Spain: Madrid train bombings 20 years on

Today is a day of sad remembrance in Spain: on 11 March 2004, 191 people were killed and more than 1,800 injured in the ten explosions of a coordinated attack by Islamists on commuter trains in Madrid. Commentators in the national press reflect on the polarisation caused by the attack itself and the reactions of politicians.

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El Mundo (ES) /

Collapse of social consensus

According to El Mundo the date marks the beginning of a major political division in the country:

“The feelings of grief, unity and solidarity that immediately followed the tragedy were soon perverted by a political war. ... The consensus on the moral foundations of coexistence collapsed in the 72 hours after the attack. The government of [the conservative José María] Aznar was unable to get out of the initial error made by the police in blaming Eta. ... [Opposition leader José Luis Rodríguez] Zapatero accused the PP of being 'murderers'. ... The confrontation was enormous. And the rift between the right and the left has been very deep ever since.”

El País (ES) /

Sowing the seeds of polarisation

Manipulation is at work here, El País complains:

“After losing the elections to José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the PP fuelled an entire conspiracy theory to justify its actions a posteriori and even after the truth was established by the courts in 2007. ... That campaign sowed the seeds of the polarisation that continues to this day. The most dramatic aspect is that it was created by the cruel and irresponsible manipulation of two of the greatest tragedies that Spain has experienced since the Civil War: Eta terrorism and the Madrid train bombings of 11 March 2004. This division did not emerge from society but was fabricated by politicians and journalists. ... Today we see in the US how systematic lies corrode democracy. This also has to do with the inability to cope with an election defeat.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

Lies as a way to stay in power

The year 2004 marked the start of the era of disinformation, El Periódico de Catalunya observes:

“José María Aznar's government's appalling communication management, which insisted on the Eta hypothesis, led to the normalisation of using lies in politics as a means to stay in power. ... But in addition to this way of doing politics, the unexpected election of social democrat Zapatero as prime minister made possible the incorporation of a number of issues on the political agenda that have fuelled polarisation ever since then. ... The laws aimed at combating gender-based violence and promoting equality, the law on same-sex marriage and that on historical commemoration all sparked protests fuelled by a PP that felt unjustly ousted from power.”