Last week I joined the AABI (Friends of the International Brigade) for the annual Jarama Walk, which is not a new dance fad but to commemorate the battle for Madrid in 1937. Over 250 members from England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, the USA as well as Spain took part, visiting the battle fields in the hills and olive groves south east of Madrid.
I was surprised at the fervour of so many people, young and old, waving banners and singing the International as they paid tribute at the memorials to the hundreds of fallen soldiers who came to Spain to combat Fascism. The walk culminated at Morata de Tajuña where there is a fascinating private museum dedicated to the Jarama battle. It is in the Meson El Cid restaurant complex and well worth a visit.
Among the visitors were the sons and daughter of Jack Edwards, a Liverpudlian who had fought in the battle and survived. They had come to fulfil a dream and spread the ashes of their parents over the hillside. Jack died in 2011, a few years after his wife Ivy, and had been granted a Spanish passport together with other survivors of the international brigades
While the reality was a horrendous loss of life, the image we often have of the international volunteers who fought in Spain has been somewhat romanticised by Hemingway and Orwell’s books, Chin, Capa and Gerda Tara’s photographs and movie director, Ken Loach. It is encouraging that the AABI is doing a remarkable job of keeping alive the memory of the Brigadistas although it seems the Spanish Government has shown little interest in becoming involved. The AABI wants to contact people whose relatives may have taken part in the battle to raise money so that excavations can take place to find the remains of soldiers who died but have never been found, in order to give them a decent burial.
Spain is in a dreadful state
Did you listen to the State of the Nation address? Personally I think Spain is in a dreadful state. How many times did Rajoy repeat “Un Estado de Derecho.”Naturally the PP thought he was great, the PSOE, pitiful, as can be expected. All the proposed tax changes are cosmetic touches. However, the Spanish Government does seem intent on taking steps to combat the black economy and loss of IVA. I have just come back from a few days on the coast near Alicante and might suggest they start with the thousands of immigrants, clearly from Africa, who openly display counterfeit goods below signs which forbid it and scamper off when they see the police, who do not bother to intervene.
This cat and mouse game takes place throughout southern Europe and is commonplace in Madrid. I have also noticed the new private municipal service in Madrid operated by Rumanian garbage collectors who climb into the rubbish containers to extract paper and cardboard and fill their trucks. If they, or their activities, are illegal why don’t the authorities end all this? If it isn’t, then grant the vendors a licence to trade.
The Infanta had her day in Court and, it transpires, said nothing, heard nothing and saw nothing. All the publicity over the Royal Family diverted attention from the never ending sagas of corruption and nepotism among Spain’s political and business class across the country, whose impunity is beginning to sap moral.
Economic reports suggest that the world is now controlled by investment, sovereign, pension and hedge funds who manage trillions of dollars. They not only manipulate markets for short term profit but their colossal power enables them to exert too much influence over nation states and our lives. In addition the dividends being paid out by multinationals have reached record levels. This privileged minority ignores the plight of millions facing a lower standard of living or poverty while the loss of tax revenues due to the use of offshore companies and banks in tax havens is incalculable.
How do you go from zero to $19billion in just five years? This is how WhatsApp has made billionaires of its founders and financiers in the virtual world where money has no meaning any more. The question is will all this last and if it does will Governments begin to see the internet companies, who make nothing, sell nothing and charge nothing, as major contributors of tax before the money evaporates.
There are supposed to be over eleven million empty homes in the EU or in the western member states, of which more than three million are in Spain, while the number of European homeless is put at four million. Clearly many of the properties are not in places where people can live and find work and in Spain’s case they are mostly dotted along the coast, where local politicians, bankers and developers thought they would pocket fortunes from holiday homes and golf courses regardless of economic or social needs.
Last year 53 year old Mohamed Aziz made history by obtaining a European directive which ordered Spain to modify its eviction procedures deemed unfair to consumers. He had a debt of just €85000 on a flat in Martorell near Barcelona. I have just read in El País that despite the judgement Mr Aziz has not been able to return to his home since the law does not apply to those already evicted. This is a shattering blow for him and his family and shows the immorality and lack of compassion of the Spanish Government and the justice system.
Meanwhile the bankers, having evicted thousands of families from their homes, have shifted their bad assets into the Sareb at knock down prices to sell on to vulture funds to free their balance sheets. Then they announce obscene multimillion euro remuneration packages for their boardroom directors while laying off thousands of employees. None of Europe’s banking elite seems to have learnt the lessons of the crash, continuing to pocket bonuses and share options.
We can help by writing about the injustice handed out to thousands of home owners, which keeps property empty so the banks and speculators can profit from people’s suffering. Why couldn’t the banks simply extend the mortgage period at lower rates of interest so families could stay in their homes with guarantees from the State?
As negotiations take place behind the scenes in European member states to see who will get a place on Europe’s gravy train after the elections, could 39 year old Matteo Renzi be Europe’s knight in shining armour? He has taken Italy, literally, by storm, coming from almost nowhere to becoming Italy’s youngest ever PM. With half of his cabinet women, will he be able to carry out the reforms he has promised to transform the country’s entrenched political, economic and social systems?
This is what Obama promised but we have witnessed how he has had to bow to powerful financial and corporate interests. And Italy has to contend with well established and powerful Mafia groups. I saw Renzi in Florence last Autumn and was captivated by his charisma and message, but he faces a hard task.
I spent the last day of the month in the Casa America in Madrid participating at the Project Europe conference. Organised by the Berggruen Institute in conjunction with Prisa (El País) it gave an opportunity for many European political figures to promote the forthcoming Euro Elections and call for more integration, fiscal, financial and political unity. Everyone praised the free movement of people as the pillar of the EU when in reality it is one-way traffic from east to west. Do you know anyone who has moved to Sofia or Bucharest?
Felipe Gonzalez warned that the Eurosceptics wanted to burn the house down. But he didn’t mention that the bankers, corporate bosses and corrupt politicians have already stripped out all the valuables. The board of the Berggruen Institute is made up of the elite of European Politicians, ex politicians, institutional, academic and corporate directors who clearly have vested interests to protect.
Overseas, apart from the winter Olympics in Sochi, a great deal of attention has been focused on the events in Venezuela and Ukraine. The only surprise is that so far there has been so little violence or social unrest in the West. If all the corrupt politicians and greedy banking and corporate bosses in the EU think that what is happening in these countries could never happen here I suggest they think again.