While Spain’s political establishment tries to shut down the constitutional crises ripping the country apart, CommonSpace speaks to Basque candidate for the Spanish Congress Bel Pozueta
YESTERDAY [22 April], Spanish voters watched the first televised debate between candidates ahead of Sunday’s general election.
It was a debate more notable for those who were absent, rather than the candidates in attendance. Despite the vociferous insistence of unionists that Catalonia and the Basque Country are and always will be part of Spain, Catalan and Basque politicians were apparently not Spanish enough to be allowed to participate.
Also not included were the new far-right party Vox, whose invitation was withdrawn shortly before the debate; however, if the electoral math of the April 28 elections suggests that a pact could be made by Spain’s right-wing parties, then Vox could nevertheless become pivotal – a fact recognised by the Spanish, Catalan and Basque Left, each of which has emphasised the need to defeat those political elements which revel in echoing the authoritarian Spanish nationalism of the Franco era.
The election will take place in a fragmented political landscape: Podemos, which only a few years ago was considered an inspiration for the European insurgent Left, has suffered severe setbacks following a series of internecine arguments and its lack of a coherent response to the Catalan independence question. The conservative Popular Party - which under Mariano Rajoy oversaw the Spanish Government’s violent attempts at suppressing the 2017 Catalan independence referendum - have barely recovered since their ignominious fall from power, still beset by the corruption scandals which have come to define the party for many Spanish voters.
Speaking to CommonSpace, SNP MP Ronnie Cowan, vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Catalonia, said of the upcoming election: “I hope that we have an outcome that will encourage the Spanish Government to improve their dialogue with the Government of Catalonia and that self-determination is an issue that can be discussed. The pressure from the right wing parties to deny the people of Catalonia their democratic right to choose must be resisted. Only through the ballot box can their wishes be expressed and fully understood.”
If the debate was any indication, Cowan’s hopes will go unfulfilled. With those speakers most representative of Spain’s present political crises unrepresented, the debate largely became a contest to see who promised to shut down debate over Catalan independence most effectively, just as this election may be decided by who Spanish unionists trust to repel the democratic will of Catalonia itself.
Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez argued: "Separatists have the right to know that independence is not going to happen…With a socialist government there won't be independence, there won't be any referendum for independence and the constitution won't be violated."
Yet Sánchez, whose limited interactions with the Catalan Government and pro-independence parties have yielded little compromise from either side, was nevertheless attacked by his rivals over an insufficient commitment to squashing Catalonia’s self-determination and punish those who agitate for it, with Popular Party leader Pablo Casado claiming: “It's unbelievable you’re not willing to say you won't pardon the Catalonian separatists if they are condemned by the Supreme Court."
Albert Rivera of the centre-right Ciudadanos added: "I want a Prime Minister who doesn’t go down on bended knee to those who want to destroy Spain.”
The nightmare scenario for those in Catalonia is a repeat of the Andalucian local election result in December, which brought together a right-wing coalition of PP, Ciudadanos and Vox, a party which has a policy of eliminating Spain’s ‘autonomous communities’ for fully-centralised government from Madrid.
CommonSpace spoke with Bel Pozueta, a candidate for the left-wing, pro-independence coalition Euskal Herria Bildu or EH Bildu (‘Basque Country Unite’) standing for the Spanish Congress in the province of Navarre, about the potential outcome and implications of Spain’s third general election in four years.
“One must always be cautious about making predictions,” Pozueta notes when asked for what she anticipates from the upcoming elections. “Furthermore, it seems there is a large number of undecideds among those who say they are certain to vote.
“However, all the indications are that the Spanish Socialist Party will be the largest party in the Spanish Congress but will not win an overall majority of seats (there are 350 seats). Therefore, there will be a need for support by several parties in order to swear in the new prime minister. Right now, it looks like the right wing will not have enough seats, but the possibility should not be entirely dismissed. The outlook for the right wing Popular Party is poor, with a big loss of seats, as is the case for Podemos. We are confident we will do well, as will our ERC partners from the Catalan left-of-centre sovereignty party.”
While much coverage on the Spanish elections has focused upon the Catalan dimension, the apparent rebirth of the Spanish far right and the volatile interaction between these two factors, Pozueta considers 28 April to be a moment when the left-wing sovereignty movement of Catalonia can align in solidarity with that of the Basque Country.
“This is a very important election for all those who want to stand up to the various iterations of the Spanish right wing - the PP, Ciudadanos, and the unbridled neo-Francoists of Vox,” says Pozueta. “Whilst we cannot trust Sanchez’s PSOE to attempt a true democratisation of the Spanish state, it is of the utmost importance that the left-wing sovereignty movements in the Basque Country and Catalonia make our mark. Whenever we hold a key to any decision, the outcomes are better for ordinary people, for human rights, for women, for the working poor, for pensioners, etc.
“As to the Basque Country, our society needs any incoming Spanish Government to engage in the resolution of the consequences of the decades-long conflict. Contrary to the line taken by successive governments since 2011, issues of prisoners, victims, the legacy of torture, policing, etc. need to be constructively addressed. Furthermore, it is high time the devolution settlements of 1979 and 1982 be finally fulfilled and we need to assert the right of our people to decide what kind of political relationship we want to have with Spain.
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“There has been a tendency for many people in the Basque Country to feel disengaged from Spanish elections or to succumb to the bipartisan (now it is a four-partisan) traction coming from Madrid, through the media. It is very important that we mobilise the numbers to change this.”
Much of the world will perceive the Spanish elections through the prism of the crisis in Catalonia that has continued since the attempted suppression of the 2017 independence referendum by the Spanish Government. Whilst many other factors, regional and national, cultural and economic, will be at play on 28 April, the parties of Spanish unionism have almost uniformly made their plans for dealing with the Catalan situation a key part of their policy platform, with the Spanish Right furiously attempting to outdo one another in the extremity of the punitive measures their promise to inflict upon Catalonia’s government and independence movement. And yet, the election will see the various pro-independence parties seek to increase their representation, in order to provide yet further proof of the Catalan people’s support for their embattled, unrecognised republic.
Asked how she feels Catalonia will affect the election, Pozueta says: “The ongoing situation in Catalonia, as we see it, is another consequence of the settlement that came out of the post-dictatorship ‘transition’. The Spanish power elites lay the foundations of what we call the Regime of ‘78 without any kind of real democratisation of the State structures. That settlement enshrined economic and centralist power in Spain and prevents a sensible resolution of the aspirations of the stateles nations still inside the Spanish State.
“The peaceful and democratic challenge from the people of Catalonia has brought to the fore the profoundly undemocratic nature of the Spanish state and its structures and has exacerbated the economic, territorial and legitimacy crises in Spain. An example of this is the upsurge in support for Vox, an ultra-right wing party, whose central policy pillar is the unity of Spain and the rolling-back of the limited decentralisation that took place over the 80s and 90s.
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“This is combined with a backlash against the progress made over the years in terms of women’s rights and LGBT rights, among other extremely reactionary policies. These people were always there, many of them voted for the Popular Party. Now, these unreconstructed fascists have found the pretext to drop their pretences.”
The ongoing trial of Catalan independence leaders by the Spanish Supreme Court has not only garnered controversy and international attention, but has thrown further light on Spain’s other political prisoners - many of whom remain jailed due to political crimes or charges of terrorism related to the Basque independence struggle – as well as the Spanish state’s past legal suppression of pro-independence political parties and groups within the Basque Country. With these factors more evident than ever on the world stage, can Spain be considered truly democratic, and if not, where does that leave this month’s elections?
“Over the course of the campaign I have said, time and time again, that I want to be elected to the Spanish Congress to stand up for justice,” Pozueta says. “Without justice, there cannot be democracy. The ongoing court cases against Catalan civil and political leaders are another example of how the Spanish system is unable to deliver justice.
“Spain is deeply undemocratic. The issue of prisoners is another glaring example of this. We need to make the voices of those calling for the release and return home of prisoners and exiles heard loud and clear in Madrid.”
Picture courtesy of EH Bildu