Crisis and music in Spain: comments on an interview and a concert on Europe’s Music Day

In an interview with Radio Nacional de España (RNE) Radio Clásica a few minutes ago, Ana Guijarro, Director of the Royal Conservatory of Music of Madrid, has deplored the impact of the crisis on the institutions that she manages, which she has qualified of “very serious”.

In addition to describing the critical situation of the Conservatory’s assistant professors, who are not going to be paid for the summer months, she also criticised the fact that the education provided by her institution does not have the adequate recognition and validation.

Mrs Guijarro has criticised the imbalance between the amount of academic demand and pressure placed in her institution, that is required to carry out an important amount of research, and the reduced means at its disposal.

The pianist has made an “appeal to the authorities” for them to bear in mind the consequences of the cuts not only in her institution but also in the Spanish cultural sphere as a whole.

A few moments later, the same radio channel broadcasts live from the opening of the 63rd edition of Granada’s International Festival of Music. During a conversation with the main organiser of the event, we learn that the budget for the festival has been reduced by 30% this year … .

Listening to Wagner’s overture of Tannhäuser in this longest day of a sad year for Spain and many European countries, I am moved at the thought that the melancholy of the music might be bringing new meaning to many Spaniards traumatised by the economic crisis and budgetary cuts. A romantic German resounding in the setting of the Nazari palaces of Granada – long live Europe, long live peace and brotherhood among peoples, made tangible through the universality of music.

NB: Apparently, according to another interview in the same radio channel this morning, at the moment Wagner music recordings are those most sought after in Spain, after those of Beethoven … .


Increase in violence on children in Spain over the year 2012

Apparently, violence on children (child abuse) has increased by 13.6% in Spain over the course of last year. Not a surprise, is it?

A taster of racist feeling in the UK – comments to a “survey” about the “worst uk cities and towns to live”

I haven’t investigated the organisation publishing this information, but, by the content of the comments appearing on its website, it seems that the survey has been titled in such a way that it has attracted racist comments like a magnet.

It seems like the crisis is hitting hard everywhere in Europe, including in the “liberal” UK – did you guess who the skapegoat is? Over and over again: the other.

Poverty in Europe – contributions on what it is like to be poor in the UK, in response to BBC article on living for less than GBP 1/day.

There are also extremely interesting contributions among the comments to that blog post – cf. for instance the points made about transport, about precarious work, about the practicalities of living on benefits that make it so difficult and at times so inhuman; or about being disabled and/or poor and confronted with the scorching ignorance of those who have never known (and likely never will) the horrendous effects of poverty, and who, on top of that, have  the “potestas”, the power to decide  to help or not … as written in particular by “angryoldwoman”, quoted below:

“(…) [Wealthy people] need to think more along the lines of ‘what would happen to me if I lost my job/inheritance/massive pension, and my family were not able to rally round? How would I keep my big comfortable house? My car, my kids in private schools, my pets? How long before my house was repossessed? How long do I have to live on nothing before I can register as unemployed?’ Wealthy people forget that their wealth may have cushioned them forever from the raw nastiness of life, by buying them insurance policies (which premiums poor people cannot afford), pension plans etc, so that whatever happens they will never be in the real shit with the rest of us. ‘You wanna live like common people? You wanna do whatever common people do? You’ll never live like common people, you’ll never watch your life slide out of view’. You only have to have a mistake on your payslip as I have on several occasions, once with a big £0.00 as my total for the month, and watch the incomprehension on your boss’s face when you insist that you can’t wait for it to be added on to next month’s pay, and the horrible feeling of humiliation when they end up writing you a cheque from their own account to sub you – yeah they can afford to pay you your whole month’s wages out of their own pocket. Do I sound bitter? I am a bit. I’m sick of hearing about these smug rich idiots ‘proving’ how easy it is to be poor, while at the same time other people are actually dying, committing suicide because they can’t see any way of existing any more. Try being disabled for a month on NO benefits because some heartless jobsworth has decided you should be working because you can reach up to shoulder height with one arm, but you live in Bristol where thousands of people applied for a shop job in Tesco, who, equal opps notwithstanding, are not about to hire someone in a wheelchair who can only use one arm when they’ve got 4,300 other applicants who are perfectly able. I’m ranting I’m ranting…but I’m so angry and so sad. (ps I do have a job and don’t live in Bristol – I’m just using that as an example).”

Or like “Trialia”‘s:

“(…) My little sister was living on squash, pasta and multivitamins for 3 months while her local council delayed sorting out her Housing Benefit and her landlord insisted on taking nearly all of her Income Support while they did. She was lodging in a room above his home. He ate rich, regular meals and let the smells drift up to her, knowing she could barely afford anything to eat. The only reason the poor kid didn’t end up in hospital was those multivitamins & our stepmother getting a friend to drive us the 200 miles to see her & give her bags of stew & potato stepmum had frozen for her. She had less than a pound a day to live on. Without family support I’m pretty certain she’d have starved – she was bloated with hunger when I saw her there. She’s better now – living elsewhere & on ESA – but she still struggles. I don’t know how she’ll cope with this digital-default system – she can’t afford home internet and she’s agoraphobic.

As for myself, I live on ESA (support group) & DLA (low care/high mobility) – and I’m under-nourished in spite of people believing people “on the sick” receive a fortune. Among my other health problems, of which there are many, I have irritable bowel syndrome and iron-deficiency anaemia, the latter of which makes me liable to fainting, among other symptoms – which is also what happens if I don’t keep the levels of salt & sugar in my blood at a constant: low blood pressure & other problems from my orthostatic dysfunction, and symptomatic hypoglycaemia. I have to be very careful about what I eat, when, & THAT I eat. That’s not easy to do on benefits.

I’m exhausted by having to fight for every scrap I am grudgingly given, despite the fact I’ve done NOTHING wrong – except, apparently, be born poor & develop a degenerative chronic illness. Oh, and I also have to pay extra in electricity to keep my wheelchair charged up – as I live alone I have to go out sometimes. Despite all the verbal & physical abuse from strangers that leaves me afraid to do so.

This political establishment – and their media puppets – have no idea what they’re really doing, to real people. This NEEDS to STOP.”

EU cohesion policy: Commission 2013 strategic report – news

Interesting to note that among the participants in European Social Fund funded programmes from 2007 to 2010 (“some 12.5 million people took part in actions supporting access to employment and 2.4 million went on to find work within six months” according to the EC), 52% were women, and in some countries (“four”), women accounted for even more than 60% of those taking part in such programmes … .

Why are there more women, in the EU, unemployed and taking part in ESF-funded programmes, than men? Is there maybe something to revise about our assumption that we Europeans are champions in Human Rights and in gender equality in particular?

FT: “Zero hours contracts numbers leap” – how about the EU’s decent work promotion?

On 8 April 2013 FT warned of the sharp increase in “zero hours” contracts in the UK (front page and p.3). These contracts, where the worker works only when there is a specific demand, and has therefore no stable salary, no contribution to benefits, and no redundancy pay, in addition to no clue about when he/she will be working next, used to be the privilege of unskilled workers.

They are now increasingly affecting “white-collar professionals including hospital doctors, lecturers and journalists”.

Apparently, the “total number of employees on zero hours contracts rose by 25% over the course of 2012 and by more than 150 % since the autumn of 2005, according to the British Labour Force survey, as employers embrace the ultimate flexible contract”. (Bold is mine)

It seems that the crisis is pushing employers to extremes, but the social effects of this reality should concern us all. This is leading to a “war over decent jobs” that is generating increased social inequality and frustration.

It is now not enough to be qualified, one will have to use all sorts of tactics (contacts, accepting unpaid work – “voluntary work” or unpaid internships) in order to secure an interesting job, let alone one with decent working conditions (offering stability, a fair retribution, contributions to – increasigly reduced – social services including health and unemployment help) … . This, of course, will be the privilege of the already privileged – or who could otherwise afford to work for 6 months or more without remuneration in order to secure a first job, a transition from unemployment to a different sector of activity or to recycle oneself after, say, a long maternity break?

Since 2006 the European Commission has compromised to several steps to promote social justice and decent work both within the EU and in its development cooperation with third countries, in cooperation with the ILO, as recently stated:—dgreports/—exrel/documents/genericdocument/wcms_195510.pdf .

It seems that we definitely need those policies urgently in Europe, and certainly in the UK. Another question is whether EU Member States will allow for these policies to be prioritary. In the light of the recent debate over the European Social Fund coming budget, it seems that unfortunately promoting social justice within the EU itself is not a priority for the EU Council. We will have to assume the consequences of this (cf post of 16 April 2013 re recent data over social situation in the EU).