In collusion with her rulers and inhabitants, Spain has finally let herself be defiled by Europe.
Before 1986, many said that Spain did not pertain to Europe of her own doing, since neither her rulers nor her inhabitants deserved to belong.
I disagree. In spite of her deficiencies seen through European eyes, Spain has a spirit that is only her own. This spirit can be traced through history, and therefore time, with ease.
Where did the first resistance of Christianity to the onslaught of a foreign culture and religion take place? Before there was any notion of Europe as a political or cultural entity, Spain had already set the western frontiers of European Christianity. She established herself as the geographical and cultural bridge between Europe and North Africa and, though not alone, she was essential in allowing Christian civilization to flourish in what would become Europe as we know it. She then became an empire and ruled over lands stretching across three continents, two of which, North and South America, she discovered almost singlehandedly. During this time she was again pivotal in stopping a Muslim invasion of Europe. In historical terms, she recently underwent a fratricidal war resulting in half a million deaths, a struggle that was decisive in defending Christianity from atheism in the last century. Thus, it is undeniable that Spain has played an essential role in the genesis and destiny of Europe.
Europe has quickly forgotten the courage and purpose behind the conquest and unification of kingdoms that we now call Spain. After some 700 years of struggle, that and only that drew the line between Christian Europe and the Muslim onslaught. Five centuries later, few in Europe have thanked Spain for that feat.
In the late 15th century, powerful, but unassisted and disdained for her lack of riches and luxury and her defense of the Christian faith, Spain set out to discover. Her audacity culminated in the discovery of lands reaching from Chile to North America, where, among others, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and California attest to her determination. Let us not forget that “Santa María de Los Angeles” was founded by a missionary who left the hills of his native Extremadura into the unknown. Now, in fact, some 500 million people speak her language.
Ruling over Spain, Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands, parts of Italy and central Europe, and large areas in the Americas, Charles V halted the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe at Vienna in 1532, delivering a second setback on an attempt at conquest by Islam.
Then came the decline. As her empire crumbled, she lost heart. Europe abandoned any interest in her fate, turned its back on her and lurched into internecine wars that would cover the better part of three centuries. Exhausted, isolated and unappreciated, Spain found herself. She had suffered the brunt of a foreign religion and cultural invasion, found her undeniable identity, established an empire and lost it. But she had left her indeleble mark. For all that, she was repudiated by Europe as backwards, primitive, unenlightened and poor.
Four centuries after Vienna, half a million Spaniards died or disappeared in the most tragic civil war in the history of Western Europe. A precursor to the ideological struggle that marked the second half of the 20th century and is still with us today, the Spanish Civil War sent Spain reeling back in time. Her industry, inventiveness and bravery languished for many years due to the deep wounds inflicted on her soul.
But she recovered. After Franco’s death, Spain set out to heal the wounds, look only to the future and gain her self-respect once more at breakneck speed. In a mere thirty years, with the undeniable assistance of the European Union, she became the world’s 10th largest economy; another extraordinary accomplishment.
However, in doing so, she made the fatal decision to want to be what she was not. She wished to become a part of Europe. She had languished for centuries on the outskirts of European history and subsequent social and economic progress. The tremendous upheavals that were the two World Wars hardly affected her. Economically and politically, many in Europe literally considered her as an extension of North Africa, which now spread to the Pyrenees. So, she wished to break out of her isolation and be recognized again on the European stage.
Spain is naïve. She does not easily understand practical matters. This is not to say, however, that she is blind. In her eagerness to be recognized once more, she was aware that her desire to take part in the European Union would come at a price, a fact she accepted wholeheartedly. That price, however, was to become terrible. Terrible to such an extent, that it would be tantamount to tearing up her roots and walking among hyenas.
As did the other members of the EU, Spain surrendered her currency for the sake of the common market. As did the others, she also surrendered her sovereignty, but for no justifiable reason at all. She voluntarily gave up her economic, judicial, political and military independence, knowing that this meant she would no longer be in control of her destiny. However, even this was not to be the end of her self-inflicted woes. In her hurried flight away from her past, Spain took steps that can only be described as an attempt at the total annihilation of her spirit.
Traditionally, and in contrast to most of Europe, Spain is a Catholic country. This is true no matter how low attendance at Mass may be. Traditionally, and in contrast to nearly all of Europe, Spaniards would always rather spend their free time out in the street with friends and family than holed up in their homes. The time Spaniards spend in bars — talking, joking, eating, drinking, smoking and basically enjoying life is unparalleled anywhere in Europe. Spain invented “la siesta” and is the only country in Europe that closes businesses between approximately two and five in the afternoon. The manner in which Spaniards live a twenty-four hour day is unique. Lunch is at two or three in the afternoon, while dinner is at ten at night. Meals, whether at home or not, are a ritual aimed at mutual enjoyment of the company of others, attested to by “la sobremesa” — the time spent casually bathing in hearty conversation after a meal. Bedtime is seldom before midnight.
Now, Spain has the most permissive abortion law in Europe — maybe in the entire western hemisphere. Homosexual marriage is lawful. Divorces are extraordinarily common, egged on by lax legal requirements. Spain has turned her back on her culture and religion and thrown her lot in with Europe’s contemporary race to nowhere.
In a very different scenario from the brazen attack on the family and Judeo-Christian values mentioned above, at the beginning of this year an overwhelming majority of the Spanish parliament outlawed smoking in the 340,000 bars, cafes, cafeterias, restaurants and hotels in the country.
On the surface, it is undeniable that this is an assault on individual freedom of choice. The ensuing damage, however, is much more profound. One now watches sadly as Spain slowly metamorphosizes. In bars and restaurants, despondency and suppressed infuriation fill the air. The hardest hit are the old folk. Their lifelong pastime of a card game on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, or any afternoon for that matter, amidst cigarette smoke and the sweet scent of coffee and brandy, has been demolished overnight. The boisterous atmosphere in bars, so unique to the Spanish way of life, is rapidly disappearing. They no longer overflow with soccer fans watching the weekend game. Bars, cafes, cafeterias and restaurants are quieter; melancholy even — as though there were a sudden realization that a part of life has been swept away, never to return.
Thus, Spain now plods ahead day by day in a stupor, unrecognizable even to her own. Her rulers and her people continue to look only ahead like horses with blinders, unwilling to admit that under their care, Spain — now bereft of many of her religious and cultural traditions, has been trampled upon by her own doing.