On Saturday, April 9, in the latest event sponsored by the Center for the Study of Democracy, UC Irvine hosted a lecture entitled ‘Leadership in a Global World’ featuring Jose Maria Aznar, former prime minister of Spain.
The lecture, which was the latest event in the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series, took place at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center before a diverse crowd of students, faculty and members of the community. Aznar was preceded onstage by a welcome speech by political science professor William Schonfeld and an introduction by Chancellor Ralph Cicerone.
Aznar, whose Partido Popular political party was voted out of office in 2004 shortly following the Madrid train bombings, decided not to run for reelection after having served as the prime minister of Spain’s government since 1996. At 52, Aznar is believed to have a good chance of regaining his former office.
Although he was a member of the U.S.-led coalition effort in invading Iraq, which was a subject of tension and the main reason his party was voted out of office, Aznar focused his lecture on the recent death of Pope John Paul II and how his papacy exemplified what qualities a true leader should have.
‘He was a leader,’ Aznar said in reference to the late pontiff. ‘He had a will, a capacity, a determination, a courage. Very extraordinary. … He was an exceptional man.’
Aznar also highlighted the leadership of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, but was quick to point out that ‘past successes must be confirmed on a daily basis in the present.’
Although Aznar’s lecture was focused on the leadership qualities of others, the Q-and-A period was geared more toward the political events in which Aznar was directly involved.
When asked why he joined the coalition to invade Iraq despite a large number of Spanish citizens who were in opposition, Aznar responded, ‘I think that the American position is right.’
‘Saddam Hussein is responsible for the murder of 1 million people,’ Aznar said. ‘It is necessary to stop that. And now I think the world is better. And now when I watch the election in Iraq, I think we are right. To live, freedom. To think, freedom. I think we are right.’
Fourth-year international studies major Lauren Sanne, who studied in Madrid last year, felt that Aznar did a good job of getting his point across, although she may not necessarily agree on all the issues.
‘You can definitely tell he was a politician,’ Sanne said. ‘I think he was pretty straightforward and from my perspective, as someone who’s studied in Spain, the language barrier makes it a little harder. There were some pretty touchy issues and I think he was giving his honest perspective. It doesn’t mean that I agree with it, but I think he did a pretty good job.’
Aznar also seemed to give a candid and genuine response to the question of why he felt his party lost the last election.
Aznar immediately blamed the loss on the March 11, 2004 terrorist attacks on a series of Madrid trains that not only killed more than 200 people, but rocked the country’s stability shortly before its general elections. The Aznar government was quick to blame ETA, the Basque separatist movement, a move that backfired and resulted in a new political party taking over when it was revealed that Al Qaeda was really behind the attacks. Yet Aznar did not mention ETA in his remarks.
‘On March 11, 2004, Spain suffered a terrible attack of terrorism,’ Aznar said. ‘Without these attacks, my party [would have won] the elections.’
Some in the audience agreed with Aznar.
‘I though that was a good point,’ said Deanna Wertheimer, a UCI alumna who graduated last year with a degree in social ecology. ‘[The attack] was why they lost the elections. It would have been political suicide to say that they were done by Al Qaeda. So saying it was done by ETA was an attempt to save [the party from a defeat in the elections].’
Aznar’s presence at UCI was not met with the same criticism and protest as previous speakers who have supported the Bush administration’s policies, such as John Yoo. However, some students stood in front of the entrance to the event and handed out anti-Aznar articles that attempted to link him to a former fascist dictatorship in Spain.
After the event ended, Aznar stayed to the delight of many who wanted to shake the his hand, or take a picture with him.
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