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The challenges faced by Spain: from the economic downfall to Russian interference

Madrid politicians are in a bad mood these days. Paella with oysters accompanied by sangria and flamenco are no longer able to cheer their hearts as before, with too many troubles became the source of their anxiety. By all means, solving problems one by one is much easier than dealing with several complex problems at once. Faced with a number of serious challenges at the same time, official Madrid risks falling into a significant political turbulence. The sky over Spain is no longer cloudless.


The Kingdom of Spain became one of the few EU states to survive the hardest times following the global economic crisis of 2008. The country has emerged from the acute recession for the longest, and its negative impact on the national economy persists. Spanish governments were incapable of ensuring economic recovery and stimulating its development, and, consequently, the recession turned into gradual stagnation.


In the spring 2020, the sad enough state of the Spanish economy was aggravated by quarantine measures as a result of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic. As you know, in the fall of this year, the whole of Europe suffered a second wave of coronavirus, which, in turn, led to the beginning of a new lockdown (a state of emergency was introduced in Spain on October 25 for 15 days for the second time since the spring). Generally, the Spanish economy suffers more or less destructive restrictions for almost a year. Sure enough, they affect half of the world, not just Spain. However, the main revenues to the state budget in Spain derive from the tourism industry (1.3 million employed and 15% of GDP), which has now suffered a devastating blow. Taking into account also the fact that the country has not yet overcome the consequences of the global crisis of 2008, the situation in the Spanish economy is bordering on critical.

Today, some Spanish economists compare the state of the national economy with 1936, when a civil war broke out. Moreover, world rating agencies do not rule out default in Spain in 2021. Sure enough, as EU member, Spain will not be left alone with its problems – Brussels will certainly provide some financial aid, various grants and subsidies from EU funds, possibly even the resources of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund will be used. However, Madrid politicians and officials are awaiting next year with anxious. They are aware that not half of them will be able to hold on their prestigious and cushy positions.


The ongoing economic stagnation in the country could be perceived more easily if the state had not been shaken in the destructive struggle for the above-mentioned positions over the past few years. The country suffered from political instability for more than a year, due to the inability of parliamentarians to form a government. This year in January a government left-wing coalition (of the Socialists and the far left Podemos party), and, accordingly, a government were finally formed. The latter, due to its populist nature, adopted a number of decisions that caused a rapid increase in foreign debt and the devastation of the state treasury only.


Those who check out international news remember a series of journalistic investigations into the involvement of Spanish King Juan Carlos I in various forms of corruption (information about the extremely valuable hunting trips of the August personage became especially popular). Juan Carlos I was unable to deny his involvement in corruption schemes and, in order to prevent further scandal involving the ruling dynasty, he abdicated the throne in 2014 in favour of his son Philip VI. After this non-trivial event in Spain, the discussion about the expediency of putting an end to existing monarchical system and the proclamation of the republic throve.

It is worth stressing that throughout his reign (1975-2014) Juan Carlos I did not play any significant role in the political life of the country (except for the only case of 1981, when he showed an active position when successfully opposed the coup attempt staged by the military). Mostly, the king was perceived as a symbol of national unity and a guarantor of democratic freedoms (for example, despite the fierce opposition of the Catholic Church, it was the king who finally approved in 2005 the legalization of same-sex marriages in the country). Today, the majority of the population expects Philip VI to play a largely ceremonial role like his father. At the same time, formally, the Spanish king has a wide range of powers – he is the head of the executive, the guarantor of the Constitution, has the right to dissolve parliament and call new elections, and, theoretically, can oppose government policy and contest it. In view of this, discussions arose among Spanish politics about the best possible state system, about the obsolescence, and even the hideousness of the monarchical system, etc.

Thus, one minority (right-wing conservative) fiercely defends the monarchy, the other (far-left) strongly advocates the immediate implementation of a republican system into the state. The majority of the Spanish nationals passively approves the existing monarchical system. In any case, after a boom six years ago, discussions on this topic have not stopped yet and no one knows for sure where they will lead Spain tomorrow.


We must clarify that this passive majority does not seek to abolish the monarchy as soon as possible, and that is more due to their fair of accelerated separatist tendencies caused by the proclamation of a republic than because of their passion for Philip VI.

Let us say, in ancient times (mid-ninth to mid-twelfth centuries) Spanish kings controlled the territory of modern Portugal, however, after 300 years of vassal dependence on the Kingdom of Spain, it succeeded to proclaim an independent state. In the 21st century, at least 7 of the 17 autonomous communities of the Kingdom of Spain may before long separate from ancient Castile by the same token: Galicia, the Basque Country, Valencia, Navarre, Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands.

After all, Catalonia has already taken decisive steps to that end! In 2009-2010, unofficial referendums were held on the proclamation of an independent Catalonia. In 2013, the Parliament of Catalonia adopted a declaration of sovereignty, and in 2015 it adopted a resolution on secession from Spain. On October 1, 2017, despite opposition from Madrid, a formal referendum was held on the independence of the region, as a result of which more than 90% of Catalans who took part in it (with 43% turnout) voted to leave the Kingdom of Spain. On October 27, 2017, President of the Generalitat de Catalunya Carles Puigdemont, based on the results of the referendum, declared independence from Spain and the proclaimed the Republic of Catalonia.

Russian interference

Although relations between Madrid and Barcelona have been difficult over the past decade, the central authorities have more or less succeed in maintaining a dialogue with Catalan independentists. However, not only Madrid politicians, but also the leaders of far off Russia are preoccupied by the issue of Spain’s territorial integrity.

Moscow with its controllable Eurasian Economic Union (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia) are unable to compete fairly with the European Union in economic development, technology, innovation, and through full respect for human rights and freedoms. Russia and its closest partner states may be characterised by a raw material economic model, corruption, growing authoritarian tendencies, extremely low living standards, and a lack of basic democratic freedoms. Being aware of its weakness, Moscow seeks to achieve dominance on the European continent by destroying within the EU the basic capital of the modern era – trust. Wherever possible, the Kremlin is trying to raise doubts, undermine trust, bring chaos and cause general angst. To this end, Russia generously finances any radical political parties and movements within the EU, regardless of whether right or left, the main thing is their tangible destructive potential. That is why Moscow supported Brexit, the “yellow vest” movement in France and the struggle for independence in Catalonia underhand. Even if we are deeply convinced of the full historical legitimacy of the Catalan independence movement, it cannot be assessed other than Russia’s direct and flagrant interference in Spain’s internal affairs.

According to Spanish investigators, Russian Kremlin confidants offered Carles Puigdemont in October 2017 to provide him with 10,000 militants and repay the external debts of the Catalan region, which, according to estimates of different economists, ranged from €77 to €300 billion. Moscow proposed to create a special cryptocurrency platform, through which Catalonia might achieve complete financial independence.

At the same time, Russia’s multilingual RT channel and the Sputnik news agency (both funded by the Russian government) have been tasked with “bombarding” EU countries with news about Catalan affairs presented in a favourable for Kremlin light.

These media outlets allowed themselves to easily distort the facts and manipulate information in order to exacerbate the contradictions between Madrid and Barcelona. At the same time servers which supported activity of the newly created sites devoted to Catalonia independence movement were located in the Russian Federation. In addition, Russian bot networks have widely disseminated and promoted pro-Catalan rhetoric on social media. For example, a call on the Internet to support Barcelona’s political course was quickly supported by tens of thousands of retweets made by Russian bot accounts.

Sure enough, the point is not that the Kremlin has strong sympathies for Catalonia’s independence, but that this scenario will deepen the polarisation among the people, sow chaos and turmoil, and ultimately weaken the Spanish state, and indirectly the EU. In addition, in return for the official recognition of Catalonia’s independence, Moscow envoys demanded that Barcelona politicians officially recognize the territorial affiliation of the Crimean peninsula to Russia.

According to Spanish investigators, Carles Puigdemont allegedly refused the offer of “Russian friends” literally at the last moment. Probably, his high moral qualities manifested, or possibly great care, who knows?

Hence, supposedly the Kingdom of Spain will be able to stay within its current borders, or it will become extremely decentralized federation, or Catalonia and other regions will gain full independence from Madrid. In fact, it is important that peace, harmony and the efficient development of local economies prevail throughout the Iberian Peninsula. By all means, this will be much easier to achieve by taking measures to protect against the outside influences of hostile countries that overtly oppose themselves to Western Euro-Atlantic civilization. Well, yet today, tasting squid and octopus accompanied by sherry and fandango rhythms will not bring comfort and satisfaction to extremely concerned Madrid politicians.

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