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Spain’s Yearnings are Now Its Agony (The New York Times: Sunday Review)

ONE Spaniard recently put it this way: “We are being told to tighten our belts and drop our drawers at the same time.” Unemployment is higher in Spain than anywhere else in the euro zone, and the economy has been starved back into recession. Yet the very Spanish politicians who wax stern on the imperatives of austerity have virtually nothing to offer citizens to alleviate the pain. It is a script closer to Beckett than to Helmut Kohl.

Even as the euro zone lumbers away from the precipice of a continentwide recession, Spain is stuck in a fateful holding pattern. According to a European Commission forecast, Spain will be the only country among the currency union’s cast of 17 to remain in recession in 2013. The government’s plans to recapitalize Bankia, Spain’s fourth-largest bank, have reinforced concerns about a generalized banking crisis and costly bailouts. Spaniards, meanwhile, will have to endure the effects of $34 billion worth of cuts slated for the rest of the year.

All of this adds up to the inevitability of future hurt, and it is embittering Spaniards’ taste for the democracy they craved just a generation ago.

Spain’s fall from heady promise to Celtic gloom tells a story of democratic expectation gone sour. This tale is a profound blow to the European Union itself — a symbol of the continent’s shifting political prospects. Spain was not only one of the chief protagonists of 20th-century Europe, it also tilled the bloody soil from which the union later sprang. The Spanish Civil War was the staging ground for the defining existential drama of the century: a gory crucible of democracy, fascism and communism in conflict. Its fate entwined with Germany’s, Spain was at the center of Europe.

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