Spain's lockdown is an act of solidarity
Updated: Mar 28
The government has declared a state of alarm for a social goal, including socio-economic measures to protect workers. Other EU countries will soon need to take note of the example being set by the continent's South.
by Ana Barrena Lertxundi in Bilbao
Spain, first week of quarantine done. Humor is still the main tune. People stuck in their homes are creating highly imaginative videos and everyone spends the day sharing them. If that is not enough, we share online yoga lessons or movies. We try to start conversations with the neighbors from window to window and peer at spontaneous concerts and bingo games on the balconies. But everybody knows: Yesterday we reached 1,042 deaths.
Our society is rapidly losing people over 65. This means we are losing the family members whose economic and moral support was elemental to getting us through the crisis of 2008. They are the people who some days ago mobilized big demonstrations in almost every Spanish city fighting for a socially just pension system; the ones who survived the Civil War and the Dictatorship and started campaigns against Franco’s immunity.
This being present in our consciousness, the act of staying home is also a demonstration of solidarity. Everyday life in Spain in the time of Coronavirus is itself a collective act of solidarity.
During the confinement, work and classes continue. Engagement with international and national news continues, and maybe increases. Different TV channels show special programmes about the Virus, with breaking news comparing different countries. We also get a lot of messages from friends abroad. Many of them are about the quarantine and they were sent because we were in quarantine - while other countries were not - or because we have spent already some days in quarantine.
I needed some time to answer because nothing about the Virus is clear. We’ve seen how young people without prior conditions have also died of Coronavirus. There is no scientific certainty about how long the confinement will continue. This is why I am writing these lines focusing on the reaction of the people and public powers in Spain.
According to Bloomberg’s ranking, Spain is the most efficient health system of the EU and the third most efficient in the World—Italy being the fourth.
Some people asked how Spain could have more deaths than Germany while the number of infections was the same, or very similar in both countries. Numbers are clarifiers but not enough to see reality in detail. The number of deaths increased in Spain so easily that we could define the country as a paradise for the current pandemic.
The reasons are mainly the following three. First, Spain is (after Japan) the country, in global comparison, with the second-highest number of people over 75 years old. Secondly, the agglomeration of people in cities and towns is large. Thirdly, the right-wing governments of recent years have decreased, by a large proportion, the budget of the public health system. Hospitals have lost a significant number of beds, and resources in general.
Focusing on questions linked with political debate, it seems we have reached a new dimension. Probably a more sincere description would be that national politics are in quarantine. Spain had been going through meaningful and historical changes since the beginning of the year: the first government of social-democrats and left parties since the 30s (one of the first leftist coalitions of the EU); a pending decision about recognising the Referendum of Independence in Catalonia; the approval of a new national budget, etc. It was difficult to imagine that in this context the Government’s decision to declare the State of Alarm would get the support of a very high number of citizens and the Parliament.
It would be myopic not to write about the reaction to the government's crisis-handling. "We are lucky to be living the Corona-Crisis with this government in charge" is a very often repeated sentence. The communication of the Ministers and in particular the experts in Epidemics and Pandemics of the Health Department are remarkably good, especially if compared with former right-wing governments. But those who were sent to the fronts of this war, the public health professionals, tell how unsustainable their situation is and how far away the improvements are.
What is the impact of the State of Alarm Declaration?
The state of alarm allows the Government to take unilateral control measures. It started with controls to implement confinement but it was followed by a list of socio-economic measures for which the Government has created a fund of €200 billion. Among them, the nationalization of private health centers; the protection of employees against losing work; flexibility for workers to stay home if they have children or people who depend on them; a moratorium on paying bills for basic supplies (water, gas and electricity); the suspension of mortgages and increased protection of consumers’ rights. The declarations of the Government lead also to more budget for tackling domestic violence—something very important as it is clear that aggressions against women increase when confinement is enforced.
While other countries have doubts about the implementation of heavy measures because of the impact on their economies, Spain has followed Italy in declaring a State of Alarm for a social goal. This time, the EU is being led from the South, with a project to deal with the virus without waiting for a mandate from other European countries. The so called Two-speed Europe needs to be redefined in Coronavirus times.
It is known that Coronavirus will lead to a financial crisis
The years after 2008 are remembered because of the reduction of sovereignty of the Southern countries of the European Union. The justification—as many justifications in politics more based in ideology than in science and reality—was the economical and political inefficiency of the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain … clear that the word is not a casual coincidence) to deal with a crisis.
Back to the routine of a Cornonavirus-ed world. China is being applauded for exporting crucial material, while EU leadership is nonexistent. Southern countries are taking measures that in a few weeks the rest of the bloc will take. Will the South be again a center of austerity experimentation in the coming financial crisis?
A week of uncertainty done, many weeks of uncertainty ahead. Meanwhile Solidarity, instead of Capitalism, marks the time in our homes. What is clear is that Coronavirus opens a door to change the geopolitical status quo.
Ana Barrena Lertxundi is filmmaker in abstracto abandonando un plateau existencial. Meanwhile law-student in Bilbao. Always feminist. This article was written for theleftberlin.com