‘Vozpópuli’ interviews the correspondent of ‘The New York Times’ in Spain, who has recently published a book about his decade as a chronicler of the American newspaper in this country
RUBÉN ARRANZ 9/11/2020
Raphael Minder – Planet
Raphael Minder has been a correspondent for The New York Times in Spain in a decade that still has no nickname but could be referred to as the ’78 system crisis’. Since taking up his post in 2010, this journalist has experienced the ‘great recession’, the end of bipartisanship, O-1, the abdication of Juan Carlos I, the coronation of Felipe VI and, more recently, the pandemic of Covid-19.
On October 29th, the Spanish publishing house Planeta released his book This Is Spain? A decade of correspondent. In this interview, he offers his views on the realities of the country and the most pressing conflicts of his present.
Q: Hey, what are the Spaniards like?
A: They’re remarkably diverse. Much more than they recognize. I am very striking about the diversity of this country at all levels; in the way it debates, speaks… There are many topics about Spaniards, but also many examples that denies them. Usually Spaniards are incredibly open, very community friendly, extremely passionate and I also think they live their lives much longer on the street than other European societies. Spanish life is to be shared.
Q: And with difficulty reaching consensus on almost everything…
A: Well, that is not a Spanish trait, but a lot of societies, like the American one, where polarization has increased a lot. Also, in Britain. Many societies are more divided today than they were a few decades ago.
Q: What does this phenomenon attribute to?
A: The 2008 crisis was an especially important factor, but so has the increase in citizens’ distrust of leaders. The esteem for the political class has weakened and today people are less willing to follow a concrete ideological line than they were a few decades ago. On the other hand, in this world, which is more global, there are many people who are currently looking for their identity, who represents it.
Trade unions have lost relevance and the idea that one is going to have a steady job until retirement has dissipated”
Q: Why do you say so? You did not look for an answer to those questions before?
A: Yes, but now there are things much less defined. One example is the world of work, where unions have lost relevance and the idea that one will have a steady job until retirement has dissipated. It is not gone, but it is much less frequent.
Q: Clearly, this ‘liquidity’ creates insecurity. Is it this insecurity that has led to the polarization of societies?
A: I think so. Insecurity is related to mistrust and causes the volatility of society to increase.
Q: In a country with 50% youth unemployment, it seems that in the media and political debate this issue is set aside. It is the same with other pressing problems, which are caused by political strife. Can you also see another factor here that leads to mistrust?
A: I think the political debate has emptied a lot of content. I do not think the topics you talk about are the ones that really worry people. It is worrying that during the Covid-19 crisis, with the frightened population, it becomes entangled with debates such as Francoism in a motion of censure. That has no relevance. With regard to the example you set of youth unemployment, I can tell you that since I arrived in this country I have seen evidence, and that is that Spain has the task to pass an education law by consensus. But the debate is parked, the laws are patched… Of course, if politicians in this country cared about youth, they should start looking at how these young people are educated.
Q: Problems are parked…
A: Sure. But it has also happened with Covid-19. Here the political slogan that claimed that Spain has perfect health had been assumed as true. The debate on this subject had been parked, but the pandemic has arrived and proved to be a lie. Cuts have been made for a few years and there has been no debate about the effects on the health system of this policy.
It is worrying that during the Covid-19 crisis, with the frightened population, it becomes entangled with debates such as Francoism in a motion of censure”
Q: Ortega’s most famous phrase is what defined a country as a “suggestive project of life in common”. Don’t you get the feeling, for all this, that the Spanish leadership has lost sight of this?
A: Yes, but let us see, the project must be common. For example, education cannot be the subject of partisan struggle. But look, these problems also reproduce in other countries. I set an example for public health and the United States. Remember Obama Care? How can health be considered a state policy if the improvement plan is nicknamed a president? Topics such as health and education should be cross-cutting and common.
Q: And how is common thinking guaranteed in a country like Spain, in which several nationalisms coexist that go in different directions?
A: Well, it would not have to be like this, and there is no reason for them to behave that way. For one thing, human beings are not defined by flags and their most obvious concerns do not go from that. There is an obvious lack of vision in that behaviour. For me, the visionary politician is precisely the one who pushes those limits.
Remember Obama Care? How can health be considered a state policy if the improvement plan is nicknamed a president?”
Q: In your book you talk about the Catalan sovereign process and define O-1 as “a low-speed train crash”. Where was the failure to get to that point?
A: There was a lack of desire for dialogue and political interest to reach agreements. To find solutions you must want to find them, and I did not see a willingness to search for solutions in the parts. Political leaders have nurtured themselves on that conflict, so the conflict has not been bad news for them. At least for a big part. There are several actors in this story who have lived off the conflict in a way. In view, it is striking that in Catalonia the PP is almost irrelevant and that the PSOE is a minority. That is, the interests of its leaders are at the national level. Therefore, if your gaze is short-sighted, a perfect breeding ground is generated so that the conflict is stoked and not extinguished.
Q: What it says does not help increase confidence in the political class…
A: I just have the feeling that Spanish politicians are always preparing for the next election. This makes it difficult to find solutions on issues such as the Catalan conflict.
Q: Aim for PP and PSOE. What about the independentist groups?
A: Separatist parties do not know how to live without conflict. They have a story that feeds on that.
Q: Are you in favour of a referendum on independence in Catalonia?
A: I am not sure. What must be done is to reach agreements. In its day, there was talk of a non-binding national referendum even to get a good x-ray of what citizens think. The problem is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to measure what citizens think, because there are autonomic elections that have been raised almost as a plebiscite. And many citizens don’t want to know anything about the issue of independence, but they have the right to go to vote thinking about things that matter much more to them, such as their children’s education or the situation of hospitals. Imposing independence seems unfair and bad to me for a society. You would have to vote on a government program, not just an issue.
Q: But then, would you defend a referendum?
A: Right now, a referendum does not seem to me to be an issue that can or should be addressed. In any case, any kind of measure like this must be made from a basis of consensus and legality. Then we can discuss whether it is the best way or not to act. But if a consultation is convened without those conditions, it does not make sense.
Q: His book analyses ten years of journalism in Spain. Those of the economic crisis, the end of bipartisanship, the coronation of Felipe VI, the scandals of Juan Carlos I, the multiple elections, the pandemic, and many other events. Have the Spanish media been up to the task?
A: The media? Some more than others, I suppose, but just like in any other country. The polarization that has soaked the whole of society has also reached the media. Let us see, the big problem we have today is that we have a lot more information, but less debate. We think we are more informed and more open, but it is the other way around. There is a kind of soundboard in which the media is dedicated to retro-feeding the same arguments.
“We think we’re more informed and more open, but it’s the other way around. There is a kind of soundboard in which the media is dedicated to retro-feeding the same arguments.”
Q: I can’t resist asking you about what happened in your paper a few weeks ago, when the head of opinion resigned for publishing a senator’s article asking the Army to mobilize to stop violence from Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Aren’t you alarmed that he was so pressured to allow an opinion to be broadcast?
A: These are decisions that are made well above and I find it very difficult to judge them for not being close to the subject, but I believe that, in general, it is important that any medium is a broad parish. Now, the exact terms of why I do not know that decision, so I find it difficult to judge it and it is not really up to me.
Q: One last one: do you think the Spanish Government has helped to dilute the separation of powers?
A: I think there is a fundamental problem, which is that politicians are not able to solve their battles without going to court. That puts Justice in an extremely complicated position because they often must judge unprecedented things. Measures taken to curb covid-19 have now been judicialized. Those things should be agreed in parliaments. But the same is true of the Catalan conflict. That cannot be judged in a court of law, it is a lack of responsibility on the part of politicians.
Q: Do you think the system is working?
A: I say it in the book. The Spanish judicial system takes a step forward and at best a step back. In some respects it has done more than expecte,d and in others it may be less so. People regret their rulings, but it must also be appreciated that this system has sentenced extremely complicated things, such as parties or a former minister of economy. Was it complicated? Yes. Did the failure take too long? Yes. But did something come? Also. And there are countries where those things have not happened.