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Spain and Germany

If Spanish liberals saw their political star in Britain in World War I, conservative Spain inclined toward Germany

Amid so many present misunderstandings, we might do well to look back at relations between Spain and Germany. A good starting point is the year 1520 when Charles, King of Castile, Aragon and Navarre, Duke of Burgundy and Archduke of Austria, is elected emperor of the Holy Roman German Empire. This is an unhappy first encounter, Charles' policy being as catastrophic for Spain as for Germany. The Spanish kingdoms receive a young man ignorant of their language and customs, surrounded by foreigners who proceed to plunder the land to finance the Burgundian policy with which Charles was identified all his life. In German eyes the elector princes, purchased by the banker Fugger, elect an emperor who, as well as spending little time in Germany did not even learn the language, imbued as he was with the Burgundian contempt for the Germans.

But the worst was that Charles was unable to address the Lutheran reforms with the compromises that might have avoided a conflict of such grave consequences, and not only for Germany. The Lutheran Germans came to hate the Spaniards as "half-Moors ignorant of Christianity" while the Catholic Germans called them "cruel and proud."

True, Charles became Hispanicized but, far from following a policy in line with peninsular interests, succumbed to the myth, already a thing of the past in an age when the modern states were emerging, of building a universal Christian empire - a thing to which even the papacy was averse.

By the end of the 18th century Spain's political and cultural decadence was such, that the young Lessing writes to his parents that he is going to learn Spanish, an "unknown" language that may serve him as an antidote against the cultural hegemony of French. With this intention, too, the German Enlightenment discovered Calderón.

A few Spaniards return to Germany in the mid-19th century, bringing back Krause, a second-rank philosopher, whose doctrine, however, was the seed of the greatest event in Spanish cultural life, the Institución Libre de Enseñanza (a modern institution of higher learning in Madrid, free of Church influence). Spain's most important 20th-century cultural figure, Ortega, studied in Germany.

Masses of Spaniards had emigrated to find jobs in Germany, where Germans learned they were hard-working and reliable

If Spanish liberals saw their political star in Britain in World War I, conservative Spain inclined toward Germany. This preference was soon strengthened with Hitler's aid to Franco. In the 1950s and 1960s Germany maintained good relations with Franco's Spain and, in the final years of the regime, loomed as a collaborator toward its transformation into a normal western democracy. Relations between Felipe González and Helmut Kohl were very close, Germany serving as a decisive mediator for our entry into the European Union. When the Berlin Wall came down, Spain was the first EU country to support German reunification.

Meanwhile masses of Spaniards had emigrated to find jobs in Germany, where Germans learned they were hard-working and reliable; and Germans visiting Spain learned how to enjoy life. Just when relations were going so well, the crisis came along, leading to the absurdity of our blaming Germany for our straitened circumstances.

Consider: 1. The terrible consequences should the euro disappear. 2. The German upper classes, deeply interested in the survival of the euro, now have to assume a hegemonic role in Europe: a prospect which, in the countries occupied in the war, even the elites view with suspicion, and the general population with outright repudiation. 3. Intra-EU solidarity will bear fruit only if there are prior instruments of EU economic control. No country would make the necessary sacrifices, if it could go on borrowing. But don't forget, it is still in our power to distribute the sacrifices more equitably by not just cutting social expenditure, but also by taxing the rich more.


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