Left wing party coalition leaders have been sworn in as mayors of Madrid and Barcelona, assuming control of the Spain’s two largest cities. This is yet another case of parts of Spain showing their opposition to the country’s conservative rule.
In the Spanish capital, a 71-year-old former judge, Manuela Carmena has put an end to the 24 years of conservative mayorship. She defeated her rival, 63-year-old Esperanza Aguirre from the People’s Party, in what proved to be a very close race.
The new mayor managed to claim 20 seats in the city chamber during the May 24 vote against Aguirre’s 21. However, Carmena managed to forge an alliance with the main opposition Socialist Party to secure victory. She was officially elected mayor by 29 of the 57 council representatives on Saturday morning.
Carmena, a former communist and rights activist, promised to improve the living conditions for the poor, who have been struggling since the 2008 financial crisis. She also echoed the calls of the massive Indignados (Outraged) protest movement that was formed in 2011 to fight corruption, government spending cuts and evictions.
“We are at the service of the citizens of Madrid. We want to govern by listening. We want them to call us by our first names,” Carmena said after being voted in.
Among her chief promises to the electorate are the development of public transport and increased support for poor families. She has promised to slash her salary by more than half to €45,000 ($51,000).
In Barcelona, 41-year old Ada Colau, an active protest leader, has become the city’s first female mayor. She rose to publicity after helping to organize the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (PAH) movement, in Barcelona in 2009, to defend citizens against evictions caused by the collapse of the Spanish property market.
“Thank you for making possible something that had seemed impossible,” said Colau, representing the Barcelona en Comu party, after being elected mayor.
Her administration will now draft a list of 30 measures aimed at creating jobs and fighting corruption. Along with her colleague in Madrid, Colau announced that she will slash her salary from €140,000, down to €35,000.
Both Carmena and Colau secured victory during the May 24 local elections with the support of Pomedos, a new pro-worker and anti-establishment party that emerged last year.
Parties born out of the Indignado protest movement now rule five major Spanish cities: Madrid, Valencia, Zaragoza, Cadiz, and Barcelona.
The latest success of anti-establishment candidates in the two largest Spanish cities shows a major shift in the country’s politics, and erosion of the bipartisan system. The Popular Party and the main opposition Socialist Party together won just over half of the vote on May 24. The rest of the seats at the local elections went to candidates representing smaller populist parties who are demanding change.
By William Hawes | Global Research | June 4, 2015
The captivating rise of Spain’s new left-leaning party Podemos has captured the world’s attention by emphasizing participative democracy. The formerly fractured Spanish left, in the past marred by petty infighting in Spain, coalesced from grassroots protests over austerity measures and gained steam in 2011. Working with the Anti-Capitalist Left activist base, Podemos began in 2014 by starting local public meetings, called citizen circles, to organize; using the web to organize, poll, and debate issues; and heavily promoting anti-austerity measures and poverty reduction. Young adults especially have been swept up in the Podemos’ rise, as unemployment for youths stands at anywhere from 30-50% by region.
Last month, anti-poverty activist Ada Colau gained the most seats to become Barcelona’s mayor with backing from Podemos. Podemos-backed Manuela Carmena came in a strong second in Madrid’s mayoral election as well. A coalition with Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE) may secure both ladies’ spots. Now all eyes turn to the general election slated for December. At center stage as leader of Podemos is Pablo Iglesias, former college professor and TV host.
The ideology of Podemos was incubated during the May 2011 protests in Madrid centered on the skyrocketing unemployment and austerity measures employed by the Zapatero-led government. Spain’s protests erupted nationwide and were centered in the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, led by social networks and citizen assemblies. Protesters were dubbed Indignados (“the outraged”, or “the angry ones”), for their rejection of Spain’s increasingly corrupt two-party system and the “austericide” measures strangling the economy and vitality of the nation. Spreading throughout the country, it is estimated that about 6.5-8 million participated. Protests have continued under the Rajoy regime. (1)
After the protests, Podemos formed from a coterie of radical professors from Madrid’s Complutense University. The most notable are Iglesias, political theorist and the face of the movement; Jesús Montero, former communist and political organizer, and Iñigo Errejón, university lecturer and campaign strategist. Beginning to channel citizens’ hopes, despair, and anger over poor economic conditions, Iglesias’ TV programs, La Tuerka and also Fort Apache, became hits and launched him into the national spotlight.
Debating conservatives on national broadcasts pushed Iglesias into the stratosphere in Spain, with bona-fide rock-star status, which he backs up: Iglesias accepts only quarter of his salary as a member of the European parliament. He flies coach on all his trips. He routinely rips Rajoy and his cadre of corrupt officials. He lives in a graffitied neighborhood in Madrid, has credentials as a respected academic, and visits with famous theorist Chantal Mouffe.
Iglesias and Podemos certainly have their critics and detractors, however. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has blasted the party recently, calling them “incompetent populists”. Some have questioned Iglesias’ decision to run Fort Apache, as it was produced by an Iranian state-run TV company. Others frown upon members’ past consulting work with the Venezuelan government. And co-founding member Juan Carlos Monedero has recently quit the party, commenting that Podemos needs to “go back to its origins”. (2)
Despite the backlash, there is no doubt that Podemos represents the best hope for the future in Spain. Monedero still claims they are “the most decent force in Spanish politics”. Iglesias has shown citizens who the ruling People’s Party (PP) and the rival Socialists’ Workers Party (PSOE) really are: la casta (the caste), the establishment, corrupt leaders and officials who do nothing as nearly 6 million people are out of work and 2 million households have no net income. (3) The party is also aware of their limitations in an integrated EU economy: this is why they have called on the help of friends like Greece’s Syriza to fight the EU technocracy, ECB, and IMF. No doubt, Podemos would be wise to send feelers to Italy’s PM Matteo Renzi and Ireland’s Sinn Fein party to ally the periphery, mainly southern Europe, against the unjust policies of Brussels.
Iglesias has shown moderation and fairness in nearly every aspect of Podemos’ agenda. He supports Spain’s membership in the EU, but only under fair laws and loan agreements. He wants benefits and social programs expanded, but he is not calling for nationalization of entire industries. Podemos supports sharing more power with the autonomous regions of the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Galicia, and even states that the party would allow a Catalonian referendum, which the PP and PSOE oppose. (4)
Podemos is more than a vehicle to bring to life the hopes and dreams of Spaniards alone. As political theorists, leaders of Podemos cannot be accused of intellectual laziness. By employing a narrative of anti-elite rhetoric within a framework of social justice, they have created a message appealing to citizens of the whole nation. By linking digital democracy, through social media, with participative elements, such as meetings to combat poverty, lobby for public health initiatives, the arts, and more, Podemos has provided a contemporary deliberative democratic blueprint for the world.
The party has helped lay ground for democracy with revolutionary potential, but not within a traditional, left/right framework. Though favoring a moderate social democracy, Iglesias and the leadership deny that they are partisans. Iglesias explained the left/right divide succinctly at a rally in Barcelona: “Power doesn’t fear the left, only the people”. (5) At its core, Podemos is attempting to challenge the power structure, and deliver democracy to the masses, even if it means deviating from its anti-capitalist, leftist origins.
By moving towards the center, and consolidating power mostly between Iglesias and Errejón, Podemos risked alienating its activist base. These are undoubtedly the reasons for Monedero’s resignation from the party. Charisma and charm will only take you so far, and pandering towards the middle will only work up to a point. Besides, the populist, new center-right party Ciudadanos is also mining the center for votes with this strategy.
Podemos should continue to act as a movement led by activists, and evade the traps of capitulation and compromise that mainstream parties fall into. Breaking the two-party stranglehold of the PP and PSOE has been impressive. By concentrating on poverty reduction, debt restructuring, ending austerity, and listening to its citizen circles, Podemos and Iglesias can win wider support, unity, and solidarity. If focus can be kept on their grassroots campaigns, Spain will begin to see what a true, albeit messy, participative democracy looks like.
William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. You can reach him at email@example.com.
A proposed declarative resolution by a group of MEPs has called on the European Union to step up sanctions against Russia, provide Ukraine with weaponry and further strengthen NATO forces in Eastern Europe, should Russia refuse to return Crimea to Ukraine or fail to abide by the Minsk ceasefire, a press statement for the body stated Tuesday.
The aggressively worded document, drafted Monday and liaised by Romanian MEP Ioan Pascu for the parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, warns that increased Russian military presence in Crimea necessitates EU nations to strengthen their military capabilities, stating that NATO must give its East European members a “strong strategic reassurance.”
Commenting on the proposed resolution, Pascu suggested to the EU’s news service that the strengthening of Russian defense capabilities in Crimea is “in practice creating another launching pad, of the proportions of Kaliningrad, this time in the Black Sea.” The MEP threatened that “in one year the defensive force which existed there has been transformed into a strike force… with which Russia can threaten Central Europe, the Balkans, Southern Europe and also [the] Eastern Mediterranean and even the Middle East.”
Supported by MEPs from Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Spain, the belicose resolution, pending Foreign Affairs Committee approval, also accuses Russian authorities of mistreating the Crimean Tatars. Furthermore, it suggests that Russia may next move to cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea entirely by annexing its coastal territories. Pending approval, the belligerent document will face a vote at the parliament’s upcoming session in June, asking “EU member states to speak with one united voice,” regarding “EU relations with Russia.”
Yesterday three laws widely criticized by the opposition and human rights groups were approved in Spanish Congress. The Penal Code, the new Anti-Terror Law and the Law on Citizen Safety. The three new texts challenge freedom of expression in the streets and on the Internet. All three laws are scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2015.
Law on Citizen Safety (Gag Law)
“The gag law is revenge against social movements that emerged after 15M” – Patricia Martin, Avaaz
Under the new Citizen Safety Law or Ley Mordaza (Gag Law) as human rights defenders have renamed it, public protests, freedoms of speech and the press and documenting police abuses will become crimes punishable by heavy fines and/or jail. Some key points on the Ley Mordaza:
- Photographing or recording police – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Peaceful disobedience to authority – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Occupying banks as means of protest – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Not formalizing a protest – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- For carrying out assemblies or meetings in public spaces – 100 to 600€ fine.
- For impeding or stopping an eviction – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- For presence at an occupied space (not only social centers but also houses occupied by evicted families) – 100 to 600€ fine.
- Police black lists for protesters, activists and alternative press have been legalized.
- Meeting or gathering in front of Congress – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Appealing the fines in court requires the payment of judicial costs, whose amount depends on the fine.
- It allows random identity checks, allowing for racial profiling of immigrants and minorities.
- Police can now carry out raids at their discretion, without the need for “order” to have been disrupted.
- External bodily searches are also now allowed at police discretion.
- The government can prohibit any protest at will, if it feels “order” will be disrupted.
- Any ill-defined “critical infrastructure” is now considered a forbidden zone for public gatherings if it might affect their functioning.
- There are also fines for people who climb buildings and monuments without permission. (This has been a common method of protest from organizations like Greenpeace.)
The Gag Law will also affect internet freedoms as tweets calling for demonstrations or protests may be subject to penalties and fines for organizers. While an individual user may not be considered “an organizer” it could also be construed to include anyone who disseminates a call to protest through any media, including social media.
“This is the worst cut of rights and freedoms since the Franco regime,” – Virginia Pérez Alonso, PDLI
As the Ley Mordaza makes it illegal to publish photos of the police or other authorities without permission, sharing those images on social media could also be considered a felony resulting in a fine up to 30,000 euros.
Reform of the Penal Code (Código Penal)
Reforms to the Código Penal include some vague and controversial wording that could have wider implications involving copyright, cyberactivism and online porn. Below we will outline some of the points in question.
Copyright and Downloads
Reform of the Copyright Act was already approved but the new Penal Code reform also covers cases of copyright infringement imposing a penalty of six months to four years in prison for those who, among other things, “facilitate access or localization” of works that are being shared without permission of the owners with the intention of obtaining a direct or indirect financial gain.
Another controversial section refers to those who “intentionally store copies of works” to be aimed at public communication which is a crime. Article 270 mentions imprisonment for those who provide methods or systems to remove anti-copy protection of specific content.
The new Penal Code imposes imprisonment from six months to three years those who, for commercial purposes, manufacture, import, put into circulation, design, produce, adapt or perform to facilitate the removal or circumvention of any technical device that was used to protect computer programs or any other works.
Revenge Porn & Child Pornography
The new Penal Code imposes penalties for revenge porn and child pornography. Under Article 197 terms of incarceration for revenge porn range from three months to one year. Article 189 contains new wording regarding the definition of child pornography referring to any material whether real or simulated whose protagonist “seems to be a minor” except in cases where they are proven to have been eighteen years or older at the time of depiction. It also explains that “accessing a sexually explicit website containing content that appears to be a minor may be grounds for arrest and trial.”
Together with the Citizen Safety Act, the new Penal Code will also criminalize online activism and organizing imposing sentences between three months to one year to those who “emit slogans or messages”, “incite any offense of disorderly conduct,” incuding “disturbing the public peace.”
Distribution or public dissemination through any medium, of messages or slogans that incite the commission of any offense of disorderly conduct under Article 557 of the Penal Code, or serve to reinforce the decision to carry them out shall be punished with a fine of three to twelve months or imprisonment from three months to a year.
After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, Partido Popular and PSOE reached an agreement to amend the criminal code on terrorism which was also approved yesterday in Congress. The law again contains some vague language which leaves room for interpretation.
The new law uses a broad definition of “terrorism”: Among other things, cybercrime is now considered a terrorist act if the goal is to disrupt and/or disturb the public peace or cause a state of terror. For example, an attack on a Ministry website will now be a terrorist attack.
Viewing web pages with content targeted for or deemed as “suitable for terrorists” in a habitual manner can carry a penalty of two to five years in prison, but the law does not specify what is “habitual” or which websites are being targeted.
By expanding the definition of terrorism, it also expands what can be considered “glorifying terrorism” which can include for example tweeting certain content.
Glorification and public justification of crimes under Articles 572-577 or those who participated in its execution or performance of acts involving disrepute, contempt or humiliation of victims of terrorist offenses or their families, shall be punished with imprisonment of one to three years and a fine of twelve to eighteen months.
Paying for technological services could now be considered collaborating with terrorists.
Shall be punished with imprisonment from five to ten years and fined eighteen to twenty four months which takes place, soliciting or facilitating any act of collaboration with the activities or purposes of an organization, group or terrorist element, or commit any of the offenses covered by this chapter. In particular acts of collaboration of information or surveillance of individuals, […] the provision of technology services, and any other equivalent form of cooperation or assistance to the activities of organizations or terrorist groups, groups or individuals for the preceding paragraph.
Blocking content: The judge may order any service provider (search engines, etc.) to remove links to illegal content related to terrorism.
If the facts were committed through services or content accessible through the Internet or electronic communications services, the judge or court may order the removal of content or illicit services. Alternatively, you can order the service providers to withdraw illegal content, the search engines to abolish links pointing to them and providers of electronic communications services to prevent access to illegal content or services provided if they fulfill the following assumptions: a) When the measure is proportionate to the gravity of the facts and relevant information and necessary to prevent its spread. b) When it exclusively or predominantly diffuses the contents to which are referred to in the previous paragraphs.
Essentially, Spanish citizens should throw their computers out the windows, smash their hard drives to bits and never log on to the internet ever again. Forget about public organizing and any press freedoms that previously existed will be sharply curtailed once the new trifecta of insanely repressive laws goes into effect this coming July.
Why the European Central Bank’s Trillion Euro Plan will Only Help Keep the Banks Afloat
SHARMINI PERIES: In an effort to relieve some pressure on the struggling European economies, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, announced a 1 trillion euro quantitative easing package on Monday. Quantitative easing is an unconventional form of monetary policy where a central bank creates new money electronically to buy financial assets like government bonds. And this process aims to directly increase private-sector spending in the economy and return inflation to target.
Well, what does that mean and what might be wrong with it is our next topic with Michael Hudson. Michael Hudson is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. His two newest books are The Bubble and Beyond and Finance Capitalism and Its Discontents. His upcoming book is titled Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy.
Michael, the Fed and some economists will argue that this is what got the U.S. out of its 2008 financial crisis. In fact, they put several QE measures into place. So what’s wrong with quantitative easing?
MICHAEL HUDSON: Well, the cover story is that it’s supposed to help employment. The pretense is an old model that used to be taught in textbooks a hundred years ago: that banks lend money to companies to invest and build equipment and hire people.
But that’s not what banks do. Banks lend money mainly to transfer ownership of real estate. They also lend money to corporate raiders. They lend money to buy assets. But they don’t lend money for companies to invest in equipment and hire more workers. Just the opposite. When they lend money to corporate raiders to take over companies, the new buyers outsource labor, downsize the work force, and try to squeeze out more work. They also try to grab the pensions.
The Fed was pretty open in what quantitative easing is supposed to do since 2008. It’s supposed to lower the interest rates, which raises bond prices and inflates the stock market. Since 2008 they’ve had the largest monetary inflation history – $4 trillion of quantitative easing by the Fed. But it’s gone via the banks into the stock and bond market.
What has this done for the economy as a whole? For starters, it’s obviously helped stock and bond holders get richer. And who are they? They’re the 1 percent and the 10 percent.
People are wringing their hands and saying, why isn’t the economy getting richer? Why is it that since 2008, economic inequality and the distribution of wealth have worsened instead of gotten closer together? Well, it’s largely because of quantitative easing. It’s because quantitative easing has increased the value of the stocks and the bonds that are held mainly by the 1 percent or the 10 percent hold. This hasn’t helped the economy because the Fed is really concerned with its constituency, which are the banks.
Quantitative easing hasn’t helped one class of investors in particular: pension funds. It’s done just the opposite. Pension funds made the assumption a few years ago that in order to break even with the rate of contributions that corporations, states and municipalities are paying, they have to make eight percent or eight and a half percent a year as a rate of return. But quantitative easing lowers the interest rate.
Today’s lower interest rates have made pension funds desperate. The risk-free rate of return is less than 1 percent on short-term Treasury bills. If you buy longer-term treasuries you can make 2 percent, but then if the interest rates ever go up, you’re going to take a loss as the bond price declines. So pension funds have said, “We’re desperate; what are we going to do?”
They’ve turned their money over to Wall Street money managers and hedge funds. The hedge funds take a huge rake off of fees to begin with. But even worse, when hedge funds and the big banks – Goldman Sachs, Citibank – see a pension fund manager coming through the door, they think, “How can I take what’s in his pocket and put it in mine?” So they rip them off. That is why there are so many big lawsuits against Wall Street for mismanaging pension fund money.
To summarize, the effect of the quantitative easing has been to make pension funds desperate, and to support real estate prices, as if higher costs to obtain housing will help recovery. It doesn’t help recovery, because to the extent that quantitative easing supports a re-inflation of housing prices, new homeowners have to pay even more of their income to the banks as mortgage interest. That means they have less money to pay for goods and services, so markets for goods and services continue to shrink.
What the quantitative easing has not been used for is what was promised in 2008. Before President Obama won the election and took office, Congress said that the TARP bailout and TALF were supposed to go for debt reduction. Some was to write down mortgages, so that people could afford to stay in their homes rather than the millions of home owners that have been foreclosed on and thrown out. But even before Obama came into office, Hank Paulson, the Secretary of the Treasury, told Democrats in Congress, yes, we’re willing to write down debts. But as Barney Frank explained in exasperation, Obama said no, he’s not going to do that. Obama ended up supporting the banks. So almost none of the TARP bailout money has been used for debt write-downs.
The same phenomenon is happening in Europe.
PERIES: So, Michael, what’s wrong with what the ECB has announced in terms of a trillion euros worth of quantitative easing for Europe?
HUDSON: They head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, has said that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep banks afloat. He doesn’t say that he’ll do whatever it takes to help economic recovery, or to help labor more. The ECB’s job is to help banks make more money.
Draghi was vice chairman of Goldman Sachs during 2002 to 2005. His view is that of Wall Street. It’s not a vantage point helping labor or helping economies grow. So it’s not surprising that the trillion euros of new money that the eurozone’s central bank is creating hasn’t gone to help Greece, for instance, survive. It hasn’t gone to help Greece, Spain, Italy, or Portugal get out of depression by fueling government spending. It’s simply been given away to the banks to buy bonds and stocks, including buying American stocks and bonds.
Behind this policy is the trickle-down theory that if you can make the financial sector richer, if you can make the one percent and the 10 percent richer, it’s all going to trickle down. This is the view of Paul Krugman, and it’s the view of the advisers that Obama has had. But instead of trickling down, the stock and bond price gains by the 1% and 10% drive a wedge in the economy, by increasing the value of stocks and bonds and real estate and wealth against labor. So quantitative easing is largely behind the fact that the distribution of wealth has become worse rather than better since 2008.
PERIES: One of the things that has happened in Europe that you wrote to me actually in an email was the disappearing central banks’ role in stimulating economies. Why is this an issue?
HUDSON: Central banks originally were designed to monetize government deficits. Governments are supposed to spend money into the economy, because that helps economies grow. But in Europe the Lisbon agreements say governments can’t run a deficit more than 3 percent of national income.
Furthermore, the role of the European Central Bank is not to give a penny to governments. They say that if you give a penny to government, you’ll have hyperinflation like you had in Weimar. So the central bank can only give money to banks – to invest in stocks and bonds. But the ECB won’t buy fresh bonds to finance new government spending. The result of this policy of not funding government deficits is that if the economy is to grow, it has to be entirely dependent on commercial banks for credit.
We had this situation in the United States in the last few years of the Clinton administration when the United States actually ran a budget surplus instead of a deficit. Now, how do you think the United States could grow when there’s a budget surplus sucking money out of the economy?
The answer is that commercial banks and bondholders have to supply the money. But the banks only supplied money in the form of junk mortgages and other forms of an economic bubble, such as takeover loans and a stock market bubble.
The interest of banks is not to help economies grow; it’s to extract interest from the economy. The financial sector uses part of its rising wealth to lobby for privatization sell-offs. The problem with this is that when you privatize a public utility, you give away a monopoly – and if you deregulate the economy, you let the monopoly set up tollbooths over the economy, for toll roads, communications or whatever is being privatized.
The ECB is telling Greece to privatize to raise the money to pay its bondholders, the ECB and IMF. So you have quantitative easing going hand-in-hand with the insistence on privatization. The result is debt deflation as the economy is forced to depend more and more on banks for the money to grow, instead of on government spending into the economy. You’re having the governments not being able to spend on infrastructure, letting it fall apart, as is happening with bridges and tunnels in the United States.
The next step is for the government to say, “I’m sorry, the central bank doesn’t have enough money to help us build new infrastructure. So we’ve got to sell it off to private investors who do have the money.” The next thing you know, you have the economy ending up looking like Chicago. That city sold off its sidewalks and its parking meters to Goldman Sachs and to other Wall Street firms. All of a sudden the prices of parking, driving, and living in Chicago went way, way up instead of lowering the costs as privatization promised.
You have the same phenomenon here that England suffered under Margaret Thatcher: costs for hitherto public services go up. Transportation costs go way up. Road costs go up. Communications, internet costs, telephone costs, everything that is privatized goes way up. Financialization leads to a rent-extractive, almost neo-feudal economy.
In that sense, quantitative easing and the refusal of central banks to fund governments (except to pay bondholders and bail out commercial banks) is a new kind of class war. It’s not the old kind of class war, which was between employers and their workforce over what wages will be. It’s by the financial sector trying to take over the economy, and especially to take over the public sector, to take over the public domain, to take over public utilities and whatever assets a government has. If governments cannot borrow from central banks, they have to begin selling off property.
PERIES: Michael, this is exactly what’s happening in Greece right now. The SYRIZA government is somewhat forced to continue privatization as a part of the agreement of the loans that they have been given by European banks. What could they do in this situation?
HUDSON: This is really a scandal, because most privatizations are corrupt insider dealings. The SYRIZA Party came in and said, wait a minute, the privatizations that have been done are by governmental officials to their own cronies at a giveaway price. How can we balance the budget if we’re giving away the public utilities instead of getting a fair price for them?
The European Central Bank said, no, you have to give away privatization to cronies at pennies on the dollar just like Russia did under Yeltsin, just like the United States did with the railroad giveaways of the 19th century.
Remember, the American privatization to the railroad barons and their financial backers created essentially the ruling class of the 20th century. It created the American stock market. The same thing is happening in Greece. It’s being told to continue the former politicians’ drive to endow a new oligarchy, a new kind of a feudal monopoly lord, by these privatization giveaways. The ECB says that if you don’t do that, we’re going to bankrupt the banking system.
Yanis Varoufakis went back to the party congress in Parliament and asked whether they would approve this. The left wing in Greece has said, no, we won’t approve the giveaways.
The pretense is that privatization is to make money, but the European Central Bank is saying, no, you can’t make money; you have to give it away to our cronies. It’s all one happy financial family. This is escalating financial warfare.
I can assure you that neither Varoufakis nor SYRIZA has any interest in this kind of privatization giveaway. It’s trying to figure out some way of perhaps prosecuting the cronies for bribery, for internal connections, or figuring out some way of legally stopping the rotten policies that they’re told to follow by the European Central Bank – which isn’t giving a single euro to help Greece get over the economic depression that debt deflation has brought on. The euros are only given to the financial sector, basically to help declare war on the Greek government, the Spanish government, the Italian government.
This financial warfare is trying to achieve the same thing that military warfare did in the past. It’s aim is to grab the land, to grab control of the public infrastructure, to grab control of governments themselves. But it’s doing it financially rather than militarily.
PERIES: Right. The SYRIZA Party last week did agree to the conditions of privatization, that they would not roll back on the existing agreements that had been made by previous government. They agreed to not roll back on ones that are underway, and that they’re actually not even averse to privatization as a statement by Yanis Varoufakis. What does all this mean for Greece?
HUDSON: The financial gun was put to their head. If they wouldn’t have said that, there would have been a total breakdown, and the European Central Bank would have tried to bankrupt the Greek banks. So he didn’t have much of a choice. Everything that Varoufakis has written, and all that the political leader of SYRIZA has said, has been exactly the opposite. But they had to give lip service to what they were told to do, and any agreement that’s made has to be ratified by Parliament. So, what they’ve said is, okay, we’re going to play good cop, bad cop. We’ll be the good cops with you, and let Parliament and our left wing be the bad cops and say that we’re not going to stand for this.
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.