Modern Europe is no place for humiliation based on arrogance

Posted on June 6, 2012

On a casual visit to Spain, it’s easy to believe that there is no crisis. But the economic crisis is real and hits real people. It is difficult to come across anyone who is not personally affected, or who does not have a friend or family member who has lost – or is at high risk of losing – their job, had to shut down their business or has to live with reduced income and higher taxes. Not to mention the millions of youngsters who have never had a job at all. It used to be said that owning a bar in Spain would not make you rich but would give you a guaranteed decent living. No more. Bars are closing down.

Yet, little of this is noticeable in the streets. The Spaniards protest and complain but they have not lost their love of life. They can still have a good time on one beer a night instead of five. They may have less money to spend but they can still have fun. And on Sundays and evening, they still turn out well dressed and looking good. They have not lost their self-respect.

Spain is a proud nation with a rich and glorious history. Its people have been through good times and bad. They have adapted, survived and prospered. In the short space of time since the end of the Franco dictatorship, Spain has transformed itself into a modern European nation with, against the odds, attitudes that are more open and more liberal than many other countries. Now they have hit the buffers with a banking crisis and they need the help of those who in good times styled themselves as European ‘partners’. Yet, in seeking this help, they wish to do it with dignity and self-respect. And rightly so. That is the only way that they can get through what will be a difficult few years without sinking into a deep depression.

I suspect that, hard though the practicalities of declining living standards may be, it is the ritual public humiliation at every turn that most undermines the spirit of the Greeks. Alexis Tsipras may not have the final solution (who does – in spite of their arrogance), but he may be the only one able to give self-respect back to the Greeks.

Anglo-Saxon or Teutonic solutions will not work in any southern European country.  The Spaniards with their mixture of Iberian pride, Mediterranean attitudes and more than a smattering of Arab blood, will, thankfully, not become Northern European overnight – nor, hopefully, ever. Historically, they are not the first European nation to hit the buffers – and, in the long sweep of history, neither they will they be the last.

Spain, like Greece, Ireland, Portugal, likely Italy and Cyprus, and maybe France, need a helping hand from their partners (not masters). Whatever the current rules (and we all know that Europe does not exactly have the best track record in designing clever rules – or in sticking to them – as Germany and France themselves well remember), that help needs to be delivered in a way that allows people to maintain their dignity. Only then will they stand a chance of getting through what will undoubtedly be difficult times.

Whether it comes from the all-knowing IMF or from rigid, punitive Teutonic attitudes, a determination to humiliate those who have different cultures and attitudes has no place in a modern Europe. Nobody needs to be reminded that there has been enough of that in our European past.

And, in any case, Spain are still the reigning soccer world champions. So take that y’all.