Wartime Reflections from Spain

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One thing that I remember of the Spanish people, when I was here 15 years ago as a young American study abroad student, was their attention to political matters. I never was part of one, but they seemed to have a lot of demonstrations; their news seemed to go a little deeper than the relentless parade of fires, shootings and tragedy I was used to in the U.S. It seems telling to me now that, due to the relative abundance of syllables present in the Spanish language, I referred to it as “talking like a machine gun”.
This time around I am a bit more integrated into things. I have been part of a demonstration, chanted the sad and stirring refrain, “No, no, guerra no, guerra no, guerra no (“No war,” basically), laughed at banners depicting Spanish President José María Aznar having anal sex with Tony Blair, who was doing the same to George W. Bush, and marvelled at the sheer number of people present. I especially felt a sort of wonder that so many children were singing slogans of peace, as well as senior citizens– but wasn’t a demonstration a dangerous thing? Not this one.
It was like a giant, sweet wave of peace. Peace combined with passion – and if any combination of factors can stop or slow the advance of greed, folly and violence now so painfully obvious to so many, it is that of peace and passion. Once, some friends (Spanish, German, French) and I interrupted our dinner to lean out of the balcony and bang on pots and pans, as did people all up and down the street. In the main plaza, the pot bangers were complimented by a host of candle-bearing citizens in the formation of a peace sign filling the large circular space. Others packed the surrounding streets that mark off the square with their own sea of candle light … I compare this stirring image with George Bush, Sr.’s smarmy “thousand points of light” speech.
Again last night, the people appeared in the streets and on balconies to bang pots. The noise of a whole city doing this is impressive, a bit like the sound of large hail raining down on car lots. Cars drive around honking, and even the fire fighters add their sirens to the din. It seems very childishly effective; the point, certainly, is made.
Yesterday a friend sent me an email as part of a campaign to flood the Popular Party’s computers with incoming protests, to literally paralyze their computer system with electronic complaints. I don’t know if it worked, but I sent mine.
There are hints of increased tensions, at least among the demographically singular adolescent crowd. Isolated incidents have been reported including the sacking of the one local McDonald’s and the egging of politicians and offices of President Aznar’s “Popular Party.”
The television images I see here are of some dead soldiers in American uniforms, interviews with captured Americans, squadrons of young Iraqi men on their knees with hands behind their heads in an attitude of surrender, and the unforgettable images of the bombing of Baghdad. The war is getting full coverage; the ecological and economic disaster of the oil spill in Northwestern Spain, which dominated the airwaves for two and a half months, is all but forgotten. The Oscars were covered with an eye toward how the actors and directors and other nominees would address the war – or not. One commentator expressed surprise that Pedro Almodóvar,who had participated in a protest march with Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, did not gainsay the war more strongly. The director himself, interviewed by the Spanish press, said that he felt afraid when he was there because the atmosphere was one of fear. I don’t know what has come out in the U.S. press, but here I have read about Aznar’s visits to the White House and to Bush’s Texas ranch and about how George W. praised Aznar’s efforts in the fight against “terrorism”. Now, the people here say that terrorism has been a horrible problem for them. And surely it has. However, recently the Spanish government shut down the only newspaper in Spain which was written in the Basque language, citing purported links of the publishers and editors to the terrorist organization ETA (the Basque separatist group). As it is, Basque is a language in danger of extinction, and a newspaper in that language an important voice for the integrity of those people.
I hate to say it, but for my part, I had to wonder if the close relations between the two governments of Spain and the United States had anything to do with Almodóvar’s winning his Oscar… and maybe I shouldn’t even suggest that, given that I saw neither his film nor any of his competitors’, but I follow the logic of a Spanish commentator who intimated that Chris Cooper, who apparently made some strong anti-war comments, might not win another Oscar, due to his choice of words. This commentator also noted the precedent of the blacklisting which occurred during the McCarthy era – Office of Homeland Security, anyone?
Someone here told me that they heard that seventy percent of the American people are reported to be in favor of the war against Iraq. They ask me if it is true. I don’t know what to tell them except that I hope not, and that if the source of this figure is the American press that it may be suspect. Many people here, rather naively in my opinion, wondered if the war would actually happen. I told them that the American Government, if it cared what the people thought, would be headed by Al Gore right now.
But, flowing along in a river of peaceful protestors, banging pots and brandishing candles to the night – it’s hard to believe that all these lovely gestures, as it were, would not have some positive effect.

Jim Kotowski spent junior year of college (’86-’87) in Barcelona as a student, and squandered his time in the company of other Americans, which is something one can easily do in Illinois. He is now fullfilling his vow to come back and “do it right”, teaching English and living Barcelona life in a more integrated fashion, looking forward to walking through Spain this summer via the Camino de Santiago, a medieval pilgrimage road that is still quite active today.

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