Tuesday, October 08, 2013

In A Dilemma: Zapatero

You know that Christmas is approaching when publishers start unleashing the annual rain forest that has been devoted to the celebrity biography or autobiography. In Britain, this means books being published some time in summer, as some time in summer is considered the official start of the Christmas season. In Spain, there is no Christmas season other than, oddly enough, just the Christmas period itself. But nevertheless, it can begin earlier than December, as in November. Even then though, it is late November. And this year, the Spanish celebrity book pre-Christmas rush will begin on 26 November. For it will be on this day that a long-awaited work hits the book shops. "El Dilema" (no translation needed), subtitled "los 600 días de vértigo vividos por el ex-presidente del gobierno", is that book. Its author is the ex-president (known by the British as prime minister for reasons that are far too dull to explain) who endured 600 days of a whirling sensation and a tendency to lose his balance. Ladies and gentlemen, I know you can't wait to go out and get your copy, it's José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's memoirs.

Personally and if I'm brutally honest, I think I would prefer Santa to bring me a copy of Andrew Strauss's memoirs so I can discover just how much Kevin Pietersen disliked him (though I fancy I would in any event have to wait until Pietersen subjects the world to his memoirs before discovering the full extent of their falling-out). But if the ex-premier (ex-president, as you wish) reveals himself in his ruminations to be Frank Zapa-tero, spilling all, going for the jugular, exposing the hot rats in the corridors of Madrid power, then we could be in for the mother of all invective.

Alas, I expect we will not. Apart from the fact that Spanish politicians either past or present rarely say anything of any note (and some rarely anything at all), Zapatero just isn't that sort of a guy. He is a regular guy, unlike another one upon whom it was thought he had modelled himself, going even so far as to acquire the same nickname - Bambi. An amiable white-tailed deer of a politician, he was certainly no Thumper, but it was amiability that was rather attractive. I confess that I liked Zapatero. Not in a Blair way, because that would be too stupid, but in a John Major way. He possessed the same quiet and undemonstrative ineffectualness, while, and unlike Major, didn't soil his name by having his underpants exposed to a titillated readership.

Zapatero's memoirs should really be titled "How I Became President (Premier) And Thought They Were Having A Laugh". No one, not even Zapatero, thought he was going to win in 2004, but then no one had factored in an Al-Qaeda faction blowing up trains in Madrid and the ruling PP making so much of a hash of things by blaming - wrongly and despite "El Mundo" still basically adhering to the notion - ETA for the atrocity and thus losing an unlosable election because the public knew that the PP was playing games. In many respects, Spain could have counted itself fortunate. Not for people being murdered by terrorists, but for the fact that Rajoy would otherwise have got in; it still beats me how he managed to hang on for as long as he did and won third time lucky in 2011.

In 2004 my interest in Spanish politics was far lower than it now is. So much so that I paid absolutely no attention to Zapatero and to the extent that, when I switched the TV on to see the moment when it became obvious that he had won, I saw for the first time the man who would be president (prime minister). I am not unique in having thought this I do understand, but there on the television was El Presidente Mister Bean. It was the very first thought that came to me. This white-tailed deer of a politico was rather endearing, having been also a white-bobbed rabbit caught in the headlights of media attention and looking totally bewildered in a Rowan Atkinson alter ego fashion when confronted by everyday obstacles such as knowing how to switch a light on. At least he didn't line up and wait for the King and put a finger through his flies. 

Yes, I liked Zapatero. A decent man, one whose legacy was that of social liberalisation. He deserves praise for that. He was caught on the horns of a dilemma brought about by crisis he had denied. But he was not dishonourable. Will I read "El Dilema"? That's the dilemma. Tedium in English is bad enough. In a different language it is very much worse. Santa, Strauss please.

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