Charles Schoengrund draws interesting parallels between the twin disappearances of Madelaine McCann and the coastline of Iberia
AFTER reading the feedback on YouTube concerning the amateur video warning people not to buy in Orihuela Costa (see the Olive Press issue 36), I noticed thematic similarities to comments heard in the streets and read online on the McCann abduction case. Both have to do in one way or another with ecological destruction.
The “concrete hell” along the coasts of Spain and Portugal is an unnatural human habitat that supports predatory behavior above community values. The coastal destruction has unleashed, albeit misplaced, resentment and national pride (though late-in-coming).
By being foreign, say critics, people cannot criticize ecological damage lest local citizens are offended.
They believe condemnation of environmental destruction – included here is erosion of civilized behavior – reflects badly on people in that niche.
Three demographically distinct foreign groups live in these coastal niches: foreign tourists, who party for a few weeks and then return home; resident foreigners living quietly in old country houses among citizens of similar social status; younger, less wealthy, less-educated part-time foreign residents living in ‘new towns’ like Orihuela or similar parts of the Algarve.
Coastal tourist towns provide robust night life. They are magnets for pick-pockets, hustlers, drugs, gamblers, alcoholics and sex providers of all kinds.
Towns may appear safer than many in northern Europe to confident foreigners, but were emptied of traditional values long ago.
And now, because solid community life is gone, no one effectively scrutinizes and controls marginal behavior.
The cultural logic in parts of Portugal that frames the backlash against the McCanns, whose daughter went missing from their holiday apartment on May 3, goes like this:
If rich foreigners are going to fill our landscape with cement boxes and clubs, ignore or debase our local culture, why shouldn’t we blame them for ensuing ecological and social problems? The McCanns are foreigners; the perpetrators are likely foreigners. This is a ‘foreign,’ not local problem.
There is another dimension: Though middle-class, the McCanns are not middle class Portuguese, which means they did not have connections to deal with police bureaucracy. They lacked a cunha, literally, a ‘wedge to open important doors’ in the organizational hierarchy to get effective action.
But they did exactly what they should have: involve the media and keep them involved. That is also what triggered the backlash. People could not understand ‘the arrogance’ of foreigners who did not ‘respect’ local police authority.
International publicity irritated a police force not unaccustomed to media campaigns or open criticism.
It also affected the Algarve’s image as a safe place for family fun. No doubt police and civil authorities, and tourism companies were pleased to see the McCanns leave so that Algarve business could return to normal.
The gossip I have heard on occasions goes something like this:
Maddie’s parents are to blame because they left her unattended and obviously did not love and care for her properly, like good Portuguese parents. Who knows what those foreigners do? We Portuguese are better than they because, at least, we know how to love our children. We don’t go to places like that and leave our child in a hotel. Now that it is too late, the Brits want to blame the Portuguese, but the whole tragedy is their own fault. They left her alone. Now they should stop complaining and go away.
It is culturally expedient to blame the McCanns. Because Portuguese are good family people, they are deeply disturbed by crimes against children and embarrassed how the tragedy reflects on a proud nation during José Manuel Barroso’s term as European Commission President.
The Orihuela video comments show a similar cultural logic. What I gleaned from posted comments on the YouTube website is this:
Quien es? Who are you, shit foreigner, to complain how we build houses in our Spanish towns? This place is for us. Sell your house if you do not like it here. Go home. You rich guys think because you have a big house and orchard no one else can be your neighbour. We can have our type of house by the sea, too.
Its less painful to blame others than to admit that one’s own corrupt caudillos and councillors sold them out and do not respect human rights.
But the resentment against Spanish and resident foreign environmentalists, who are trying to save the coast from total destruction, is misplaced, though national pride, even expressed very late or in convoluted ways is good.
People feel anger toward colluding alcaldes, técnicos and construction cartels, and Madrid’s feeble response. People are ashamed to suffer Third World governance 30 years after Franco’s death.
Moreover, the ancestral national malady of envidia (jealousy) contributes to resentment as well.
People must use organized politics to stop ecological destruction and the ensuing takeover by predator behavior.
And, like the Orihuela video says, ‘Don’t buy into it.’