The A-Z of Spanish politics

Feb 13, 2016 by

I was originally toying with the idea of writing this post back in December, then got sidetracked with tinselly things in the run-up to Christmas and discarded the topic as no longer timely (story of my blogging history). However, a full eight weeks since Spain’s General Election of 20 December, Spanish politics is still in freefall, a national government is yet to be formed and the most almighty row over state-sanctioned corruption in Valencia has just hit the headlines. So let’s give it a whirl.

A is for auspicious beginnings…Ada Colau, Artus Mas, Austerity, and Autónomos.

Ada Colau is the current and first ever female Mayor of Barcelona. She made her name as the spokesperson of anti-eviction platform the PAH (see D), and has been hailed as a heroic Joan of Arc of hounded homeowners.

Artur Mas is the recently rendered ex-President of Catalan parliament the Generalitat, and leader of the Catalan liberal nationalist party, the Convergencia Democrática de Cataluña (CDC). The protégé of disgraced founding father Jordi Pujol, Mas has dominated the Catalan political landscape since 2010. It remains to be seen what role he will play now that new Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has been sworn in.

Austerity has been a dirty word in Spain since, well, normal people were screwed over by the banking system while the Spanish political elite proceeded to keep raking it in. More precisely, the anti-austerity uprising can be traced back to a particular date – 15 May 2011 (see ‘I’ below).

Aútonomos (sole traders such as freelancers) are a seriously beleaguered lot in Spain, and don’t get half the press coverage they deserve. Over-charged and under-represented, they’re subject to one of the most castigatory social security regimes in Europe – to the point where you’d swear politicians had sat down to concoct a kill-all-entrepreneurship policy on purpose. Read this viral post from young Spanish journalist Regla María Gómez Tejada on the socially sanctioned daylight robbery that is the Spanish sole trader set-up.

B is for bye bye Bipartisanship.

Did the elections of 2015 finally signal an end to the hegemony of the two-party system in Spain? Let’s hope so. A different dynamic has now infiltrated the formerly stale Spanish political scene, and it’s causing a ruccus – poster-boys of the post-Transition generation in the scud to promote their policies and ponytailed leaders bouncing babies on their laps in the middle of the Congress of Deputies. Bye bye boring.

C stands for many things in Spanish politics.

Think Corruption, the Constitution, the Crisis, and perhaps the biggest C-word of them all – Coalition. Consensus in national leadership? Perish the thought.

(Oh, and C is also for Ciudadanos, the party which disappointed even itself in the recent General Election by winning a meagre 40 seats in Spain’s Congress of Deputies, despite an impassioned hand-wringing performance from leader Albert Rivera in the country’s televised pre-election debates.)

D is for Desahuciados (see photo below of people living in treehouses).

The desahucios (evictions) of Spain from 2008 to 2014 even merit their own Wikipedia entry. When the Spanish propery bubble burst in 2008, the fallout was earth-shattering, with hundreds of thousands of Spanish families being turfed out their homes for failing to keep up with the mortgage repayments.

Spanish politics in technicolour - desahuciados tree house Barcelona

D is also for the Diada, Catalonia’s National Day on the 11th of September. This day somewhat paradoxically commemorates the Catalan defeat in the Spanish War of Succession following a long siege in 1714, but since I’ve been living in Barcelona, it’s increasingly been used to stage large-scale Catalan independence demonstrations.

In September 2013 supporters formed a 300-mile-long ‘human chain’, decked out in the Catalan flag, while September 2014 saw ‘independentistas‘ form the shape of a V for vote. Appropriating the date in this way isn’t without controversy in Catalonia, as some irked locals point out the day is meant as a celebration of all things Catalan, whatever your political persuasion.

E is for Endless Elections.

I’ve been in Barcelona coming up for five years, and I’ve never seen so many elections in my life. Municipal, regional, general, it’s frigging incessant – and I don’t even get to vote. And now, if Spain’s foremost political parties can’t agree on a coalition strategy to govern the country for the next four years, the population is facing yet another General Election hot on the heels of the last one.

F is for Facha.

A shortened version of the word ‘fascista’, the acrimonious insult of ‘¡Facha!’ is all the more loaded here in Catalonia. An ugly concept and an ugly word.

G is for Generalitat.

The three branches of regional government found in both Catalonia and Valencia. Catalonia’s Generalitat sits on Plaça Sant Jaume in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, and is currently back in the spotlight as new Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, attempts to steer Catalonia towards independence within a stated 18-month period.

H is for ‘huelga’ (strike).

Strikes in Spain were rife the first couple of years I was here, with two mass walk-outs in 2012 alone. Deeply unpopular austerity measures and the PP’s labour reforms, which made it easier and cheaper for companies to fire staff, prompted the call for the downing of tools twice that year.

Spanish politics airport strike

Barcelona airport with the cleaners on strike

I is for Indignados.

Spain’s ‘indignados‘ (indignant/outraged ones) are a grassroots movement that came to prominence back in 2011, just two weeks after I’d moved to Barcelona.

A collective of organisations and assemblies all agitating for real social change, the group set up camps in Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya and Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square, before eventually being dispersed by police. Now, almost five years later, the movement has managed to morph from sit-in demonstrations to frontline politics, personified by Pablo Iglesis’ Podemos party.

indignado protest in Barcelona

“This square has been reclaimed by the people” – Barcelona, May 2011

J is for Junts Pel Si.

Meaning ‘Together for Yes’ in Catalan, Junts Pel Si is a coalition of Catalan political parties and organizations formed ahead of the regional elections of 27 September 2015 (’27S’), united by the common goal of achieving Catalan self-rule. September’s elections had been pitched as the ‘definitive consultation’ by the then Catalan President, Artur Mas, and were widely talked up as a plebiscite on Catalan independence.

Voters awarded the separatist coalition a total of 62 out of 135 seats in the Catalan parliament, giving Junts Pel Si an absolute majority in terms of seats, but not in votes. With just under 48% of the vote in favour of the secessionist alliance, Junts Pel Si was obliged to seek out support from anti-capitalist party the CUP, in a process that lasted several months and went down to the wire – with an agreement finally reached hours before the legal deadline of 11 January. In the end, it was adeu Artus Mas as new contender Carles Puigdemont was sworn in as Catalan president.

K is for Kickbacks.

The good old bribe is alive and kicking across Spain, and sadly at times seems to be an institutionalised feature. Case in point is the current Valencian corruption scandal. Read it and weep.

L is for low-pay, short-term contracts.

Sure, unemployment may be trending slightly south, but try selling that to the majority of Spaniards, who are lurching from one precarious, impermanent labour contract to the next.

M is for Monarchy, and Money Laundering.

The gossip columnists have been in thrall over recent weeks as Spain’s Princess Cristina, sister of King Felipe, has become the country’s first royal ever to be put on trial. Charged with being an accessory to tax fraud as part of her husband Iñaki Urdangarín’s charity foundation, the Noos Institute, Cristina is one of 17 people accused in what is (so far) the highest-profile Spanish corruption case of the year.

N is for ‘Nueva Política’ (new politics).

This term refers mainly to the new generation of Spanish politicians and parties, and to two particular upstarts: the centre-right Ciudadanos, governed by Albert Rivera, and the left-leaning, anti-austerity Podemos, led by Pablo Iglesias. There are high hopes among Spaniards that this supposedly new way of thinking, governing and representing citizens will bring much-needed change to Spanish politics.

O is for Okupas.

An okupa is a squatter. The Occupy Movement has come into its own over recent years on the back of rising Spanish unemployment and, in the words of Barcelona’s Okupa group, as “a shout of resistance against an economic system that forces us to dedicate most of our salary and money to meet the basic need of having a roof over our heads“.

P is for PlasmamanPodemos, the Partido Popular (PP) and the PSOE.

Plasmaman became the moniker of Spain’s acting Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, after he infamously failed to show face at various press conferences and political debates, preferring instead to deliver his message from behind the safety of a plasma screen.

Founded in January 2014 on the back of the ‘indignados’ movement, Podemos is an anti-austerity and anti-corruption party led by Pablo Iglesias.

The Partido Popular is Spain’s hitherto ruling right-wing party helmed by the at-best hapless Mariano Rajoy.

The PSOE is Spain’s socialist party, presided over by the grinning ‘guapetón’, Pedro Sanchez.

Q is for Quince M (15M).

15M refers to the 15th of May 2011, one week before local elections, when anti-austerity protesters marched across major Spanish cities including Barcelona. The movement galvanised Spanish political activism and changed forever the dynamics between Spain’s populace and politicians, as evinced in the results of December 2015’s General Election.

R is for Reforma Laboral, the labour market reform introduced by Mariano Rajoy’s Partido Popular in 2012.

The Spanish people I know tend to spit rather than speak the term ‘Reforma Laboral‘, blaming it for allowing companies to fire staff more easily, cut severance pay and generally increase the precariousness of the already fragile job market in Spain. There’s no doubt it has modernised Spanish labour legislation, but any new regulations cherished by big business in a society already stung by bitter unemployment are perhaps not all they’re cracked up to be. Just saying.

S is for Separatists.

Forget left versus right: separatism versus centralisation is the hot potato being perpetually tossed across the Spanish political landscape. Basque and Catalan separatists hog the limelight, but in reality, most regions of Spain have political representation that hankers after increased autonomy.

La Diada protest march - Spanish politics

Anecdotally, consensus here in Barcelona is that Catalan independence will never be allowed to happen – taking things to their logical conclusion, the police and army would need to be called in to restore order if secessionist groups were to practically press ahead with their nationalist agenda. “Catalans simply don’t have the stomach for it”, I’ve been told more than once from locals here. Yet you have to wonder. New President Puigdemont has said the process of setting up an independent Catalan state is in de facto full flow, despite the non-binding nature of September 2015’s quasi-referendum on self-government. What’s certain is that the ‘Catalan question’ isn’t going away any time soon.

T is for Tres Por Ciento (3%).

In a nutshell, certain Catalan political parties are accused of operating a corruption scandal whereby business figures would secure the awarding of government contracts by adding 3% in the form of illegal commission. Yet another variant on the ‘kickbacks for contracts’ theme that dogs Spanish politics, people have been crying foul over the alleged corruption of Catalan politics since at least 2005. It’s only in recent months, however, that a full-on investigation into the infamous system of bribes and backhanders has started to gain ground.

U is for Unemployment.

Unemployment in Spain has been at brutally demoralising levels since 2008, when the global credit crunch and bursting of the Spanish property bubble conspired to create a prolonged period of economic hardship for many of the country’s citizens.

Young people have been hammered the most, with one out of every five aged between 16-26 who neither work nor study. When young Spaniards do find work, they’re often paid by the hour in a part-time position that in no way reflects their qualifications, abilities or aspirations. It’s soul-destroying stuff, and although 2015 saw the biggest annual drop in in the Spanish jobless rate since records began, most people remain sceptical of any real change in job market prospects, at least over the near term.

V is for the Voto Rogado (‘requested’ or ‘expat’ vote).

If you thought Spanish citizens enjoyed universal suffrage, the General Elections of late 2015 proved otherwise. The ‘voto rogado’ legislation kicked in back at the start of 2014, forcing all Spanish citizens living abroad to ‘ask for’ the right to vote in their country’s elections. In reality, this has a devastating effect on the numbers of Spanish expats who actually vote, mainly thanks to the paper-trail hoopla they’re expected to go through for the privilege.

To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, El Pais reported that only 6% of all Spanish citizens living abroad had requested the right to vote in enough time before December’s General Election. An evil conspiracy to suppress the expat electorate or just Spanish bureaucracy at its byzantine best?

W is for Wyoming – aka El Gran Wyoming.

For me, Wyoming is the best thing on Spanish TV. Real name José Miguel Monzón Navarro, this Madrid-born qualified medic, writer, actor and comedian has been host of La Sexta’s late-night satire show El Intermedio since 2006. The scripts aren’t always side-splitting, but the show is an unfailingly prime time piss-take of Spain’s most egregiously blundering and pompous political elite. (To be fair, the Intermedio team are not exactly short of fodder.)

“Los españoles son muy españoles y mucho españoles”“Spanish people are very Spanish and a lot Spanish” – Spain’s acting Prime Minister, the PP’s Mariano Rajoy

X is for Xmas elections…

…something I’m still struggling to get my head around. Why on earth would a government call a General Election a mere five days before Christmas, on the last festive shopping weekend of the month, when all right-minded folk would be panic-buying or simply down the pub?

Y is for Yayoflatuas (iaioflautas in Catalan).

Yayoflautas are another by-product of the 15M movement (see Q above). The neologism was inspired by the term ‘perroflauta’, meaning your stereotypical dreadlocked, flute-playing, dog-owning non-conformist (while ‘iaio’ is the Catalan word for grandparent).

Back in 2012, this collective of seriously narked seniors came to prominence as the bane of Bankia’s existence. In a coordinated campaign, they moved in to occupy the bank’s Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia offices in protest at the Popular Party government’s plans to bail out the bank with public funds to the tune of some 20 billion euros. The bank’s ex-president (and former Economy Minister of the PP, Rodrigo Rato) is currently awaiting trial on charges of alleged fraud, money laundering and embezzlement. Go the grannies.

Z is for Zapatero.

Former Spanish Prime Minister (2004-2011) José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero is reviled by some for his disastrous economic policies (his government famously failed to see the Crisis coming) and commended by others for legalising gay marriage and secularizing the Spanish education system, among other things. Was definitively dispatched by the Spanish voting public in 2011 in light of the economic crisis, but still pops up every now and again with defiantly and demonically improbable arching eyebrows.

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  2. Harry

    Fascinating read, thank you!


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