Despite a growing economic crisis, why is that the Spaniards avert confrontation with the authorities? Is there anything in their genes that makes them look passive?
Unemployment there has nearly doubled over the past year to 17 percent - the highest in the European Union and double that of the United States'. The economy is shrinking at its fastest rate in 50 years.
AdvertisementCurrently, 4 million in Spain are unemployed Spaniards - with nearly half losing their jobs in the past year. Almost two-thirds of Europe's job losses in the last year has come from Spain.
By 2010, some forecasters expect 5 million people to be jobless. One million families have no source of income. And unemployment benefits are small and short-lasting, compared with other European countries. Still nothing much seems to happen.
Spanish workers seem to maintain a surprising degree of sang froid. No national strikes or protests have taken place, and the mood in the street is somber, but not angry. Indeed, the 65,000 people who organizers say partook in the traditional May 1 demonstration in Madrid danced and cheered to a samba beat as they chanted slogans demanding more jobs.
But look at Hungary, Latvia, and Iceland where all governments have already collapsed after angry protests over the handling of the economy; France has thrice been disrupted as millions staged nationwide strikes. And demonstrations - sometimes turning to riots - in Greece, Ireland, Britain, and several Eastern European countries have reminded the continent of the violent class struggles of past century.
So what makes Spaniards relatively quiescent? Are they merely cowards, too supine to fight like their compatriots elsewhere? Or as someone has suggested is relaxed atmosphere inherent in Spanish culture? An idiosyncrasy peculiar to them.
"Spain is not a country in which public frustration is expressed with marches and demonstrations, like France and Greece," says Florentino Felgueroso, an economics professor at the University of Oviedo and a researcher in the independent think tank Applied Economics Research Foundation, Fedea.
Talking to Andrés Cala, Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, Professor Felgueroso, cites several factors contributing to the passivity. Many who have recently lost their jobs are immigrants, who shy away from confrontations, or elderly people who have taken early retirement, he says. Another large segment of the jobless is young people, who are cushioned by a family safety net.
Spain's working class also has historical ties to the ruling Socialist party, Felgueroso says. The party of President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was born at the beginning of the previous century out of the trade union movement.
"It's not the government's fault," says Toni Ferre, a coordinator of the union organization in Spain that claims to represent 80 percent of all employees.
But Spain's relaxed approach to the recession could change. Social unrest is "on the horizon," the leading newspaper in Spain said in a recent editorial.
"If officials and companies don't put an end to the bloodshed of jobs, we will react decisively," says Mr. Ferre, the union leader.