AUTHORAustin Cleary Austin Cleary is a student in the McDonough School of Business double majoring in International Business and Finance currently studying at ESADE Business school in Barcelona. Originally from the heart of New York City, Austin is interested in the...
October 3, 2012
October 25, 2012
The Junior Year Abroad Network (JYAN) connects Georgetown students studying abroad in a variety of cultures. Students share reflections on religion, culture, politics, and society in their host countries, commenting on topics ranging from religious freedom and interfaith dialogue to secularization, globalization, democracy, and economics.
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A Lack of Faith in Government and the Church
October 25, 2012 | 2 COMMENTS
People in Spain, especially among the older generation, do not have the same sense of connection to the government as is in the US. In America, as cynical as we are, most Americans believe that the government is for the people, by the people, and on principle, represents the general will. Among the old in Barcelona who remember decades of Franco’s rule, the government is simply a source of oppression.
Spain, it should be reminded has a very short democratic tradition. Franco only passed away in 1977, and authoritarian rule was severely weakened by a terrorist attack against Franco’s chosen successor. There is not a clear connection between paying taxes and the services the government provides. When I was looking for a room to rent in Barcelona I was told by a large real estate firm that I could either pay through a bank transfer and have to pay taxes, or simply pay thousands of Euros via cash and avoid IVA (the value-added tax).
Even among the students my age who have grown up in a democratic Spain, there is still a lack of understanding of American patriotism. They only spoke and thought of the Spanish flag every four years during the World Cup. Among the other international students, Germans especially, the widespread waving of the flag is only prevalent during soccer games.
The other large cultural difference I have noticed is the weak ties to the Church in Barcelona. Although Spain is overwhelming Catholic, there are relatively few churches in Barcelona. Even though the University I attend was founded by Jesuits, I have yet to meet a student who regularly attends church.
Instead, similar to the government, the Church is a source of mistrust and a symbol of previous oppression. During Franco’s rule, the church was at the center of power in the government. It controlled the entire education system, it was a bastion of support for Franco’s policies, and Barcelonans allege that many priests worked for the regime in revenge for the widespread killing of priests by the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War.
Unlike the concept of government, which the young, despite the economic crisis, generally have faith in the church seems like something that is lost to an entire generation. When I have spoken with Spanish students they associate the Church with Madrid, and say that if you want to experience religious faith, then the conservative areas of Madrid are the place to go.
COMMENT FROM MADELINE STEINBERG November 19, 2012
Austin, it was so interesting to read your perspective of the morale toward government in Barcelona. I can imagine that nationalism (or lack thereof) and general attitude among the population is intense right now. Here in Denmark, people view the government as necessary and truly integral to Danish society. Since more than half of a Dane's income is taxed, one would expect to receive major benefits in return. And Danes appreciate what their government offers: free healthcare and education are hallmarks to Danish society. Danes don't seem to mind their heavy taxes because they know they will reap benefits that directly improves their quality of life. They are proud of their country and I see Danish flags everywhere, from birthday presents to window displays in stores. I'm sure these contrasts just scratch the surface of the major underlying cultural differences between Barcelona and Copenhagen.
COMMENT FROM BEN TALUS January 16, 2013
When countries have a history of oppression, it seems like there is always mistrust in government and its policies. Like what you described about Spain, there is a similar mistrust in government in Brazil. Brazil has also fairly recently experienced dictatorship, yet even more powerful is the widespread corruption that plagues virtually all levels of government.
Despite this mistrust, there still seems to be intense pride among Brazilians. They make a clear separation between the government and the nation. I feel like sometimes we see the government as a representation of the country. Brazilians have immense pride in their country: its natural beauty, its history, and its culture, among other aspects. Unlike in Spain, it seems like the Brazilian flag is everywhere. It almost transcends the government’s bureaucratic incompetence