This is Part IV in a multi-part series that features original commentary on the state of leftist movements in Europe from political disrupters Winnie Wong and Claire Sandberg as they schlep their way across the continent. The two were embedded in US Senator Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign in various official/non-official capacities, and are continuing their version of the political revolution.
On October 1, the Government of Catalonia put forth a referendum vote for independence resulting in 90 percent of voters selecting "yes" in favor of breaking away from Spain (although only 43 percent of voters turned out.) Images of the bruised and bloodied spread quickly across the Internet, as national police cracked down on Catalan citizens at polling locations. Spanish courts have ruled that the election was illegal and the results invalid. But the Catalan government has taken steps to move forward with independence following the referendum, prompting threats from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to revoke the regional authority's right to self-governance.
We were in Madrid in the immediate aftermath of the independence vote, along with progressive allies from political parties across Europe, to participate in a summit convened by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (RLS.) RLS is the foundation arm of Die Linke, Germany's left wing party which recently lost seats to the German far right party, Alternative for Germany ( AfD.) Representatives from Poland, Greece, France, Italy, Ireland, Serbia, Croatia and the USA assembled to strategize about how to address the deepening crisis of austerity and the looming specter of fascism.
Podemos, the young Spanish left party which controls around 20 percent of seats in the national congress, was also in attendance. Podemos emerged in 2014 out of the Indignados movement—the Spanish precursor to Occupy Wall Street—and has worked to build political power on a national scale to fight economic inequality. Podemos favors a unified Spain, but its leaders have expressed support for Catalan self-determination and the democratic process, and have decried police violence against voters.
Now, protests across Spain in support of democracy—and counter protests in support of Rajoy's government—are making headlines around the world. Troublingly, many pro-unity demonstrations have featured explicit displays of fascism, in a country where a fascist dictator ruled less than 50 years ago. And on Monday, Pablo Casado, the Deputy Secretary of Communication for Spain's majoritarian Party, PP (Partido Popular) stunned many observers when he asserted that current Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont might meet the same fate as Lluís Companys, who in 1940, was brutally executed by Franco's army after attempting to declare Catalonia an independent nation.
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Our contacts in Podemos arranged for us to speak with MP and General Secretary of Relations with Civil Society and Social Movements, Rafael Mayoral to explain the emerging political crisis in Spain.
VICE Impact: Can you explain the crisis in Catalonia?
Rafael Mayoral: To really understand the crisis in Catalonia, we have to first understand that this is part of the broader deterioration of democracy in Spain. This is about the suppression of democracy and the erosion of our liberal institutions. The position of Podemos it that we must first reflect and acknowledge that Spain is a country of countries and a nation of nations. To that end, we will need a democratic solution to resolve this territorial dispute.
Since the establishment of the neoliberal agenda, we've observed every aspect of our constitutional democracy diminished. It started with cuts to our social rights, then it extended to our civil liberties: freedom of speech, the right to demonstrate peacefully.
In Spain, the popular reaction to the neoliberal agenda really began on 15th of May in 2011 with the 15-M/ Indignados occupation. During this time, people demanded an end to economic austerity and an expansion of the political space for democratic participation.
In August of 2011, there was a modification of Article 135 of the Spanish constitution,
prioritizing the payment of the national debt over the administration of social services. The institutions were unable to offer an alternative position to the working class.
And what is Podemos' position on the crisis?
We don't want Catalonia to leave. We must repeat this frequently. We support a unified Spain. What we need is to create a democratic framework that recognizes all of the different nationalities inside of Spain, that creates a fraternity among the different nationalities in Spain. This is a problem of the current democratic process. We must resolve this crisis with a political solution, and with democratic participation from the people.
Article 92 of the Spanish Constitution articulates that political decisions of special importance may be submitted to a consultative referendum. So, even though the court ruled that the vote in Catalonia was illegal, Article 92 suggests that there is a constitutional foundation for the democratic process to play out over time.
"What we need is to create a democratic framework that recognizes all of the different nationalities inside of Spain, that creates a fraternity among the different nationalities in Spain."
It's important for people to understand the political strategy of Spain's majoritarian ruling party, the Partido Popular. When they appeal for the unity of our nation, they are also concealing their own corruption. This connects their reactionary narrative to other reactionary narratives we are seeing around the world. A good example is Donald Trump's agenda. In the USA, they say Make America Great again, so here in Spain they're saying they want to Make Spain Great Again.
Are there similarities between Trump's government and Rajoy's government?
The Popular Party is a party dominated by corrupt political actors. They are prone to using the tactics of the extreme right, during political confrontations. These demonstrations of the far right often succeed in terrifying the people into not exercising their political rights. We cannot be a functioning democracy if we lose our fundamental civil rights. The people must be able able to vote.
What is wrong with PSOE's position?
During the last election, Pedro Sanchez, The Secretary General of the PSOE, (Spain's socialist party) was ousted, the won back control. When he regained control of the minority government, he pledged to change political course and lead a strong opposition to Rajoy's corrupt government. But, he has not. He lights a candle for God, but he works for the devil.
Is the neoliberal position the same as the neo-fascist position?
The rise of anti-democratic tendencies in Spain is deeply connected to the history of forcing neoliberal economic policies upon the people. This is the ideology of Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys: Impose the free market upon the people, and if necessary,do so, with the tip of a bayonet
This Q&A was conducted by Winnie Wong and Claire Sandberg with translation by Federico Severino of Instituto 25. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Update: At the time of publication, Mariano Rajoy was calling on Carles Puigdemont to clarify whether he declared independence, and Puigdemont was arguing for international mediation. This is a political stalemate.