Late summer 2019: a government in Madrid falls because the two parties of the Left fail to agree a coalition – but then, no Spanish parties have ever managed to form a coalition at national level.
Meanwhile in Catalonia, those who support independence pursue a vision for their region that is irreconcilable with that held by the half of the Catalan population that want to remain part of Spain.
Political theorists hypothesise about why Spanish politics is ‘adversary’, ie exhibiting a sometimes bitter rift in values, in contrast to, say, the British ‘adversarial’ tradition in which differences tend to be part of an opportunistic competition for political advantage. It has long been said that Spaniards’ overwhelming loyalty to their home area diminishes their interest in national cohesion. Some suggest that absolute Catholic values are at play in the long contest between conservative and progressive forces, making compromise difficult.
Recalling mistranslations of ’compromise’ in language classes, I turn to the Oxford dictionary and find that the Spanish equivalent it offers is acuerdo, ‘agreement’, qualified by mutuo – surely a tautology (is an agreement ever not mutual?).
Acuerdo has been the appropriate term for the kind of formal, negotiated agreements that produced two outstanding examples of conflict resolution in Latin America: the 2016 Acuerdo Final para la Terminación del Conflicto y la Construcción de una Paz Estable y Duradera in Colombia, and the 1987 Acuerdo de Paz de Esquipulas that ended the Central America conflict. Did such formal agreements entail compromises, I wonder, or at that level of negotiation is it more a question of trade-offs – the acuerdo con concesiones recíprocas that the dictionary offers as the other translation of ‘compromise’?
On this side of the ocean we should not forget that recent Spanish history offers an example of one of the most unexpected and far-reaching political compromises ever achieved. I refer to the transition from dictatorship to democracy between 1975-78, which resulted not in an Acuerdo but in a Constitución. Much has been said about the debilitating effects of the pacto del olvido on which the Transition was based and the awful struggle to obtain information about, let alone justice for, victims of extrajudicial killings in the Civil War or under the dictatorship. But the Transition enabled ensuing generations to build, or rebuild, lives in a progressive democracy in a way that the preceding generation could hardly have dared to imagine.
Travel to Ávila on the autopista, passing the great cross of the Valle de los Caídos, and you can see in the cathedral cloister the tomb of the city’s favourite son and architect of that Transition, Adolfo Suárez. The inscription reads simply La concordia fue posible.
Concordia: a lyrical word imbued with associations of peace. Perhaps that is the type of ‘compromise’ now needed in Catalonia and Madrid. Let us choose to believe that the preterite fue does not indicate that the time for concordia has passed.
BAS editor Robin Wallis