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Will the Real Clowns Please Stand Up?

Contributed by Don Quijones, a freelance writer and translator based in Barcelona, Spain. His blog, Raging Bull-Shit, is a modest attempt to challenge some of the wishful thinking and scrub away the lathers of soft soap peddled by our political and business leaders and their loyal mainstream media.

As I pointed out in my recent post The Italian Genie Is Out of the Bottle, the European mainstream media has rounded on Beppe Grillo, painting the Italian comedian and political activist who founded the ascendant 5-Star political party as a populist clown.

Yet with one European government after another reeling from myriad self-inflicted crises, and the whole euro debacle fast descending into a tragi-comic farce of Shakespearean proportions, one can’t help but wonder who the real clowns are – especially here in Spain, whose government ministers’ only talent seems to be to gorge themselves on the public purse, while leaving behind a trail of evidence so obvious that even the mainstream media can’t ignore it.

No one epitomizes all that’s wrong in Spanish politics better than Luis Bárcenas, the man at the center of the recent corruption scandal implicating pretty much all of the Spanish government’s senior rank and file. While serving as the Popular Party’s treasurer, not only did he run an extensive kick-back racket but he also kept detailed records of all the under-the-table (i.e. illegal) bribes given by corporate entities to the party – a basic error that even the most inexperienced two-bit gangster would know to avoid.

In 2009, when the police launched the Caso Gurtel, his scribbled notes would become prima facie evidence against both himself and the party he represented. (For more background info, read this)

With the close collaboration of Swiss authorities, Spanish investigators were able to track down some 22 million euros held in Swiss bank accounts under Bárcenas’ name. Even for a generously remunerated senior party member (annual salary: 250 K), no amount of scrimping, saving and shrewd investing could possibly explain away such a princely fortune.

During the preliminary hearings to Bárcenas’ case, events took an even more ridiculous turn. When asked to confirm whether or not he was the owner of the 22 million euros in question, Bárcenas actually corrected the judge, telling him that the figure was closer to 39 million euros, thereby further incriminating both himself and the Popular Party.

But Bárcenas is not alone in his bumbling ways. Indeed, the head of Spain’s government, Mariano Rajoy has shown himself equally adept at putting his size-18 foot in it.

On taking office following his landslide victory, it quickly became apparent that Rajoy was completely out of his depth and in no fit shape for political leadership.

A case in point: in April 2012, following important deliberations in congress on the country’s economic state, Rajoy was ambushed by a coterie of journalists. At first, it looked as though he would address some of the questions, as one would only expect of the leader of a country caught in the grip of economic depression. But all of a sudden he hesitated and scurried away like a rat from a broom, with his aide in tow, leaving the journalists to wonder just what in dog’s name had just happened.

To make matter even worse, Rajoy suddenly paused mid-stride, and with the cameras still rolling, turned to consult his aide – presumably to ask him “que hago ahora?” (what should I do now?). To which his aide probably answered “just keep walking, boss. And whatever you do, don’t look back.”

To Spain’s undying shame, Rajoy’s eyebrow-raising antics are not merely confined to the domestic scene. During a recent state visit to Berlin, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Angela Merkel, he fielded a question from a journalist about the multiplying corruption charges facing his party. Needless to say, his reply managed to bewilder all those present, not to mention all the millions of global citizens who read about it the following day:

“I repeat what I said Saturday: everything that has been said about me and my colleagues in the party is untrue, except for some things that have been published by some media outlets.”

Even Frau Merkel’s usual iron-clad sang-froid exterior seemed to buckle for a moment.

Hubris, Graft and Incompetence

The Austrian-born American management consultant, educator and author Peter Drucker once wrote that management is “doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” By which token, one can safely conclude that here in Spain, neither managers or leaders are in charge. What we have instead is a fraternity of hopelessly inept, shamelessly hubristic criminals.

Just when the Spanish people were most in need of strong, effective leadership, they were cursed with the most inept and corrupt government since Franco. And with Rajoy’s administration deeply absorbed in damage-limitation mode as more and more skeletons emerge from the closet, one can only wonder how much more the people will take.

The Spanish media may blithely mock the figure of Beppe Grillo, but at least Italy has a professional clown and comedian (not to mention, economics graduate) who actually seems to care about his country’s future, and who appears intent on trying to change the corrupt edifice of Italian politics.

Which is more than can be said for any of Spain’s careerist politicians. Indeed, even if a Grillo-like figure were to emerge here, it would be all but impossible for him or her to repeat Grillo’s phoenix-like rise, especially given the country’s first-past-the-post voting system.

And with the governing party determined to hold onto power at whatever cost, the people are left with little choice but to take to the streets en masse, which is precisely what will happen once the last lingering chills of winter pass. Contributed by Don Quijones, of

Also by Don Quijones: The Reality Of Doing Business In Spain: A Personal Account

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