The politics of blame in Spain

In the next four months, Spain will be facing four key elections for its future. The citizens of the country will vote for a new government, new city councils, new regional governments and new representatives to the European Union. The main political parties are already laying out the key elements of their campaigns, and in a country with a 14.3% unemployment rate –the second highest amongst EU members–, recurring corruption scandals, public healthcare degradation and other economical struggles, the parties proposals tend to center around the politics of blame.

This has been a recurring characteristic of Spanish politics since the foundation of its young democracy: to earn points by demeaning others. And these others can be public figures, political parties, entire regions, foreign countries… even our dictatorial past. It’s a broad list, but lately the focus of Spanish politics has used a regional issue, an international conflict and the mausoleum of a dictator to stir the masses.

The Catalan independence movement has surged from being a minority to represent almost the 50% of the population in the region in only eight years. Nowadays, news outlets from all over the world cover the yearly massive demonstrations of September 11th. In Spain though, this mass coverage is used to cover up the real issues of the whole country, reducing every argument to a question of being in favour or against the prevalent movement in Catalonia.

And if the Catalan struggle is not enough, Venezuela always comes in handy. The South American country has been used to accuse all sides of the political spectrum of collaborating either with a dictatorship or with a illegitimate government, to contribute to a nations misery or to promote a capitalist coup d’état in it. But what does all these have to do with Spain’s real problems?

Protests in Venezuela. Photo by Andrés Gerlotti on Unsplash

Earning points by attacking Nicolás Maduro

The conservative and right parties of the political spectrum in Spain love to talk about Venezuela to accuse the leftists of radicalization. The idea is that, if Spain would vote for a left-wing Congress, the country would burn to ashes, just like Venezuela did. There’s not much more argumentation to it.

Pedro Sánchez, the socialist leader (PSOE) and current Spanish PM, was attacked fiercely for actually doing what the right leaders advocated for. According to them, he reacted too late, so this meant he was actually supporting the dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. The official position of Sánchez and the Spanish government is explicitly the opposite: they recognize Juan Guaidó as the rightful interim president of the South American country and ask him to hold democratic elections in the near future. It’s the same position as the majority of EU countries. The right didn’t blink for a second, though, and looked for the electoral return.

“It’s shameful that we have a coward president that doesn’t support freedom in Venezuela. Spain should lead the action in Europe against Maduro. But their bosses of Podemos [left-wing party] don’t let him. He only charges at dead dictators, but doesn’t do anything against live tyrants”, voiced the conservative leader Pablo Casado (Partido Popular, PP).

Casado, in one tweet, introduced a couple of recurrent ‘it’s the others fault’ arguments in Spain. The extreme left Podemos –according to PP standards– is a revolutionary party that controls the central-left government of PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español) because they have defended in the past thesis of the Venezuelan political sphere. Podemos is the current key ally of the government in the Spanish Parliament, so one thing leads to the other. These ties with Venezuela, says the conservative party, directly affect the citizens of Spain. If the left rules, it’s virtually like being governed by Maduro himself.

How so? Nobody really knows, because these are all just bold statements. Maduro himself, stated the obvious in a recent interview in Spanish TV: “Everyone who speaks bad of Venezuela in Spain thinks he’s earning points”.

Valle de los Caídos. Jorge Díaz Bez / Wikimedia Commons

A ping-pong game with the dictator

In the second part of the same tweet shown before, the conservative leader also attacked Sánchez because his intention to remove the remains of Franco from his mausoleum –el Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen)– built by victims of the Spanish Civil War. The right parties never did anything against the democratic aberration that allows the dictator to have a foundation, statues, streets and his own big mausoleum in 21st century Spain.

The dictatorial past in Spain is still very recent, and wounds have never been healed properly. This again has to do with the politics of blame. The right parties have always adressed this issue with evasive action: the past should not be removed, we should focus in the present and the future of our country. It’s their leitmotiv when talking about this topic.

The left sphere of Spanish politics have, of course, fought for the opposite. According to them, the right still tolerates what happened under the dictator’s rule and don’t want to look back on purpose. The truth is that Spain is the second country with the most number of missing people just after Cambodia. Removing the past, blaming the right for not moving a finger about this, stirs the left electorate. Then again, the right uses the same weapon to counter the offensive. Don’t remove the past and your supporters will mobilise.

It’s like a ping-pong match, where the ball constantly goes from one side to the other. And the end result is a draw: a lot of discussion about this topic, undermining more pressing issues for the Spanish population. Not that handling the undemocratic past is not important, but it’s just sad and pointless when it enters the game of ‘it’s your fault, not mine’, politics.

Handling Spain’s past should be done right, and it would take a miracle: all parties agreeing on tackling the issue together. The same could apply to the Catalan secessionist movement.

Profiting from regional claims

In the current scenario, with Catalan politicians and activists in prision and facing trial, there are two proposals regarding how to approach the issue of Catalan independence. The three parties to the right agree in suppressing the autonomy of the region, the center-left proposals advocate for restoring the talks between the regional and central governments, although all (Spanish) sides have always agreed in not allowing an official referendum on the issue.

The secessionist movement in Catalonia has been the most relevant topic in Spanish politics for the past decade, even though Spain has suffered from a massive economic crisis still affecting the country. Every single party has profited from that, and that includes the regional Catalan parties, that are known for blaming the most pressing issues of its citizens to a theft commited by Spain. “Madrid ens roba” –Madrid steals from us– is one of the main arguments of the whole movement.

Looking at recent events, the elections at the Andalusian regional government give a lot of insight of what kind of discourses prosper in this general environment of blaming others for your own problems: VOX, a far-right party, bursted into the regional parliament with more than 300.000 votes, gaining 12 representatives and becoming a necessary force for the conservative right to form government through a three party alliance with PP and Ciudadanos.

The first point of VOX’s electoral programme for the elections was the following, and the funny thing is it had nothing to do with Andalusia and its citizens:

Suspension of the Catalan autonomy until the absolute defeat of the government overthrowers and the illegalization of parties, associations and NGOs that pursue the destruction of the territorial unity of the Nation and its sovereignty.

Makes sense right? The citizens of Andalusia shouldn’t vote for politics that favour them but for politics that harm others. The underlying concern here is that the politics of blame seem to be working more and more.

What Spaniards really worry about

The Center for Sociological Investigation of Spain (CIS) produces a monthly barometer that evaluates the main worries of Spaniards. The following are the most quoted issues extracted from a recent poll that asks “according to you, which are the three main problems that exist in Spain today?”:

  1. Unemployment (59,2%)
  2. Politics and politicians in general (29,8%)
  3. Fraud and corruption (24,7%)
  4. Economic issues (22,6%)
  5. Healthcare (12,9%)
  6. Immigration (12,5%)
  7. Social issues (10,1%)
  8. Education (9%)
  9. Quality of employment (8,3%)
  10. Catalan independence (7,8%)

So the most discussed issues lately just start appearing in the tenth position of the ranking, which is not infalibale but gives a true account of what really matters. The main worries have been drowned by less pressing concerns and, because politicians and a cooperative media environment promote the country’s agenda, reality gets distorted on a daily basis. Franco and Venezuela, by the way, don’t even make a list that includes more than 50 answers.

The simple answer is blame

Blaming others is a recurrent option in 21st century politics. Donald Trump wants to build a wall against the immigrants, blaming them for violence, and insecurity in the United States. The statistics show that the US president lies, but blaming this collective got him the Oval Office nonetheless, right?

In a complex world, we look for causes and effects, and whom to blame. Most voters want simple answers.
Robert Klitzman, ethicist and professor of psychiatry

And simple answers win. A good example is Brexit, which is based on the assumption that being a member of the European Union is harmful for the United Kingdom. With the separation looming, doubts have arised and left the politics and the economy of the UK in a very fragile state. But well, this is because of Europe, some parties still dare to repeat.

“Unbiased information appears to be used as a weapon — ignored when it challenges partisan expectations and used to magnify blame of the other party when it conforms with them”, concludes a study from the Univeristy of Colorado. Coming back to Spanish politics, the weapon conformed by blame seems to be right at the center of the political game, and it’s a risk and a shame.

“We need to pay more attention to how the psychology of blame operates — how humans inherently seek to assign fault, how that quest can be misused by Trump or other politicians, and how much is at stake — the pursuit of truth that is crucial for our democracy”, wrote Klitzman when analyzing the psychology of blame in politics.

The conclusion is pretty clear: we should pay more attention, stop buying the discourses of the politics of blame and demand our politicians to work on what really matters again: solving the citizens actual problems.

Freelance Journalist & Political Scientist. Storyteller, travel writer & music lover. From Barcelona, now living in Hamburg, Germany

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