Spanish politics and I

Living here in Barcelona for nearly 5 years, my blood pressure clearly remains more sensitive to anything going on in Israel than here. I guess that news about the metro get me much more excited than politics at any level here.

Living in a different place means making an effort to integrate here as much as possible, speaking Spanish and understanding Catalan is only the interface – it’s also a cultural experience: from understanding the different types of foods in the various holidays and from the various regions, listening to some good music from around the country and even becoming acquainted with Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente, Spain’s dramatic version of David Attenborough are all part of the living here. The list could go on and on of course.

And being a political animal means trying to understand what’s going on. Spain is probably Europe’s most decentralized country, with 4 official languages, 17 regions having various degrees of autonomy, 50 provinces and an endless amount of politicians. Add the shadows of the civil war, the long dictatorship and the amazing transition to democracy, and politics can be not only complex but also fascinating.

Recently, it has become even more interesting on the local and national levels. The past 4 years of an absolute majority for the center-right Partido Popular (PP) which rejected any dialog and the financial crisis have fueled the Catalan independence movement. I can write about that in so much detail given everything that’s going on here in the past few years.

But I’ll stick to the title and focus on Spain, that cannot be detached from the Catalan question.

For a change, there was no clear winner. The right wing PP came out first but lost a third of the votes. Some of them were taken by the new center-right and nationalist Ciudadanos (Citizens) which originated in Catalonia as anti-independence and became a party at the national level. However, together they command only 163 seats while 176 are needed for a majority in the 350 strong parliament.

On the left, the center-left PSOE came in second, also losing votes, with some of them taken by Podemos, the fruit of the 15-M protests from 2011, and friends of SYRIZA in Greece. Also here, these two parties have 159 seats between them. Adding the Izquierda Unida (IU) which means united left, they have 161 seats. The Spanish political system not different from other countries, favors big parties over the smaller ones. In a proportional system like in Israel, they would have received over 10 seats.

So, these are the left-right blocs and both fall short. So who got the rest of the seats? Regional parties, mostly from Catalonia and from the Basque Country.

These could be compared to Arab parties in Israel: they represent their constituents but can never really share power. And like in Israel, having them support a left-wing government from the outside is a possibility, but the government would seem “unpatriotic”.

The pressure is on Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the center-left PSOE. Like the labor party in Israel, he is called to “show responsibility” and join a grand coalition under the right-wing PP. When this happened in Israel, the Labor party basically opted for short term political benefits, while providing a rubber stamp to right-wing policy in the world, removing the option of a real opposition and eliminating itself as an alternative to right-ring rule.

In Spain’s PSOE, the conservative members of the party, some in the south of the country, prefer this option over a real change. Voters in Andalucia for example, are conservative but vote socialists, similar to the old guard of Israel’s Labor party until not so long ago.

The other option facing Sánchez is leading a Portuguese left-wing government with Podemos. But the hurdles are huge: opposition within his party, the initial demand by Podemos to hold a referendum on Catalan independence, the need to rely on regional parties and pressure from the EU.

Regarding Podemos, they have also seen better days. Crushing Podemos was the main reason for crushing Greece in 2015. Punishing those who didn’t obey Brussels served to deter many Spaniards from voting for change, as they feared the fate of the Greeks.

But you cannot blame everything on external forces. Had I been a Spanish national, I would have voted Podemos: the country needs a serious tackling of corruption with banks always enjoying immunity, welfare budgets being cut and capitalism which only favors big business. As a small business owner, my social security tax was hiked 22% in 2014. Isn’t capitalism all about small businesses? The right-wing is not only corrupt, reactionary in terms of human rights but cannot even provide the fruits of capitalism.

And also on the Catalan question, I certainly favor a referendum, just like Podemos. Going to a binding vote, just like in Scotland, would have probably resulted in the exact same result like in Scotland and would put the story to sleep. And if Catalonia wins independence? So be it. Politicians on both sides have vested interests in keeping the flames high and diverting attention from social issues, corruption and mismanaging the economy.

If you have followed me so far, you may assume that also in Spanish politics, I seem to have a grip on things and also possess an opinion. After swimming through all this, I am now stuck with my sentiment towards Podemos.

Their behavior has been somewhat erratic of late. They drew red lines like the Catalan referendum and now backtracked. Are they one united party or are they fully split between the regional subsidiaries? Why did they jump to divide ministries before setting out a plan?

And what’s this ministry of pluri-nationality? I understand that they need some stepping stone to back off their promise for a referendum, but this idea seems quite ugly. It implies giving a job to someone instead of solving the problem.

Anyway, I do hope that a left-wing government emerges, as this would be better for battling inequality, corruption and would help defend human rights. In addition, it has very wide implications for the whole continent. Spain is not Greece and not Portugal. A change against austerity here would force a bigger change in the EU’s thinking.

However, Pablo Iglesias and Podemos need to get their act together…

Here’s a picture of really tasty Basque food consumed in a restaurante called Maitea, highly recommended. Pluri-national Spain is something I certainly admire, but not as some kind of job for disappointed politicians….