Spain got another taste of elections this week as Catalonia went to vote. The big issue was independence, and the result was a stalemate. Now, I know that most people don’t really care about national politics, even less about politics in other countries, so I can imagine that local politics in other countries doesn’t really arouse enthusiasm abroad. But Catalan independence is a big issue in Spain at the moment, so I’ll briefly bring you up to date on what’s happening before trying to analyse what this all means with respect to the democratic revolutionary movement in Spain.
Catalans have been periodically regurgitating their will to break away from Spain over the last few centuries, most recently in the late 19th century, then during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, and lately these past few years. The reasons for the current outbreak are to be found in the rejection of parts of the region’s Autonomy Statute as ‘unconstitutional’ by the Spanish High Court in 2010. Most symbolically, the judges cancelled a reference to Catalonia being a ‘nation’, which sparked a lasting outcry all over the region. The economic crisis did the rest.
When you listen to Catalans speaking about the question you can clearly hear the echoes of years of televised propaganda, which revolves around two core issues: 1. ‘Madrid steals from us’, and 2. ‘We are different from Spaniards’, meaning: superior to them. No need to add that the rest of Spain doesn’t feel a particular sympathy for Catalonia as a result of this, which has in itself become a third reason for many Catalans to want to break away.
Politically, the independence issue was relatively marginal until the leader of the biggest centre-right party decided to ride the wave of popular indignation and switch from moderate regionalism to full support for independence, a few years ago. This guy was called Artur Mas. He has his picture in the dictionary under the voice ‘mediocrity’, right next to the picture of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy. Mas has gambled his political career on the ephemeral prospect of going down in history as the father of Catalan independence. He won’t be the first to fail at that, and he definitely won’t be the last.
At the moment, support for independence hovers around fifty percent of the population. The Spanish prime minister has reiterated that Catalan independence, and any binding referendum on the subject, is out of the question. But aside from that he has wisely kept a low profile. Catalan nationalists easily take offense at anything said by a Spaniard with whatever intent, so in order not to rouse the spirits of independence more than necessary the Spanish government mainly keeps its silence.
From his side, Artur Mas has been trying to create goodwill for an independent Catalonia among European political leaders and businessmen, but has been rebuffed practically everywhere. The EU simply doesn’t want the hassle. Spain can make a lot trouble with its veto right in the European institutions, it’s a democratic western country so no-one abroad really understands why some of its citizens want to break away, and in general the EU is built to deal with international integration, not with national disintegration. Because there is no scenario for this eventuality, an independent Catalonia would automatically be expelled from the EU and the euro. Business leaders are afraid of the ensuing instability and have threatened to leave the region in case it really becomes independent.
Still, Artur Mas bravely pushes on. Because the Spanish high court has prohibited any binding referendum he has sought to transform the current elections into a plebiscite on independence. To do so he made a very uneasy alliance with left wing republicans under the name ‘Together for Yes’. They did not get a majority of seats. And the only way for them to govern is to reach a deal with an ultra left wing independence party. Not a good recipe for political stability, especially if you take into account that while independence parties gained a small majority of seats, they did not win a majority of the popular vote.
Indeed, it does look like the current independence drive has reached its peak and is now slowly losing momentum. If there had been a more charismatic leader than Artur Mas, it might have persisted, but even then it would have been unlikely that Catalans would have gained their independence. Realistically, there are two prerequisites for them to do so. One is an unequivocable majority of popular support, so not fifty or fifty-two percent, but more something like sixty or seventy percent. Two is the ok from Washington. Because let’s face it, in these matters the US still holds the keys. If the State Department decides that Catalonia should become an independent state, then the EU will find a way to deal with the hassle and Spain will be forced to accept the outcome. But that’s very unlikely. The US has no problem to carve up states around the world if it suits their interests, but Spain has been a loyal ally ever since the days of Franco, and the Obama administration has reiterated that they highly value a strong relationship with a united Spanish state.
Last but definitely not least, in case of independence the FC Barcelona would no longer play Real Madrid twice a year, but would instead be relegated to a provincial league of semi-amateur clubs with no interest at all for football fans the world over. And this is probably the only reason why people outside of Spain would care for the Catalan question.
So how about the no front in recent elections? Both the big national parties have very limited support in Catalonia, and with Artur Mas swinging to independence, the middle class vote against it has been reaped by a relatively new party called ‘Citizens’. Economically conservative and socially progressive, Citizens has made Spanish unity and reconciliation between the inflamed spirits on both sides their issue. Their pronunciation against independence and the fact that they haven’t yet had the time and opportunity to stain themselves with political vices is what made them gain support. On the same side, the indignado party Podemos has been crushed in Catalonia, mostly because Pablo Iglesias has pronounced his party against independence.
Earlier this year, Ada Colau and her ‘Barcelona in Common’ platform were able to win the elections precisely because she was smart enough not to touch the independence issue. In fact, the indignado community in Catalonia is divided, so supporting one side means alienating the other. Now, Podemos has made the national choice of unity, with which they continue to distance themselves from the people that gave life to the indignado movement four years ago. In Catalonia they presented themselves under the worn-out slogan of ‘Yes We Can’, which was also confusing because ‘Yes’ generally indicates the side that supports independence. They didn’t even win ten percent of the vote.
The defeat of the post-indignado party in Catalonia and the absence of a serious grass roots alternative doesn’t spell good news for the general elections later this year. Podemos seems to be turning into just another political party that doesn’t represent the people they are supposed to represent, and many of its potential voters are actually growing fed up with Pablo Iglesias’ face. It’s also unlikely that a national platform like ‘Ahora en Común’ will be able to organize itself and stand a chance while being true to its local heterogeneous roots. And maybe that’s not even something people will want to strive for. Democratic regeneration is already taking place on a local level, in the neighbourhoods and in the cities, where people only represent themselves in order to make a tangible change in their lives. Catalan nationalism is a digression from the core issue. Independent or not, it would be the same mess. Truly revolutionary would be a place where there are no ‘states’ and ‘nations’, but only local communities, each one independent from the other, and all of them linked by nothing but human solidarity.
A little catch-up in short. During the last two elections, the political establishment of Spain has been rocked by candidates that have their roots in the indignado movement. First the European elections in 2014, where Pablo Iglesias and Podemos Party took eight percent of the vote, and lately in the municipal elections where local citizen’s platforms won the town hall in Madrid, Barcelona and other major cities.
Next up is the general election in November. In the streets, for years now, a heterogeneous mass has shouted “Yes we can”, and the latest electoral results have given them reason enough to believe that it will indeed be possible to enter parliament, peacefully, and bring democracy back to the people.
At the next elections, those people have Podemos and Pablo Iglesias to vote for. Many people will, some of them will do so for lack of better, and many will not, because Pablo Iglesias doesn’t represent them any more or less than the established parties do.
The indignado movement has a very strong grass-roots anti-authoritarian vein. Now, within Podemos, many people have voiced criticism about the lack of internal democracy, and the way candidates are elected. That is, on closed lists, to be approved or rejected as a whole. In practice, the lists that get supported by the party elite are the ones who usually get elected.
It has also become evident in the latest election that Podemos is incapable of winning on its own. It won where it adhered to citizens’ platforms that went into the neighbourhoods to gather proposals and ideas from the people.
Last Tuesday, to emulate this succesful formula, a statewide initiative was launched in view of the general election: ‘Ahora en Comùn’, “Now in Common”. Within three days the platform gathered the support of over 20.000 people, many of whom members of various social, political and grass-roots organisations, among which Podemos itself.
Ahora en Comùn seeks to give space to all the different forces who long for social change and present a candidate of popular unity at the upcoming elections.
From their manifest: “We believe that it’s both possible and essential to put that which unites us ahead of our differences in order to reach an agreement on a number of common sense issues that reflect the social consensus of our time: the need to recover our sovereignty, to regenerate and enhance democracy, to reclaim the integrity and transparency of our political representatives, to defend the universality of human rights (education, healthcare, food, housing and employment) and to establish dignity, equality, participation and justice as basic principles of the new way of doing politics that 21st century challenges and opportunities demand.”
There have already been calls for Podemos to unite themselves with this platform, but Pablo Iglesias was quick to freeze some people’s hopes. He desccribed the new platform as maneuvred by the old left, and didn’t want to be associate with them. “We are not going to place ourselves where the enemy wants us to be placed”.
During two years of activism in and around Spain I have hardly ever heard the word ‘enemy’ be used, so it startled me a bit to hear it mentioned by a candidate who aims to represent the social change that has been brewing in the streets and the squares these last four years. Dismissing a wide range of people as maneuvred by old lefties could prove to be a costly mistake. It’s not as if Iglesias doesn’t want to cooperate with those people. He does, as long as it happens under the banner of Podemos. In other words: “I won’t join you, but you can join me.” To people from his own party who signed the “Ahora en Comùn” call he sends a thinly veiled threat of expulsion: “Everyone is free to change parties”.
Podemos may have peaked too early. Maybe they never were meant to be the vehicle of change they professed to be. But at the same time, the Ahora en Comùn platform has only just started to create local nodes and give life to an organization. In Barcelona or Madrid, it took only a couple of months for a newborn citizen’s initiative to beat the established parties and win the mayorship. So with or without Iglesias, there is still time enough for ‘Ahora en Comùn’ to take parliament by storm.
It has taken four years for the 15M movement to arrive from the occupied squares to the palaces of power. Last month, grass roots political parties all over Spain have shaken up the establishment and conquered, among others, the municipalities of Madrid and Barcelona. Local platforms and nationwide party ‘Podemos’, inspired by the indignados movement, are now gearing up towards the general election next November, to replace the old regime.
In Barcelona, anti-eviction activist and sweetheart of the movement Ada Colau has been elected the first female mayor of the city. The platform for which she was a candidate, ‘Barcelona en Comú’ (Barcelona in Common), proposes a radical democratic revolution, with continuous citizens’ participation, transparency of government, right to housing and basic sustainment for all, and a lot more.
In Madrid, a traditional stronghold of the Conservatives, the new platform ‘Ahora Madrid’ came in a close second, wresting control of the city in collaboration with Socialists. The new mayor, Manuela Carmena, a 71-year old lawyer, describes herself as a “caring grandmother” to the generation that took the streets four years ago to usher in a new era of democratic change. What she has in common with Ada Colau is a ‘feminine way of doing politics’, based not on hierarchy, but on horizontal organization.
Manuela Carmena was a communist activist under the Franco regime, which made it easy for the leading lady of Spanish conservatism, Esperanza Aguirre, to accuse the Ahora Madrid platform of being a ‘springboard to destroy the western democratic system as we know it.’
She probably couldn’t have made better publicity for her opponents. It reminded me of one the slogans we used to sing when we filled the streets of Madrid. “Madrid será la tumba del sistema”: Madrid will be the tomb of the system.
As for me, I have retreated to private life on my Italian estate, like Cincinnatus. But obviously I cannot remain untouched when a carrier pigeon brings me revolutionary updates from Spain. So I wrote to some of my old comrades, to get a first hand idea of what is going on. This is a brief account of what they old me.
H: “What has happened in Spain is that activists are forming political platforms (Barcelona en Comú, Ahora Madrid, Marea Atlántica…etc) to try and bring down the last remaining wall of the protests, the institutional wall.
It’s typical for activists to become politicians at some point in their lives, but what is new in Spain is that there are a lot of them now and voters only seem to support them gradually. The campaigns for municipal candidates (supported by Podemos, but not a part of it) have been like a continuation of the indignados, with candidates going into the neighbourhoods to listen to people’s proposals instead of organising rallies.
No candidate has won an absolute majority. This opens a new political front in Spain where deals have to be made. We’re entering a phase where a minority will govern and each proposal will have to be approved by fragmented parliaments.”
J: “All political analysts agree that what was formed on the streets and in the squares during the 15M, has crystallised into political movements like Podemos and the integration of left wing movements. Together, we decided to give power to people who had no voice until now… But now comes the difficult part: not just protesting, but building… The adversary is enormous, and they will have to work very hard…
A lot of people said it wasn’t possible, but in the end we did it!!! I think that is the strongest message, but the traditional parties are waiting and hoping that this is just a fashion so that they can go back to their business as usual.”
P: “The streets have given way to the institutions. (…) At the municipal level a LOT of things will change. Things like a ban on foreclosures can pass very soon, at least in some cities.
In the autonomous communities and regional governments where such basic things as health care or education are decided, there hasn’t been an electoral change due to lack of unity. In the cities, Podemos, which incorporates a part of the movement, preferred to go it alone, instead of uniting with other movements like in Madrid and Barcelona, and this didn’t played out in their favour.”
JC: “Podemos hasn’t really been clear about its own political collocation, and has preferred not to touch on subjects like nationalism, the economy etc, apart from becoming less revolutionary and more reformist. I have to say that I don’t really like the party, and above all I don’t like [its leader] Pablo Iglesias and his swollen ego, and I can’t see where this is all going. But obviously, it is the lesser evil by far.”
D: “The vertical leadership style of Podemos did not live up to the expectations, and the confluence of municipal candidatures based on a highly horizontal post-party model have changed the game.
Not even Greece has seen the level of innovation and empowerment that we are witnessing here. You can call me chauvinist, arrogant, or crazy, but I think the Spanish indignados are at the forefront of global change and of one of the greatest successes of the Occupy/Indignado movement. And I am convinced that the changes that are happening will not be happening only here. A lot of people are looking at us, and this is going to exceed the Spanish borders by far.
Here you can smell hope, you can smell revolution, you can smell social and political change.”
H: “Now it’s going to be interesting to see how the municipal platforms in Madrid, Barcelona, Coruña and Santiago are going to work. And from there, we will see if we can create momentum for the general elections. If Podemos opens up its program and succeeds in uniting with the local platforms than I have no doubt they will win the general elections in November.”
P: “The streets are empty for the moment while everyone is waiting to see what is going to happen from above. But if things don’t change, people will fill the streets again. There is a lot of expectation. Suddenly we all have friends in local councils, but it’s also very clear that if they don’t do what they should do we will confront them like we would with any other government.”
In the meantime, even though Pandora’s box has been open for a while, the reaction tries to tighten it grip on the people by approving the new citizen security law that aims at scaring people out of protesting. As from July, ridiculous fines of up to tens of thousands of euro’s can be imposed for demonstrating outside of parliament, avoiding a foreclosure, resisting arrest, blocking traffic, filming police officers etc.
Today, all over Spain, people are protesting the restriction of their civil rights. Just a few more months and they will be in front of parliament anyway, not to protest, but to celebrate.
The 15M movement that exploded in May 2011 gave rise to a galaxy of different assemblies, initiatives, movements and struggles in permanent evolution. And although the indignados initially rejected all forms of representative democracy in favour of direct citizens’ participation, a year ago in Spain a political party was born which was directly inspired by the 15M movement: ‘Podemos’ (‘We can’).
Four months after its foundation the new party dashed into the European limelight by conquering five seats in the Europarliament, presenting itself as a radical alternative to the Spanish political dinosaurs of PP and PSOE (“¡La misma mierda es!“). On the eve of the election in Puerta del Sol the trademark 15M slogan “They don’t represent us!” turned into “Yes! They represent us!”
Today, Podemos showed its strength with a massive demonstration in Madrid that filled the Puerta del Sol and the boulevards of the capital all the way down to city hall at Cibeles. While an anti-austerity party closely linked to Podemos has been voted into office in Greece, the party is leading the polls in Spain, ahead of this year’s general election. It looks like we might witness the dawn of a new season in Spanish and European politics.
What started off in 2008 as an economic crisis has turned into a collective state of mind, a way of life, whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t have anything to do with the economy any more. If people started spending money and banks started giving credit the crisis would be over tomorrow, but evidently there’s something else going on. A kind of generalized pessimism with regard to the future, linked to worries over climate change, rampant radicalism, rising international tensions and consequent rearmament, all of it exemplified by the ‘Doomsday clock‘ being put ahead to three minutes to Midnight…
In reaction to this permanent crisis, Europe is divided between north and south. Traditional parties are losing ground practically everywhere. It’s just that in the north they are losing to right wing parties, while the south is turning to the left. Then again, does it still make any sense to talk about ‘left’ and ‘right’ in 21st century politics? Probably not, but for lack of better terms we are stuck with them. So what is the difference between the two?
In the 1990s, Italian folk singer Giorgio Gaber tried to answer the question with a song, saying things like ‘the bath tub is right wing, the shower is left wing; Swiss chocolate is right wing, Nutella is left wing; sneakers are right wing, wearing them without laces is left wing; luck is right wing, bad luck is always left wing,’ etc. etc. All of it to show that a real difference between the two didn’t exist anymore.
But there still is, I think. North European right wing parties and movements like Pegida, Front National, UKIP and their counterparts in Holland, Belgium and Austria all represent a kind of irrational longing to the past, when things were local, small scale, understandable, and national culture was predominant without too much influence from the outside. Of course, those days of isolation are over. Those parties don’t have the future. On the other hand, left wing movements like Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain embrace globalism in its true sense. They look toward a future of mixed races and peoples and cultures, living together in mutual respect. This is another difference between between right and left, the most significant one: the right is based on fear, the left is based on hope.
So I spent a week in Barcelona this month. First thing I noticed, entering the city: a banner over a motorway bridge, and people protesting against education cuts. Second thing, like last time, the Catalan flags at the windows. There are three types. One with a white star on blue (independence), one with a red star (independence and socialism), and the official flag, no stars, only stripes (union with Spain). You will not find a single Spanish flag flying from the windows.
I won’t go into the nationalist discourse. Just a brief reflection on the tribal instinct. Human beings generally live in packs. They stick together on the basis of certain similarities, linguistic, social, racial, religious, etc. They have a tendency to distrust of differences. In a globalized society, this tendency is largely drowned out by the benefits of cultural, economic and scientific exchange. But it doesn’t take much to stir up those feelings. They are just under the surface. All you need is a soapbox and a loud megaphone. Usually the soapbox is a public stage, the speaker is a politician and the media provide the megaphone. If you keep talking about ‘them and us’, people will pick up on it, and eventually believe what you’re saying. Theoretically it is possible to pitch any group of people against any other group of people in even the most tolerant society. It has been done before.
A Catalan friend of mine came back home after several months abroad and she found everybody suddenly talking about independence. “What the hell is going on?” she wondered. “Did I miss something?”
While I was there, I had the opportunity to meet some of my comrades from the Spanish front, and from the March to Athens. I wondered, what is the state of the movement. The general idea I get is that of nostalgia. Unity turned to splinters. Some initiatives go on, but most people stay at home. Youngsters emigrate.
True. But equally valid is a more positive point of view, as was pointed out to me. A lot of objectives have been achieved. After sustained protests, the anti-protest law that would criminalize the 15M movement is on hold, together with the tightening of abortion legislation, and the privatization of health care in the capital region of Madrid. The faraonic Eurovegas project has also been cancelled. And most spectacularly, there has been brief flare of nationwide resistance, originating from Burgos.
Burgos is at the core of the conservative Castilian highland. It used to be Franco’s headquarters for most of the Spanish Civil War. Popular resistance against the construction of a boulevard in the neighbourhood of Gamonal was swift and effective. ‘Contundente‘, as the Spanish police chiefs like to put it.
A friend from Burgos told me the story with homeric flair. I had to take his word for it, it was too good of a tale. At Gamonal neighbourhood, containers were burned as barricades. Hundreds of well prepared slingers repeatedly battered police lines with stones, filling up their pockets every time they took refuge in the side streets where auxiliary units were preparing ammunition. Hannibal used to incorporate the Iberians into his army, precisely because they were good at this kind of thing.
“So many stones! All at once. It was as though they blocked out the sun!”
Really. That’s what he said. Like the Persians at the Thermopylae against three hundred Spartans. ‘We will be fighting in the shadow.’
In Burgos, however, police didn’t fight back. They mounted their vehicles and left.
Faced with active resistance and nationwide protests the government backed down after only a few days. The project got cancelled.
“The whole country is covered with straw. Anything will do to ignite it.”
A merry new year to all. And from the looks of it, it’s going to be a good one, revolutionarily speaking. Ukraine is crazy. You will probably know that. I was stunned by the romantic pictures of fire battles in the snow, with demonstrators launching molotovs and riot police in roman legion style responding with flame throwers. It’s epic. The rebels even employed a self constructed catapult to launch fire bombs at police.
Why am I not in Kiev, you might ask, to write a rousing account of the events from the front line? Well, again, vanity. Revolution, in the classic sense of a complete overthrow of society, is a chimera. There are more important things in life.
And yet, I keep in touch, especially with Spain. Last week I received a letter from a comrade whom I met during the first days of the Spanish uprising in the Communications Commission of Acampada Sol. This is the translation. Spanish original down below.
«So… 15M is pretty dead. But certain neighbourhood assemblies remain active. What you do have now, is a myriad of small, well organized groups all over the place: working groups on housing (the Asamblea de Vivienda de Madrid unites them all), the citizen waves, Yo Si Sanidad Universal (people without medical insurance, assisted by doctors who practice civil disobedience), new occupations to house people who have been evicted (thirty odd buildings throughout the country), groups who organize themselves to attack the reform of the Citizen Security Law [aimed to punish people with stratosferic fines for demonstrating], feminist groups for free abortion (I don’t know if you know, but there is a law banning abortion being discussed in parliament now).
So even if there is no unity within 15M, there are still a lot of active ‘comandos‘ who take part in the mobilizations, which makes me a little more positive 😉
People are very much concentrated on the electoral front at the moment. There are many new initiatives: the X Party, Alternative from the Bottom, We Can (they presented themselves last Friday and they intend to ‘hack’ the United Left party), personally I collaborate with On Line (enred.cc), which isn’t a party, but we try to create a Democracy charter, a document meant to unite the struggles on the basis of what 15M stood for. Then there is Equo (ecologists), the CUP in Catalonia, an assembly based party which already holds three seats in the Catalan parliament. The political front is very much on the move with the European elections coming up. Though 15M is not tied to any party, many people are active in one of these groups.
Then there’s the struggle [against the construction of a boulevard in the neighbourhood] of Gamonal (Burgos), which has reactivated struggles in many cities around the state. But given the fact that the construction has already been stopped and the demonstrations weren’t that big, I suppose it will implode (in Madrid there have been arrests for three days in a row).
Moreover, on March 22, the Marches of Dignity will arrive in Madrid, an initiative of the SAT, a tenacious Andalusian trade union that occupies estates and raids supermarkets to get food for those who are in need. They can count on a lot of support, and all of us are waiting to see what will happen. Maybe it’s going to be big. Then we’ll see what happens in May. Another 15M anniversary? There are many people who want to hijack the European elections, there is an initiative that is very much on the move: the Troika Party, which aims to ridicule the elections and undermine the two-party system.
Ah, I don’t know if I told you. Together with fellow activists we created a press agency to cover all this, in particular the news that has to do with social movements. It may help you to get an idea of what’s going on in Spain, especially in Madrid. It’s called Diso Press, Agencia de Prensa y Difusión Social, http://disopress.com. All content is CC BY-NC-SA. So you can take whatever you want, whenever you want.»
“Pues… Lo que es el 15M, está bastante muerto. Pero algunas asambleas de barrio siguen trabajando. Lo que sí hay ahora es multitud de pequeños grupos muy bien organizados en todas partes: grupos de trabajo de vivienda (la Asamblea de Vivienda de Madrid los une a todos), de todas las mareas , de Yo Si Sanidad Universal (la gente que no tiene cobertura sanitaria mediante médicos que hacen desobediencia civil), nuevas ocupaciones para vivienda de desahuciados (van unos treinta edificios a nivel estatal), grupos que se organizan para atacar la reforma de la Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana, grupos feministas pro aborto libre ( no se si sabes que está ya en el parlamento la ley que pretende prohibir el aborto de los nazis que tenemos en el gobierno)…
Con lo que no hay unidad de 15M, pero hay un montón de “comandos” trabajando y que se suman a las movilizaciones que haya. Con lo que soy algo más positivo 😉
Ahora se mira mucho el frente electoral. Hay un montón de iniciativas nuevas: Partido X; Alternativas desde Abajo; Podemos (se presentó el viernes y pretende “hackear” Izquierda Unida); yo colaboro en En Red (enred.cc), que no es un partido pero pretende crear la Carta por la democracia, un documento que pueda unir la lucha muy basado en lo que dijo el 15M; Equo (ecoligistas); las CUP en Cataluña, que tienen ya 3 escaños en el parlamento catalán y son asamblearias; Proces Constituent también en Catalunya… Es un frente que se está moviendo mucho ya que se acercan las elecciones europeas. Aunque el 15M es apartidista, mucha gente está dentro de alguno de estos grupos.
Y luego está la lucha de Gamonal (Burgos), que ha reactivado la lucha en muchas ciudades del estado, aunque como han parado las obras contra las que protestaban y las manifestaciones no han sido muy grandes supongo que se desinflará (en Madrid ha habido detenciones 3 días seguidos).
Además, el 22 de marzo llegan a Madrid las Marchas de la Dignidad, una iniciativa que monta el SAT, un sindicatos andaluz muy cañero que realiza ocupaciones de tierras e incursiones en los supermercados para conseguir comida para gente necesitada. Tienen mucho apoyo, y todo el mundo está esperando a ver qué pasa. Quizá sea grande. Y habrá que ver qué pasa en mayo. ¿Otro aniversario del 15M? Y mucha gente quiere hackear las elecciones europeas, hay una iniciativa que igual se mueve mucho: Troika Party, que quiere ridiculizarlas y quitar más poder al bipartidismo.
Ah, no sé si te dije. Yo y otros compañeros de activismo hemos creado una agencia de noticias y cubrimos todo esto, especialmente todo lo que tenga que ver con movimientos sociales. Quizá te sirva para hacerte una idea de cómo está la cosa por España, especialmente Madrid. Se llama Diso Press, Agencia de Prensa y Difusión Social, http://disopress.com. Los contenidos son CC BY SA No Comercial, así que coge lo que quieras cuando quieras.”
Madrid, September 15
I do not thoroughly follow the daily convulsions of Spanish politics, but I am aware of the major issues and the most prominent players. And it strikes me. There is something about them. I’ll get to that.
In Spain, gender stereotypes used to be very strictly defined, and in some cases they still are. The man is the boss, the woman obeys and bears responsibility for the household and the children. Especially among the elder generation that grew up under the Franco regime, many men still consider a woman to be subordinate. Gender violence is a persisting social problem.
So what strikes me here, in the capital of this macho state, is that women seem to dominate politics on all different levels. And they too dominate the macho party that incorporated Franco’s heritage. They take the headlines, they fill the news, they arouse the rage of protesters.
For one, there is the alcaldesa, Ana Botella. She is the current mayor of Madrid, wife of former prime minister José Maria Aznar, and a leading figure of the party.
For two, there is the delegada del gobierno, Cristina Cifuentes. She is in charge of police repression in Madrid. As such she is a frequent target of activists. In particular because many people have been fined a ridiculous amount of money for participating in protests. She is involved in a series of court cases over this with the Legal commission of Sol.
For three, there is the vicepresidenta, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, spokesperson and ‘número dos’ of the government. But next to someone like Mariano Rajoy, who prefers not to take questions and hide behind a screen when times are tough, it isn’t all that clear who is the real number two.
There’s more. It goes all the way over the top.
There is Esperanza Aguirre, ex president of the senate and of the capital region of Madrid. The first time I encountered her was two years ago at Callao, Madrid’s modest version of Piccadilly Circus. She was dressed as an angel, against an all white background, looking down on me from a mastodontic billboard, intimating me with her cold eyes to vote for her. Aguirre is a leading figure of the party’s right wing, a champion of classic free market liberalism. She is also a countess and one of the so-called ‘Greats of Spain’.
Meanwhile, on the movement side there are no leaders. That was one of the founding ideas. But there are a few faces. The best known of them, and the most respected, is Ada Colau. Everybody in the movement loves Ada Colau.
She is the spokesperson of the Mortgage Platform (PAH). And although the Platform is not officially part of 15M – it existed before – they are fighting on the same fronts.
While the leading ladies of Spanish politics are mostly operating from Madrid, Ada Colau is from Catalonia. In fact, the Mortgage Platform was founded in Barcelona in 2009. It is a decentralized assemblary organization that operates all over the territory of the Spanish state.
The PAH is a good practical example of diversity of tactics. They use political pressure, legal pressure, eviction defence and direct action to achieve their objective of decent housing for all citizens, as defined by the Spanish constitution. Mrs. Colau has earned a lot of credit with the humble and eloquent way with which she has presented the PAH to the public.
I haven’t mentioned the one woman who is arguably the most powerful of all. You won’t find her name in the headlines. You won’t see her on tv. Me, I only heard about her from the peasants in Andalusia, a part of Spain which she happens to own, up to a large extent. The peasants speak of her with a mixture of reverence and fear. And when they do, they lower their voices to a whisper as if she were some kind of evil spirit.
She doesn’t engage herself personally in something so vulgarly bourgeois as parliamentary politics. She is five times duchess, eighteen times marquise, twenty times countess. She is one of the Greats of Spain fourteen times over. She reigns over numerous lands, estates, villages and palaces at home and abroad. She carries so many and so distinct titles that according to some, even the king of Spain himself is required to bow his head in her presence.
She is María del Rosario Cayetana Paloma Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Fernanda Teresa Francisca de Paula Lourdes Antonia Josefa Fausta Rita Castor Dorotea Santa Esperanza Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva Falcó y Gurtubay. More commonly known as the Duchess of Alba.
I shivered when the Andalusian peasants told me about her, because I know her kind. Her far predecessor, the infamous Duke of Alva, was sent to the Netherlands by king Philips II to quell the Dutch War of Independence in the late 1500s, and to root out protestantism once and for all. He figures as one of the greatest villains in the history of the Lowlands. His name has become synonymous to blood and terror.
That was a long time ago. They say that many Spanish nobles still reside comfortably on their ancestral lands, but that might not even be true, who knows? Maybe the house of Alba has fallen a long time ago, and all that’s left is a dynasty of impostors. Maybe even the impostors are not real. Maybe the Duchess of Alba doesn’t exist after all. Or maybe the Andalusians are right, and she really is an evil spirit.