Spain has warned that the European Union has lost billions of euros as a result of the sanctions the bloc has imposed against Russia over Moscow’s alleged role in Ukraine’s crisis.
“Sanctions have had a heavy cost for us all,” Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said in Brussels on Monday.
Spain’s top diplomat added that “the EU has so far lost 21 billion euros ($23.7 billion). In Spain we have been badly hit in terms of agriculture and tourism.”
The figure represented the first account of the monetary loss caused to the EU due to the tough economic sanctions it has been progressively imposing on Russia since July 2014.
On Sunday, nearly 200 farmers went on strike in Spain and abandoned their products in the middle of a road in Catalonia to protest against Western-imposed sanctions against Russia. The farmers dumped their citrus fruits on the road to express their anger at the European Union for its ban on fruit exports to Russia.
The Western powers have been accusing Moscow of playing a role in the deadly crisis in eastern Ukraine, which erupted when Kiev launched military operations in April last year to silence pro-Russia protests. The Kremlin denies the accusation.
Russia has, in return, imposed a full year-long ban of European Union, US, Australian, Canadian, and Norwegian food exports to the country.
Amid fear on the part of some EU members for their trade ties with Moscow, the bloc has agreed to postpone new sanctions against Russia to give time to see if a four-way Ukraine peace summit on February 11 makes progress.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, “The principle of the sanctions will be kept, but their implementation will depend on the situation on the ground.”
He was referring to a January 29 decision by the foreign ministers of the 28-nation union to add 19 people, including five Russians, to a list of those facing travel bans and asset freezes after an upsurge in fighting in eastern Ukraine.
“We will assess the situation again next Monday,” said the French top diplomat.
At least 100,000 people poured into the streets of Madrid on Saturday in a huge show of support for Spain’s new anti-austerity party Podemos, riding a wave of popularity after the election success of its Greek hard-left ally Syriza.
A sea of demonstrators chanted “Yes we can!” and carried signs reading “The change is now” as they made their way from Madrid city hall to the central Puerta del Sol square in the first major march called by Podemos, which has surged ahead in opinion polls in a crucial election year.
Many in the crowd also waved Greek flags and the red and white flags of Syriza, an equally radical party whose stunning win at the polls last week has buoyed Podemos and its anti-establishment message.
“The wind of change is starting to blow in Europe,” Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, a pony-tailed former university professor, said in Greek and Spanish as he addressed supporters at the so-called “March for Change”. “We dream but we take our dream seriously. More has been done in Greece in six days than many governments did in years,” the 36-year-old said.
Syriza beat mainstream Greek parties with vows to end painful austerity measures and corruption and Podemos hopes to emulate its success with a similar message in Spain’s general election due in November.
Organisers put the turnout in Madrid at 300,000 while police said some 100,000 people had massed in the Spanish capital.
Spain has held the Tel Aviv regime accountable for the death of a Spanish peacekeeper serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) during an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement.
“It was because of this escalation of violence, and it came from the Israeli side,” Spanish Ambassador Roman Oyarzun Marchesi told reporters in New York on Wednesday.
Marchesi further noted that his country demands full investigation into the killing.
The Spanish defense ministry said in a statement that 36-year-old Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo “died this [Wednesday] morning during incidents between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the area of responsibility of the Spanish contingent.”
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy expressed on Twitter his “great sadness at the death of a Spanish soldier in Lebanon.”
The Security Council also condemned the peacekeeper’s death in its strongest terms, and extended its sincere sympathies.
See also :
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has blamed Hezbollah for the death of a Spanish UN peacekeeper killed in retaliatory Israeli mortar fire in southern Lebanon on Wednesday.
After a series of cross-border strikes that left two IDF soldiers and a Spanish peacekeeper from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) dead on Wednesday, Lieberman called Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo to express his condolences.
He also claimed that the Lebanese government was responsible for any attacks that come from its territory.
Lieberman called on Israel to respond to the attack in a “forceful and disproportionate manner.”
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also warned that Israel could retaliate harshly.
“To those who are challenging us in the north, I suggest you look at what happened in the Gaza Strip,” he said. … Full article
The End of an Era and the Beginning of Podemos
Something is happening in Spain. A party that did not exist one year ago, Podemos, with a clear left-wing program, would win a sufficient number of votes to gain a majority in Spanish Parliament if an election were held today. Meanwhile, the leaders of the group G-20 attending their annual meeting in Australia were congratulating the president of the Spanish conservative-neoliberal government, Mr. Mariano Rajoy, for the policies that his government had imposed. (I use the term “imposed” because none of these policies were written in its electoral program.) These included: (1) the largest cuts in public social expenditures (dismantling the underfunded Spanish welfare state) ever seen since democracy was established in Spain in 1978 and (2) the toughest labor reforms, which have substantially deteriorated labor market conditions. Salaries have declined by 10% since the Great Recession started in 2007, and unemployment has hit an all-time record of 26% (52% among the youth). The percentage of what the trade unions defined as “shit work” (temporary, precarious work) has increased, becoming the majority of new contracts in the labor market (more than 52% of all contracts), and 66% of unemployed people do not have any form of unemployment insurance or public assistance.
These measures have created an enormous problem of lack of domestic demand, a major cause of the long-term recession. It has been only recently that very limited growth has appeared, due primarily to the decline in the price of gasoline, a devaluation of the euro, and a tentative commitment by the European Central Bank (ECB) to buy public bonds. The Spanish government did not have anything to do with any of these events, although it claims now that the short recovery is a result of its neoliberal policies.
These neoliberal policies were promoted by the European Union (EU) establishments (European Council, European Commission, and ECB) and by the International Monetary Fund. They were carried out in Spain with the support and encouragement of financial capital, major business enterprises, and their political instrument, the Popular Party (PP), now in government. It seems that the right-wing in Spain was finally getting what it had always wanted: the reduction of salaries and the weakening of social protection with a dismantling of the welfare state. Those policies are what the international elites of the G-20 who met in Australia were presenting as a model for all countries to follow, championing Spain as a model country.
The Historical Causes of These Events
I have written extensively about the reasons why Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Ireland are in deep trouble. I refer readers to one of these articles (“Capital-Labor: The Unspoken Causes of the Crises,” www.vnavarro.org, Economic Section). Let me briefly summarize it. All these countries, referred to rather unkindly in the Anglo-Saxon economic literature as PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain), have had ultra-right-wing dictatorships (fascist or fascistoid), except Ireland, governed by a very conservative party close to the Church. These dictatorships were the result of military coups (in the case of Spain, supported by Hitler and Mussolini in 1936) against democratically elected governments that had initiated meaningful reforms affecting the privilege of the oligarchy, i.e., the agricultural, financial, and (in the case of Catalonia and Basque Country in Spain) industrial bourgeoisie, in addition to the Catholic Church and the Army. The Spanish fascist coup established one of the most brutal repressions that has ever taken place in Western Europe during the 20th century. For every political assassination that Mussolini carried out, Franco’s dictatorship had 10,000. Even today, there are more than 120,000 people who were assassinated during the dictatorship whose bodies have yet to be found. After Cambodia, Spain has the second-largest number of people who have disappeared for political reasons without any trace of their bodies being found. Franco’s dictatorship was a class dictatorship against the working population. That dictatorship was responsible for the enormous economic and cultural underdevelopment in Spain. When the military coup took place in 1936, Spain’s Gross National Product (GNP) per capita was similar to Italy’s. In 1978, when the dictatorship ended and the democracy was established, Spain’s GNP per capita was only 62% of Italy’s. That was the economic cost of having a fascist dictatorship.
The Transition from Dictatorship to Democracy
When the dictator died in 1975, the dictatorship had lasted 40 years. The apparatus of the state, a coalition of fascist forces known as El Movimiento Nacional and the Opus Dei (a religious sect of the Catholic Church), as well as the Army and the Catholic Church, had wanted to continue the dictatorship under the leadership of Franco’s deputy Admiral Carrero Blanco. But this admiral had been killed by ETA, creating a vacuum in the leadership of the dictatorship.
Meanwhile, the antifascist resistance had been growing considerably, with strong and wide social agitation, led primarily by the working class in the major cities of Barcelona, Bilbao, and Madrid and in specific areas of Spain such as the mining region in Asturias (the Appalachia of Spain). The working class clearly was asking for change. From 1975 to 1978, Spain had the largest number of labor strikes (despite these being forbidden) in Western Europe. This labor unrest shook up the Spanish establishment, which included large sectors of the Spanish bourgeoisie who did not consider the continuation of the dictatorship as a viable option. They wanted to be integrated in the EU, and even the Eurozone, and the dictatorship represented an obstacle to achieving that goal. King Juan Carlos, who had been appointed by Franco, was leading the demand for state changes that would guarantee the continuation of the Spanish financial and industrial establishments under a different political regime. He appointed Adolfo Suarez, who had been the general secretary of Movimiento Nacional, as president of the country, with the mandate to establish changes in the Spanish state. These changes were aimed primarily at integrating the Social Democratic Party (PSOE) into the state apparatus and marginalizing the Communist Party (PCE), which had been the main force in the antifascist struggle.
Before dissolving, the Movimiento Nacional had imposed a series of conditions. One was that the electoral law would be designed to make it impossible for the Communist Party to have a major parliamentarian representation. The law was approved and later modified during the democratic period, although it continued to discriminate against the working class in urban centers (where most of the communist votes existed). As a consequence, whereas a conservative city like Salamanca needs 32,000 votes to elect a member of the Spanish Parliament, Barcelona (a city historically aligned to the left) needed 150,000 votes. The new electoral law did favor bipartidismo, i.e., the permanence of a two-party system—the conservative neoliberal (PP) and socialist party (PSOE) that control the whole state apparatus, under the hegemony of the PP.
The Dominance of the Conservative Forces in the State
In this way, the right-wing establishment had full control of all the branches of the state and all the media (press, radio, and television). The democratic forces (led by the Communist party), however, had just left the clandestinity and/or come back from exile. Thus, the transition took place under very difficult conditions for the left. There was no equilibrium between right-wing and left-wing forces. The product of that disequilibrium was the Spanish Constitution and the democratic institutions, clearly influenced by conservative establishments. It solidified the structure of power that existed during the dictatorship. Banking continued to be the major player in the economic life of the country. And the major industries (established primarily in Barcelona, Bilbao, and Madrid) that were powerful during the dictatorship continued to be equally powerful, with new additions: the privatization of major public enterprises—from energy to communications—which were now controlled by the elites of the political parties, particularly by the Partido Popular (PP), which appointed friends of the president of the government and of the party to top positions in these newly privatized businesses. As in Russia, the major businesses that used to be controlled by the party apparatus were now controlled by the same individuals, as part of the new plutocracy.
The major inheritor of the Spanish dictatorship is the governing party, the PP, a coalition of post-fascist groups (such as the Alliance Popular, with ultra-right-wing ideology), liberal associations (“liberal” in Europe means very right-wing forces representing the major business community, with antagonisms toward labor), and conservative (such as Christian democratic institutions close to the Catholic Church). The PP also has a large post-fascist, chauvinist, and anti-migrant component, which explains why Spain does not have a major chauvinist movement, since this movement is already within the PP.
The Social and the National Question
One major consequence of the right-wing domination of the state has been the poverty of the welfare state and the very poor conditions of the labor markets. Unemployment has been a constant in Spain, and the public social expenditures per capita are among the lowest in the EU-15 (the group of richest countries in the EU). These situations have become even worse because of the crisis.
Another consequence was the continuation of a vision of Spain, inherited from the dictatorship and previous monarchic regimes, which denied its plurinationality. Instead, the Spanish Constitution recognized only one nation, the Spanish nation, denying the historical demand of the left-wing parties—the Socialist and the Communist—that saw Catalonia, Basque Country, and Galicia as other nations within Spain. Both parties had, during the clandestine time, called for the right to self-determination for the different nations of Spain. This demand was put aside, however, during the transition due to the opposition of the Monarch and the Army. Since 1978, when the new Constitution was established and democracy started, the socialist party (PSOE) has fully accepted the uninational vision of Spain.
Europe, from a Dream to a Nightmare: The Integration of Spain in the Euro
During the dictatorship, Europe had been a dream for the anti-fascist democratic forces, struggling against the fascist regime under very difficult conditions. Democracy and the welfare state were then identified with Europe, and they were considered to be the objective to be reached when democracy was established. Europe was what Spanish democratic forces had always wanted. Europe was the dream to be realized later on. It has become, however, a nightmare. Why?
The design of the euro was the starting point of the nightmare. It was formulated by financial interests to give financial capital a strong command of the governance of the euro. It is not by chance that the ECB is physically located in front of the Bundesbank, the German Central Bank, in Frankfurt. The Bundesbank is basically the spokesperson of German financial capital, the center of the European financial system.
The ECB, however, is not a central bank: It is a lobby for the banks, primarily the German ones. The ECB prints money but it does not help the states: It does not buy states’ public debt, making them dependent on the financial markets (i.e., the private banks). The ECB lends money to the private banks at very low interest rates. And the banks buy public debt at extremely high interest. It is a killing for the private banks! These are the causes of the enormous growth of the Spanish public debt (of which, German banks own 20% of all the public debt owed by foreign banks, which is 50% of all Spanish public debt). Consequently, the second item in the Spanish budget, after social security, is payment of public debt interests. Germany has 700,000 million euros it lent to the PIGS (200,000 to Spain). This was the reason the EU lent up to 100,000 million euros to Spain (el Rescate Bancario) with the understanding that Spain must pay back the debt to German banks. Meanwhile, public debt in Spain is increasing to an unpayable level.
But there was another reason the euro hurt the Spanish state. The Maastricht criteria had indicated that the public deficit of the state could not be higher than 3% of the GNP. Since it was 6%, it had to be cut. And it was cut, not by increasing taxes or correcting tax fraud (Spain’s tax fraud is among the highest in the Eurozone, with 80,000 million euros evaded, 80% of which is done by the banks, large fortunes, and large enterprises whose sales are more than 150 million euros a year, representing 0.12% of all enterprises) but by reducing public expenditures (in particular, public social expenditures). Spanish entry into the Eurozone took place at the cost of weakening the Spanish welfare state, used primarily by the popular classes.
Why the Cuts?
The reduction of salaries and of the number of people receiving salaries, as well as the reduction of public expenditures, meant an enormous decline of domestic demand and, as a result, of economic growth. The waning of salaries meant increased indebtedness of families and of small and medium enterprises. Debt increased enormously. This meant that banking also increased enormously (Spain has one of the largest banking sectors in Europe, proportionally three times as large as in the United States). But the low profitability of the productive economy meant a large increase of banking investments in speculation, causing huge bubbles, the most important of which was the housing bubble.
When the bubble was occurring, there was a feeling of euphoria among the political establishment. None other than the governing socialist leader, José Luis R. Zapatero, felt that, in a time of such exuberant growth, taxes should be reduced. His slogan was “Reducing taxes should be an objective of the left!” He reduced taxes enormously, primarily on capital and high incomes. He announced his slogan in 2005. He passed the Tax Reform Act with the tax cuts in 2006. And in 2007, when the bubble exploded, a huge hole appeared in state revenues: 27,000 million euros. According to economists of the statistical office of the Ministry of Finances, 70% of this hole was due to the tax cuts and only 30% to the decline of economic activity at the beginning of the Great Recession.
This is how the cuts started, under the false argument that the country needed to face austerity measures because it was spending too much. Actually, when the crisis started, the Spanish state was on surplus. In reality, Spain’s public expenditure is far too low, much lower than its economic level of development would call for. The cuts demonstrate the class nature of those interventions. Socialist Zapatero froze public pensions to save 1,500 million euros, when he could have obtained much more money, 2,500 million, by recovering the property taxes that he had abolished, reversing the lowering of inheritance taxes (2,300 million), or reversing the reduced taxes of individuals making 120,000 euros a year (2,200 million). These cuts were expanded later by conservative-liberal Rajoy, who cut 6,000 million from the National Health Service, stressing, as Zapatero said before, that “there were not alternatives,” the most frequently used sentence in the official narrative. There were alternatives, however. He could have reversed the lowering of taxes on capital to large corporations that he had approved, obtaining 5,500 million. The economists Vicenç Navarro, Juan Torres, and Alberto Garzón wrote a book There are Alternatives (Hay Alternativas: Propuestas para Crear Empleo y Bienestar Social en España). The book showed, with clear and convincing numbers, that there were alternatives. The book became a major bestseller in Spain and was widely used by the indignados movement.
The Indignados Movement
These cuts of public social spending and the three labor market reforms carried out first by the socialist (PSOE) government, and later by the liberal conservative-liberal (PP) government, angered people, since not one of these measures had any popular mandate. None of those policies had been mentioned in the electoral program of the governing parties. The supposedly democratic representative institutions have acted on behalf of financial and large-employer interests, who were achieving the policies they always wanted—the decline of salaries and the dismantling of social protections—and presenting these policies as the only possible ones, since “there were no alternatives.” This message was also promoted by the European Council, European Commission, and ECB (plus the IMF). This is how the European dream became a nightmare.
In response to this nightmare, the indignados movement appeared and quickly spread all over the country. Its slogans, such as “They, the political class, do not represent us” became widely popular. Consequently, state institutions started losing legitimacy very quickly. The state responded with enormous repression. That did not stop the indignados, however. Many of their leaders were young—very affected by the crisis.
The indignados movement demanded a second transition, calling for an end to the 1978 regime (the political system established in 1978 when the dictatorship ended) and for the establishment of a new democratic order, explaining the need to substitute existing representative institutions with new ones, complemented by other forms of democratic participation such as referendums and/or popular assemblies. The goal was to establish an authentic democratic system with systems of direct forms of citizen participation such as referendums, plus indirect forms of participation such as representative democracy, requiring political parties that were much more democratic than they are today.
This movement had an enormous impact, and its starting movement (a major manifestation in Plaza del Sol) was a protest against the slogan “There are no alternatives.” In fact, the leadership of the indignados showed the book Hay Alternativas in front of the police who were trying to control the demonstration. The photograph of thousands of people showing the book was widely distributed within the movement and published in the press. Their major slogan was to question the claim that “there are no alternatives,” showing that there were indeed alternatives, and to question the legitimacy of the state, which was imposing policies that did not have any popular mandate.
The New Political Party: Podemos
Such a movement wanted to go beyond simply a protest movement to be perceived as the conscience of the country. The indignados became aware that they had to intervene in the political arena, and this is how Podemos appeared. The leaders of Podemos were drawn from individuals who had played a leading role in the indignados movement. Some are junior faculty in the Department of Political and Social Sciences in the largest public university in Spain, Complutense. Many have been active in the youth movements of the Spanish Communist Party. Regardless of where they come from, they all felt that the root of the problem was the control of the state by a caste of politicians, based primarily in the major parties—the liberal-conservative party (PP) and the socialist (PSOE)—who were closely related and tied to the major financial and banking corporations that have corrupted state institutions. They called for the establishment of a democratic state and a democratic Europe, “a Europe of the people, not the Europe of the bankers.”
They presented themselves in the elections to the European Parliament and the great surprise is that they received a much larger vote than they had expected. But the most important event was that all the polls showed a fantastic growth of their electoral support, to a point that in the last poll, it became clear that they could become the governing party, a situation that they never felt would be possible, and so fast. Podemos’s message, “Vote against the caste: Throw all of them out,” was highly successful. It was clear that the majority of people were fed up with the political and media establishments.
Their problem was the party did not have a structure. That created an urgent need to develop an organization, based on an assembly-like type of structure within a frame developed by the leadership. To prepare its program, they asked the economists Vicenç Navarro and Juan Torres (authors of the Hay Alternativas book) to prepare an outline of the economic program that the Podemos government should carry out. This outline would be the basis for a full discussion within the Party. The title Democratizar la Economía para Salir de la Crisis Mejorando la Equidad, el Bienestar y la Calidad de Vida: Una Propuesta de Debate para Solucionar los Problemas de la Economía Española (The Need to Democratize the Economy in Order to End the Crisis and Improve Justice, Well-Being and Quality of Life: A Proposal to Initiate a Debate to Resolve the Problems of the Spanish Economy) described the intention of the document. It was very widely distributed by Podemos, under the new title Un Proyecto Económico para la Gente (An Economic Project for the People). It had an enormous impact.
The presentation of the proposal by Pablo Iglesias and the authors of the document became the major event of the day in Spain. The hostility of the mainstream and economic media, as well as the intellectuals and spokespersons of the major governing parties (PP and PSOE) became enormously aggressive against that document and its authors. And in Europe, the President of the Bundesbank, the German Central Bank, indicated that the proposals put forward in the document will be very harmful to the Spanish and the European economies. Never before had a document created such a hostile response from the financial, economic, political, and media establishments. However, it created considerable positive responses at the street level in Spain and contributed substantially to change the character of the economic debate, because it challenged frontally the neoliberal ideology.
The economic document was not a budget for the future Podemos government, but rather the strategic lines to be followed. The analysis of the causes of the crisis focused on the enormous growth of inequalities responsible for the financial, economic, and political crisis. It puts at the center of the analysis the conflict of capital (under the hegemony of financial capital) against labor. That has led to an enormous decline of domestic demand caused by the decline of wages, increase in unemployment, and cuts of social public expenditures. The proposals, therefore, aimed at reversing that growth of inequalities by increasing domestic demand (via salaries and employment growth) and by expanding public expenditures and investments (in particular, the social infrastructure). It also underlined the need to expand public banking, as a way of providing credit to families and to small and middle-sized enterprises. It also proposed reducing the working week to 35 hours and reducing the age of retirement from 67 to 65, reversing policies approved by the PP and the PSOE. The impact of the program would strengthen labor at the cost of capital. Also, it showed the great need to correct gender inequalities as a way to increase employment. It also suggested how all the proposals could be funded, asking for substantial changes in the fiscal policies of the country and the reduction of tax fraud.
Why the Success of Podemos?
It is easy to answer this question. There is enormous anger toward what Podemos calls “la casta,” the cast. That includes the governing elites in the political establishment who have developed close complicities with the major financial and non-financial corporations that dominate the political and media institutions of the country. The call for “throwing all of them out” awakens general support among the majority of the Spanish people.
In addition, Podemos uses a language that people relate to, redefining class struggle as the conflict between those on the top and everyone else, a narrative that mobilizes a transversal support. A third reason for its wide appeal is that Podemos makes the calls for democracy center in its strategy, redefining democracy to include different forms of democracy such as referendums (defined as the right to decide, el derecho a decidir) together with indirect or representative forms of democracy. It is because of this commitment to democracy that it has accepted the right of self-determination for the different nations that exist in Spain, breaking with the vision of Spain as a uninational state. This understanding of Spain as a plurinational state has been a historic demand of all left-wing parties (including the PSOE), abandoned during the Transition by the socialist party because of the King (appointed by Franco) and the Army. The enormous popular demand by the Catalan population for the right of self-determination (not to be confused with the call for independence: 82% of Catalans support the first, 33% support the second) has created enormous tension with the central government and today is very unpopular. Podemos has become the first party in Catalonia, by popular support, according to the polls (if there were elections for the Spanish Parliament).
The success of Podemos has become a major threat to the Spanish (and to the European) establishment. Today, the Spanish financial, economic, political, and media establishments are on the defensive and in panic, having passed laws that strengthen the repression. The heads of the major banks in Spain are particularly uneasy. Mr. Botín, president of the major bank Santander, indicated four days before he died (a few weeks ago) that he was extremely worried, indicating that Podemos and Catalonia were very threatening to Spain. He, of course, meant his Spain. And he was right. The future is quite open. As Gramsci once indicated, it is the end of a period without a clear view of what the next one will be. Europe, Spain, and Catalonia are ending an era. This is clear. What still is unclear is what will come next. We will see.
Barcelona, 28th December 2014.
Vicente (Vicenç in Catalan) Navarro, is professor of Public and Social Policy in The John Hopkins University USA and the Pompeu Fabra University Catalonia, Spain. He is also the Director of the JHU-UPF Public Policy Center in Barcelona, Spain.
Catalonian President Artur Mas has called for a “plebiscite election” involving lists of pro-independence parties and civil society members. The poll is viewed as the region’s final battle for separation from Spain, if Madrid does not carry out reform.
Speaking to a crowd of 3,000 people on Tuesday, Mas said he will “act accordingly” if the majority of Catalans are in favor of creating an autonomous state. The leader stressed that any future independence election is entirely up to the region – not Madrid.
The president once again criticized Spanish authorities while meeting with regional political parties and social movements at a conference of some 3,000 participants, titled ‘After November 9: Time to decide, time to draw conclusions.’
Stating that the Spanish government “keeps acting against” Catalonia, Mas said that Madrid acts as a power structure and lacks equal treatment towards the region.
Mas announced that if the central government fails to authorize a full-scale referendum on the region’s independence or does not carry out a constitutional reform, he will call a “plebiscite election,” which would be – essentially – a vote on Catalonia’s independence.
Mas said the election would be the “only” way to allow Catalans to voice their opinion, and would involve a joint list of candidates of all parties, as well as civil society members and experts in favor of a Catalan state.
The president explained that such an election would prompt political parties to question the sovereignty issue, and a list of social activists supporting the plan would be formed. The issue would then be passed on to the region’s parliament.
The leader previously said that this will require “direct and open confrontation” with the Spanish government, but now adds that “it’s now time to use the final instrument to make the poll happen.”
Stating that now is “the most difficult and crucial” period, Mas urged Catalans to stay committed to independence, stressing that the journey should not be abandoned.
Eighty percent of Catalans said “yes” to independence and secession from the central Spanish government in Madrid earlier this month, with over two million Catalans reportedly turning out for the unofficial referendum. The symbolic vote was informal and non-binding, but Spanish prosecutors later said they would file criminal charges against Catalan President Artur Mas in response to the poll.
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.
Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel | September 10, 2014
The campaign, which started two years ago, asks for support from professionals from the academic and scientific field, and also from associations linked to this field, such as student’s and worker’s unions, research centres, professional associations, etc. From the 1,400 people who have signed the manifesto, 150 are professors, 850 are teachers and 200 are researchers. More than 52 associations linked to the academic field have also signed; among them there are research groups and University departments.
This initiative is part of an international campaign: Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) to Israel. This international calling is a non-violent strategy driven by the Palestinian Society in 2005. It is growing as an effective pressure strategy towards Israel, so that it respects Human Rights and International Law. Last year, the physician Stephen Hawking, the Nobel Peace Prize Desmond Tutu and four American academic associations adhered to the boycott. It’s important to emphasize that this demand is at an institutional level and not at an individual one. On the same line, the European Union has established a de facto boycott to all collaboration with Israeli research centres and Universities placed in the Occupied Territories.
The campaign will keep collecting signatures and foresees to support specific campaigns which will develop in different Spanish universities, such as the University of Vic and the University of Malaga, where the aim is to break ties with the Haifa University and the Tel Aviv University, respectively.
In Catalonia, activists from the above mentioned campaign, occupied on May 15th the Secretary of Universities and Research asking for transparency in all of the agreements signed last November when a delegation of businessmen, councillors and directors of research centres lead by Artur Mar travelled to Israel to tighten economic and academic ties with Israeli institutions.
Spain has frozen all arms and technological sales to Israel in protest against its ongoing brutal war against the Gaza Strip and the killing of thousands of Palestinian civilians, El Pais newspaper revealed.
The newspaper described this decision as purely “political” and was made last week by a committee consisting of the president, treasury, economy ministry, foreign ministry and defence ministry.
Spain is reported to have sold nearly €5 million in arms sales to Israel last year.
The Spanish decision comes hours after Britain announced it was reviewing licenses to export weapons and military technology to Israel.
A spokeswoman for the British government said yesterday that the UK is reviewing all arms export licenses to Israel because of the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. “We are currently reviewing all export licenses to Israel to make sure they are appropriate,” she said.
However, ministers said they would not stop licensing military equipment to Israel outright because they believed the country had a “legitimate right to self-defence”.
Pro-independence Spaniards have staged a protest rally against the Spanish monarchy as the new king urges collaboration in the region.
On Thursday, thousands of Catalonians took to the streets of Girona to voice their anger against the royal family’s involvement in a series of corruption scandals.
The fresh protest came hours after Spain’s newly-appointed King Felipe VI reached out to Catalonians earlier in the day, urging their collaboration to help defuse tensions with Madrid.
“Sincere and generous collaboration is the best way to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of each person and achieve great collective goals for the common good,” the king said in a speech on his first visit to Catalonia since ascending to the throne.
The majority of 7.5 million inhabitants of Catalonia have expressed resentment for the redistribution of their taxes to other regions of Spain.
Catalan leaders plan to hold an independence referendum in November. The government has condemned the move as illegal.
Catalonia has been seeking independence and autonomy from Spain since the end of the 19th century. In recent years, massive rallies have been held to claim the self-determination right for the region.
The latest protest comes as the image of the royal family has been tarnished by a series of scandals. Juan Carlos’s daughter, Princess Cristina, and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, are under investigation for possible tax fraud and money laundering.
Spain has been the scene of anti-monarchy protests in recent weeks after Juan Carlos announced he would step down in favor of his son Philippe. The 46-year-old monarch was officially sworn in before parliament on June 19.
According to a survey conducted earlier this month, the majority of the Spanish people are in favor of a referendum on the future of monarchy in their country.
A rare way of life is under threat in Spain where authorities have renewed attempts to evict dozens of cave-dwelling families from their homes in an ancient settlement in Granada. Residents say “it’s a disgrace”, and are determined to resist eviction.
Throughout the week dozens of activists have been protesting the eviction they deem unlawful and unfair.
The San Miguel cave dwellers say they have been the victims of the authorities, violating their human rights, and evicting people for cynical reasons only.
San Miguel is the site of one of the four main cave neighborhoods in Southern Spain. For over a thousand years, hundreds of caves carved out of the eye-catching hilltop have been home to gypsies and other homeless settlers.
Abandoned in the 1960s, in recent times eight caves have been occupied by squatters, who reclaimed them to turn them into modest and unconventional homes.
However, several years ago the council announced plans to turn the site into a tourist attraction. The Sacramento caveman heritage would include flamenco caves for tourists, a number of “artisan” and souvenir workshops, as well the main landmark – a hotel – which, according to the council, would “respect the harmony of the area”. The caves happen to be located in a lucrative location, affording the best views over the city, which relies on a robust tourism economy.
The authorities aren’t ruling out the possibility of going to court to get an eviction order. According to the cave dwellers, the court in Strasbourg has already ruled that eviction must be suspended until they have been provided with proper accommodation.
On Thursday, Granada’s city council proposed providing social housing to the cave dwellers.
RT’s Lucy Kafanov, reporting from the site, spoke to local residents and activists who told her it’s the third attempt by the authorities to clear cave dwellings in the past six years. Officials have repeatedly claimed that the “hand-made” homes built there are dangerous.
A spokesman for the cave dwellers argues their homes may be lacking fancy furniture but are perfectly habitable. Juan Antonio Parra told RT that should eviction take place this time round, people will band together to resist it.
“We certainly will resist, using every legal means available. Which is more than can be said of the city council, whose actions have been unlawful and underhand all along the way. First, they have no property rights on the caves. Secondly, they never did an expert assessment of the caves’ condition. There have been no cave-ins in any of the caves that the city council proclaimed to be crumbling as far back as three years ago, not even after the heavy rainfall we have had. So we can see their lie for what it is: they just need an excuse to throw us out.”
Parra says that what is happening these days is in fact highly reminiscent of past events.
“This has happened before, the seizures and the evictions: under the Francoist regime, and before that, during the reign of the Catholic kings. These caves have always sheltered Arabs, Gypsies, etc. The past still prevails in this part of Granada, so we believe the authorities will not succeed here.”
Local activist, Antonio Redondo, believes that plans to evict the cave dwellers have nothing to do with worries about comfortable and safe living conditions.
“It is a disgrace. This has nothing to do with concerns for the people. The government cares nothing for the fact that there are some 500 evictions administered in Andalusia every day. Instead, they keep trying to exploit the situation. They insist on eviction rather than carry out an assessment of the caves’ condition, or call a town hall meeting with the cave dwellers in order to explain the makeover plan and offer to relocate the inhabitants. This shows how totally unconcerned they are about these people.”
The government of Andalusia is expected to bring experts to the site to evaluate it. The cave dwellers are also looking for independent architects to confirm that their houses are a safe place to live.
In a bid to resolve the escalating crisis, the activists are planning to establish a co-op tenant council to help sort out property rights.
“After all, these caves belong to the original settlers. That makes the city council complicit of a fraudulent sale scheme, where all of their assets are effectively illegal,” Parra told RT.
“Right now, we are attending various meetings to figure out what our nearest future looks like.”
So far initial plans to convert the caves into a tourist area have been canceled due to the global economic crisis.
Spain, whose banks suffered a severe blow during the financial downturn, is said to be slowly emerging from a deep economic slump. Although Spain’s economy grew 0.1 percent in the July-to-September period, it still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the industrialized world. Earlier this year, the International Monetary Fund predicted that the debt-ridden country is likely to be saddled with unemployment of about 25 percent until up to 2018. Unpopular austerity measures have led to riots across the country.
The Catalan regional parliament has set November next year for a referendum on the Spanish province’s independence. The government in Madrid blandly said the vote won’t happen, but activists wonder how it might be stopped.
Catalonia’s four pro-independence parties, which hold a majority in the regional parliament, announced Thursday that the rich industrial Spanish province will hold a referendum on whether to gain greater autonomy or even total independence from the country’s central government.
The vote’s preliminary date is November 9, Catalan regional government head Artur Mas said. The people will be asked two questions: “Do you want Catalonia to be a state?” and “Do you want that state to be independent?”
The former question was added for those Catalans who seek to change Spain into a federation, with Catalonia forming part of it. According to a Metroscopia poll in newspaper El Pais last month, 46 percent of Catalans favor separatism versus 42 percent who wish to remain within Spain. The support for greater autonomy, however, is very strong.
Just minutes after the announcement Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon rejected the idea, saying it would be unconstitutional.
“The vote will not be held,” he said.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy spoke out later in the day, saying his government will not allow the Catalan referendum to happen.
“As prime minister I have sworn to uphold the constitution and the law and, because of this, I guarantee that this referendum will not happen,” he stressed. “Any discussion or debate on this is out of the question.”
But in Catalonia pro-independence moods are not withered by Madrid’s rebuke. They say the central government would have few options, if it does want to stop the referendum.
“They will have to show how they are going to prevent a vote from happening,” Elisenda Paluzie, professor of economics at the University of Barcelona, told RT. “What are they going to do? Will they send the police to the polling stations? It’s up to them to show what kind of democracy they support.”
Catalonia, a land with strong cultural roots and its own language, has had strong pro-independence sentiment for decades and shares a painful history with the rest of Spain. It was oppressed during the rule of military dictator Francisco Franco (1939-75), who stripped it of autonomous powers and issued a ban on Catalan language to fight separatist tendencies.
The situation now is different however, and Catalans don’t believe that Madrid would use force to block their independence aspirations.
“If Spanish tanks rumbled into Barcelona, like they did in 1939, there wouldn’t be enough tanks to go around. There wouldn’t be enough soldiers to go around. Spain, being a modern country, has drastically reduced its armed forces,” Miquel Strubell, member of a pro-independence grassroots organization, the Catalan National Assembly, said to RT.
In modern Spain, Catalonia renewed autonomy and currently governs itself in areas like health and education. It has a regional parliament and maintains its own police force. But the calls for independence from Madrid have gained stronger support in the last few years, as Catalans complained that it is being drained of tax money, which is spent in other Spanish regions.
The situation is aggravated by the economic crisis, which forces the Rajoy government to adopt painful austerity policies. But financial considerations are not the prime reason why Catalans seek independence, says Strubell.
“I think most of my colleagues would agree that this isn’t about money. It’s about a much more basic issue of running our own things,” he assured “It’s all been on the cards for years. It all started before 2003, which is well before the economic crisis.”
The referendum in Catalonia will be held less than a month after a similar vote in Scotland, which will hold it on September 18. Joan Maria Pique, a top aide and spokesman for Catalan President Mas, criticized the Spanish government, saying that London agreed to the Scottish vote on self-determination, while Madrid is reluctant to do the same for Catalonia.
“We expect to open negotiations with Madrid. The Spanish state can’t be blind about it,” he said.
- Spanish government says ‘no’ to Catalonia vote (independent.ie)