Spain No More? the Zapatero Administration and Declining Spanish Identity

By Ho, Norman | Harvard International Review, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Spain No More? the Zapatero Administration and Declining Spanish Identity


Ho, Norman, Harvard International Review


In its tumultuous and unpredictable history, Spain has experienced Muslim rule, Christian reconquest and unification, global military and economic superpower status, brutal Napoleonic occupation, civil war, fascist dictatorship, parliamentary democracy, domestic separatist movements, radical Islamist terrorism, and now socialist leadership. Spain's version of September 11 occurred on March 11, 2004, when Al Qaeda operatives bombed commuter trains in Madrid, killing over 200 and wounding more than 1600 people. Three days later, Spaniards flocked to the polls for their parliamentary elections, voting out Jose Maria Aznar of the center-right Popular Party (PP) and giving a surprising victory to Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE).

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Since his dramatic election, Zapatero has sought to establish his vision of a "New Spain" on the Iberian peninsula. He has reversed many of the policies of his predecessor, some in just five short months after election, most notably his decision to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. He has designed and implemented a radically different foreign policy, favoring the bastions of Old Europe, France and Germany, over the United States. He recently approved arms sales to the authoritarian regime of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, despite opposition from the Popular Party and numerous nations around the world.

These diplomatic changes were followed by a true revolution in domestic policies. Zapatero has introduced broad social and cultural reforms, including a bill that legalizes gay marriage and adoption of children, which passed the Congress of Deputies in June 2005. He has proposed a new "fast-track divorce" system which slashes the time it takes to complete the legal process from two years to just ten days. He has also reduced funding and support for the Catholic Church. And, he has recently opened the door for thousands of illegal immigrants in Spain, granting amnesty to an estimated 800,000 illicit migrants.

There can be no question that Zapatero's reforms are bold, dynamic, and dramatically new. But whether or not they are ultimately beneficial for Spain's national interest and world security is another question. For a nation that has been marked by historical disunity and uncertainty, Zapatero's domestic reforms dangerously strip away the layers of Spanish society. In his attempts to create a "New Spain" and bring Spain quickly in line with other European nations, Zapatero is sacrificing Spanish national identity and showing that he simply does not understand the distinctiveness of Spain's unique domestic and security needs. Most significantly, Zapatero ultimately fails to grasp the realities of new, global terrorism. His appeasement policy of the removal of Spanish troops from Iraq represented a victory for Al Qaeda and not only weakened Spanish national security, but the security of every democratic nation in the world.

The 43-year old Socialist leader is widely seen by Spaniards as handsome, affable, and sophisticated--but his handling of many issues has hardly been elegant. Zapatero must slow down his dramatic reforms and his construction of a "New Spain" and consider what is best for Spanish national interests and national identity. National identity in any country is strongly based on historical experience--Zapatero, however, seems intent on erasing Spain's past.

A Retreat from Battle: Spanish Appeasement

At an October 2003 Columbus Day military parade, Zapatero refused to stand as the US flag passed. "It's not my flag," Zapatero reportedly declared. It should be no surprise, then, that with Zapatero's election, the United States lost Madrid's support in the effort to rebuild Iraq. Zapatero immediately recalled Spain's 1,300-soldier contribution to the reconstruction effort, despite his earlier expressed plan to withdraw troops around June 30, 2004.

The risks of this decision continue to be immense. …

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