‘There are huge failings in the democratic culture of the Spanish state’

EDITORIAL. Interview with Aureli Argemí, founder and president of CIEMEN (International Escarré Centre for Ethnic Minorities and Nations). Nationalia spoke to Aureli about the results of the recent Spanish general election.

How do you interpret the results of the Spanish general election?

The election results can clearly be read in several different ways: my interpretation is one among many. I think that the elections confirmed one extremely important fact of recent years: Spain’s political culture is still not sufficiently strong for even a minimally democratic debate to take place. We still live in a Spain where one half is pitted against the other, a divisive Spain that has some way to go before becoming a real democracy. And the elections have shown that this is more than ever the case. During the campaign, one of the parties said ‘vote for us, otherwise the others will be in power’. No election manifesto, pure scaremongering.

Another important point is that all diversity was marginalized during these elections. The so-called ‘Plural Spain’, accepting of the other, seems a long way off. It was impossible for smaller parties to participate in the main debate and some of them were even prevented from doing so. But I don’t think this is restricted to political parties: it is occurring in wider society as well. Instead of finding ways of making ‘Plural Spain’ more of a reality, people have opted instead to vote for the same Spain as always, the Spain that is half red and half blue.

On the other hand, the electorate is clearly tired of this Spain and many people were reluctant to vote. Or else they abstained, or opted for the misleading ‘useful vote’. With what consequences? The situation in Spain remains as it has always been, without any signs of real change.

Where do pro-independence and nationalist parties go from here?

The nationalist parties need to rethink things after particularly bad results. Even the party which did manage to gain a seat did not increase its share of the vote. Nothing has been achieved; indeed, the outlook does not seem very positive at the moment; and so these parties need to rethink what role they want to play in the stateless nations of the Spanish state.

Another party that will need to rethink its identity is the PSC, the party responsible for PSOE’s victory. Are the Catalan Socialists willing to play the Catalanist card – and I mean Catalanist, not nationalist – or will they just let Madrid decide everything?

It seems unlikely, then, that these elections will bring about any major changes. But continuity itself poses a series of questions, relating, for example, to the crisis that one of the secessionist parties, ERC, now finds itself in after disastrous results.

What steps should ERC take now? What future do you envisage for them within the secessionist movement?

The first thing ERC should do is reach out to a share of the electorate that will enable it to begin making the necessary steps towards self-determination. It is surely a question of appealing to the social base that is already closest to its ideas. This may involve targeting the electoral base of other parties, such as CiU, whose supporters could feel frustrated after these elections, even if it is said that their voice is decisive in parliament, which is probably true, but is unlikely to change anything.

The elections clearly showed that the two-party system is stronger than ever in Spain. Do you thing that this phenomenon will continue?

If two parties continue to dominate the political scene, PSOE and PP will surely reform electoral legislation to prevent other parties from having a decisive voice in parliament. If CiU decides to support the socialists, they will try and make their presence felt, which PSOE and PP will not be happy about.

A change in the law is surely inevitable since PSOE and PP are united on the matter because these minority parties have always influenced them.

In any democratic regime, all parties, including minority parties, need to be heard, but now we just have two blocks. True, other countries operate with a two-party system, the US for example, with the republicans and democrats, but they have a democratic tradition that cannot be compared with ours. Here we still have the two Spains, and that’s it.

What can these parties do to avoid disappearing altogether?

These parties need to be aware that they still have some time, although not a great deal. We need to make use of what we have, knowing that this isn’t much. In fact, if they don’t find new ways of making themselves heard, these parties may well struggle. It is always possible for new movements to emerge, but if the parties we have at the moment don’t regroup and readdress what they stand for, they will have trouble in the future. These elections highlighted their lack of importance. Part of the problem for some of these parties is that they don’t seem to want to intervene here, in the Basque Country or in Galicia. In the Basque Country, for example, we have seen PNB gradually move into second place, so perhaps the questions that are being asked here are also being asked there.

Besides, as public opinion has become more favourable towards independence, parties have not reflected this change in their policies. They have exploited the ambiguity of the current situation, perhaps not on purpose, but that is what they’ve done.