Friday, January 22, 2010

My First Week of School

I started classes this week as part of our program's "intensive" seminar on contemporary Spain. I don't know what BU thinks is intensive, but in my mind, while hearing someone lecture for two hours, reading 20-30 pages, and writing a page each day (plus movies and responses twice a week) is perhaps a bit much while taking three other classes, it's basically a cakewalk if you have no real other work. In this case, my other work is talking to Pilar (my host mother, who chats with me for at least two hours a day), eating, going to museums, and going to bars. Transportation, I suppose, takes some time as well, but it's not exactly a hard life.

The class is basically remedial Spanish common knowledge. This week's topic has been modern history and government. These two go along surprisingly well, since, by all measures I can tell, Spanish culture has this fantastic origin myth that everyone believes in on some level or another. I've heard it so many times, with so many embelishments, I thought I should share it:

Around 1930, the Spanish people revolted and overthrew the restored king. They established the glorious Second Republic, under which everyone was happy, well-fed, and enlightened. They also had a flag with a purple stripe at the bottom, which you have to admit is pretty awesome, as there aren't a lot of flags with purple on them. Anyway, Spain, had basically advanced to a postindustrial understanding of human rights, and had managed to create an agreement by which all the regions were happy and the culturally distinct ones had autonomy. There may have been massive economic and political crises, but they don't really matter, because it was really just a fantastic period of time.

In 1936, an evil, evil man named Francisco Franco tried to come to power. No one really liked him, but he was the only person all the crazy reactionaries (they're called Carlists), rich people, and fascists could agree on. He attempted a coup, but failed, because no one liked him. As a result, he launched a massive, horrible, deadly civil war. Franco was supported by the evil Nazis and Italian Fascists, and all the suffering in the war was because of him. In the end, he took over Spain and killed all the socialists and regional nationalists.

Franco's regime sort of sucked. He tried to play the neutral game in World War II (though he sent troops to fight the USSR), but everyone knew who's side he was on, so they isolated Spain. Finally, the U.S. realized he was anti-communist and wanted a military base, so they opened up trade. Tourism became popular, but when the Spanish saw tourists, they realized how poor they were and got pissed. Eventually, the economy slowly opened. Anyway, the real point is that Francoism was the exact opposite of the Republic. People were poor, uneducated, and sad. Franco subjugated the autonomous regions, and tried to enforce a uniform Spanish culture, which was mostly from Andalucia and Castillia. Again, not a good time. Also, Opus Dei had a big role in government and they're scary.

Anyway, Franco knew he was going to die and didn't have any sons. He had always liked the idea of a king, but wasn't one himself. He decided to groom Juan Carlos, the son of the Infante Juan (the guy who was next in line for the throne under the monarchy) to be a good little Francoist. Franco died and Juan Carlos I was crowned as king, but rather than continuing the Francoist state, Juan Carlos I wanted democracy. He slowly and secretly, with incredible ease and metaphoric dexterity, altered the existing fascist laws to allow for democracy, having to trick the old guard into letting their dream fall away by passing the laws he wanted.

Eventually, thanks to Juan Carlos' general awesomeness, Spain was ready in 1978 to adopt a new Constitution. It gave the King little to no role in the government and managed to make everyone happy while making Spain a "social and democratic state of rights" (according to my professor, which he says is somehow proved by the fact that they have public health care and gay marriage and the U.S. doesn't). It passed resoundingly, because it was so great, except for all the problems no one knows how to resolve, like how the government really unfair to princesses and non-Basques (I kid you not).

Still, democracy was threatened again! The army attempted a coup in the parliament. Once again, the King rushed to the side of democracy, coming on TV to tell soldiers not to fight and ordering the rule of law. It worked! Spain was free! The next year, the ruling center-right UCD party was kicked out and the socialist PSOE party was elected, which somehow marks Spain's true emergence into democracy for reasons I don't fully understand (something about how Franco really hated socialists).

Now everyone lives in peace and harmony. The King has virtually no power. Actually, Spainiards don't want a king at all, but they just love Juan Carlos I so darn much that they don't mind. Most of them like his son, Felipe, too. They think his older sister should have the throne, but it doesn't matter, because Felipe is friendly and attractive and married a TV anchor.

So, in conclusion, life in Spain is great now. Thank you, King Juan Carlos I! Just don't ask anyone what they think about the Constitution - everyone agrees it needs major changes, but that making them is impossible. According to Pilar, the solution is just not to vote.

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