2014 was notable politically for the rise of two far-left, anti-austerity parties in Greece and Spain. In late January, Greece’s version, Syriza, swept to an emphatic victory in the national elections, and this week the Spanish Podemos held a rally at Puerta del Sol in Madrid, and this is the subject to which I am going to dedicate today’s post.
To put it simply, Spain is in a lot of trouble economically. It’s tourism driven economy imploded in 2008 with the rest of the world and it has struggled horribly to recover ever since. Successive governments have failed to reverse the downward trend, and youth unemployment is still over 50%.
Drink that in for a second. Half of the people in Spain between the ages of 18 and 25, many of whom will have degrees from prestigious institutions, simply cannot find work. In short, something has to give. And what gives could be the political system.
Many aspects of Podemos are admirable; there appears to be a genuine desire to improve things for everyone, to create a better Spain for all, and to follow Greece’s example by changing what they perceive as a corrupt system from within. Their support base has grown sharply in the past year and, if current polls are to be believed, they may well be swept into government next year on a wave of public adulation, and yet there is something that makes me doubt, despite their apparent good intentions.
The problem is this. So far, I struggle to separate my perception of them from a simple populist movement playing on people’s emotions with cheap rhetoric. There is a lot of talk about making the future better, and reflecting on movements of the past that achieved success to provide context of Leftist movements of history working for the people. There is, however, no plan, no thrust to the speech, only vague promises for a better future. Yes, Pablo Iglesias is an excellent speaker, but his party is going to need more than that if his party does take power later this year.
Iglesias (the party’s leader) cites Syriza’s victory in Greece, the popular uprising in May 1808 that opposed Napoleon’s invasion, along with several other movements to prove the efficacy of popular uprisings, and this works well as a rhetorical device, but once again there is no substance behind it.
The recurring refrain of the speech was the same as the title of this piece: ‘We dream, but we take our dreams very seriously’. Excellent in theory, particularly alongside the ‘Sí se puede’ mantra that reflects Obama’s victorious campaign in 2008. One thing that struck me, however, was an insistence on comparing Spain with Don Quijote as a positive example of a man who dreams of something better.
This to me was interesting, and the point I really want to make. Quijote is a famous figure in Spain, of course, and it makes sense to reclaim him as part of an ‘idealistic dreamer’ scenario to show off to the crowd. I wonder, however, if Iglesias (or whoever wrote his speech) has taken the time to read the book. Far from the dreamer of a better world that Iglesias claims Quijote as, he is very clearly a deluded megalomaniac who recklessly endangers those around him whilst searching for a golden past that he was never going to find. He repeatedly does damage to himself and others and ends the book renouncing his dreams, having dramatically failed to achieve them. I wonder if they would be so quick to personify the party and the country as Quijote if they looked at it like that? Somehow I doubt it.
If Podemos do get into power, I can only hope that this metaphor is not an accurate one, and that they do achieve the positive change, which they, and so many in Spain, are craving. Only time will tell, and in the meantime it certainly cannot hurt to dream.