Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has just unveiled Spain's latest contribution to fostering global peace and security. No, his government will not be sending more troops to help rebuild Afghanistan. And no, Spain will not be providing more vaccines to help needy children in Africa. Instead, the Zapatero government is the proud sponsor of a lavish decorative ceiling at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva.
Miquel Barceló, one of the world's most highly paid abstract artists, was commissioned by Spain to redecorate "Room XX" and its ellipsoidal dome at the Palais des Nations. He used more than 100 tons of paint to turn the negotiating room into a cave dripping with thousands of 50-kilo multicolored artificial stalactites.
"The cave is a metaphor for the Agora, the first meeting place of humans, the big African tree under which to sit to talk, and the only possible future: dialogue, human rights," says Barceló. Using postmodern rhetoric which closely mimics that employed by Zapatero, Barceló describes his new work as "reaching towards the infinite, bringing a multiplicity of points of view."
The 1.500m2 (15.000ft2) ceiling, which was co-unveiled on November 18 by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain in the presence of UN Secretary General Ki-moon, is being hailed by the Spanish government as one of the UN's most important works of art. Some are even comparing Barceló's new "symbol of multilateralism" with Michelangelo's work at the Sistine Chapel.
As Spaniards debate the artistic value of Barceló's ceiling, however, excitement has turned into anger as Spanish taxpayers learn that they will be the ones footing the bill. The 13-month redecoration project has cost more than 20 million euros, all of which is being paid for by Spain. Some 60 percent of the money is coming from a group of Spanish companies that presumably have been pressured into joining a special NGO set up by the Spanish foreign ministry to "promote dialogue through the use of Spanish art." The remaining 40 percent is being paid for by the Spanish government, including 500,000 euros that were taken from Spain's overseas development aid fund. Barceló, who insists that the money was not "stolen from the poor," will walk away with 6 million euros for his "long, hard, fun and ultimately orgiastic" efforts.
Zapatero, who does not like the concepts of transparency and accountability (unless, of course, they are applied to US President George W Bush), had tried to keep the cost of the controversial project secret. But he was forced to come clean after Spanish newspapers published exclusive photos of the final product just a week before it was to be unveiled.
In a quintessentially Socialist way of doing damage control, Spain's foreign-minister-cum-art-critic Miguel Ángel Moratinos refused to debate the cost because "art has no price." He said: "Only fools confuse value and price. This project is a new way of doing diplomacy and foreign policy."
And indeed it is. Welcome, once again, to the Zapaterian world of postmodern politics, where image is king and substance is, well, un pequeño detalle (a small detail).
Zapatero initially foreshadowed his passion for art during his first speech [pdf] to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2004, when he declared that "culture is always peace." Since then, the Spanish prime minister has made it his solemn duty whenever and wherever possible to pontificate about human rights. Thus it comes as no surprise that Zapatero has now managed to unify these two obsessions into the Opus magnum of his political career: Barceló's new "planet-cave" will henceforth be called the "Chamber for Human Rights and the Alliance of Civilizations." What's more, it will also be the permanent home of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The Human Rights Council is, of course, the successor to the infamous UN Commission on Human Rights, which was shut down in 2006 after 50 years of devoting itself almost exclusively to criticizing Israel. But less than three months after it was created, the new Human Rights Council voted in June 2006 to make a review of human rights abuses by Israel a permanent feature of every council session. Since then, the Human Rights Council, which has been hijacked by some of the world's worst human rights violators, such as China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, has passed more than 60 percent of its resolutions on Israel alone. It reaffirms the UN's pathological obsession with the Jewish state.
But rather than demanding the complete reform of what even the staid New York Times says has become a complete disgrace to multilateralism, Zapatero instead has chosen to legitimize this paragon of dysfunctional globalism with Spanish largesse because of his desire to raise Spain's international profile. The ceiling is a gift from Spain "to the entire international community, to all human beings, to all countries," says Zapatero. The "impressive dome is a reflection of Spain in the 21st century, a country of solidarity, commitment to development aid and against intolerance, discrimination and poverty."
The Alliance of Civilizations, meanwhile, is another one of Zapatero's postmodern initiatives to save humanity from itself. He "borrowed" his idea from the "Dialogue of Civilizations," a pre-modern concept promoted by Islamic radicals in Iran during the 1990s. In its essence, it calls on the West to negotiate a truce with Islamic extremists, on terms set by the latter.
According to Zapatero, the world would be so much more peaceful if the West would just abandon Judeo-Christian monotheism. Never mind the pequeño detalle that hyper-secularists like Zapatero are the embodiment of what Al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists hate about the West. Zapatero believes that with a small dose of multilateral group therapy, he will be able to paper over any differences he may have with the Islamists who want to take over his country.
As always with Zapatero, it's the image that matters, not the substance. And so his impeccable postmodern logic comes full circle. His rabidly anti-clerical government takes great pride in its Sistine Chapel of the 21st century, a shrine dedicated to the gods of multilateralism that ultimately seek to bring down the Western Civilization (especially to the Judeo-Christian part) that Zapatero hates so much.
Never mind the pequeño detalle that money was lifted from the foreign aid budget to pay for his grandiose monument to globalism. According to the Spanish government, "everything that is related to human rights is development aid, and in that sense, what is being done in Geneva in the framework of the UN is the best example of that effective multilateralism." As far as the misappropriation of funds are concerned, the proletarians who fail to see the value in such Socialist largesse are "fools" who are not sufficiently sophisticated to understand the value of art.
Meanwhile, the thinking goes, if Spain's example of "art as effective multilateralism" through the UN Human Rights Council and the Alliance of Civilizations can contribute in some way to the demise of Israel and the West, well then Zapatero can also take credit for bringing peace to the Middle East and even to the whole world. Then the possibilities for building his Socialist utopia will be endless!
It's all part of the new, quintessentially 'Made in Spain' way of doing diplomacy and foreign policy.