Can political parties shift the cultural politics of a nation? Can political parties draw on the energy of social movements without being coopted by formal institutions? These are some of the questions we discussed with Eduardo Maura of PODEMOS, a new political party and phenomenon in Spain.
At just over a year old, it is still formulating a concrete platform. But, like Greece’s Syriza party, PODEMOS is characterized by a rejection of ideological politics, cronyism, and austerity economics. Party members currently occupy five out of fifty-four Spanish seats in the European Parliament, and PODEMOS-backed mayoral candidates were just elected in both Barcelona and Madrid.
At an Urban Democracy Lab conversation on June 1st, Maura, a member of PODEMOS’s Citizen Council and professor at the University of Madrid, talked at length about PODEMOS, its roots, and its goals. While the talk was titled “Cultural Dimensions of the Spanish Democratic Revolution,” Maura’s talk served more as an introduction to PODEMOS rather than an in-depth discussion on Spanish cultural politics.
Maura began by defining three key terms he would use throughout the discussion. The “Crisis in Spain” refers to the economic, political, and cultural crisis induced by the 2008 economic recession, widespread political corruption, and the “nation-branding of culture.” The “Regime of ‘78” is a title given to Spanish governance after the ratification of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, drafted and approved in the wake of Francisco Franco’s death in 1975. According to Maura, 1978 marked the beginning of an unofficial institutional silence regarding the Franco years. The “15-M Movement” began on May 15th, 2011, when widespread protests were held throughout Spain. The protests were largely in response to Spain’s austerity economics and the government’s inability to adequately address rising unemployment and eviction rates. Maura suggested the government diagnosed these issues as “individual problems.” Some goals of the May 15th protests were to reveal these issues as endemic to the Spanish government’s approach to governance, and to end the decades-long silence instated by the Regime of ’78. Maura attributed PODEMOS’s foundation to the zeitgeist shift of the 15-M Movement.
PODEMOS, according to Maura, seeks to gain the support of both the protestors on the street and those at home who watched the protests on television. While PODEMOS grew out of the 15-M Movement, Maura was careful to note that the party shies away from the radical language of the protestors. It is not meant to be only representative of the protestors – it aims to be a non-ideological alternative to the two-party system that controlled Spanish politics until 2011.
Because many attendees at the UDL-sponsored event were generally unfamiliar with PODEMOS, the Q&A session was mostly made up of questions regarding the party’s stance on various topics. PODEMOS places particular emphasis on ending the nation-branding of Spanish culture and setting up a grant system to support more “authentic” cultural production. The party believes cultural change is instrumental in enacting political change. Maura highlighted the role of reframing Spanish political language as a means of revealing inconsistencies and failures within both conservative and liberal narratives. The party also wishes to reclaim Spain’s institutional past, especially regarding the Franco years. Only then can the Spanish cultural imaginary shift.
PODEMOS’s primary medium is television. Maura said that while social media can be a formidable political and cultural force, television is still the best medium for spreading a political message to the most people possible, especially the previously mentioned “at home” demographic. As such, the party focuses mostly on getting PODEMOS representatives and PODEMOS-backed representatives elected into positions of power. This is in contrast to a grassroots campaign. PODEMOS believes the best way to change the government is to gain political power, so the party focuses its energy and finances primarily on elections. And once in power, PODEMOS representatives privilege practice – and practicality – over ideology.
The talk ended without a concrete conclusion, but Maura helped us all better understand contemporary Spanish politics, the role of protests in shifting political power, and the role of political parties in shifting the cultural politics of a nation.
For more on PODEMOS, visit their website at: http://podemos.info/