Sunday, October 26, 2003

Today is Election Day in Madrid; it's the repetition of the regional elections. In case you don't remember, back in March they had elections to determine the composition of the autonomous-region governments. In the Madrid region, the Socialists and the United Left made a coalition after the election to keep the conservative People's Party out of power; together they eked out a majority of one seat in the regional parliament over the PP. However, two Socialists, members of a minority faction, abandoned the party alleging that the Socialist Party was turning over too much power to the Communist United Left and bolted the party. They refused, however, to add their votes to the PP's side, so nobody had an absolute majority and the elections had to be repeated. The Socialists tried to turn the whole thing into a bribery scandal, alleging that powerful developers and constructors close to the PP had paid off the two rebel Socialists to bolt. They had zero evidence and looked really stupid when their charges did not pan out. If I were the PP I'd sue them for libel.

The PP candidate Esperanza Aguirre is expected to win, narrowly, and become the next prime minister of the Madrid region. It's a very important job because Madrid is a very large metropolitan area with more than five million people, nearly as many as in all of Catalonia. Most of the growth happening in the Madrid area is to the outside of the city, as the city is by now pretty much built up, so the regional government is even more important than it used to be since it controls the biggest-growth region in Spain. (Note: North of the city are the rich suburbs like La Moraleja; south of town are the working-class suburbs. For a good look, catch the bus to Toledo from the bus station in south Madrid and then ride through miles and miles of tower blocks plunked down on the dusty plains.)

An uninformed foreigner visiting Spain these days would, pardonably, think that Basque president Juanjo Ibarretxe was the most important man in the country. He's announced that he has a plan to give the Basque Country greater autonomy--it would become a "free associated state"--and the right to secede and has been going on about it since July. What he's succeeded in doing is piss everybody off. See, his plan would violate the Spanish Constitution in about eighteen different ways (articles 145, 155, and 161)--the Basque Supreme Court would be the highest judicial authority there, there would be such a thing as Basque nationality and citizenship, secession would be legal as would referendums on secession, and so on. Aznar has already announced that the plan has "a zero percent chance of success."

Even the Catalanista Vanguardia is slamming Ibarretxe; their front-page headline says that Juanjo is "defying the Constitution". They point out that he wants to add the French Basque Country as well, and that might lead to "the French Legion taking San Juan de Luz and, who knows, Pamplona." They add that the plan is "a contract that only one of the two parts can break unilaterally"--that is, the Basques would get to decide if they want to stay in Spain or not, but the rest of Spain wouldn't have the right to kick them out, something that a lot of people wouldn't mind doing. They would also have the right to continue calling repeated referendums on seccession, Quebec-style, until they somehow happened to win one; nobody believes that an independent Basque Country would allow a referendum on whether to reunite with Spain. Another factor is that right now some 15% of the Basques vote for openly independentista parties, and they are the ones who are currently unhappy with the situation in the Basque Country; if the Basque Country were independent, we assume that those 85% of Basques who vote for non-independentista parties would be unhappy--or at the very least the 50% of Basques who vote for non-nationalist parties would be. Also, the Basque Country's commercial relations with Spain would not change under the Plan. That is, they would get to leave Spain if they wanted (and the central government wouldn't be allowed to tax property in the Basque Country even if they didn't leave), but we wouldn't be allowed to slap a tariff on their products as a reaction.

The province of Alava, one of the three Basque Country provinces, has already threatened that if the Basque Country secedes from Spain, they'll secede from the Basque Country. (Alava is largely Spanish-speaking and votes for the PP).

Everybody also seems to be forgetting this: If the Basque Country declared independence, even if there weren't a civil war or mass disturbances, Spain and France would both blackball the Basques from the European Union and the United Nations and every other international organization. Is that what they want? Total isolation, like Albania? That's what independence would bring them.

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