Southern Spain has suffered a catastrophic storm that will have repercussions for years to come. As I write there are seven people dead who were caught in flash floods. Several hundred have been rescued. Some were given temporary shelter in sports centres. A special army unit was on stand-by and the prime minister has visited some of the worst affected spots. About 1500 farm animals died in the region of Murcia. The sea spat out a thousand dead tuna from a fish farm, and beaches on La Manga had to be closed till the rotting corpses were removed. They had already left an oily film on the sea.
Seventeen members of the Andalusian Workers Union (SAT) have been on hunger strike, camped out in central Madrid, since 16 May. ‘It has weakened us, and people are shaky,’ Juan Pastrana Serrano told me. He's an SAT secretary in Jódar; his daughter is one of the hunger strikers. A movement of rural farm workers founded in 2007, SAT is famous for occupying fallow land, left uncultivated by large landowners, and returning it to the collective use of jornaleros (day labourers). They have also organised Robin Hood style ‘expropriations’ from supermarkets to feed the homeless, unemployed and destitute. Some 574 union members collectively face more than 600 years in jail and €700,000 in fines. The hunger strikers are demanding the release of an SAT spokesman, Andrés Bódalo, imprisoned in March for allegedly assaulting the deputy mayor of Jódar.
Voters in Spain have put two outsiders in the office of mayor in Madrid and Barcelona. Both are strong, popular figures heading parties associated with the new Spanish left. Both are women. The similarities between the two candidates and the two cities end there.
In Granada late on Good Friday I watched a paso or float of the Mater Dolorosa making its ponderous way towards the cathedral. The life-size statue was dressed in a black and silver robe. She was swaying gently from side to side and looked like a beautiful beetle with the many legs of the men carrying her (the cuadrilla) sticking out from the black curtain underneath her. Their load was so heavy that they had to stop and swap out for a fresh crew every few hundred metres. The float was accompanied by a marching band, candle bearers, incense-bearers, the women wearing mantillas and black lace, the teenagers in chorister’s robes. Around the float were the nazarenos or penitentes who wear caperuzas – tall, tapering hooded masks – and often carry wooden crosses. The similarity to Klu Klux Klan garb is coincidental; the nazarenos’ hoods point symbolically towards the heavens.
The regional government of Catalonia has backtracked on its promise to hold a non-binding independence referendum on 9 November. Instead it is preparing to hold a symbolic vote, with no electoral roll and volunteers staffing the polling booths. This modest alternative was forced on Barcelona by the constitutional court in Madrid, which agrees that the Spanish government has a legal case against the referendum. Now that it’s gone to deliberation, a real referendum process is automatically suspended. But it looks now as though even a symbolic vote will be challenged.
Outrage over Ukraine. Demonstrators blockade the government headquarters in protest against the government. The prime minster causes further offence by referring to the demonstrators as 'Nazis and criminals'. The government then tries to close down protest using force. John Kerry expresses 'disgust'. Less outrage over Spain, where the conservative government is to introduce legislation to forbid, among other things, unauthorised demonstrations outside government headquarters.
On 25 September, thousands of Spanish citizens from students to pensioners set out to surround the parliament building in Madrid, demanding an end to the current political system and the establishment of a new Constituent Assembly. The deputy prime minister dared to compare it to 23-F, the failed coup in 1981 when pistol-popping Civil Guards took the parliamentary chamber hostage. Days before last week’s action, the national police fenced off the whole area. I was in a bar nearby when three cops wandered in for a drink the night before the demonstration. What did they think about it? ‘As police officers, we’ll do our job,’ said one. ‘But we are also individuals in society. I’d be out there with them.’ ‘Yup, 90 per cent of us would be there,’ said another. Maybe the other 10 per cent included the riot police, who in the event did their job with convincing enthusiasm.
‘Death to the Euro.’ The handmade sign was pinned to the wall of a community centre in San Luis, a gentrified neighbourhood just inside the boundaries of Seville’s old city. It was a balmy Friday evening, but inside a crowd of around a hundred people were listening to a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation on puma, a new local currency for San Luis launched last month. Puma is the third local currency to be introduced in the Andalusian capital this year. Pepa and jara already circulate in Macarena, a working-class district on the other side of Seville’s city walls.
On 20 March, a Spanish judge gave prosecutors leave to proceed with a case against an 80-year-old nun charged with kidnapping. According to lawyers for victim groups, as many as 350,000 babies were stolen from poor, single or left-wing mothers between 1938 and the late 1980s. Sister María Gómez Valbuena, who had links with a maternity clinic and put ads in the paper offering help to unmarried mothers, is the first persoas many as 350,000 babies were stolen from poor, single or left-wing mothers between 1938 and the late 1980sn to be prosecuted for it.
There wasn't much excitement about the European elections in Spain. A couple of vans with loudspeakers came round my district advertising the main parties, the PSOE (left) and the PP (right), but they caused far less interest than others announcing vegetables, wine by the litre and cheap trousers. I went down to the local polling station at eight, when it was supposed to open. It was indeed open but the police informed me that no one could vote before nine. At nine I was leaving town with a party of friends from my mineral club. And so I spent most of election day en route for the tiny mountain village of Navajun, in the Rioja region. I once saw two pensioners, one of them disabled, get into an undignified physical fight in a village bar over a general election. Local elections, too, can cause feelings to run high. Europe is a different matter.