OPINION

The plight of Europe, in 53 seconds

Last Sunday, during Spain’s biggest annual cinematic event, an actress from Catalonia walked onto the stage to receive the Goya Award from the Spanish Film Academy for best actress, marking the third major prize she has won in her career.

Candela Pena, a Mediterranean brunette in her 40s who looks a little bit like the American pop icon Madonna, with a hint of stage fright yet still confident, took the small bronze bust of painter Francisco de Goya in her hands and addressed her colleagues and the television audience. Her traditional acceptance speech lasted 53 seconds and can be seen on YouTube.

Pena thanked the academy for the award and went on to say that she had not expected to receive it.

“I don’t know whether I should accept it in Catalan, as a Catalan actress, or whether I should just say, ‘Thank you very much, I am very happy,’” Pena said.

However, pushing formalities aside, the award-winning actress continued with a scathing criticism of austerity policies that came straight from the heart. She recounted how before being cast for the lead role in Cesc Gay’s “Una pistola en cada mano” (A Gun in Each Hand), she had been out of work for three years.

“In those three years I watched my father die in a public hospital where there were no blankets to cover him with, no water for him to drink; we had to bring it ourselves,” said Pena.

“In those three years when I was out of work, I gave birth and I do not know what kind of public education my child has to look forward to. In those three years without work I saw people die because they had no home,” the actress told her audience.

“This is why no one can sully the joy of this night for me. Standing here, I am asking for work. I have a child to raise. Thank you,” Pena ended.

Pena, a dramatic artist, described the dramatic turn of her own life and the dramatic reality being experienced by millions of people, like her, in the south of Europe: successful people, people who were once at the top of their careers, who were at their creative peak and who have been cast to the margins of society by the economic crisis, who have been cut off from the present and who face a dark future.

In a mere 53 seconds, the accomplished actress summed up the plight of the people of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia and all of crisis-hit Europe.