The results of regional and local elections in Spain in 2011 were significant: the socialist party, the PSOE—in power since 2004—was handed widespread defeats, giving the opposition center-right Partido Popular (PP) outright majorities in eight of the thirteen regions that were up for grabs. Center-right parties won control of all of Spain's largest cities, including Barcelona, which had been PSOE-controlled since 1979. In the popular vote, the PP won by 38% to 28% nationwide, raising the possibility of a PP parliamentary majority emerging from the general elections in 2012.
The electorate soured on the austerity measures the PSOE has adopted to cope with the country's considerable economic problems—not the least of them a 21% unemployment rate—and PSOE Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced he would not seek a further term, passing the reins to his deputy and party tactician Alfredo Pérez Rubalcava. To Rubalcava falls the unenviable task of forging enough of an alliance with other left-wing and regional parties to govern. The task is complicated by the victory in the Basque country municipal elections by Bildu, a pro-independence coalition formed in April 2011. While Bildu has explicitly condemned the violence that marked much of the Basque separatist movement to date, and has refuted allegations that it is connected with ETA, who are considered a terrorist organization in Spain, Bildu was very nearly prevented from entering in the election, largely at Rubalcava's initiative.
The introduction of the euro in January 2002 brought about a major change in Spain's economy, as shopkeepers, hoteliers, restaurateurs, and real estate agents all rounded prices up in an attempt to make the most of the changeover from the old currency, and the country became markedly more expensive. This did little to harm Spain's immense tourism machine, at least until the recession began to take its toll in 2009; visitor spending was essentially flat for most of that year, and in some destinations was off as much as 7%. A somewhat weaker euro and a rise in domestic travel brought the hospitality industry back a bit in 2010 and 2011—a return on the Spanish government's 1.5-billion-euro loan in 2009 to start turning the industry around by "de-seasonalizing" it (reducing its dependence on the summer beach-bound holiday market) and expanding both the eco-friendly and the upscale cultural components of the Spanish travel experience. Additionally, political unrest in North Africa in 2011 persuaded many sun-seeking European vacationers to opt instead for Spain. Spain's 50 million-plus visitors contribute around 12% annually to the country's GDP.
The state-funded Catholic Church, closely tied to the right-wing PP, and with the national Cadena Cope radio station as its voice, continues to hold considerable social and political influence in Spain, with members of secretive groups such as Opus Dei and the Legionarios de Cristo holding key government and industry positions.
Despite the Church's influence, at street level, Spain has become a distinctly secular country, as demonstrated by the fact that 70% of Spaniards supported the decidedly un-Catholic 2005 law allowing gay marriage. And although more than 75% of the population claims to be Catholic, less than 20% go to church on a regular basis.
More than 1 million Muslims reside in Spain, making Islam the country's second-largest religion. Meanwhile, attendances at Mass have been greatly bolstered over the last decade by strongly Catholic South American and Eastern European immigrants.
Spain's devotion to the arts is clearly shown by the attention, both national and international, paid to its annual Principe de Asturias prize, where Prince Felipe hands out accolades to international high achievers such as Woody Allen and homegrown talent such as the architect-sculptor Santiago Calatrava and filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. While Calatrava takes the world of architecture by storm (he designed the yet-to-be-completed World Trade Center PATH station at Ground Zero in New York), Almodóvar and his muse Penelope Cruz continue to flourish at home and abroad with movies such as Volver. With Spanish household names such as Paz Vega and Javier Bardem also making a splash in Hollywood, film is without doubt at the forefront of the Spanish arts scene.
In contrast, Spanish music continues to be a rather local affair, though the summer festival scene, including the Festival Internacional de Benicàssim and WOMAD (World of Music and Dance), serves up top names to revelers who come from all over Europe to soak up music in the sun.
While authors such as Miguel Delibes, Rosa Montero, and Maruja Torres flourish in Spain, very few break onto the international scene, with the exception of Arturo Pérez Reverte, whose books include Captain Alatriste and The Fencing Master, and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of the internationally acclaimed Shadow of the Wind. Spain's contribution to the fine arts is still dominated by two names: the Majorcan-born artist Miquel Barceló and the Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida, who died in 2002.
With Real Madrid and FC Barcelona firmly established as international brands, and La Liga recognized as one of the world's most exciting leagues, soccer remains the nation's favorite sport. After futbol, what rivets the Spanish fan's attention are cycling, basketball, and tennis. Alberto Contador, who won the 2009 Tour de France; Rafael Nadal, the first tennis player to hold Grand Slam titles on clay, grass, and hard court; and Pau Gasol, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, are national heroes.
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