In Madrid Democracy is Dead

Article published on March 18, 2004
community published
Article published on March 18, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

With the European elections fast approaching, the nightmarish terrorist attacks in Madrid have sent a shiver down our society’s spine. From now on, throughout Europe voting will be linked to fear.

Europe now has its own symbol of terrorism. A sort of anti-terrorist madness has swept into the old Continent. The hundreds of bodies in Madrid will force the democratic authoritarianism of post-September 11th America and the Putin’s Russia, scarred by attacks by fundamentalist Chechens, to be imported into Europe. Such provocative madness can lead to questionable ‘hyper-security’ being imposed at the expense of certain ‘infra-freedom’.

Spain’s eyes were brimming with tears when it went to the ballet box and this perhaps affected the results of the election. Surveys before the attacks pointed at victory for Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party. The horrific murder of 200 people in Madrid changed a good number of votes and mobilised a lot of people who had been previously undecided. Europe’s people will never again be able to vote in total freedom. And voting in the shadow of fear is not worthy of a democracy. Added to the feeling of having been a target of fanaticism is the confusion of being faced with an unknown killer. The terrorist franchise that is Al Qaeda is nothing like national terrorist groups such as ETA or the IRA. Its arrival in Europe has had a brutal psychological impact. In Spain’s case the pain is all the greater because the break with the traditional terrorist formula (ETA) has caused such confusion.

European psychosis

Fear is spreading across Europe. The fear of further attacks has led to France intensifying its Vigipirate anti-terrorism plan through the deployment of hundreds more policemen. Train stations and airports are on red alert. Paris experienced a precursor to March 11th on July 25th 1995 in the Port Royal station in a Parisian suburb. The attacks in Madrid might influence the French regional elections due to take place at the end of this week. The German capital’s main airport, Berlin-Tegel, was evacuated following a bomb alert which turned out to be a false alarm. Portugal is wondering whether F-16 planes should fly over their air space during the Euro 2004 football tournament. The Italian Minister for the Interior, Giuseppe Pisanu, is going to increase the number of undercover policemen and closed circuit television cameras in stations, airports and shopping centres. The Italian government has deployed more than 4,000 soldiers in ‘sensitive’ areas since March 11th. Great Britain is on a state of high alert. The tube stations in London are full of posters with slogans asking ‘Whose bag is this? If you see something suspicious, tell the authorities’. London could be next and experts have established a list of 350 possible targets, including 15 nuclear plants, the Houses of Parliament and Downing Street. The President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, has said that the Madrid attacks have forced a revision of security procedures during the Olympic Games which will take place in Athens from 13th to 29th August. Greece has appealed to NATO for collaboration with the Games’ security services. It has also asked for help from the UN’s nuclear agency in the face of possible nuclear terrorist threats.

Move on or stay afraid

Europe is now taking the threat seriously and in the future will moderate its actions. There will be no more ‘clean’ wars where blood is nonetheless spilled sooner or later. The instinct of self-defence will force States into submission. For future European leaders the war on terror will take priority over education or the economy. Future electoral campaigns in Europe will take place in the shadow of fear. This is not the first time that such a situation has arisen: the coup d’Etat in Spain on 23rd February 1981 exacerbated fear of a return to Francoism and led to the first victory for Felipe Gonzalez’s PSOE (Spain’s socialist party). Such violence causing the ballet boxes to quake could hit any country.

This situation is not an easy one for Europe. Must its democracies chose between moving on and staying afraid? Intelligence experts from several countries will shortly be holding an anti-terrorism summit in Madrid. The EU is rejecting the North American ‘infinite justice’ model. Police co-operation will improve, as will legal collaboration and measures preventing terrorism receiving financing.

Europe will not remain in fear’s dark shadow but neither will it forget. It is Europe versus murderers. European democracy will rise again.