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Spain: Why terror toppled the government

03/17/2004

Foreign threats usually cause people to unite around the government. Dvora Treisman, who lives in Spain explains why the terrorist attack there had a different result.

Hi Friends,

A few people have asked me about things here in Spain following the terrorist attack and the elections. If the topic interests you, below is my take on it.

The March 11 terrorist attack in Madrid has caused shock and a profound grief throughout Spain. Interestingly, it has caused no hysteria, but it has changed the political scene.
If you have lived in Spain for any amount of time, when you hear mention of a bomb somewhere within the country, you automatically think of ETA, the Basque separatist and terrorist group that is often in the headlines for a bomb threat, an assassination, or an arrest. On some level, people in Spain live under constant threat.

ETA has been terrorizing Spain for many years and has assassinated several specifically targeted people. But they have a recognizable method to what they do, and when they intend to set off a bomb, they always call first to give warning, intending to keep their political issue in front of the Spanish people - terrorizing the public -- while keeping the human cost down. For this reason, when they heard that there had been no warning, many people here (My husband Manuel included) said right away that it wasn't ETA.

The attack in Madrid happened just three days before national elections were to be held. At that point, polls showed that the Popular Party (PP) would lose their absolute majority, but that they would still win the elections. But in the end, the Sodeletedt party came in the winner.

With all the events in Spain this last year, it surprised me that polls showed PP to be winning. The Spanish population was against the invasion of Iraq, yet President Aznar supported Bush and eventually sent Spanish troops. When the Prestige sank [Prestige was an oil tanker that sank off the northwest coast of Spain in November 2002, creating a tremendous oil spill - ed ], all PP officials maintained that there was no problem and in fact the government did very little to help clean up the mess, leaving most of the cleanup to volunteers. Last year the PP declared one of the Basque political parties to be illegal, this without benefit of judicial hearing, so that suddenly, the Basque people lost the representation in Madrid of one of the parties that some of them had voted for. President Aznar had alienated Spain from the European Union, where a good amount of this country's financial assistance has come from, and he was waging an internal war not only on the Basques, but on the Catalans as well with a series of recent attacks on a member of the Catalan autonomous government and Catalunya's leftist, three-party governing coalition.

But when PP lost the election on Sunday it was probably not for any of these reasons. Neither was it because people thought that by supporting the war in Iraq, Aznar had endangered Spain, although there are a few people who think that. The big issue, the one that people have been talking about ever since Sunday, is that PP not so much lost its credibility (which doesn't seem to hold much importance here anyway), as it betrayed the Spanish people by taking advantage of the momentous human tragedy that had just happened.

PP members are now saying that they lost the election because the public had a sense that they were not being given all the information about the attack. Everyone else is saying that PP lost the election because they were manipulating information and trying to capitalize on human tragedy. Without going into the history of it, let me only say that it would have been a benefit to PP in the elections if the attack had been done by ETA, and a possible detriment if it was done by someone else.

Only a few hours after the attack, reports were already coming in about a van being found with explosives that matched those on the train. The van also contained something written in Arabic and a taped portion of the Koran. In the Basque Country, someone close to ETA announced that ETA had not done the attack. In London, someone from an Islamic group claimed that they HAD done the attack. The explosives used were not the type used by ETA, but they were the type used by Islamic groups. Then, what everyone had been waiting for, an ETA spokesman announced that ETA had not done the attack. And during all this, the government's interior minister continued to insist that the attack had been carried out by ETA, but that they were pursuing all avenues of investigation.

The final straw was a public announcement on the night before the elections by Mariano Rajoy, the PP candidate. Spain has some interesting laws governing elections, and one of those laws is that there is no campaigning the day before an election. This final day is "the day of reflection." There had been demonstrations against terrorism in almost every Spanish city on Friday. On Saturday there were a few others, the largest being in Madrid, but this time the demonstrations were against the government. Mariano Rajoy, the PP candidate with no government portfolio, came onto television to announce that no permit had been given, that the demonstrations were illegal, he denounced whoever had instigated them, and spoke out for a war on terrorism. His would be the last political face you would see before you got up Sunday morning and went to vote.

It was not his place to do that. First of all he is a candidate, and candidates are not supposed to make any political statements on the day of reflection. Second, he holds no government post, so it was not his job to make such an appearance, and it could not be argued that he was doing his duty. That announcement should have been made by President Aznar, the minister of the interior, or some other official. It was pure politics, and the Spanish people saw it that way -- politics being played over 200 dead bodies.

The government was deliberately misleading the public about who had done the attack. Their accusations conflicted with the news reports of what security officials were finding and people started to get angry. The final straw was when Mariano Rajoy, the PP candidate, made that public statement. People felt that he was taking advantage of the situation and capitalizing on the 200 deaths. PP had finally gone too far.
Dvora Treisman
Barcelona

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000226.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by DvoraTreisman @ 01:41 AM CST [Link]

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Replies: 5 comments

Spain was/is a minor player on the Iraq scene. Why was such a devastating attack launched there when there are certainly enough soft targets in the United States and England? What made Spain attractive to Al Quaida, the presumed perpetrrator?

Posted by Nachum Meyers @ 03/17/2004 02:53 AM CST

I believe that the attacks had some historical (colonial) significance. An excerpt from a website giving a precis of Morocco's history -

1894-1908 Reign of Moulay Abdelaziz. During this period, the Moroccan Sahara was shared out, under a secret treaty, between France and Spain (1904); the Algesiras Act was signed in 1906 and Casablanca was attacked by the French in 1907.

Also Spain was the foothold of Islam in Europe for a while.

Posted by Adrian DAniel @ 03/17/2004 03:42 PM CST

In my opinion looking to colonialism for an explanation for the Madrid bombings is mistaken. In the first place terrorists seek to operate where they can move with the greatest ease. So in Spain where there are large numbers of North Africans, Moroccan or other north African terrorists can move about with relative ease. I believe that Mao Tse-Tung made some comment about this need to operate freely and escape before preventative or other action can be taken.
Secondly the symbolism of Spain should not be overlooked. The symbolism of the crusades abounds in the expressions of Islamic extremists, and the Christian conquest of Spain is a key point in Islamic history. It marks the distinct beginning of the decline of Islam as a geopolitical force. The Islamic groups are painfully aware of their impotence in the face of Western / Christian power, and their loss of what they consider to be their rightful position in the world.
The bombing served two purposes I believe. It was a symbolic action against the West and Christian world dominance and also symbolic-revenge for the expulsion of Islam from the Iberian Peninsula. It was also a means to demonstrate the power of these groups to cause damage to the omnipotent West.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 03/17/2004 11:34 PM CST

It has been said that 90% of the spanish people were against being part of the Iraq war. Is it strange that they voted the party out that put them there? Did this involvement make spainards safer from terror?

Posted by Harold Brown @ 03/18/2004 02:19 AM CST

Spain was targeted because Al Qaida doesn't care who is a major or minor "infidel" in their eyes. Part of their game is to strike where they can and where least expected.

There is some good reading here. I hope Americans read between the lines and realize that Spain voted out its lying political party instead of following its own lying political party using the terrorist action to bolster their campaign by saying that the people in Spain voted the way they did out of mindless fear. We need to oust the party in the U.S. that bases its power on the belief that Americans should disparage others by banning "French Fries", "German Sausage" and "Spanish Omelettes."
I commend these people highly because they smelled a rat and they spoke up, which is something Americans seem much less capable of doing.

Posted by Kal Anton @ 03/25/2004 10:04 AM CST


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