Friday, 19 May 2017

Radiohead’s angst-ridden OK Computer was also eerily prescient

Dorian Linskey

Among the titles Radiohead reportedly considered for their third album before settling on OK Computer were Ones and Zeroes and, less plausibly, Your Home May Be at Risk if You Do Not Keep Up Repayments.

A more apt choice, if Blur hadn’t got there first, would have been Modern Life Is Rubbish. Blur meant “rubbish” as a noun, not an adjective: clutter, detritus, white noise, waste. The idea of too much information was a key ‘90s trope, from the data blitz of U2’s Zoo TV to the brain-scrambling hyper-prose of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

OK Computer channelled that sensory overload into the last archetypal rock masterpiece: progressive, relevant, profound and genuinely popular. “A lot of the album was about background noise and everything moving too fast and not being able to keep up,” Thom Yorke explained at the time. Keen to move on from the introspection of The Bends, he said, he felt that “the outside world became all there was”.

OK Computer is routinely described as ‘dystopian’ but that’s not quite right. A dystopia is a nightmare of the future and there is almost nothing on OK Computer that wasn’t true in 1997. Planes sometimes crash. So do cars. An airbag could save your life. People work jobs that slowly kill them. Ambition makes you look pretty ugly. Admittedly, aliens aren’t really filming earthlings to entertain the folks back home but everything else is an accurate, if gloomy, reflection of how we lived then.

OK Computer also reflected how Radiohead lived then. Specifically, it documented how Yorke saw the world during the year that Radiohead were touring The Bends, hence the frequent references to modes of transport. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood said that Let Down was “about that feeling that you get when you’re in transit but you're not in control of it — you just go past thousands of places and thousands of people and you're completely removed from it.” Perhaps being in a touring band was, to Yorke, a synecdoche for the modern condition: disorientation, alienation, rootlessness, exhaustion, lack of control, occasional derangement, constant motion. By backgrounding his own identity, he avoided the tedious trap of moaning about success (at least until the claustrophobic 1998 tour documentary Meeting People Is Easy) and made those sensations universal.

Talking about his lyrical influences, Yorke cited John Lennon’s fractured newsreel verses in A Day in the Life and Elvis Costello’s ability to be “very emotional without being personal”. Both are evident in Yorke’s determination to be, as Christopher Isherwood said, “a camera”. OK Computer is more reportage than commentary. “Stuff that meant anything to me came in the form of what I call Polaroids in my head,” he told Vox. “The immediate external world became very bright and powerful, like it was on fire, and that was when I wrote stuff.” Yorke’s flight from autobiography led him to inhabit other voices, other lives. The images he wrote down manifested in the form of dreams, mantras, lullabies, litanies, curses, rants and panic attacks.

OK Computer’s central axis is the contrast between noise and quiet, velocity and stability — an ambiguity illustrated by Stanley Donwood’s half-obscured artwork, which represents a partially successful attempt to erase the clutter. “Please could you stop the noise?” Yorke begs at the start of Paranoid Android, the album’s most crammed song. “Hey man, slow down,” he warns on The Tourist, its most benign. The people he meets squeal like pigs and buzz like fridges. He’s uptight, uptight. But peace and stasis are no remedy. No Surprises is a lullaby that sounds suspiciously like a suicide note and the computer-voiced interlude Fitter Happier makes slogans and self-help bromides about a well-balanced life resemble a prison sentence.
Struck by writer’s block, Yorke was reduced to writing lists. He composed Fitter Happier in a fit of “incredible hysteria and panic”, then fed it through a machine until it was chillingly neutral. As for the possibility of physical escape, we know where Romeo and Juliet end up in Exit Music (For a Film), and being abducted by a benevolent UFO on Subterranean Homesick Alien — a religious fantasy for the X-Files era — ends with the prospect of being disbelieved and institutionalised.

‘Concerned but powerless’
One solution that certainly isn’t available is a political one. In his book Capitalist Realism, the late critic Mark Fisher addressed “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it”. It is hard to even picture a form of escape. Yorke’s various narrators represent what Fisher called “the consumer-spectator, trudging through the ruins and relics”.

Simply by holding up a black mirror to the world, OK Computer qualifies as political but its protest is fundamentally impotent: “Concerned but powerless,” to quote Fitter Happier. Never has a revolutionary cry sounded as hopeless as “Bring down the government/They don’t speak for us” does on No Surprises. The more overtly political lyrics of Lucky were scrapped because they were pages and pages of ‘bollocks’, while Electioneering, the album’s stroppy black sheep, reduces Yorke’s Chomsky studies to a violent blurt: “Riot shields, voodoo economics/It’s just business/Cattle prods and the IMF.” No prospect of change is offered nor predicted. No Surprises was written when John Major was prime minister and released five weeks into the Blair years but the transition affects its message not one jot. "We live under a world banking system and media that make it almost irrelevant who is in power,” said Yorke.

That was a dissonant, though not unique, sentiment in Britain in June 1997, when optimism was in the air. It’s foolish to assign a single mood to any era. The mid-‘90s were not all about feeling supersonic, things only getting better and football coming home. Tricky called an album Pre-Millennium Tension; even some Britpop albums had a subtext of anxiety and fragility. Still, it was a relatively peaceful, prosperous, upbeat time, when Britain’s booming pop culture and the rise of New Labour mirrored and enhanced one another to forge a seductive narrative of progress. OK Computer rang the death knell for that optimism — indeed its final sound is a chime that might mean that time’s up.

OK Computer is part of the shadow history of the ‘90s. In 1989, when everyone else was celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall, Leonard Cohen began writing a brutally bleak prophecy that he eventually christened ‘The Future’; its working title was If You Could See What’s Coming Next. OK Computer played a similarly sobering role in 1997 with Yorke, like Cohen, the buzzkill at the feast. History, sadly, has proven the buzzkills right.

In his book The Age of Extremes, which influenced OK Computer in general and Climbing Up the Walls in particular, the historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote: “As the citizens of the fin de siècle tapped their way through the global fog that surrounded them, into the third millennium, all they knew for certain was that an era of history had ended. They knew very little else.” What a perfect way to describe OK Computer — tapping its way through the global fog.

‘The eeriness of the everyday’
For all its grim preoccupations, however, OK Computer is not a depressing record. The music is more often than not exceedingly beautiful, even if the beauty often carries sinister undertones. Its emotional range extends to moments of temporary elation such as the back-from-the-dead triumphalism of Lucky and Airbag. And there’s a considerable amount of humour. The band have described aspects of Karma Police, Paranoid Android and Subterranean Homesick Alien as jokes — quoting Douglas Adams and punning on Bob Dylan is one way to puncture the darkness. The forthcoming reissue includes the first studio recording of fan favourite Lift, in which Yorke, rescued from an elevator, tells himself to “Lighten up, squirt”. Like the coda of Karma Police (“Phew, for a minute there I lost myself”) it shows that Yorke wasn’t above making fun of his own pessimism.

Most importantly, OK Computer has a bedrock of compassion. When bass-player Colin Greenwood said that it “encourages you to try find your own space mentally in the contemporary world,” he may have made it a sound a little too much like a meditation app, but he wasn’t wrong. It is on the listener’s side. Talking to Pitchfork recently, Jana Hunter of Baltimore band Lower Dens summed up many fans’ intense affection for the record: “OK Computer delivered a sense of companionship in understanding what an insane world we lived in, and I was desperate for that company.” In that solidarity there is a strange kind of consolation.

Twenty years on, it’s still a valuable companion. Despite its reputation, OK Computer is not a very hi-tech record. It mentions motorways and tramlines but not mobile phones, nor, in fact, computers. Electronics are less prominent than guitars; Neil Young and The Beatles loom as large as Miles Davis and DJ Shadow. Perhaps that’s why things that didn’t exist when it came out feel like they could be part of its landscape: smartphones, social media, Google, YouTube, automated tills, self-driving cars, airport full-body scanners, AI voice assistants, metadata collection, fake news, trolling, drones.

There are of course extremists when it comes to pondering the impact of technology on human beings, from Silicon Valley accelerationists to neo-Luddite refuseniks, but for everyone else ambivalence is a natural state. We constantly allow technology to bend the shape of our lives while wondering what exactly we’ve signed up for. The result is a vague, insoluble unease. We have to run in order to stand still. That feeling is at the heart of the record.

Notwithstanding occasional eruptions of extreme drama, OK Computer specialises in the eeriness of the everyday. It creeps up on me in moments of mundane dislocation: jetlagged on a travelator, scrolling mindlessly through Twitter in a hotel room far from home, flinching when an algorithm knows more about me than it should, hearing recorded voices tell me that there is an unexpected item in the bagging area or that my call is important to them. A more explicitly zeitgeist-chasing record would have dated badly — many have — but Radiohead concentrated on evoking a mood rather than delivering a message, and that decision made it both of its time and future-proof. OK Computer allowed us to see, and feel, what was coming next.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Breakthrough farming technology using polymer film to grow food

Melinda Joe

In a tiny room inside the Mebiol Research and Development Center, a little over an hour outside of Tokyo, baby Kos lettuce leaves are growing in a tray under magenta-coloured lights. On another shelf, a miniature garden of microgreens is blooming across the surface of a salad dish. The seedlings have been cultivated without soil – atop a thin, transparent polymer film.

“Can you see the roots?” asks Hiroshi Yoshioka, Mebiol’s vice-president, lifting the edge of the plant-covered film to reveal a tangle of fine, pale filaments. He pulls the sheet off the plate and holds it in front of him like a leafy green carpet.

The polymer film is the key to a cutting-edge farming method that makes it possible to grow fruits and vegetables on practically any flat exterior. Made of hydrogel – a super absorbent material typically used in household products such as disposable diapers – the film works by soaking up water and nutrients through a multitude of nano-sized pores measuring one millionth of a millimetre in diameter. Plants grow on top of the film, but instead of digging into the ground, the roots spread across the surface of the membrane in wispy, fan-like formations.

A spry 75-year-old in a crisp blue-and-white striped shirt and navy blazer, Mori spent the majority of his career developing polymer technologies for the medical industry. However, he had long been fascinated by plant biology and found inspiration in the adaptability of the vegetable kingdom.

“In many ways, plants are more remarkable than humans,” he observes, pointing out that they sustain life on earth by providing a source of food for animals and removing excess CO2 from the air. “I was always thinking of how to maximise the power of plants.”

The idea of applying polymer technology to agriculture that came to him as he was building an artificial kidney nearly 20 years ago. He wondered if the same mechanisms used to construct synthetic blood vessels and membrane filters could be used as a growth medium for vegetables.
“Plants can solve many of society’s problems – from lifestyle diseases to environmental issues,” he explains. “I envisioned a world where we could take plants everywhere.”

He began by growing a small patch of grass on hydrogel film under LED lights. After more than a decade of experimentation, Mori and his colleagues developed a soil-free farming system that could be used to cultivate crops in greenhouses on a large scale.

According to a 2015 study by the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre, the planet has lost a third of its arable land due to pollution and erosion in the past 40 years. The combined effects of over-cultivation and heavy fertiliser use have depleted soil at a rate that far outpaces the earth’s natural ability to recover. Climate change and extreme weather events have accelerated erosion, exacerbating the situation. The dramatic loss of fertile land comes at a time when the demand for food is rising: by 2050, food production will need to increase by 50 per cent to feed the world’s projected population of 9 billion.

Water shortages pose further risks to food security. The availability of fresh water has plummeted along with the decline in soil – shrinking by nearly two-thirds over the past four decades in regions such as the Near East and Africa.

Film farming can help by offering an alternative to resource-intensive agriculture. The Mebiol system uses 90 per cent less water than conventional farming.

The polymer membrane’s microscopic pores also block bacteria and viruses, eliminating the need for harmful pesticides. Since soil is not necessary, sustainable farms can be established virtually anywhere – in the desert, on city rooftops, and even on top of contaminated land. The method is being used in 150 locations around Japan and one in China – as well as on a farm in the middle of the desert in the United Arab Emirates. Mebiol plans to export its technology to Europe and other countries in the Middle East later this year.

Initially, farmers were sceptical, but the method is catching on among younger producers such as Ayaka Miura, the president of Drop Farm, which grows boutique tomatoes in Ibaraki Prefecture. Because the polymer film holds on to water molecules, the plants on top have to work hard to absorb water and nutrients. The stress causes them to develop higher levels of sugars, amino acids and phytochemicals. In much the same way that growing wine grapes in poor soil produces concentrated fruit.

Drop Farm grows boutique tomatoes in Ibaraki Prefecture, using polymer film farming technique. In Japan, the products are mainly sold at high-end department stores, but film-farmed tomatoes have also started showing up on menus at restaurants such as Tokyo’s Celeb de Tomato, while upscale eateries like Dubai’s Le Petit Maison will begin using the ingredients in spring.Drop Farm grows boutique tomatoes in Ibaraki Prefecture, using polymer film farming technique.

When I meet Mori on an unseasonably warm day, he offers me a bowl of cherry tomatoes grown on Mebiol’s test farm. Biting into the bright-red fruit, I feel as though I’m tasting in surround-sound; the flavours vibrate with treble notes of sweetness and base chords of mouth-filling umami. Mori gives me a knowing look.

He has seen the future of farming – and the future is sweet.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Court: Magnificent, maddening drama from first-time director Chaitanya Tamhane

 Tara Brady
Just when you imagined that the courtroom drama had no particular place left to go, along comes Chaitanya Tamhane’s fiendishly clever debut feature.

Narayan Kamble (Sathidar) is a 65-year-old social activist and singer who is part of a troupe that performs around Mumbai’s less salubrious neighbourhoods. When he is arrested and charged with inciting a sewage worker to kill himself – supposedly after listening to one of Kamble’s vaguely socially-minded songs – defender Vinay Vora (Gomber) takes on the patently ludicrous case.
But between corrupt police officials, a ridiculous tort handed down from the Victorian era, a stickler of a judge (Joshi), and a dogged public prosecutor Nutan (Geetanjali Kulkarni), the case is not an easy one.

Cinematographer Mrinal Desai maintains an appropriately static gaze and always lingers a beat longer than most cameras would dare, a strategy that proves revelatory in every possible sense. A superficially freewheeling plot jumps between the carefully realised principal characters: Nutan is a hardworking mum-of-two who takes her family to immigrant- bashing pantomimes; Vinay enjoys imported cheese and jazz between social causes; the seemingly patient judge’s capacity for kneejerk cruelty is revealed is a small, incredibly disturbing final gesture.

It took first-time director Chaitanya Tamhane three years to complete Court, a most deserving prize-winner at both Venice and Dublin last year. Remarkably, he did so using a first-time crew and non-professional actors, a gamble that has greatly aided the picture’s verisimilitude. Beneath the studied neo-realism, the careful humanism and the hustle-bustle of the plot, lies a barbed critique of injustice and a deeply troubling portrait of what passes for freedom of speech and artistic expression under Indian democracy.

Human rights soon look like Nutan’s cheeses: a luxury that only the privileged can afford.
Watching how this magnificent, frequently maddening drama coalesces into a powerful chronicle of gaping social inequalities and judicial inadequacies, it’s impossible not to think of the great Indian master Satyajit Ray. There can be no higher compliment.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Pope Francis’s Revolution of Tenderness

James Carrol
Five decades ago, in an essay in The New York Review of Books, Hannah Arendt described an exchange she had had with a “Roman chambermaid” about Pope John XXIII. The beloved pontiff had died, of stomach cancer, two years earlier, not long before the Second Vatican Council, which he convened, transformed the liturgy and the spirit of the Catholic Church. “How could it happen that a true Christian would sit on St. Peter’s chair?” the chambermaid asked, apparently referring to the succession of venal company men who had held the office over the centuries. “Didn’t he first have to be appointed Bishop, and Archbishop, and Cardinal, until he finally was elected to be Pope? Had nobody been aware of who he was?”

A version of the same question has often been asked about Pope John’s current successor, Francis. Did the conservative, crimson-garbed men who elevated him to the papacy, in 2013, know what they were getting? In the past four years, Francis has spoken forcefully and forthrightly about the world’s most urgent problems—the bankruptcy of free-market capitalism, the plight of migrants, the stresses of liberal democracy, climate change, demagogic populism, economic inequality. He has done all this with verve, good humor, and a self-accepting modesty. And, most important, he has been heard. The dangerous currents of world politics have made him into a global tribune of human aspiration; it is no longer news that the Pope is a true Christian. Last week, Bruno Giussani, the European director of TED, said that “Francis has become possibly the only moral voice capable of reaching people across boundaries and providing clarity and a compelling message of hope.”

This unexpected endorsement coincided with an equally unexpected event—Francis’s appearance, via video feed, at Vancouver’s TED2017 conference, where he spoke on the theme “The Future You.” For twenty minutes, the Pope held the rapt attention of the technopreneurs, a post-religious legion if ever there was one. (So far, TED’s virtual congregation has viewed his talk more than a million and a half times.) Francis has, in the past, challenged “media and the digital world” for preventing “people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply, and to love generously,” but his subject in Vancouver was broader than the “mental pollution” of screen overload. He offered his audience of future-inventing techies both a positive message and a challenge, pleading with them not to forget the marginalized. “How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion?” he said. “Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face.”

The Pope underscored the deeper message of his TED talk a few days later, on a trip to Egypt. There he joined in the pain of the country’s Coptic Christians, who have been reeling from a pair of ISIS-inspired bombings that killed forty-five worshippers on Palm Sunday and maimed dozens of others. “Your sufferings are also our sufferings,” Francis said, referring not only to the recent attacks but also to the sect’s long history of assault and discrimination. With Pope Tawadros II, his Coptic counterpart, Francis engaged in what he called an “ecumenism of blood,” even issuing a surprise joint declaration whereby the two churches, alienated for a millennium and a half, recognized each other’s baptisms. Across an ancient boundary, Francis was a Christian standing with beleaguered fellow-Christians.

On the same trip, the Pope crossed another, more pointedly symbolic boundary. His journey retraced the mythic pilgrimage of his namesake, St. Francis, who travelled to Egypt, in 1219, in a futile attempt to end the Crusades. The saint may have imagined converting the local sultan, but what he mostly sought was a détente between Islam and Christianity. That religious divide persists today, of course, and still carries a Crusader legacy. In Cairo, Pope Francis met with Muslim leaders at Al-Azhar University, which was established more than a hundred years before Oxford and remains the most important religious educational institution in the Muslim world. Condemning the “barbarity” of terrorism, he invited the gathered clerics to join him in saying “once more a clear and firm ‘No!’ to every form of violence, vengeance, and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God.” Francis referred indirectly, but plainly, to Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Egypt’s authoritarian President, saying, “History does not forgive those who preach justice but then practice injustice. History does not forgive those who talk about equality but then discard those who are different.” Sisi was not the only one to hear that rebuke; his heartened opposition did, too.

It may seem strange to yoke the élite ritual of a TED talk to a high-risk reckoning with inflamed religiosity in a war zone. In fact, though, Francis only ever addresses “The Future You” wherever he goes. Last month, in a speech before the heads of the European Union, his theme was solidarity, and he returned to it at TED2017. Solidarity, he said, is not just for social workers or community organizers or activists—the do-gooders. No. Why shouldn’t it be the prime value for everyone, “the default attitude in political, economic, and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples, and countries”? To TED’s vast hall of uplifted, eager faces, and to its dispersed multitude of screen-watchers, the Pope could not have been more frank. “Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly,” he told them. “If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other.”

Francis spoke to the privileged in Vancouver and to the besieged in Cairo when he said, in his TED talk, “Many of us, nowadays, seem to believe that a happy future is something impossible to achieve.” That is not true in either case—or so this old man insists. He speaks, yes, as a Christian, but also as a moral voice that history has wondrously lifted up. “The future does have a name, and its name is hope,” he said. “A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,’ and it turns into an ‘us.’ ” Then begins the longed-for revolution, which Francis presumes to label “a revolution of tenderness.” That no other world figure talks this way, in TED or out, is not the problem. It’s the point.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Pourquoi l’extrême droite n’existe pas (encore) en Espagne

Par  Isabelle Piquer

Crise économique, crise des institutions, chômage exponentiel, scandales de corruption, afflux massif de migrants : tous les ingrédients qui ont favorisé la montée des populismes d’extrême droite en Europe auraient pu plonger l’Espagne dans les mêmes affres que ses voisins. Pourtant, le pays a échappé au phénomène.

Santiago Abascal en sait quelque chose : dans son petit bureau du centre de Madrid, le président de Vox, un parti qui veut défendre la « civilisation occidentale contre la menace fondamentaliste », regarde « avec envie » les résultats de Marine Le Pen. Santiago Abascal affirme n’avoir qu’un seul objectif : « survivre » jusqu’aux élections européennes de 2019. C’est dire si les espoirs de victoire de ce parti, créé en 2013 par des dissidents du Parti populaire (PP), sont minces.

Vox a beau être le plus grand des groupuscules d’extrême droite espagnols, il n’a recueilli que 0,2 % des voix lors des élections législatives de juin 2016 et il n’a pas de représentation parlementaire. Copié sur celui de Donald Trump, son slogan, « Hacer España grande otra vez » (« Rendre à l’Espagne sa grandeur »), n’a pas su convaincre. Santiago Abascal reconnaît que son parti ne parvient pas à exploiter le « sentiment d’aliénation » qui règne en Espagne : les victimes de la crise qui pourraient devenir d’éventuels électeurs « ne nous voient pas », résume-t-il.

Pourquoi la récession, le rejet des partis traditionnels et l’afflux de migrants n’ont-ils pas provoqué, de l’autre côté des Pyrénées, les mêmes réponses qu’en France ? L’explication qui vient spontanément à l’esprit des intellectuels est l’histoire : le franquisme, qui revendiquait une Espagne « unie, grande et libre », n’a pas encore disparu des mémoires.

« La dictature est encore récente, et la moitié de la population espagnole a vécu sous le régime de Franco, analyse Carmen Gonzalez Enriquez, chercheuse au Real Instituto Elcano, le principal think tank espagnol, qui vient de publier un rapport sur l’« exception espagnole ». « Ces quatre décennies [1939-1975] ont, d’une certaine façon, vacciné le pays contre le virus du nationalisme extrême et de la xénophobie. Dès le début de la démocratie, à la fin des années 1970, les nouveaux partis, de droite comme de gauche, ont rejeté les symboles que sont le drapeau et l’hymne. Depuis, c’est resté. »

L’ancienne dictature n’a laissé qu’un tout petit nombre de nostalgiques : les autres se sont fondus dans la droite traditionnelle. Le Parti populaire du premier ministre, Mariano Rajoy, créé à son origine par d’anciens cadres franquistes (il s’appelait alors Alianza ­Popular), a joué un rôle d’amortisseur en absorbant un éventail assez large de sensibilités, des ultraréactionnaires aux moyennement centristes. « Le PP a tenu l’extrême droite sous contrôle, souligne l’historien Xavier Casals, spécialiste des mouvements extrémistes. L’aile la plus dure n’est pas mise en avant, mais elle est tolérée. Elle est cependant assez réfractaire à [l’adoption d’une] posture xénophobe : cette attitude est contraire à la culture politique de droite de l’Espagne, qui est marquée par le catholicisme. »

Cette phobie du nationalisme est d’autant plus forte que l’Espagne est tiraillée par des cultures régionales très marquées : Madrid doit constamment négocier avec les identités basques, catalanes, mais aussi andalouses ou galiciennes. En Espagne, l’absence de récit national rend le rejet de l’autre plus compliqué que dans d’autres pays. « Sans identité commune, difficile de justifier une exclusion basée sur la différence », remarque la chercheuse Carmen Gonzalez Enriquez.

Le débat sur l’immigration ne figure d’ailleurs pas parmi les premières préoccupations des Espagnols : d’après le Centre d’enquêtes sociologiques (CIS), c’est le chômage qui l’emporte (il dépasse légèrement les 18 %), suivi de près par la corruption. L’immigration est reléguée aux dernières places.

En Espagne, la plupart des migrants sont arrivés entre 2000 et 2009, à la faveur du boom immobilier qui a créé beaucoup d’emplois. Dans ces années-là, le pays accueille la moitié des migrants qui arrivent en Europe. Aujourd’hui, les étrangers sont au nombre de 4,5 millions (un peu moins de 10 % de la population) et il s’agit en majorité de Roumains, de Marocains et de Latino-Américains. La société a plutôt bien absorbé l’arrivée de ces nouveaux venus. Selon un rapport du think tank américain Migration ­Policy Institute de 2013, la politique de l’Etat espagnol a été « généralement ouverte, attachée à l’intégration, et plus soucieuse de développer les voies de l’immigration légale que d’en limiter les flux ».

En dépit de cette gestion apaisée, des incidents se sont produits. Le plus grave a eu lieu en février 2000, en Andalousie, lorsque les habitants s’en sont pris violemment à des travailleurs agricoles marocains. Mais l’affrontement a été considéré comme un débordement isolé.

« Il existe un consensus entre les principales forces politiques pour éviter d’éveiller des sentiments anti-immigrants », explique Carmen Gonzalez Enriquez, chercheuse au Real Instituto Elcano

« Les immigrants sont très dispersés sur le territoire, et les questions se résolvent au niveau local », explique Ignacio Cembrero, auteur de La ­España de Ala (« L’Espagne d’Allah », La Esfera de los Libros, 2016, non traduit), un ouvrage sur l’immigration musulmane. En Espagne, l’immigration est totalement absente du débat politique. « Il existe un consensus entre les principales forces politiques pour ne pas aborder le sujet et éviter d’éveiller des sentiments anti-immigrants, explique Carmen Gonzalez Enriquez. Ce n’est pas de l’autocensure, mais tous les partis ont préféré rester très politiquement corrects. »

Jorge Galindo, politologue du think tank Politikon, confirme qu’en Espagne les immigrés ne sont pas devenus les boucs émissaires de la crise. « Un discours xénophobe passerait très mal, alors pourquoi les partis prendraient-ils ce risque ? », demande-t-il. « L’Espagne ne se pose pas trop de questions sur son modèle de société, renchérit Ignacio Cembrero. Cette absence de débat sur l’immigration a permis d’improviser des solutions pratiques aux problèmes que posaient les étrangers, sans alimenter la discussion au niveau national. »

Pour exprimer leur ras-le-bol au sujet de la crise, les Espagnols ne se sont pas tournés vers les partis d’extrême droite : ils ont préféré porter les deux nouveaux venus de la scène politique, la formation anti-austérité Podemos et, dans une moindre mesure, les centristes de Ciudadanos. « Comme partout en Europe, la crise économique a eu des conséquences sur le système politique, mais, en Espagne, la colère ne s’est pas exprimée de la même manière qu’ailleurs, explique Jorge Galindo. Pablo Iglesias, le leader de ­Podemos, a souvent dit qu’il avait évité la montée de l’extrême droite. C’est vrai dans la mesure où il a su répondre au mécontentement et à l’envie de changer le système. »

L’Espagne serait-elle vaccinée à vie contre le populisme et la xénophobie ? Carmen Gonzalez Enriquez est assez optimiste. « Il est toujours risqué de faire des pronostics, mais, à l’horizon de dix ou quinze ans, je ne crois pas que l’on puisse craindre une montée de l’extrême droite. »