushing his teeth, and so it was when he coolly informed Socialist Party members of the direction they must now head in.

There was a crowd-pleasing, albeit non-specific, swipe at banks, as Rubalcaba suggested they re-invest some of their earnings for the greater good: “Soon it will be the moment to ask the cajas and banks to leave part of their profits to the creation of jobs. Because they can, and young people can’t wait.” He also mooted the return of the capital tax that his own Socialist Party had eliminated in the good times. Rubalcaba acknowledged this u-turn, adding that “now the time has come for us to rethink this and bring [the tax] back.”

Perhaps most surprisingly, he opened the door to electoral reform, an area the Socialists have rarely looked interested in overhauling. “We have to listen to what the man in the street tells us,” he said. “When people start thinking that all politicians are all the same, that their vote doesn’t mean anything, then democracy has a problem.” This made abundantly clear the influence the 15-M or indignados protest movement has had on the thinking of the astute Rubalcaba, an influence that became apparent several weeks ago when he took the unusual step of staging Q-and-A sessions with Socialist militants around the country.

Saturday’s speech underlined Rubalcaba’s political nous and his rare ability to get a message across. But whether he’s threatening to punish banks or increase state control of urban development (another proposal he mooted), a major problem with responding so suddenly to the man in the street is the inevitable charge of lack of ideological conviction.

The other problem for Rubalcaba, of course, is Zapatero, who is still prime minister and party leader. The agreement between the two of them is that Zapatero will continue to unroll his deeply unpopular reform program in a bid to keep Spain away from bankruptcy, while Rubalcaba champions the kind of popular, socially oriented policies that the prime minister would like to be able to implement.

Only time will tell whether this two-headed approach can work. For the PP’s Esteban González Pons, the interior minister’s hour-long speech simply showed that Rubalcaba is Zapatero “but without the eyebrows”. That was missing the point: eyebrows or not, this speech could not have been more removed from the Zapatero we have seen over the last couple of years.

In any other circumstances, it would have been a visionary, radical declaration, a speech utterly in tune with the electorate and which sought to save Spain from rampant real estate corruption, a bloated deficit, soaring unemployment and an unbalanced electoral system.

But it’s too late for all that. And given the gap in the polls, Rubalcaba knows he can promise what he likes, because there’s very little chance he will be in a position to implement a single one of these policies.

Guy Hedgecoe is co-editor of Iberosphere, a website that offers analysis and commentary on Spain and Portugal.

 

Madrid Markets - Rural Meets Urban

Por: | 06 de julio de 2011

Dias de Mercado

I spent the greater part of yesterday at two very different types of Madrid markets. In the morning, I made my way over to the second edition of the “Días de Madrid” farmer’s market, which is now being held on the first Saturday of every month in the Recinto Ferial Casa de Campo. Open from 11:00 to 20:00, the idea behind this initiative is to promote the wealth of agricultural and gastronomic products that are produced right here in Madrid: fruits, vegetables, honey, cheeses and other dairy products, garbanzos, meats and an abundant variety of wines, among other things. Given the city’s on-going projects to turn traditional, neighborhood markets into gourmet food courts and specialty shops – I’ll get to this later – I admit that I went heavily armed with skepticism. However, I was more than pleasantly surprised. Thirty-five producers set up shop monthly in this rustic area of the Casa de Campo. Fruit and vegetable farmers from Fuenlabrada, Aranjuéz and other corners of the capital were selling impossibly large bunches of chard, leeks, onions and celery for only one euro per kilo, in addition to tomatoes, potatoes, plums, peppers, cucumbers and other summer vegetables direct from the farm. I bought some organic beef from Guadarrama and aged goat cheese from Torremocha. The ambience was fantastic: music playing, people wandering between stands tasting samples of breads, pastries, cheeses and even chocolate; cheerful vendors were putting in a good word for each other at every turn. Also for one euro, I bought an empty wineglass that was filled repeatedly at the many stands selling excellent wines from Madrid.

Laden with packages and still sipping an interesting white wine made with local Malvar and Moscatel grapes, I headed over to the Mercado San Antón in Chueca for lunch. Much like the wildly popular Mercado San Miguel, this newly re-opened “market” is more of a gourmet enclave of specialty shops and restaurants that are beautifully arranged around an airy atrium. On this day the place was thronged with tourists and fashionable people. The stands sell an impressive selection of produce, meats, seafood etc., but the prices are higher than at other local markets. There is little here that harkens back to traditional idea of the marketplace as a community hub where people from all echelons of society actually buy their food. I couldn’t help thinking about the original vendors at this neighborhood market, whose intimate stands are now replaced by specialty shops selling everything from hamburgers and fruit smoothies, to Japanese, Italian and Greek dishes. I worry that this transformation of Madrid’s markets might make them less and less accessible to the city’s neighborhoods, as many local markets give way to fewer chain supermarkets like the one now located on San Antón’s lower level.

Suffering in silence in Portugal?

Por: | 04 de julio de 2011

Their economies are bad, their debts are suffocating and many of their young people are out of work. Spain, Greece and Portugal face similar problems and their citizens are equally bitter – some just show it more than others.

While Greeks are clashing violently with police on the streets and Spaniards have been holding – generally peaceful – protest camps across the country, the Portuguese have just watched their new government push through harsh austerity measures with barely a whimper. 

Over the coming months, the Portuguese will be paying more at the supermarket thanks to an increase in VAT on some products.  They will earn less due to changes to income tax benefits. Civil servants will get no salary increases. Pensions will be trimmed. And, as an additional gift, much of Portuguese workers’ annual Christmas bonus – equal to one month’s pay – will be swallowed by a one-off tax.

All this on the back of austerity measures already imposed this year and last by the previous Socialist government, which collapsed in March and was replaced last month by a centre-right coalition promising, not less austerity, but more. More even than demanded by an €78-billion bailout package agreed with the EU and the IMF.

No one in Portugal is happy about the current state of affairs or the additional economic pain that surely lies around the corner, but the Portuguese in general have been far less vocal about expressing their displeasure than the Spaniards or the Greeks. There have been protests, yes, and in March a youth movement sprang up in Lisbon taking its cue from the Arab Spring revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. But the protests were largely peaceful and the movement failed to take root or gain the international attention that, a couple of months later, focused the world’s gaze on Spain as young people demonstrated and camped out in city squares under the banner of the 15-M movement. Portugal will undoubtedly see more protests over the coming months – unions are already planning them – but it seems unlikely that they will dramatically influence the government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho who trounced the Socialists in the June 5 general election.

Candidato_PSD_Pedro_Passos_Coelho

Passos Coelho has interpreted, perhaps correctly, his strong result at the ballot box as a mandate for change and he has had few qualms about publicly acknowledging that things will have to get worse before they can get better.

Is this just a case of Portuguese practicality? Do the arguments of mainstream economists (embodied in organizations such as the IMF) that small government, lower public spending and fewer social benefits will lead to increased competitiveness and long-term growth sit more comfortably in the Portuguese psyche than in the minds of Greeks and Spaniards. Perhaps.

But it should not be forgotten that the Portuguese are accustomed to hard times. While Spain and Greece were experiencing growth rates in excess of 3 percent for much of the last decade, the Portuguese economy was stagnant. Portugal has been suffering its own economic malaise longer than the others, muddling through until it succumbed to the debt crisis that swept across the euro-zone. Trying a different course of action, even if that means short-term pain, may therefore be more palatable.

And, let’s not forget, that this is the country of Fado, a music filled with loss, pain and mourning. It has long been stereotyped as one of Europe’s most unassuming and introverted nations, a place where the past is gazed upon with a sense of melancholy, where being sad about something is part of the daily rhythm of life. The Portuguese have plenty to be sad about at the current time, but they are surely hoping (quietly) for a happier future.

Andrew Eatwell is a freelance journalist co-editor of Iberosphere, a website dedicated to comment and analysis on Spain and Portugal.

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