Spain through the looking glass

Archive for the ‘evictions’ Category

Spain’s walking dead

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From time to time I find myself thinking about the television show The Walking Dead and why I haven’t managed to stop watching it yet.

For those of you who have been lucky enough to miss the series, The Walking Dead is a post-apocalyptic zombie horror show set in the American south. Based on comic books, it centres on a group of people who have miraculously avoided catching a disease which has turned most humans on the planet into zombies, or ‘walkers’ as they are called in the series.

Photo: Franco Folini

It’s an irresistible premise: for me at least. As a child of the eighties, I grew up in the shadow of The Bomb (remember that?) and I was reared on a steady diet of post-nuclear holocaust disaster literature. The most brilliant of these stories was — and remains — Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, a novel about humanity 2,000 years post-Armageddon.

Before I was ready for Hoban, though, there was the early 50s novel The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham about the colonisation of earth by deadly plants. In Wyndham’s world, nearly everyone has been blinded by a spectacular but retina-burning meteorite shower. In the first scene of the novel, our hero wakes up in a hospital the morning after the celestial show which he was unable to watch because his eyes were bandaged. When he tries to summon a nurse or a doctor, no one comes. He soon discovers he has, in fact, been saved from blindness on two counts.

The Walking Dead borrows a lot from The Day of the Triffids; the first-ever episode even rephrased the opening scene of the Wyndham novel with the main character sheriff Rick Grimes waking alone in a hospital. This is not the only parallel between the two shows. Both, for example, have their own-eyed man who “is king in the land of the blind”. In John Wyndham’s novel, this situation is metaphorical. In The Walking Dead — an almost intolerably literal show — we have the character of the governor whose eye was removed in an act of revenge.

The television show and the 50s novel share one other key element. They are both almost quite dreadful, and I don’t mean in the horror sense.

Looking back at The Day of The Triffids now, I see that the writing is appalling clunky. In The Waking Dead, there are moments of technical brilliance—the zombies themselves are spectacular — but the show is generally awful. The acting is tolerable at best. The action is glacial in its progression, and the sets seem amazingly rickety for such a high profile show. So why do I keep watching?

Photo: James Fischer

Part of the answer is habit of course. And some of the fascination has to do with me wanting to see when the zombies are next going to turn some innocent victim into a gruesome mass of exposed tendons. But I also think there is some deeper subtext. I think The Walking Dead is popular because it serves as a useful metaphor for the current economic crisis.

The television show deals with a group of people who have lived through a Lehman Brothers-style cataclysmic event and must somehow find new meaning in life while also processing the guilt they feel at having survived the worst of it all. Meanwhile, the vast mass of humanity refuses to conveniently disappear. The streets of the brave new world in The Walking Dead are populated by zombies or ‘walkers’. In the show, these ‘people’ lurch around in the search for their next fleshy meal emitting agonising groans from time to time. In Spain, you can see them sleeping in doorways, begging at the portals of supermarkets, or selling tissues to cars stopped at traffic lights. Some have found solace in drink and drugs. Others stay at home and out of sight.

Meanwhile, the one percent — those, like me, with work and food and a home —try not to have too much contact with the zombies so as to avoid contagion. We keep our heads down on the streets and in the office. We keep the target small and forget to say thank you for our good luck as often as we should.

The really pending question in The Walking Dead, and the one that has been hinted at in series three, is that of a possible cure. Are the zombies an unchangeable feature of the landscape in the future, or will some magic formula restore our loved ones to us? If this is the case, then it’s not going to be a simple process. Expect more bailouts to follow.

And Happy Easter everyone, especially to the good people of Cyprus.


Written by georgemills25

March 31, 2013 at 12:37

Solidarity starts at home

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A Spanish couple are taking solidarity with their crisis-hit compatriots to a whole new level.

The couple from Bilbao have decided to offer up a two-bedroom attic flat in the northern Spanish coastal town of Gijón for free to the homeless family that needs it most. They have set just two conditions: the arrangement is to last only one year and the people who take over the apartment must be able to demonstrate that they are homeless because of the crisis.

‘We could no longer turn a blind eye to what was happening with the mortgage foreclosures,’ the family explained to Spain’s 20 Minutos newspaper.

The family’s decision to give up the flat came after a lot of debate around the kitchen table about the evictions taking place in Spain. Eventually, they decided to place an advertisement in La Nueva España offering up the flat at no charge.

They are giving up the furnished apartment – which is mainly used for holidays and stands empty most of the year – for a maximum of one year, a move which is designed to set clear limits and make clear that this isn’t a lifetime arrangement.

‘We don’t have any secret motive,’ family member Isabel told the newspaper 20 Minutos. ‘It’s a simple gesture from one family to another.’

Isabel is a civil servant and lawyer, and her husband a top business executive. Isabel explained to 20 Minutos that they were lucky enough to find themselves in a good economic position.

The family have received 800 calls since they placed their advertisement. They are now working through a list of candidates and interviews will be conducted this weekend. Isabel said preference would be given to families with children and people with disabilities.

‘We are acting responsibility and will take as long as we need to find the right family,’ said Isabel.

An estimated 400,000 people have been made homeless because of mortgage foreclosures since the beginning of the crisis in Spain.

If you can think of any other ways to help Spain’s crisis-hit families, leave a comment below.

Written by georgemills25

November 28, 2012 at 09:24

Childhood poverty a growing concern

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ImageChildhood poverty in Spain shot up by 45 per cent during the first two years of the economic crisis, a new study shows.

The study carried out by the Observatorio Social de España and the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF) reveals that Spanish children were among the hardest hit in Europe during the early days of the economic crisis from 2007 to 2009.

The authors of The Impact of the Crisis on Families and Childhood report found that a staggering 26 per cent of Spanish households with children were in a precarious financial position in 2009. For households without children, this number was 15.4 per cent.

The authors of the new study which tries to gauge the impact of the crisis on five EU countries also discovered that the destruction of male employment was particularly dramatic in Spain when the crisis kicked in. With relatively few social benefits available to families with children, many women were forced to take on the mantle of the main breadwinner. As a result, from 2007 to 2009 Spain saw a 6 per cent fall in the number of households where the man was working and the woman wasn’t actively seeking employment.

At the same time, the country witnessed a 3.5 per cent rise in the number of households where the woman was in employment and the man was receiving benefits.

During a presentation of the study in Barcelona on Tuesday (timed to coincide with the United Nations’ Universal Day of Children), UPF sociology professor Sebastià Saras said the situation in Spain had been aggravated by policies that aided the middle class and left the poor out in the cold. Saras said the lack of government policies aimed at reducing childhood poverty meant many children were now going without proper meals while some kids –especially those of immigrants from outside the European Union – were struggling to access healthcare.

Also during this seminar, study coordinator Mónica Clua-Losada said reductions in subsidies for meals in school canteens had seen many children going home for lunch and then simply not coming back afterwards. The result was increased levels of fracaso escolar, or kids flunking out.

Meanwhile OSE director Vicenç Navarr said Spain’s social spending per child was the lowest of all the 15 core EU nations and Saras added that the situation had clearly gotten worse in the intervening years.

In similar news, the NGO Save the Children said on Tuesday that some 2,226,000 Spanish children, or 27.2 per cent of all kids in the country, were now living below the poverty line.

Save the Children spokesperson Yolanda Román said that while the government recognised the seriousness of the situation, they were to yet to take on board UN recommendations and implement specific and convincing measures to eradicate childhood poverty.

The NGO also pointed out that recent spending cuts on the part of Rajoy’s government were harming the rights of children and this could lead to social exclusion and affect everything from children’s health to their education.

Save the Children went on to note that 82 per cent of all recent cases of Spanish families being forcibly evicted from their homes had involved families with children.

This morning, the UNICEF president for Valencia Bienvenida Guerrero said in a press conference that Spain’s institutions needed to think long and hard about the effect of their decisions on children. Referring in part to evictions of families from their homes, Guerrero added that the authorities needed to think about how to reduce the negative effects of policy choices on this vulnerable group.

The UNICEF president for Valencia concluded by stressing that children also had a right to give their opinions and participate in civic life.

Written by georgemills25

November 21, 2012 at 15:35

Banks call time on evictions

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Update: November 15, The Spanish Government have brought in an urgent decree which will bring an end to force home evictions for the next two years and establish a fund for social housing.

Original story below:

Spain’s two peak banking associations have just announced a moratorium on home evictions for people in extreme need.

The announcements from the Spanish Banking Association (AEB ) and the Confederación Española Cajas de Ahorros (CECA) come in the wake of intense political pressure and increasing social anger towards Spain’s banking industry over the issue of the forced evictions of people no longer able to stump up for their mortgages.

Late last week, the banks sat down with Spain’s ruling Partido Popular and the socialist opposition PSOE party to hammer out an agreement on the king tide of evictions. But their hand was forced on Friday after it emerged that Amaia Egaña, a 53-year-old socialist council woman from near Bilbao had committed suicide after losing her home.

On the weekend, there were vigils over Spain as people vented their frustration over a situation which has become untenable.

On Saturday, two banks, Kutxabank and Caja Laboral, announced an immediate stop to evictions and earlier today the AEB, which represents all of Spain’s major banks, followed suit by calling a two-year stop on evictions in the case of extreme hardship.

The AEB stated their decision had been made for humanitarian reasons and was a sign of their politics of social responsibility.

The lenders group explained this decision had come after intense debate on the issue and reflected their wish to lessen the suffering caused by the economic crisis.

The banking body concluded their statement by saying it was now willing to further discus the future of the mortgage market with the government, the opposition and other political grouping in a bid to meet the housing needs of the Spanish people.

CECA, meanwhile, issued a brief statement several hours later saying it would suspend all evictions in particularly vulnerable cases. The umbrella body for Spain’s savings and loans institutions will now wait until new rules are finalised.

The evictions story made the homepage of the New York Times today with the paper carrying a devastating feature story on the families affected.

Written by georgemills25

November 12, 2012 at 15:11