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Spain’s Political Landscape: How the Spanish Gvt. Radically Shifted From Conservative to Progressive

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The Madrid train bombings earlier this year that killed 192 people, radically changed the Spain’s political landscape. We take a look at how in just a few months, Spain’s government has shifted from being one of the leading conservative members of the European Union, to becoming one of the most progressive. [includes rush transcript]

Seven months ago, on March 11th, a series of train bombings rocked Madrid killing 192 people and radically changing the country’s political landscape. The bombings happened just three days before the country’s national elections. President José María Aznar’s conservative political party, the Partido Popular or PP, had been poised to win the elections. But the subsequent government cover-up surrounding the bombings led to mass protests and the ouster of his party. On March 14th, with the rail tracks still smoking and bodies still being pulled from the wreckage, Spaniards elected socialist José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Tomorrow we will look at the effect that those bombings had on Spain, as well as at the ongoing judicial and political investigations into the bombings and the government cover-up.

But today we begin with a look at how in just a few months, Spain’s government has gone from being one of the leading conservative members of the European Union, to becoming one of the most progressive.

Just after taking office in April, Rodriguez Zapatero fulfilled a campaign promise: he withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq and left the “coalition of the willing.” To use Donald Rumsfeld´s terms, Spain left the New Europe and joined the Old Europe.

In the past few months, Rodriguez Zapatero has appointed a cabinet composed of 50 percent women, and drawn up legislation that if passed will legalize abortion and gay marriage, introduce gender violence laws and roll back many of Aznar’s conservative educational and social initiatives. In its proposed annual budget, which now awaits approval in Congress, the government has earmarked more funds for social spending, somewhat reduced the military budget and increased aid to developing countries.

Meanwhile, US-Spanish relations are at an all-time low, particularly after Rodriguez Zapatero pulled troops from Iraq and then gave an anti-war speech before the UN General Assembly calling on other countries to withdraw from Iraq.

  • Javier Corcuera, Spanish filmmaker who recently returned from Iraq. His latest film is about civilians in Iraq. Among his other films is La Espalda del Mundo, The Back of the World.
  • Guillermo Fesser, host of the popular radio show Goma Espuma, heard nationally in Spain on Onda Cero.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Guillermo Fesser is with us. He is the host of the popular radio show “Gomaespuma” heard throughout Spain on Onda Cero and also Javier Corcuera, who is a Spanish filmmaker, who has recently returned from Iraq. His latest film is about civilians in Iraq. He went to Iraq with a group of Spaniards who were protesting the war. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! It is great to have you with us.

GUILLERMO FESSER: Thank you for having us.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to start with Javier. Not only is the King and Queen in — going to meet with Bush this week. But can you talk about what happened after President Bush was elected? I understand your Prime minister Zapatero, made a phone call.

GUILLERMO FESSER: [translated] What we know from the official sort of media report so far is that Zapatero called President Bush to congratulate him on his election. But that he would not answer the phone call, and he had not returned it since.

AMY GOODMAN: Though I understand just from reading El pais this weekend, Zapatero got a letter acknowledging the call.

GUILLERMO FESSER: [translated] It looked like it might have just been a generic letter that was sent to all of the heads of state, nothing personal.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet, meanwhile Aznar, the former prime minister, after Zapatero was elected, the former prime minister has once again been received by President Bush.

GUILLERMO FESSER: [translated] Yes, he received Aznar, but I don’t think really that the majority of Spaniards at this point in the population really cares about those details. I think what people are thinking about now, how come people in the States voted “Bush”.

AMY GOODMAN: Guillermo Fesser, you have spent time in the United States, also of course here, a popular radio talk show host. What is your description — how would you welcome people from the United States to Spain in how you would describe this country today?

GUILLERMO FESSER: I would say before the elections, this country was very outraged. People were very angry. Our Prime minister, Aznar, decided to go with Bush, and I think he made a mistake, because Europe is the only way that you can have enough power to go and communicate to the States on the same level. When you going to do it country by country like Spain, what Aznar really did, he was like the president of the fans club of Tony Blair and Bush, but he wasn’t a part of the whole situation. I think he made a joke of himself, and he made a joke of his country when he went to Bush and he denied, you know, to shake hands with Schroeder in Germany or Chirac in France. So, first of all, I have to say that the election — the terrorists didn’t win the elections in this country. Terrorists don’t vote. People from Spain vote. Besides the attack I think this country was ready for going back to a common sense and going back to discussion, open on the issues and Aznar was very intolerant at the time. Before the elections, 97% of the population of this country was on the streets saying, we don’t want this war — 97% of the population. So the attack was the last straw, but it wasn’t the reason why the country changed. I think the feeling was there in advance. What happened after that. After that I think Zapatero instead of coming and saying revenge, he said, let’s talk about it. He said, what’s the problem with the country? Lets have an open dialogue. In many, many, many issues, some of them you mentioned, for example, TV garbage. It’s an big issue in this country. There’s so much garbage on television right now, especially in children hours. So, but Zapatero appointed a committee of wise men from media, from cultural levels, from political levels. And they’re getting together with an idea of how to fight against TV garbage, because it’s what our children are enjoying every day and it’s a problem for our future. So, domestic violence. Religion: Mr. Aznar made this country — you know, mixed politics with religion. This country is a non-confessional country. We have respect for religion and a lot of respect for our Catholic church because it’s the majority of the country but we are not a catholic country. We are a non-confessional country. So he removed the mandatory religion lessons in school, to optional religion history for whoever wants it. So I think it’s — we’re in a level of starting to talk and to debate openly about many things, and things that I think the population already assume as normal. Like stem cells, everybody wants, you know — nobody wants a clone and do weird stuff. But everybody understands that if you are sick your father is sick, your mother is sick, and if stem cells can save that life, why not.

AMY GOODMAN: This sounds like a mirror image of what’s happening in the United States, but it’s a reverse mirror with Bush elected and yet Zapatero elected here. You interviewed, Aznar, the prime minister is that right?


AMY GOODMAN: Your show is both serious and funny, and maybe that’s why you got the interview, though coming from a progressive person.

GUILLERMO FESSER: Well, we’re a little bit like Mary Poppins, we use the sugar to make the pill go down.

AMY GOODMAN: So why did you get the interview?

GUILLERMO FESSER: I got an idea that — well first of all I got an idea that — for him it, was difficult to be casual, to be human. He’s a very uptight person. And he’s got an idea. A little bit like Bush that instead of looking at the facts and then making up your honor mind, he already made up his mind and he guesses the facts and moves the facts to fit his mind instead of moving his mind to fit the facts. And I mean, he wasn’t as bad about as Bush is, I think, because Bush is — really bad. He is really bad for America and really bad for the world. Because that guy is like, you know, —- has God on his shoulder and that’s very scary. I think Zapatero was conservative, or was -—


GUILLERMO FESSER: Aznar was conservative and it is a little different in the States, because I think our conservatism is more to the left than in the States, we are in the middle point. It’s still — it is a guy who thought he had the truth, and wasn’t able to listen to anybody. That’s the way he portrayed when he was in the show. Even though he was collecting votes, and he was trying to be funny, but he wasn’t really funny. He wasn’t really open minded. He already had his mind made up.

AMY GOODMAN: Javier Corcuera, the difference between Zapatero and Aznar now. You can give us historical context? Coming out of — well, this weekend as we arrived in Spain, it was the anniversary of the death of Franco.

JAVIER CORCUERA: [translated] It’s evident that they are the antithesis, the opposite, politically, one and the other. And even if you consider their family history, Zapatero’s grandfather was a combatant, was a fighter for the Republic of Spain against Franco and was eventually executed. But what we have take into account is that there are two Spains and they remain divided. And what we have seen for the first time is that sombody, Zapatero, who is president, who is the grandson of someone who fought on the losing side of the civil war, to something that we never had before. Whereas, Aznar, even though it’s not always said, but it is very apparent, and sometimes it isn’t even said, Aznar represents that other side, that comes from the dictatorship, the anti-democratic sort of side. And they even refused during their government to condemn the crimes committed under Franco, under the dictatorship. What’s really important to know is about Spain, or interesting to say about Spain, it’s not just that we have social democratic government right now, but also that because they are not in the minority, they do not govern in the majority, they depend on leftist parties to approve some of the legislation.

AMY GOODMAN: They have the choice of joining with the right or joining with the left?

JAVIER CORCUERA: [translated] Yes. As a matter of fact, of course, it was their natural allies, people to the left, but that hasn’t always happened, because Philippe Gonzales, the former socialist president, actually made a coalition with more conservative groups. That doesn’t mean they’re going to be the most radically progressive leftist party that are going to institute reforms. It does mean they have to listen to the parties on the left.

AMY GOODMAN: You just recently returned from Iraq. You followed anti-war activists, who went to Iraq. Can you describe the significance of the pulling of the troops, and what you found, who you went with, to Iraq?

JAVIER CORCUERA: [translated] I think that the pulling out of Iraq is a very significant thing that happened, and it was something that was brought on by social pressure, and it wasn’t really an initiative of the government. It was something that was owed to the people, who voted for this government. And in Iraq, I have spent few months shooting a film on victims — on civilian victims of the war. And the scenes that we have witnessed, and I’m not sure if it was witnessed in the States but of the recent shooting in Fallujah the recent execution of an Iraqi by a soldier, these are things that we constantly — stories that we constantly encountered in interviewing people in Iraq when we were there.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re now making a film on Iraq?

JAVIER CORCUERA: [translated] It’s finished — we’re finishing with the editing.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issues that are raised as so significant now, 50% of the people appointed by Zapatero being women, gay marriage, these issues, the significance of this the legalizing of gay marriage in this country, one of the first acts.

JAVIER CORCUERA: [translated] It’s evident there are new progressive laws. We basically — I think we have returned to normality, to our natural state of things. What was strange what was going on before in the — with the previous government, I mean, for instance, bringing religion as a main subject back into the school, so these other progressive laws really were taking our place in Europe that we were supposed to have, making international decisions with Germany and France, for instance.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for giving us this brief thumbnail sketch of your country today as we’ll continue here in Spain today and tomorrow. Guillermo Fesser, who is host of the popular radio show “Gomaespuma,” which means in English —

GUILLERMO FESSER: Foam rubber, I guess.

AMY GOODMAN:–and also Javier Corcuera the independent Spanish filmmaker. We thank you both for being with us.

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