Voting for hope in Greece and Spain

Now that the people of Greece have rejected austerity and voted for a party that wants to renegotiate the country’s debt, Podemos (We Can) – Spain’s anti-austerity party founded last year in the wake of the mass “Indignados” or 15-M movement against inequality and corruption – has been bolstered in its belief that the general election here will go the same way.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias tweeted after the Greek election that the result represented hope and finally the Greeks had a Greek government and “not an Angela Merkel delegate”. He said his party would be celebrating the change in Europe, in Spain and in Greece.

His conviction that Spaniards will choose a similarly new path as the people of Greece have done will be tested in Andalucia earlier than expected. Andalucian president Susana Diaz has brought forward the region’s elections to 22 March after the collapse of her Socialist Party (PSOE) alliance with Izquierda Unida (United Left), which she accuses of moving to the left in response to the growing popularity of Podemos.

IU’s national leader Alberto Garzón has been trying to distance the party from the Socialists and its Andalucian coordinator general Antonio Maíllo has pushed for a referendum among its members on whether to leave the coalition should the PSOE refuse to push through social reforms to try to tackle growing inequality and poverty in Spain’s poorest region. Andalucia has been governed by the Socialists for more than 25 years, but the party’s rightward shift, along with fraud charges brought against two of its previous regional leaders, have damaged it.

Nationally, Podemos’ showing in the polls is strong. A recent voter intention survey carried out for newspaper El Pais showed it to be ahead of the PSOE, with 28.2 per cent support. While the PSOE may well hang on in Andalucia, the democratizing movement that is sweeping Spain looks set to bring an end to the two-party system at the national elections later this year.

Here in Órgiva, campaigning for May’s municipal elections is underway and reflects the same mood which has fuelled the rise of Podemos. A new platform has been launched which is open to anyone interested in strengthening democratic decision-making processes in the Alpujarras.

Ganemos La Alpujarra (Win the Alpujarra) describes its aims (and apologies for the rough translation), as enabling anyone who believes in “political ecology, social equity and democratic regeneration” a chance to participate in the elections and local institutions.

It calls for the disappearance of “clans, cronyism, patronage and other political ills” and the giving way to a “more honest, more just and more effective management” deserved by the people of La Alpujarra.

My continued engagement with British politics has emails from the Labour Party dropping into my inbox on an almost daily basis. I’ll do my best to return to London to pound the streets in Hampstead and Kilburn before the UK’s general election, but Labour, as well as Spain’s PSOE, needs to heed the lessons that the Greek vote and the mood in Spain, including in our beautiful mountains, offer –  not only are there alternatives to austerity and to two-party systems but that if they’re not given, the electorate will find or create them.

Blue Monday? Happy Tuesday (it’s another fiesta)

The so-called saddest day of the year was declared to be Monday (19 January) by those organisations which have identified an opportunity for some calculated marketing around the January blues. Whichever Monday it falls on seems to depend on which pseudoscientist is to be believed. But the Spanish have an inevitable cure for being down in the dumps after the festive season. They throw a fiesta in the name of a saint.

Unlike in the UK, where Christmas and new year are distinctly separate events and the fun ends abruptly on new year’s day, the Spanish keep their festivities going until the 6th – Three Kings Day – with processions and presents and much partying on the night of the 5th. Things go a bit quiet after that. But not for long. Here in the Alpujarras, a neighbouring town Torvizcon soon perks up the collective mood with its annual “fire”. It’s a three-day January weekend fiesta celebrating San Antonio Abad, which seems to involve combining the eating of lovingly raised pigs with the burning of red underwear. If there is more to it than this, and there almost certainly is, then lo siento. But my sources may have consumed a little too much of the local “costa” vino to be able to coherently recall the details.

And so to last night. A procession through Órgiva followed by bells and fireworks ringing out across the town and its campo marked the Alpujarran capital’s own Saint’s day.

Saintsebastiane-online-free-putlocker Sebastian (he of the Derek Jarman film Sebastiane, which established Seb as something of a gay icon) entered the Roman army to assist the martyrs and had a brutal time of doing good. Found out, and having initially survived his body being pierced by arrows, he was eventually beaten to death by clubs. He’s buried in Rome, on the Appian Way (where I once ruined a favourite pair of shoes).

As one local put it, San Sebastian deserves a few rockets and bells. And it’s cheap entertainment for a rural and fairly impoverished community which would, no doubt, be aghast at the UK travel companies and their PR firms’ use of dodgy statistics and cod-psychology to convince us that that we need a holiday. I don’t believe in deities, but if the Spanish devotion to and success at living life to the full and enjoying longer, healthier lives than most in Europe has anything to do with their ability to throw a fiesta at the drop of a saint’s name, then buena suerte to them.