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The Concerns of Spaniards

by Isidre Ambrós

Spain is a country where one of the favourite hobbies of the people is to impress. To impress means to show your neighbour, friend, family, that you are more than he/she is, that you have more than he/she has. This is what could be called the national sport.

With regard to the concerns of Spaniards, this tendency towards appearances is also evident. Opinion polls taken by the Government's Sociological Research Centre (SRC), like the private opinion organisations, paint a picture of public sensitivity that in some cases is real, but at other times not.


So, in theory, Spaniards belong to a society that is particularly concerned about terrorism. All the studies put this problem as the most pressing one. For one out of every two Spaniards it is the main one. However, if you walk down the street or you have a coffee in a café, the conversations you can hear around you are not about fear caused by a terrorist attack, whether from Muslim extremists or from the Basque ETA organisation. Why, then, do they say this? Very possibly because another characteristic of Spaniards is to be seen to be important. So, if anyone comes up to them with a questionnaire with a lot of questions, they can look concerned and they will undoubtedly say "terrorism" because it is necessary to be serious, responsible and to put the problems of society in general before one's own.

The concern about terrorism never ceases to be real, although a decreasing tendency is found in all opinion studies. Spain is a country that has suffered for many years from terrorist attacks, by ETA and GRAPO, another terrorist organisation that the security forces finally dismantled. Then, in March 2004, the Muslim extremist attack in Madrid took place, and Spaniards became aware of the possibility that they might be the target of Muslim terrorist anger. Later, those accused of being Muslim terrorists, who were preparing other attacks, were arrested in various parts of Spain. But, in general, in everyday conversations, café chats, talk is usually about the economy; particularly, the increase in the cost of living (the subject that is of most concern to 40% of Spaniards) and the difficulties they have to get by until the end of the month.

But this situation is in contrast with appearances: one must show that "the crisis only affects others, not me". Spaniards complain that their salaries do not last until the end of the month. Almost fifty per cent of Spaniards think the economic situation is bad or very bad, compared to thirty-two per cent who think it is good or very good. However, restaurants are full. Traffic is heavy on the motorways at weekends, because a large number of Spaniards like to spend the weekend away from home and leave their town or city, despite the constant rise in the price of petrol. Perhaps the reason for this situation was explained by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Pedro Solbes, who said "Spaniards have not yet got the hang of the Euro", referring to the generous tips they usually leave in cafés or when they pay for a taxi.

The other major problem of concern to Spaniards is buying a house, which is increasingly difficult because of the increase in house prices. Here, Spaniards no longer try to show off. 44 per cent of Spanish citizens think that it is the main problem affecting Spain. In this case, the situation is perhaps exaggerated because, historically, Spanish society has been characterised by people owning their own homes and not renting a house or flat. Over 80 per cent of families live in a home that they own, although the average period for mortgage payment in Spain is currently around 25 years.

Concern about buying a house is a particularly serious matter in the case of young people, who face a twofold problem. On one hand, it is not easy to get into the job market, find a job and earn a sufficiently respectable salary to be able to leave their parents' home and rent a house or flat. The current trend is for young people to share a flat, as the only way to leave home.

Unemployment is, specifically, one subject that four out of every ten Spaniards consider to be the main problem in Spain. This opinion is shared, in particular, by people over 50 years of age who are unemployed, and young people, who have great difficulty in finding a job. Spain is one of the countries of the European Union with the highest long-term unemployment rate for those over 45-50 years of age. The same goes for young people looking for their first job. It is also the country with the highest percentage of part-time work contracts.

Recently, Spaniards have added other concerns to these. There is the matter of immigration that now worries a third of the population, and a feeling of lack of public safety, that also concerns a third of Spaniards. This connection is usually logical, because the people who are concerned about the massive influx of immigrants are those who are afraid that they will commit crimes.

The growing disquiet about immigration in Spain stems from the waves of open boats coming from Morocco and Mauritania that have recently arrived on Spanish shores. The pictures of pregnant women about to give birth; babies or children in a very poor state of health, not to mention the dead bodies that are thrown up by the sea, have begun to strike at public awareness. This is all to the good, in the sense that they must be helped to integrate into society and learn to live with people of a different race. But it also has its downside, because of those people who see immigrants as a focus of crime and problems.

On the other hand, other matters of strong social impact, such as education and health, are of little concern to Spaniards. The number of Spaniards who consider the education of future generations or the health system as the main problem that the Spanish Government must face and solve is less than 20 %.

Isidre Ambrós
Isidre Ambrós is correspondent of La Vanguardia in Germany.
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Original in Spanish

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