Is there any sense of honor left in Spain?

Ignacio de la Torre. Professor. IE Business School

27 February 2013

The dire actions and insatiable greed of some of our leaders will mean that they will go down in history as people with no sense of honor whatsoever.

In the autumn of 1571 the Turks took Cyprus, defeating the last Venetian stand captained by Marcantonio Bragadino, who surrendered together with his garrison after putting up heroic resistance. Bragadino accepted the Turks’ conditions of surrender, which included giving his vanquished troops their freedom, but no sooner had they lowered the San Marcos standard the Venetian soldiers were massacred and their captain was flayed alive. 

News of this soon reached Corfu, where the Holy Alliance fleet which would soon meet the Turkish fleet in Lepanto, was hastily assembled. On October 1571 the Christian fleet, which comprised fewer ships but was better equipped, defeated the Turks. The Christians were thirsty for vengeance after the Cypriot outrage, and out of a total of 180,000 men engaged in battle, 40,000 died, three quarters of which were Turks.  

The captain of the Christian armada Juan de Austria, the illegitimate son of Carlos V, was 26 years old at the time. His economic and social future was thus assured. As the victor he was entitled to a tenth of massive spoils, and to the 30,000 gold ducats offered as a reward by the city of Mesina.  Nevertheless, he renounced the lot so that the money could be given to the most vulnerable, namely the orphans of those that had fallen or been wounded in battle.

Thus, the young Don Juan sent out a signal to history, by showing that honor is more important than fatuous riches.

When reflecting on this historical event, and the importance attached by Spain at the time to honor as the most important aspect of personal ethics, it is somewhat perplexing to see just how low we have sunk since then.

Now we have powerful bankers who did not hesitate for one second to further bloat their net wealth by keeping alive banking networks which were bankrupt thanks to their disastrous management. In order to achieve this they ordered their workforce, with the regulators’ and supervisors’ consent, to scam the most vulnerable segments of the population through the sale of shares and preferential bonds, all based on false balance sheets. 

This also made it possible for them to keep adding to their multiple and varied illegal expense accounts, while continuing to steal from the poorest members of society. In other words, Robin Hood in reverse. Thanks to these outrages, we the taxpayers have had to inject almost 20,000 million Euros which have now been written off. The lack of honor of these people is such that they have not even apologized to their former employees, or clients, or Spanish society.

Businesspeople of all sorts now have no hesitation in hiding their penal or civil wrongdoings (fraudulent bankruptcies, false accusations, insider information, fraudulent conveyance of assets, embezzlements, sale of false shares, which may or may not have exceeded the statute of limitations…). They proceed to blame their criminal activity on former partners (now deceased), former friends who are now opponents, or family members with or without senile dementia, who in turn, if they are still alive, respond with blackmail or by making public statements.  Thus one after another go from common or garden treachery to the greatest betrayal of all, namely that of family and friends. 

Politicians of all persuasions, not content with the hundreds of thousands of Euros  paid to them by their parties,  90% of which is funded by the taxpayer, decided they needed further remuneration in addition to that received for performing their job badly in the form of useless job titles like that of senator, or former holder of a public position, which meant they were able to accumulate three salaries totaling more than 300,000 Euros a year, funded almost exclusively by the public purse. A few even resorted to direct robbery, which indirectly comes once again from the taxes paid by the long-suffering Spanish citizens, through surcharges on state contracts, designed to rake in even more money. 

Former state leaders have committed all kinds of outrages. These include awarding themselves medals for ordering a military retreat, assuring embassies with no accreditation whatsoever except the party membership card, scamming rationalized banks through mergers with ailing savings banks based on false information, injecting taxpayer’s money into banks they have connections with, insisting that said money could not possibly be lost, lying through their teeth about Spain’s public deficit one month before the closing of the fiscal year,  and showing a preference for foreign firms in key decisions for Spanish industry in order to later collect payment from said firms as their “independent adviser”. History has many examples of despicable deeds, but those committed by public leaders on such a vast scale over the last 13 years are truly sickening.

Economic recovery is possible, but unless there is a complete overhaul of ethics history will repeat itself in increasingly virulent fashion.  Human beings tend to justify the unjustifiable when the perpetrator is family. Thus, subjectiveness can lead someone to forgive a rogue even in the face of irrefutable objective evidence. The individuals described in this article will die one day. A few of them will have been put in prison. Others won’t. The families and friends of some of them will be ashamed of them. Others won’t. 

But although they will surely die sometime (right now they may be alive but their dignity is already defunct) they will go down in Spanish history as being the exact opposite of Don Juan de Austria. They will be remembered as men and women without honor.


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