Spain’s deeply rooted distrust of popular participation in democratic processes is reminiscent of the swift, top-down transition some forty years ago. As such, it is a painful reminder of Spain’s unfinished revolution.
Spain’s peaceful transition to democracy has been extolled as a model to emulate for democratizing nations across the globe. Following the death of General Franco in 1975, King Juan Carlos transformed the authoritarian regime into a European democracy, and did so without shedding a drop of blood. And yet Spanish democracy nowadays is not without its critics. The Catalan movement for independence unveils just what’s amiss in Spain’s celebrated democratic transition.
In Berlin last week, constitutional scholar Bruce Ackerman singled out the Spanish transition to democracy as one lacking in authenticity and, ultimately, in legitimacy. The transition was negotiated between elites behind closed doors. Franco’s heir, King Juan Carlos, essentially preempted a revolt by co-opting opposition leaders Adolfo Suarez and Santiago Carrillo. A new constitution was drafted and passed through a popular referendum in 1978. Unlike the constitutional referenda in Spain’s northern neighbor France, however, the new law of the land was not subject to political debate. The public was never fully mobilized.
This peaceful yet ‘unauthentic’ transition to democracy planted the seeds for grievances from Spain’s regional minorities. In its cultural and linguistic diversity, Spain resembles modern-day Switzerland and Belgium — a fact that Catalans are quick to point out. Yet this heterogeneity is not reflected in the Spanish constitution. The law of 1978 granted minorities broader powers than were in place, including a regional government, a state police force and recognition of minority languages. As has become clear in the decades to follow, and again in recent months, the same constitution also impedes minorities’ right to self-determination.
Spain’s brisk constitutional process did not do justice to its regional minorities. Ethnically diverse democracies often thrive on complex power-sharing arrangements. A number of European countries, including Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and, more recently, Bosnia, can attest to this. History has taught us that in ethnically diverse states, identity ought to take center stage when constitutions are drafted, or significant portions of the population will feel unrepresented and may eventually wish to jump ship, or worse.
The tense standoff between Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the president of Catalunya’s regional government Artur Mas has revealed Spain’s unbudging resistance to a democratic resolution of Catalans’ grievances. Madrid blocked not only the official referendum but also an unofficial consultation on Catalan independence through Spain’s Constitutional Court. (And it takes any opportunity to block social and economic legislation passed by the Catalan government.) Rajoy has refused to negotiate with the Catalan region and has called the recent referendum – which the region held in defiance of the Court’s ruling – an act of political propaganda.
Spain’s intransigence is but a symptom of a deeper problem. Recall the brutal repression of high school students and teachers demonstrating in Valencia three years ago. The use of pain-inducing sound cannons, batons and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters is common practice in Spain. A bill introduced by the conservative Partido Popular in 2013 proposes to fine protesters up to 30.000€ for civil disobedience, videotaping the police or for simply gathering in front of parliament. Excessive use of force against demonstrators and repressive laws that restrict freedom of expression and assembly ignited a public statement by Amnesty International in 2011 (and again in 2013 and 2014). Spain’s deeply rooted distrust of popular participation in democratic processes is reminiscent of the swift, top-down transition some forty years ago. As such, it is a painful reminder of Spain’s unfinished revolution.
While Spain’s elite — and particularly its conservative Partido Popular under Aznar and Rajoy — continues to practice politics old style, a new generation of politically active citizens gives reasons for hope. The peaceful and well-organized referendum in Catalonia last week is the culmination of a years-long grassroots movement, on which Artur Mas piggybacked two years ago. The rise of Podemos in the recent European elections is yet another example of grassroots at work. The far-left party rose not out of the Socialists but out of the indignados movement which itself gave rise to Occupy and numerous other social movements across the globe. A new generation of Spanish citizens is demanding inclusion in its state’s governance.
Modern-day Spain made its first steps to democracy thanks to one leader’s political will. Franco’s heir invited outsider elites to take part in shaping Spain’s future in 1975. It is high time that Spain extend decision-making privileges once again — this time to its citizens. Spanish citizens, Catalans included, should determine their own future — be that a new constitutional arrangement or the breakup of the Spanish monarchy.
Dani Marinova does research on political representation and democratization at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. In 2011-2012 she was a visiting researcher at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and attended several peaceful protests in Catalonia.
A senior Spanish judge says he will launch a second investigation into corruption allegations against the ruling People’s Party (PP). High Court Examining Magistrate Pablo Ruz said in a ruling that he would launch the probe into allegations that the former PP treasurer, Luis Barcenas, held a secret record of illegal cash donations that were purportedly channeled to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and other members of the party. The allegations have sparked anger among Spaniards who have to deal with high unemployment, harsh cutbacks in social welfare and an ailing economy.
In the first investigation, Barcenas had been accused of involvement in bribery, tax evasion and money laundering. The government of Prime Minister Rajoy has been blamed for the harsh austerity measures, which has led companies to shutdown and driven the unemployment rate above 26 percent. Corruption scandals have also hit Inaki Urdangarin, the son-in-law of Spain’s king. Urdangarin has allegedly embezzled millions of euros of public money paid to a company he managed several years ago.
Spanish police will erect barriers around politicians’ residences to shield them from protests over the growing number of home evictions and to call for changes to mortgage laws.
The Interior Ministry said it ordered police to keep demonstrators at a distance after protests outside the houses of senior members of the governing People’s Party, including the Madrid home of Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaría.
Property foreclosures rose nearly fourfold in the four years since 2008 compared to the previous four-year period, court data shows. Last year, foreclosure cases opened by the courts increased 18% from 2011 to nearly 92,000 as the country suffered its second recession in five years and one in four workers were unemployed.
Around 200 people descended on Sáenz de Santamaría’s home on Friday, including several victims of evictions who related their stories to the crowd using megaphones.
Protest groups, coordinated by the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH in Spanish), argue their demonstrations are peaceful, though officials, including Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, have condemned what they call “acts of intimidation.”
PAH wants changes to Spain’s mortgage laws, which allow little margin for struggling homeowners to negotiate with banks than in other countries. Nor can mortgages be eliminated by personal bankruptcy.
The People’s Party infuriated campaigners by amending a bill to ease mortgage regulations on Monday, removing a measure calling for such debts to be cancelled once houses are repossessed.
Hundreds of banner-waving protesters demonstrated at People’s Party headquarters all over the country on Monday evening after it emerged parliament would not debate the measure in an open session. The bill was triggered automatically after 1.5 million people signed a petition.
Spain’s socialist opposition leader has called on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to step down as the growing corruption scandal threatens his reliability in tackling the ongoing economic crisis.
“Rajoy should give up his role as the head of government (because) he cannot tackle the very difficult situation confronting Spain,” Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told reporters on Sunday.
This is while a poll, released on Saturday, shows that public support for Rajoy and his ruling People’s Party (PP) has fallen to 23.9 percent which is the lowest since the 2011 election and down from 29.8 percent in the same poll last month.
Some 77 percent of the respondents said they disapproved of Rajoy as the head of the government, 85 percent said they had little or no faith in him and 80 percent said the PP leaders had to resign.
The center-left newspaper El Pais published on Thursday account ledgers showing donations being channeled into secret payments to Rajoy and other party leaders.
The newspaper claimed that the premier had received 25,200 euros a year between 1997 and 2008. It also said that the fund was collected mostly from construction firms, adding that such payments would be legal if they were fully declared to the taxman.
Rajoy on Saturday rejected the allegations, saying he would publish “statements of income, patrimony and any information necessary” to prove the claims are “false.”
The allegations have sparked anger among the Spanish people who have been asked to accept harsh austerity measures as the government was trying to prevent an international bailout.
Thousands of protesters gathered in different cities calling for the resignation of Rajoy following his denial of corruption allegations.
People in Spain have staged demonstrations in several cities across the country to voice their anger at the corruption in the eurozone member state which is in the grip of a sharp economic downturn, Press TV reports.
On Friday, angry protesters assembled near the headquarters of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s centre-right Popular Party in the capital Madrid, chanting slogans. The building was protected by riot police and metal barriers.
The demonstrations were sparked by a recent report by the centre-right newspaper El Mundo disclosing that senior members of Popular Party collected undeclared salaries, largely from private companies.
The paper added that former Popular Party treasurer Luis Barcenas gave envelopes which contained 5,000-15,000 euros (USD 6,500 -20,000) to party officials in addition to their official salaries during two decades.
The newspaper, however, highlighted that Rajoy did not receive such kind of payments and he ordered Popular Party secretary general Maria Dolores de Cospedal to end the practice in 2009.
“The Popular Party’s accounts are clear, transparent and inspected by the Court of Auditors,” Cospedal said, denying allegations that party members got undisclosed payments under her supervision.
This comes as on January 16, Spanish media reported that Barcenas along with several others held a Swiss bank account with some 22 million euros.
“The thieves… are taking all the money. Undoubtedly who is going to suffer the consequences are the poor people,” a protester told Press TV.
As the fourth largest eurozone economy, Spain must lower its deficit to 4.5 percent in 2013 and 2.8 percent in 2014.
Economists, however, say those targets will be difficult to meet amid poor prospects for the country’s economic recovery.
Battered by the global financial downturn, the Spanish economy collapsed into recession in the second half of 2008, taking with it millions of jobs.