Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Real Democracy Now

You may have noticed that over here in Spain the governing socialist party got a kicking in the local and regional elections on Sunday*. Why it's taken everyone so long to notice that Zapatero is little more than a monkey in a suit, whose job is to take the flack and who can't even use an autocue, and that the government doesn't know what to do about the crisis but is terrified to do anything that goes against the tenets of socialism, I do not understand. Anyhow, it augurs well for next year, when Mariano Rajoy, who is at least intelligent and personable (he doesn't look manufactured, which is extremely rare for a politician these days) might finally get the chance to show us if he can do any better. Certainly in international relations he will be a vast improvement, and, not being constrained by failed economic doctrine, he will be able to free up the markets, including the labour market, which should achieve something.

But that's the future, if it ever happens. For a week before the election people starting camping out in the main sqaures of the major cities, and many of the minor ones, all over Spain, under the slogan that is this post's title. In some places they numbered in the tens of thousands. (Here it seems to be a couple of hippies in a tent, and some of their friends who drop by at lunchtime, but this is not the centre of the universe.) In most places they are still there. They demand real democracy, by which they seem to mean representation rather than nepotism and troughing. I totally agree with them. Politicians here are as little interested in the people they are supposed to represent as in Britain, probably less so, as they used closed lists, so all the power is in the hands of the party leaders. It's them the candidates have to imporess, not the voters.

The day before the election no campaigning is allowed, for reasons that I have never really understood. But it's the law, and the electoral commission takes it seriously. On the other hand it's almost impossible to police, and hard to imagine that an election would be retrospectively anulled because of some infringement. In 2004, when Al Qaeda bombed Atocha three days before the general election, both parties took the opportunity to campaign openly and brutally on the last day, pretending they were only giving information about the attack. Six months later they were slapped on the r¡wrist and told they were naughty boys and girls.

I mention this because the commission decided that these protests constituted campaigning, and banned them on the Saturday. The protestors took no notice, the police asked the government what to do and were obviously told not to act. (Zapatero appeared on the TV to say, "The government's response will be correct, and, err, that's it." They hadn't even prepared a statement for him to read.) I suspect the police told the government they weren't going to break up a peaceful protest with riot gear, whatever the commission said, and Zapatero was well aware that it would have cost him even more votes, so there they stayed, and there they still are.

And that is the real point of this post- to point out the quite remarkable fact that these protests are completely non-violent. It is not at all clear who is behind them. I've seen a few anarchist symbols, but not much else. But anything organised by anarchists or trade unions or any such group invariably descends into violence (and the pacifists are even worse), and there isn't any. Someone is behind it, these things don't happen spontaneously, but it isn't the usual suspects, and the movement has now taken on its own momentum, and its own beliefs, which include genuine non-violence. Where it will end I couldn't say, probably nowhere, it will just peter out, but it is a very interesting phenomenon.

*The president of the autonomous region where I live has finally been kicked out in favour of the PP (centre right) candidate, who is a professional politician from somewhere down the road from Mrs Hickory's farm (Papa Cosapedal's land is bigger, which is why he could get his daughter into politics) whose interest is in Madrid. This may not be a bad thing, as the main purpose of regional presidents in the non-nationalist, non-manufacturing regions is to get money out of the central government. Barreda, and especially his predecessor, was very good at this.

José María Barreda, the outgoing president, is from here and still lives here, although the regional government is in Toledo (much nicer palaces to pinch for their parliament and offices, you see). We often drink in the same bars in the centre. He seems a decent enough chap, although he also owns a lot of land, and is from a right-wing family. His brother was a town councillor here for the PP until recently. José María, of course, was drawn to the socialist party by his principles, not because at the time it offered him a better political career, but even so, they must have some interesting conversations at weddings. I've never seen them speak, but I don't actually know the state of their relations.

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