Sunday, November 03, 2013

Aznar's Memoirs And The Madrid Bombs

José María Aznar was Spanish prime minister (president where the Spanish are concerned) from 1996 to 2004. Aznar came to have strong international recognition, and it came about because of the Iraq War. Aznar sided firmly with Bush and Blair. He stood shoulder to shoulder. Or rather he stood shoulder to chest. He became the object of satire for being "Tony's little friend". Little in more than just stature. Aznar was a junior partner in Bush's Iraq adventure.

Since ceasing to be premier, Aznar has remained in public view. Unlike his successor, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who more or less disappeared from view, returning recently because of the publication of his memoirs, Aznar has stayed around, hoovering up some nice little earners - with Murdoch's News Corporation and more recently with the consultants KPMG - coming out with the occasional declaration, such as showing his scepticism about climate change by calling the ecology movement the new communism, and appearing to be a reminder to the Spanish people that he was rather more able than the current prime ministerial incumbent. (Actually, he was more able.) At times, his support for Rajoy hasn't seemed wholehearted, and indeed Wikileaks let it be known that he had doubts about Rajoy.

Aznar had given a pledge that he would serve only two terms as prime minister; his predecessor, PSOE's Felipe González, had been premier for fourteen years. Rajoy was the anointed successor, and the assumption, indeed the prediction, was that the Partido Popular would continue to govern after the 2004 elections. That this prediction turned out to be wrong is a defining aspect of the Aznar era. The PP appeared to have the general election in the bag but then there were the Madrid bombings three days before polling.

It was the mishandling of the bombings by Aznar and the PP which meant that Rajoy didn't become prime minister, that the PP didn't continue to govern and that Zapatero, against all odds, came to lead Spain and to do so until 2011. This mishandling centred on the blame that was attached for the responsibility for the bombings. The PP said it was ETA, a move that was quickly seen as a cynical manipulation of public opinion. It was in fact a jihadist faction which may or may not have had links to Al-Qaeda. Spain's involvement in Iraq and Aznar's support for Bush and Blair brought terror, brought a terrible misjudgment in attempting to misinform and brought about the end of PP government for seven years.

Though the ETA connection was swiftly seen to have been wrong, it remains an issue to this day. And though Aznar's period in office came to defined by the manipulative effort that backfired, he has retained a great deal of popularity. In no small part this is because there are a great number of people who believe that ETA were responsible.

In the immediate aftermath of the Madrid bombings, there was an enormous display of national unity. In Palma, on the evening of 11 March 2004, a massive crowd gathered to show its rejection of terrorism and its support for the victims. This unity evaporated. Today, there is hostility from those who cling to the belief that ETA planted the bombs. Some of them shout insults at relatives when there is the annual memorial for the victims in Madrid. They are hostile because their belief in ETA's responsibility comes from conspiracy theories, one of them being that PSOE had somehow plotted with ETA. They are hostile because the PP didn't win in 2004. And they are hostile because the ETA theory has been spouted for years by one of the main newspapers in Spain - "El Mundo". It has made the bombings a cause célèbre, and the conspiracy theorists seemed to have claimed something of a victory earlier this year when the attorney-general appeared inclined to re-open an investigation in which the various agents of the law - the National Police, the Guardia Civil and the judges - had dismissed any involvement by ETA.

Aznar's successor has just issued his memoirs, and now Aznar has brought out his own (the second volume in fact). Included in them are his diary entries at the time of the election and of the bombings. He says on 13 March that he got a report from the director of the National Intelligence Centre. It said that neither of the two "grand alternatives" could be supported or rejected, going on to add that there had been no detection by other intelligence services, especially the Americans' NSA, of any indication of what was to occur. By the time he had the report, though, people were demonstrating again, this time demanding to know the truth about the bombers. The people had made up their minds and the next day they voted the PP out.

* Photo from Wikipedia

No comments: