History, like Time itself, is a continuous and living process. History might be of events that happened 4000 years ago, or 400 or forty, yesterday is already history. In fifty years time the story of J.L.Rodríguez Zapatero’s rise and fall will be included in a history book written perhaps by someone not yet born. It will be the history of a small town lawyer rising rapidly through the ranks of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Spain to become Secretary General, later President of the Government which some have denounced as the worst since the death of Franco.
Other small town lawyers have succeeded in the same dizzy ascent – Lincoln and Robespierre come to mind. Felipe González himself was a labour lawyer from a large city who became President. But this man has earned himself a great number of nicknames, not always complimentary ones: Zetapé, Zetaparo etc. The complimentary acronym ‘ZP’, standing for Zapatero Presidente, was introduced after 2004 by one of the eminences grises of the Party, probably Rubalcaba or Caldera or Blanco. By the way the latter sees himself as Zapatero’s dauphin –something not within the realms of impossibility. ‘ZP’ is user-friendly and pure flattery.
There are those in Spain who insist that Zapatero has achieved nothing in the six years he has been in the Moncloa Palace. This is wrong. He has achieved what many thought was impossible: he has nearly made a previously pious country atheist; he has secretly tried to come to an agreement with the terrorists from ETA; he has encouraged abortion on a grand scale; he has discouraged matrimony between a man and a woman; he has made Spain poor and the Spanish into objects of foreign mirth; he has offended the United States; he has sought the friendship of Latin American dictators much worse than Franco; he has increased retirement age to sixty-seven; he has increased taxes across the board; he has made it an impossibility for thousands of families to get through the month without mounting debt; he has bought the chief trade unions and bent them to his will and he has bought the vote in Congress of supposedly fierce nationalist parties.
After the PSOE won the election in 2004 and he was told he would be President, witnesses present in the Calle Ferraz said that Zapatero went green and muttered, “and now what am I supposed to do?” There were plenty of people ready to tell him. As the months passed after his move into the Palace, he gathered literally hundreds of ‘assessors’ round him, most of whom had his ear when it suited him. They were on the payroll. Following sage advice, he began a process of reduction, designed to place himself more firmly in the seat of power, One by one he got rid of the older, traditional socialist barons who might have tried to do the same with him as had their equivalents in ancient Rome, when young Octavian achieved shaky power but had not yet become Augustus. You can name them – and you know how they went: Felipe González, Alfonso Guerra, Almunia, Belloch, Boyer. All were condemned to irritated retirement before sixty.
Guided as usual by a re-make of Rasputin called Alfredo de Rubalcaba, Zapatero began his government as he intended to continue: instead of undergoing the boring, fatiguing and thankless task of actually governing a country (assisting Industry, pushing through reforms, protecting the population from external or internal assault, ensuring that Justice is blind, controlling the power of the banks etc.) he initiated the much more entertaining programme of mounting a continuous, relentless and sometimes ludicrously funny attack on the principal party of the Opposition. His aim? A one-party democratic state, Stalinist-style; and he maintained Spain in seventeen autonomous and extremely expensive communities.
In order to show from the beginning what he thought of governing, as such, he agreed to the nonsensical spectacle of six female Ministers alongside six males forming his ‘cabinet’. He hoped that Spain’s direst feminists would be satisfied with this meaningless equality, and was right. He even invented a ‘Ministry of Equality’, the first of that name in Europe. Zapatero’s concerns were not with any notion that his new Ministers might be good at their job, or useless. Some of them had not even been a deputy mayor before being a given a ministerial portfolio. This was not his concern. Image was his concern; and contempt for the opinion of the electors. That those chosen from the ranks of the PSOE might be less experienced in the ways and means of the corridors of power than a junior secretary in a small seaside town’s council was of no interest to him. The point was – total numerical equality in the Cabinet. Experience or talent were unimportant. Guts were not to be encouraged. All they needed to show when under fire was total obedience to him.
Meanwhile the image makers were at work. They changed his naff hairstyle. They created one of the most extraordinary effects of physical spin doctoring yet seen in this new century: the dichotomy of Zapatero’s face. Nose to chin was split by a rising, rictus smile worse than Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the first Batman film. Above the nose to the hairline contained cruel devil’s eyebrows, shared with three other famous men – Mr Ibarretxe of the Basque Country, Mr Blair late PM of the United Kingdom, and Mr Spock. The result was baffling, because the watching public could not calculate what the man really thought, when the upper half of his face was so frighteningly different to the lower half; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with one face.
Anyone who says Zapatero is inept is mistaken. He has shown his considerable skills in the choice of those who surround and cosset him. María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, cursed with a Falangist father close to Franco, whose bitterness and hatred shows in every line of her face and contentious dialogue. She is an expensive vice-president; nobody has ever seen her wearing the same outfit twice in the last six years. We should have expected this since María Teresa’s expert orchestration of the famous Vogue pictures of the six female ministers standing in elegant (but not very socialist) triumph on the steps of the Moncloa just after the 2004 elections.
Jóse Blanco, known without much friendliness as Pepiño, whose sneakeasy character is also etched on his face, was chosen as the cheerleader of the daily attacks on the Popular Party, but who Zapatero will suddenly recognise (in the near future) as his own personal Cassius, Casca and Brutus combined (see Julius Caesar). Blanco will pin the blame on the Popular Party for everything and anything untoward that happens – even (and probably because of) happenings organised by his own party. Equally, he, who is the school sneak, will get away with everything untoward that he does, even treachery.
Alfredo de Rubalcaba was the genius behind those momentous two days before the elections in March, 2004; the cleverboots who ensured the bussing into the capital of thousands of labour demonstrators on the ‘Day of Meditation’, the twelfth. These were the RentaMob dissenters who would fill the street and nearby plazas with carefully printed placards accusing Aznar and the Popular Party of conspiring with Bush and Blair illegally to invade Iraq, thus causing the Muslim attacks at Atocha allegedly plotted by Al-Quaeda. Has anyone ever wondered how those placards could be designed and made, and the buses mobilised, all within a few hours?
And now there is Leire Pajín, about whom it would be ungentlemanly to say anything beyond that fact that she is the self-proclaimed ‘Third’ in power within the PSOE. The poor woman has not passed even her ‘O’ Levels, but then, neither had La Pasionaria.
What a crew! And that is without mentioning the Cordobez/Catalan Montilla, who was made President of Cataluña after losing the election, a tactical error rectified by hastily made pacts with self-seeking smaller parties, enabling him to force the CiU out of the government the Catalans had actually elected.
Or Montesinos, a Foreign Minister whose spoken English sounds like Fu Manchu speaking cockney. It was this lardy ‘diplomat’ who connived with Zapatero to cuddle up to dictators, instead of cooperating with Spain’s natural allies. The PSOE loves Chavez of Venezuela, a communist bully, and the Castro brothers of Cuba, communist assassins.
Or Corbacho, the recently-ex Minister of Labour, who has managed to double unemployment since he was appointed to the job by Zapatero. This figure now approaches five million, more than that allowed by the European Union. And Elena Salgado, a lady determined to remain loyal to Zapatero even as he tightens the chiffon scarf round her neck.
Or the government’s Director of Communications, whose minions RTVE (TV1, TV2, and 24 horas), La Sexta, CNN (owned by American socialist liberals Ted Turner and Jane Fonda) and the press empire controlled by the Grupo Prisa vomit a twenty-four hour ration of scornful poison against the Popular Party and especially its most prominent leaders Rajoy and Aguirre. But this nightmare party is led by Mr Rodríguez Zapatero who was recently most put out by thunderous boos during his appearance at the military marches on the Día de Pilar. Earnest speakers on the television have pronounced that such a day, designed as a fiesta for national Spanish rejoicing, was not a proper occasion for booing the President. They are right, but when exactly is the right day? Ordinary people can never get near Mr Zapatero. He goes everywhere in a motorcade, is protected by dozens of armed secret service men. The only meetings he ever attends are those organised by his own party. When he takes his seat in the Congress he is protected from possible catcalls by his own appointed arbiter, Mr José Bono, President of the Congress, himself the subject of alleged corruption. How can Mr Zapatero possibly know what the Spanish people think? He has never been seen in a bus or an underground train. He only travels in special carriages on official trains. He is always flown by airforce officers in airforce aircraft.
In an earlier paragraph I mentioned Robespierre. In all history he is the politician who Zapatero most resembles. Both were small-town lawyers filled with unquenchable resentment (ZP never stops mentioning his own grandfather killed by Falangist forces); both had an unfathomable expression; both welcomed political critics to the office and afterwards get rid of them by appropriate eighteenth or twenty-first century means. Both were consumed by ambition (it is history that Robespierre and Zapatero never tire of reminding those around them who they are). Both were ruthless – ZP’s treatment of anyone who disagrees with him is notorious; Robespierre simply had them murdered by the guillotine. At the same time both praised and promised consensus; both were Machievellian – Robespierre and Zapatero invariably got an acolyte to rectify a colleague’s error, when that error was made at their orders.
But surely in any analysis or study, something laudatory can be found to say about the subject. This study must be no exception. We must find something laudatory about Zapatero’s six years in pact-bought power. We must find it. Somewhere.
By Jean Baptiste