Ger­ardo Án­gel Bu­gallo Ot­tone:

“The im­age and ideas we project and dis­cuss today are not dis­sim­i­lar to the ones dis­cussed dur­ing WWII”

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - In­ter­viewed by Anna Kor­but

“The im­age and ideas we project and dis­cuss today are not dis­sim­i­lar to the ones dis­cussed dur­ing WWII”

Am­bas­sador of Spain on his coun­try in the EU, eu­roop­ti­mism and re­la­tions with Ukraine

Am­bas­sador Ex­tra­or­di­nary and Plenipo­ten­tiary of the King­dom of Spain to Ukraine spoke to The Ukrainian Week on the place of his coun­try in the EU, the fac­tors that help the Span­ish re­main eu­roop­ti­mists, the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the elite and in­tel­lec­tu­als in pol­i­tics, and the po­ten­tial in Ukraine-Spain re­la­tions.

How is the EU and its fu­ture seen from Spain?

The EU is the most suc­cess­ful ex­per­i­ment in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions ever. And it is amaz­ing to think how much some­thing so suc­cess­ful is crit­i­cized. An EU rep­re­sen­ta­tive once said that peo­ple talk about huge bu­reau­cracy in the EU. But that, he said, is about half of bu­reau­cracy at the Birm­ing­ham guild­hall.

Why is Europe per­ceived as a bu­reau­cracy? Be­cause the ap­proach we have to prob­lems and re- al­ity in the EU is very bu­reau­cratic. We have a beau­ti­ful an­them and flag, but we don’t use them. We don’t have the idea that could move hearts and minds, elicit the idea that we are work­ing for some­thing in the souls of the peo­ple. This is more of a philo­soph­i­cal is­sue, but it trans­lates into a po­lit­i­cal prob­lem. And a se­ri­ous one: if you don’t try to elicit en­thu­si­asm of peo­ple for big ideas or en­ter­prises, they change men­tal­ity.

Look at the mil­i­tary field, the idea of de­fense of Europe: in re­al­ity, we have enor­mous eco­nomic, tech­no­log­i­cal, de­mo­graphic and cul­tural power. But we have se­ri­ous weak­ness in will. We are now talk­ing of the need to in­crease mil­i­tary spend­ing across NATO. But I don’t think the prob­lem is the amount of money that is spent. It is rather the idea of what you want this money or mil­i­tary power for.


Prob­a­bly the best lit­mus test for that is Ukraine. It is the only coun­try where peo­ple have died for that flag; we know how in­dis­putably au­then­tic their will for dig­nity is. The EU – the coun­tries that share the same val­ues and ideas – has to ad­dress this not only from the moral per­spec­tive. It would be also quite stupid not to do. Luck­ily enough, our ideas, val­ues and in­ter­ests are in the same place. The idea of a pros­per­ous Ukraine is good news for ev­ery­one. In­clud­ing Rus­sia, by the way. While a prob­lem of the size of Ukraine would def­i­nitely not be good for any­one. So, stakes in Ukraine are ex­tremely high from the moral, eth­i­cal, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic view­points. The suc­cess of Ukraine is the suc­cess of Europe. This is how we can project the idea that we are do­ing this for some­thing: not just to live for some ex­tra money at the end of the month, but for a de­cent life, a po­lit­i­cal life that elic­its the moral fiber of so­ci­ety.

The vi­brant civil so­ci­ety in Ukraine is a les­son for us, see­ing how peo­ple mo­bi­lize and in­ter­act when they know that they need to over­come the ter­ri­ble legacy of cor­rup­tion. They have this sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity. Luck­ily, it is be­com­ing more and more ob­vi­ous for the pop­u­la­tion in the EU. Look at the lat­est elec­tion in France: the con­cept was not very much un­like the Maidan. It is the grass­roots im­pulse that ap­pears when politi­cians are not up to the task, but a coun­try has a civ­i­lized and cul­ti­vated peo­ple, the hu­man cap­i­tal that finds the way out. It is a fight be­tween com­mon sense and an out­landish ac­cu­mu­la­tion of par­tial so­lu­tions, not in­te­grated into con­text or vi­able for so­ci­ety.

In that sense, Spain is an­other ex­am­ple of this com­mon sense gain­ing ground. You know how dif­fi­cult its eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion was in 2010. Now, Spain is re­cov­er­ing se­ri­ously. We have had scan­dals of cor­rup­tion that have eroded faith in politi­cians and gov­ern­ment. But the re­sults are there. So the gen­eral frame­work of how to rule and de­velop so­ci­ety is ob­vi­ous: it is com­mon sense.

Where do you see the sources and the agents of this will and in­spi­ra­tion in Europe today? Is it in the young gen­er­a­tion, sen­si­ble seg­ments of so­ci­ety, in­sti­tu­tions or some­thing dif­fer­ent?

It’s a dif­fi­cult ques­tion. It should come from a call to com­mon sense that we have seen ap­pear some­how pre­vi­ously.

When I think of how un­aware or not proud of the suc­cess of the European project we are, that leads me to the ques­tion: what role in so­ci­eties that evolve - and they al­ways do - is played by the in­tel­li­gentsia? Not so much in the sense of the most bril­liant in­tel­lec­tu­als, but the low-brow stra­tum, the pop­u­lar cul­ture. The val­ues that are present in pop­u­lar cul­ture are es­sen­tial be­cause they are what drives peo­ple. To il­lus­trate that, I use the ex­am­ple of the ef­fort that the Hol­ly­wood took dur­ing World War II. It started in a pri­vate house of Ed­ward G. Robin­son in 1938 with a group of im­por­tant ac­tors who re­al­ized what men­ace Hitler and Nazism rep­re­sented for Jew- ish peo­ple at that stage, and gained much more im­pe­tus when the US joined the war in 1941. The ef­fort pro­duced nu­mer­ous mas­ter­pieces. I al­ways re­fer to Casablanca, but it was not the only one. These peo­ple tried to con­vey to the world what the fight was about, what ideals were at stake, even if that so­ci­ety had a set of its own prob­lems, such as racism. But that’s an­other ques­tion.

The im­age and ideas we project and dis­cuss today are not dis­sim­i­lar to the ones dis­cussed dur­ing WWII. Now, how­ever, we don’t see any sort of mis­sion, no­body is broad­cast­ing these ideas with a sense of im­por­tance. No­body is tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for mak­ing peo­ple aware of what is at stake.

In that, we need the help of those who cre­ate pop­u­lar cul­ture. They have not been up to the task. Of course, there are projects and ac­tors that try to pro­mote val­ues. But the idea that the whole so­ci­ety can trans­form it­self through the val­ues per­me­at­ing pop­u­lar cul­ture is still not there.

An­other prob­lem we have is that politi­cians all through­out Europe and the West try to rule by polls, to ca­jole peo­ple by fol­low­ing what they think these peo­ple al­ready want. Yet, the whole idea of pol­i­tics is to come up with your ideas, present them to peo­ple and ask them to vote for you.

There is a huge con­stituency for that. The prob­lem is that this con­stituency has long been fed rubbish. The ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity of some of the po­lit­i­cal ideas that have been used in Europe is strik­ing. The ab­sence of a crav­ing for en­thu­si­asm, the lack of ef­fortі to mo­bi­lize peo­ple for greater tasks is dis­as­trous. Not only be­cause it’s morally wrong or dis­ap­point­ing. But be­cause it re­veals a lack of un­der­stand­ing of what makes peo­ple happy. Peo­ple are not happy be­cause they can have more food. They are happy when they get mo­bi­lized for a pur­pose.

Also, com­mon­sense so­ci­eties have been ma­nip­u­lated through some sort of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness that of­ten oblit­er­ates the real de­bate. The only way to re­cu­per­ate that is to rec­on­cile our­selves with re­al­ity.

I would quote Ortega y Gas­set who wrote The Re­volt of the Masses 80 years ago – that work is much more cur­rent today than it was at that time. The idea is that we have to re­claim the con­cept of ex­cel­lence, of per­son­ally try­ing to be bet­ter than the day be­fore. Ortega de­nounces what he calls the “man mass” where one doesn’t have to be bet­ter than he is, there is no aris­toc­racy in the et­y­mo­log­i­cal sense, and there is no bet­ter or worse. This has per­me­ated our so­ci­eties.

Even the level of hypocrisy, a trib­ute that vice pays to virtue, is too low. When some­one is a hyp­ocrite, he is bad but at least tries to pre­tend to be good. But when there is a point of aber­ra­tion where one doesn’t even pre­tend to be good, that’s when we’re se­ri­ously in trou­ble.

How would you de­fine the place of Spain in the EU now? How has it changed?

Given its size, both ge­o­graph­i­cally and de­mo­graph­i­cally, Spain’s role should be big­ger than it is. The con­nec­tions Spain has with Amer­ica make it a very spe­cial coun­try. Also, the re­al­ity of the Span­ish lan­guage is ab­surd to ig­nore, even if it’s not al­ways rec­og­nized enough in the EU.

The best con­tri­bu­tion Spain can of­fer to the EU is the im­por­tance of com­mon sense. When you look at the Span­ish demo­cratic tran­si­tion, the first gen­eral elec­tions af­ter the death of Franco, more than 500 par­ties were run­ning. Yet, peo­ple voted for 3-4 log­i­cal op­tions. That proves that the real con­duc­tor of the Span­ish tran­si­tion was the Span­ish peo­ple vot­ing in a show of com­mon sense.

It has been dis­torted through some pro­pa­ganda, ma­nip­u­la­tion in the me­dia, es­pe­cially TV. But in the end the Span­ish peo­ple have demon­strated a ten­dency to strong com­mon sense. Now, that con­tri­bu­tion is shown in Spain’s rea­son­able role in the var­i­ous de­bates on the EU. Peo­ple are be­gin­ning to rec­og­nize that around Europe.

If we were more lis­tened to, it would be bet­ter. One small ex­am­ple from the en­ergy map of Europe: Spain has in­sisted on the need to di­ver­sify our sources for a long time, in­clud­ing the use of gas com­ing from North Africa, the im­prove­ment of in­ter­con­nec­tions of our sys­tems and of the en­ergy sys­tem in Europe. This is per­fectly com­mon-sense. The same is true about the re­la­tions in the Mediter­ranean, with the US and South Amer­ica.

Other coun­tries also say that they would like to be heard more. They have been turn­ing skep­ti­cal about the EU. What makes Spain re­main eu­roop­ti­mistic?

It de­pends on what coun­tries you com­pare us to. But I’d say that we have seen the re­sults of what be­ing part of the EU has been - they are ab­so­lutely ob­vi­ous in Spain. And, de­spite of ev­ery­thing, the com­mon sense I men­tioned makes us un­der­stand that this joint en­ter­prise is very much our own. The es­sen­tial core of what de­fines Europe is the es­sen­tial core of what de­fines Spain.

For a time, in the late 19th and 20th cen­turies, Spain was con­sid­ered an out­cast by the emerg­ing pow­ers in Cen­tral Europe. There was a de­bate in Spain on whether Europe was im­por­tant for it. But it is ab­so­lutely over. For us, the idea that we are part of Europe is not in ques­tion any­more. What emerges is a grad­ual un­der­stand­ing that we have much more to of­fer to Europe than is re­al­ized in Europe or in Spain.

When Spain was hit by the 2007-2008 cri­sis, it had to go in­ward and fo­cus on it­self. Now, that the coun­try is re­cov­er­ing, how does Spain de­fine its for­eign pol­icy am­bi­tions in the near to mid-term fu­ture?

If you con­sider the in­ter­na­tional so­ci­ety as a the­ater, there is a front row there. One of the places in this row cor­re­sponds to Spain based on the cri­te­ria I men­tioned above. Some­times, a late­comer tip­toes to the front and sits there, sur­pris­ing ev­ery­one. Sim­i­larly, other coun­tries are some­times sur­prised to see Spain play­ing the role which they are not used to. We have had our ups and downs, the last one be­ing the eco­nomic cri­sis. But the more we get out of it, the more ob­vi­ous it be­comes that this seat is wait­ing for us. The way to do it is to pro­ceed there ac­cord­ing to your ca­pac­ity, i.e. to not over -- or un­derdo it. It’s not easy. You have to not pre­tend to play a big­ger role than you can. At the same time, you have to ful­fill the role you are up to com­pletely. I think this re­quires com­mon sense and real val­ues in so­ci­ety.

Be­fore the cri­sis Span­ish com­pa­nies used to have 20% of their mar­ket out of the coun­try and 80% in­side. It is ex­actly the op­po­site now. This in­cred­i­ble trans­for­ma­tion is an ex­am­ple of the ca­pac­ity of the real Spain, its so­ci­ety. It has to be achieved through com­mon sense in pol­i­tics and the game of free­dom in eco­nomic terms. Al­low peo­ple and com­pa­nies to grow to their full ca­pac­ity -- and they will find the mar­ket.

It’s not much un­like what is hap­pen­ing in Ukraine: if hu­man ca­pac­ity this coun­try has is al­lowed to de­velop, suc­cess is guar­an­teed. But you have for­eign coun­tries try­ing to stop the evo­lu­tion of Ukraine, and the ob­sta­cles of cor­rup­tion and oli­garchy try­ing to stop the ca­pac­ity. I may be a patho­log­i­cal op­ti­mist, but I don’t think you can stop forces like that in his­tory.

What role have Spain's elite played in that abil­ity of so­ci­ety to make com­mon­sense choices, and in the fact that the coun­try keeps find­ing ways out of its dif­fi­cul­ties?

We should de­fine what we mean by the no­tion of elite. When I was posted in Bu­dapest in 19871990, I re­ceived the visit of a promi­nent po­lit­i­cal fig­ure in Spain and a re­spected writer, the then Education and Cul­ture Min­is­ter Jorge Sem­prun. He told me that dis­tin­guished in­tel­lec­tu­als in Hun­gary asked him what in­tel­lec­tu­als in Spain were say­ing about the de­vel­op­ments of that time. He then asked him­self: who were those in­tel­lec-


tu­als in Spain? And how do we un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing in Eastern Europe?

I re­call that be­cause I find it con­fus­ing to see that many in­tel­lec­tu­als in Europe don’t un­der­stand some of the things I ob­serve, such as what is hap­pen­ing in Ukraine today. This lack of sen­si­tiv­ity is sur­pris­ing for me. But I think this is be­cause when his­tory ac­cel­er­ates, it re­veals a cyn­i­cal ap­proach (prac­ticed by many ex­perts) that comes from the fact that they don’t un­der­stand any­thing. In­stead of adapt­ing to the new re­al­ity, they try to im­pose their cyn­i­cal ap­proach on the new re­al­ity. The stereo­type ex­am­ple could be Henry Kissinger.

When the Ber­lin wall fell down, you had to see the re­ac­tion of many peo­ple in the US, for in­stance: they sim­ply didn’t un­der­stand what was go­ing on in that pe­riod. In many as­pects, it’s not dis­sim­i­lar to what’s hap­pen­ing around Ukraine.

The role of the elites is the role that has been di­min­ished in gen­eral, as I men­tioned be­fore. There is no sense of aris­toc­racy – in the et­y­mo­log­i­cal sense, I in­sist. There is no ad­mi­ra­tion of in­tel­lec­tual value in so­ci­eties. On the other hand, there is no feel­ing that in­tel­lec­tu­als are po­lit­i­cally re­spon­si­ble for what is hap­pen­ing around. When we were bring­ing Mario Var­gas Llosa to Ukraine, I told him: I know you’re very busy, but as some­one aware of your in­tel­lec­tual and po­lit­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity, I’m sure you can’t be in­dif­fer­ent to what’s go­ing on in Ukraine. He came right away with­out ask­ing a sin­gle penny just be­cause he felt at­tached to the de­vel­op­ments. That is an ex­am­ple of an en­gaged in­tel­lec­tual.

The prob­lem is that, in our minds, we of­ten have al­most an old-fash­ioned con­cept of an en­gaged in­tel­lec­tual: as some­one who was meant to be re­spon­si­ble to the party, fol­low the or­ders of the party. While here I’m talk­ing about an in­tel­lec­tual who is re­spon­si­ble for what his work pro­duces in so­ci­ety.

The most re­spon­si­bil­ity prob­a­bly lies with the low-brow cul­ture: the pol­i­tics and aes­thet­ics that im­press so­ci­ety to the core in a wide­spread man­ner. High-brow will still be there: you can have fan­tas­tic opera or mu­se­ums. But that doesn’t change so­ci­eties. What re­ally af­fects so­ci­eties is the low-brow cul­ture. And there we have a com­plete lack of the sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity and en­gage­ment in what is at stake.

Where do you see the re­la­tions be­tween Ukraine and Spain un­der­de­vel­oped?

All over. The po­ten­tial is huge be­cause we have lived too far apart for too many years. Span­ish public opin­ion is among the most fa­vor­able to Ukraine among the EU na­tions. From the po­lit­i­cal and gov­ern­ment per­spec­tive, we sup­port Ukraine’s sovereignty and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity with­out hes­i­ta­tion. What we lack is the pres­ence of that other part of Spain I men­tioned above – the eco­nomic power that has gone out of Spain but came only timidly into Ukraine, has seen the hor­ror that cor­rup­tion is and has run away. Some have had very bad ex­pe­ri­ences here.

But I’m sure, as the rule of law evolves here and peo­ple feel more se­cure about investing in this coun­try, there will be huge de­vel­op­ment of our re­la­tions in the fu­ture. What our com­pa­nies do very well is what this coun­try needs: in­fra­struc­ture, en­ergy, in­clud­ing re­new­ables, de­fense sec­tor. There are many sec­tors in which we are con­demned to col­lab­o­rate. But this hasn’t hap­pened be­cause we have faced the dif­fi­culty of not yet trust­ing the rule of law in Ukraine. I have been try­ing to dis­pel this im­age, but it’s not very easy.

Over your ten­ure here, have the po­lit­i­cal con­tacts be­tween the coun­tries evolved?

They have changed dra­mat­i­cally since Vik­tor Yanukovych fled the coun­try. We started hav­ing the re­la­tions be­tween two coun­tries that hadn’t been there be­fore.

For­mally, we had good re­la­tions with Ukraine all the time be­cause we don’t have any bi­lat­eral prob­lems. What has changed is the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion on the level of po­lit­i­cal par­ties, in­clud­ing in the European frame­work, through in­ter­na­tional par­ties work­ing to­gether more and more in Europe. There is hon­est co­op­er­a­tion in the sense that we un­der­stand each other. And we un­der­stand the need to de­fend Ukraine as a European fron­tier.

Are there any mislead­ing stereo­types about Spain that you have no­ticed in Ukraine – on the public and po­lit­i­cal level, that you would like dis­pelled?

I don’t think there are any. In any case, any per­cep­tion of a given coun­try has some truth about it. Take a torero as an ex­am­ple: the phe­nom­e­non builds on some sort of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with death in the Span­ish cul­ture. It is present in our cul­ture, and it is in the bull­fight too. A fa­mous bull­fighter has been killed re­cently. Whether you like or dis­like bull­fight­ing is one thing. But the se­ri­ous­ness of what is at stake in the bull ring ev­ery af­ter­noon is ab­so­lutely strik­ing if you look at it with open eyes. I wouldn’t waste time dis­pelling this kind of stereo­types.

As for Ukraini­ans, there are a lot of them liv­ing in Spain. So the mis­con­cep­tions on the coun­try are not too wide­spread: more and more peo­ple know Spain, and more peo­ple like it, I think. As much as we like Ukraini­ans: when you look at more than 80,000 le­gal Ukrainian im­mi­grants and prob­a­bly many more il­le­gal ones, they have a very good im­age.

I hope that it’s a mat­ter of time be­fore these two re­al­i­ties can be brought to­gether in the eco­nomic di­men­sion as well. Be­fore this po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal sym­pa­thy trans­lates into mean­ing­ful de­vel­op­ments in the eco­nomic field that would cre­ate stronger ties, and trans­form into even more po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal sym­pa­thy.

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