Spanish political graffiti

Graffiti sprayed on a wall near to the car park of the ruins of the Moorish castillo in the nearby town of Lanjarón welcomes refugees (refugiados bienvenidos). We stop to contemplate its significance.

There’s little far right activity in Spain. That’s not to say that racist attacks don’t happen. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which records hate crimes reported by participating states (the majority of European countries), describes 1,285 such incidents in Spain in 2014. There were 52,853 in the UK that year (and a record increase in the weeks immediately before and after the EU referendum).

Clearly there are differences in reporting criteria between countries, which make such comparisons unreliable. And Spain is not without anti-immigrant and anti-refugee groups. But their visibility is limited and they have no electoral influence.

Acting prime minister Rajoy’s right-wing Partido Popular has always been supported by the country’s elite class, known for its anti-foreigner attitudes. But while a new, more populist politics has emerged in the shape of Podemos and Ciudadanos [Earthquakes shake Spanish land and politics] to challenge the traditional left-right consensus (and as I write, Spain still has no government, as the parties continue to negotiate their positions, months after a second general election and a third – at Christmas – looks increasingly likely), no far right organisation has emerged to seek representation nationally or locally.

Órgiva is an example of the tolerance the Spanish have for immigrants. One of the most diverse towns in the country, at least 68 different nationalities were registered at the town hall on the last count. People of many colours and races mingle in the cafes and bars, particularly on market day. As I so often explain to people who ask why I moved here, it reminds me of my beloved Camden Town.

There is also a certain irony to that pro-refugee message near the castillo. The Moors were brutally driven out of Spain by Christians. The parish church of Órgiva was built on the site of the mesquita (mosque) at the beginning of the 16th century. And yet the Spanish are immensely proud of their Moorish history. Indeed, that Moorish bloodline is still evident in the faces of many locals.

I’ve blogged before about how, when someone daubed the anti-communist Good Night Left Side graffiti around the streets, it was quickly reduced with white paint to “good night” [Nationalistic referendums here and there]. No one has tried to cover up “Mi sangre es rojo, mi corazon es izquierda” – my blood is red, my heart is left – sprayed on the side of the butchers. This is a town that has many residents who are proudly working class and socialist, for whom the memory of being the frontline against Franco’s rebels as they came over the Lujar mountain to slaughter entire Alpujarrean villages that stood against them is still raw [Unsettled election, unsettled history].

For us, the most offensive words we see here are the anti-immigrant and refugee headlines of the Daily Mail, Sun and Express. Ironic that newsagents, in displaying these tabloids at their doors because some in the British community here buy them are, in effect, pandering to the reactionary attitudes of another type of immigrant. We hope that hate and division does not follow.

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Earthquakes shake Spanish land and politics

A series of earthquakes measuring up to 6.3 on the Richter Scale rocked our coastline in the early hours of Monday morning and was heard and felt up in our mountains. Beds shook and the remaining olives on our ancient tree rained down on the roof above our heads.

The quakes’ centre was in the Alboran Sea, between the Spanish mainland near Malaga and the Spanish enclave of Melilla in north Africa and came just days after a series of tremors were felt along the Costa Tropical. It’s a reminder of our proximity to the colliding Eurasian and African plates and that hundreds of people were killed in Granada and Motril in the 1880s during the deadliest earthquakes – a tragedy still “celebrated” in Motril during its annual Día de los Terremotos (Day of the Earthquakes) fiesta.

It’s unlikely that seismic activity here would cause such devastation again. But the predicted political earthquake as a result of December’s general election has certainly put an end to traditional two-party, rotational Spanish politics.

Over a month since the election, Spain is still without a government. PSOE and PP lost significant ground to the anti-austerity Podemos and neo-liberal Ciudadanos – indeed it was one of PSOE’s worst results since democracy returned to Spain in 1977. Manoeuvres to try to form a coalition government continue, while acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has refused the king’s investiture invitation. A PP-Ciudadanos coalition is alternately on and off the table, and even if it does happen it won’t deliver Rajoy an overall majority. Not that Rajoy has stood aside – he hasn’t ruled out accepting another offer from the king.

Meanwhile, PSOE’s efforts to form an allegiance with Podemos, and possibly the United Left or regional Catalan and Basque parties, remain stuck on Pablo Iglesias’ party’s support for a Catalan independence referendum, along with his determination that his MPs take many of the top government posts, including deputy PM.

How either Podemos or Ciudadanos, which both stood on anti-corruption platforms, can contemplate coalitions with the parties most associated with the defrauding of public money and remain credible new political forces remains to be seen. (I am reminded of the newspaper cartoon depicting a conversation between two children: “Vamos a jugar politicos (let’s play politicians)”. “No sin mi abogado (not without my lawyer)”.)

Still, Iglesias and PSOE’s Pedro Sanchez did manage to speak for 20 minutes recently, with the former tweeting that Podemos has an “historic opportunity to be the change”, though his public statements following an earlier meeting with the king, including that the PSOE leader would have him to thank if he became PM, are unlikely to assuage Sanchez’s suspicion.

Whatever the outcome of negotiations – and it may yet be another election after several more months of a government-free Spain – the country’s traditional parties are being forced to face the reality that the Spanish people voted for change (except the trusty Andalucians, who remained as loyal to PSOE as ever) and though they may not achieve it in seismic proportions, they have a right to demand, as IU said, a progressive government “that meets the demands of the social majority and finishes with the disastrous policies imposed by the government of Mariano Rajoy”.

Unsettled election, unsettled history

Andalucian president Susana Diaz continues to try to govern alone after failing to secure a majority in last month’s regional election, in spite of winning the same number of seats as in 2012. Her Socialist party (PSOE) is eight seats short of what it needs to avoid having to negotiate with other parties to pass every piece of legislation.

Anti-austerity, anti-corruption party Podemos, which secured 15 seats, is hardly coalition material for a ruling party that is following an austerity agenda and has three former ministers suspected of involvement in a billion euro fraud case. And the other newcomer to Spanish politics – the right wing Ciudadanos (Citizens), which won nine seats – has also ruled out a formal alliance, even with the conservative Popular Party (PP), which came second but lost 17 seats.

The Spanish media continues to predict that Podemos could hold the balance of power after the general election in November. But given that the Andalucian vote, especially the collapse in the vote of PP (the party of national government), is seen as a strong gauge of the outcome, it is difficult to envisage what sort of coalition Podemos might be a part of.

Meanwhile, the breakdown of voting in Granada province, and particularly in Las Alpujarras, shines a light on the sides taken in our villages and towns during the Spanish civil war.

The people who work the land here do not consider themselves to be anything other than working class – it is uniquely Spanish anarchism. But the terrible experiences of the civil war are, for many people of the Alpujarras, still painfully recent. Here there are estimated to be as many as 25 mass graves containing the remains of Republican or anarchist villagers who tried to resist Franco’s armed rebels who came up to these mountains from the coast. Towns such as Torvizcon were repeatedly attacked and their inhabitants “disappeared”. Órgiva marked a frontline throughout the war and remains proudly anti-Franco.

With a few exceptions, such as the pristine spa town of Lanjarón which narrowly voted PP – perhaps as much because of the relative wealth of its inhabitants through tourism as that it was Nationalist during the war – this remains a staunchly socialist region. PSOE won the majority of Alpujarran municipalities, with Podemos coming second or third in many. And it is unsurprising that while the United Left (IU), which includes the Communist Party of Spain, lost seven seats in the Andalucian parliament, it had a relatively strong showing in many places here.

Take the tiny pueblo of Cañar, from where our internet signal is beamed. IU achieved 6.8 per cent of the vote – that’s eight people in a village with a population of just a couple of hundred. If only those eight could get their hands on that broadband transmitter…

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.