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OPINION
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Working politicians

It has been some time since Europe has seen such general mediocrity in its political leaders, and such a show of moral cowardice and democratic deficit

Jorge M. Reverte

Primo de Rivera's 1923 coup d'état in Spain began seven years of erratic personal rule that had demolishing effects in different spheres of our country. Not the least of these, though often overlooked, was the junking of a whole generation of working politicians, leftovers from the Restoration, who knew how to negotiate. It can be said that this deprived Spain of a civilized right. The new leaders of the right were José María Gil-Robles, who only hesitantly believed in democracy, and José Calvo Sotelo, who unhesitatingly believed in exterminating the left.

Of the left's leaders, what to say? They were unskilled in the arts of negotiation. First came Francisco Largo Caballero, playing at revolution, and a few men of better sense, such as Julián Besteiro and Indalecio Prieto. In the center were men of intellectual stature, such as Manuel Azaña, but who were either short on pragmatism, or scared, such as Melquíades Álvarez.

After Franco's death in 1975, the Transition to democracy benefited from a generation of politicians capable of embarking on a hugely risky political and social undertaking, on whose positive outcome no one in his senses would have bet a nickel.

These men knew that a huge debt of updating was owed to the public and the country: Adolfo Suárez, the fixer of the extreme right's interests; Santiago Carrillo, representing the extreme left defeated in the Civil War; between them Felipe González and Jordi Pujol. Some knew exactly what they wanted and what was on the cards; others at least had sound intuition.

Statesmen do not grow on trees. Breeding grounds for opportunism produces bitter fruit

At that time, and since the 50s, Europe has seen a succession of men of vision: Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Paul-Henri Spaak, Willy Brandt, François Mitterrand, Sandro Pertini and others, who laid the groundwork for the European Union.

Now we can be satisfied: at last we are up to the standard of our neighbors. It has been some time since Europe has seen such general mediocrity in its political leaders, and such a show of moral cowardice and democratic deficit. Grandeur of vision has given way to discipline imposed by the strongest. Democratic institutions barely function, and national sovereignty is indecently supplanted (Monti in Italy, the constitutional amendment on deficit in Spain). There is a slovenly tolerance for severe deficiencies of democracy in Hungary (xenophobia, fascistic tone) and Latvia (some 40 percent of the Russian-speaking population hold a "stateless" passport).

Of the national parliaments little can be expected in favor of democratic rule in the EU, beginning with economic policy. Of the European Parliament, all we hear is that its members still enjoy a privileged pension plan, voted by themselves.

Statesmen do not grow on trees. Breeding grounds for opportunism produces bitter fruit. Hitler was the fruit of consternation in Germany, and of myopia there and abroad. Beppe Grillo, who now vies with Berlusconi in destroying Italy, is the fruit of the crippled tree of Italian politics.

In the face of all this, what? The only answer is more politics, but with broader vision. In Spain, more democracy: beginning with the parties, who are still unable to set aside their old sectarian, clientelist habits of the pork barrel. How can a working, credible democracy be built out of these materials? The Parliament is not the problem. The problem is who is in it, using the law to defend their privileges rather than dismantle them, ignoring the fact that the two revolutions that have given rise to the modern world, the French and the American, had this in common, the struggle against privilege.

The politicians capable of improving our lives can only emerge from the parties, which are the backbone of the system. They need not be the same old ones. They do need to be believers in democracy.

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