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 … .


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).

EU Business’: about anti-German feeling growth – and Germany’s reaction to it

This article only confirms the fears about growing political radicalisation and anti-Europe feeling (and/or anti-other EU countries) among EU Member States’ populations.

But I think El Pais was definitely wrong about equating current Germany to Hitler’s. Another, maybe paradoxical, parallelism is in my view increasingly more likely to be drawn between on the one hand the conditions of humiliation, economic despair and hopelessness that the populations of Southern European countries are currently facing as a result of the conditions imposed for the financial help they receive; and, on the other, those to which the post-WWI Germany was subject by the winning allies and international community through the different peace treaties that imposed the famous “reparations”. The paradox would be that in this case, it would be Germany who would be fostering a catastrophic socio-economic situation in Southern Europe, through its leading position in favour of economic austerity.

The psychological impact that the crisis is having on the populations of the countries most affected by it, including an increase in the suicides rate, is being translated into the political arena by mistrust in the traditional political system, and by a radicalisation of political ideas.

The combination “economic oppression imposed from the outside”, led, in the case of the post WWI-Germany, to the consequences we all know. Even if  the circumstances of the post-1919 Germany and of current Southern Europe are of course different, there seem to be enough fundamental similarities (poverty, despair, external intervention in national economic affairs) to create in my view a fundamental alarm about the political situation in Europe for the coming years.

The same moral, and, especially, “punitive” dimension that the post WWI treaties had towards Germany seems to arise from some of the comments made by members of the German government, about the conditions they are imposing in exchange for the financial help to Southern European countries. This is only likely to further stir a visceral reaction from the populations of the countries affected, and, most of all, a feeling of injustice.

When people feel (and indeed are) engulfed in a tunnel from which there is no visible end (in Spain, economic recovery was recently forecast to no sooner than 2018), they feel they have nothing to lose. It is then easy to be lured by nationalist and even xenophobic discourses, especially if those discourses touch on the much hurt collective self-pride and on the feeling of injustice and indignation.

A scapegoat  needs then only be created, as a victim to be immolated to create a sense of restoration of a “fair order”, or to give sense to the absurd harshness of the lives of too many Europeans these days.

Can we afford to continue to wait and see if that victim is designated?