Pablo Iglesias, the Marxist Icon that Could Only Happen to Spain 

di Sophie de Bellemanière

While the whole world is looking at the elimination of Spain from the World Cup, the Spaniards are more busy eliminating their elites… Let's see now whether their new political phenomenon is trustworthy

He is good looking. He’s got charisma. He wears squared shirts that he is proud to say he buys at “Alcampo” supermarket. His long hair is knot in a half-undone ponytail. And he has just won, with his 4-month-old political formation “Podemos”, five seats at the European Parliament. Pablo Iglesias is a 35-year-old professor of Political Science at Complutense University of Madrid.

Until only four month ago, he was barely known, now he is the leader of “Podemos”, the third party in Spain, which has won five seats at the European Parliament, and could well be in power in Spain just one year ahead. So, how could such new blood be injected into an old European country’s politics? Three ingredients have made this possible: exceptionally harsh economic times, an incredibly conservative and out of touch political class, and an overly optimistic and politically immature civil society.

1,290 million Spaniards voted for Podemos on May 25. The success of Podemos marks a clear disaffection for traditional parties. In 2009, together, the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the People’s Party (right wing PP) scored more than 80% of the votes. Five years later, the two parties hardly achieve 50% of the vote. The Spaniards clearly favored newness.

And, more important than this, the success of Podemos shows that fresh blood can be injected in old Europe’s politics.

Hence, the reasons a new, unknown political force received such a huge support are specific to this country. More than any other country, Spain was ready for a brand new style of politicians, for simple, structural reasons. It is one of the countries in the Euro zone that suffers the most from the ongoing crisis (maybe the most, if we except Greece), and at the same time, has the most conservative elites and a royal family. 

Therefore, the people of Spain, still sort of newly freed from Franco’s dictatorship (the last intent of a coup d’État was in 1981), are extremely enthusiastic for a modern idea of democracy. There is a sense of passion for an all-direct, participative democracy in the country of Cervantes.

Entering the EU in 1986, sparked euphoria for more than a decade, especially as a bridge to some regionalist exigencies and a global aspiration to modernity assorted with subsidies. Now, frequently are families expelled from their houses, corruption is everywhere, some members of the royal family itself are condemned for not paying their taxes… more than three thousand suicides are believed to be caused, each year, by the crisis… The media have given up reporting on the immolation inside banks and unemployment administration offices…

This is why the Spaniards were so prone to trust a brand new leader who is promising democracy 2.0 to them. And the Puerta del Sol, that has spent the last three years filled up with the dedicated students of the Indignados movement was the antechamber of the movement.

But, let’s not fall into angelism as the New York Times and most of international media did.

Pablo Iglesias has lowered his own income as a eurodeputy from 8,000 euros to 1,900 euros and is calling the PSOE eurodeputies to do so. This naturally is highly popular, in a country where the minimum wage amounts to 650 euros. Pablo claims he wants to redistribute wealth. “Middle class families are currently paying fifty times more taxes than big corporation. It is time for a change.”, he said.

Not that what he says is not common sense, but it is quite a little to easy to gain vote on this, while the majority of his income is coming from from his appearances on TV, as he often appears on La Sexta and public Iranian TV HispanTV. And he is said to be particularly harsh upon negotiating his financial compensations.

And, politics remains politics. Pablo’s and Podemos’ success also mean the defeat of another party “Izquierda unida” (“ United Left”), which many members of the Indignados movement find more legitimate…

Now the king has abdicated, Pablo who is a media animal, is calling for a referendum on the end of monarchy…

Let’s see whether he does anything other than just attacking symbols.

Sophie*Sophie de Bellemanière is a journalist and correspondent from the United Nations for Le Point.




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