As Greece’s new Syriza government negotiates the terms of its debt repayment, Spain is pushing Greece to drop its anti-austerity ambitions and accept Europe’s terms.
Spain’s keen interest in Greece likely stems from the rise of Podemos, a wildly popular left-wing Greek party that’s closely aligned with Syriza, as Bloomberg Businessweek noted this weekend.
Less than a year after it became an official political party, Podemos — whose name translates to “We can” — has become the second largest party in Spain with over 350,000 members.
One Podemos supporter attributes the party’s unprecedented rise to the incompetence of Spain’s politicians.
“Spain’s ruling political class is completely out of touch with what goes on in the streets, in people’s everyday lives,” Manuel Rivadulla, an engineer from Galicia, told Business Insider. “That, combined with the widespread corruption, is Spain’s biggest problem right now.”
Founded by a 36-year-old political science professor in 2014, Podemos won a whopping 1.2 million votes and five seats in last year’s European Parliament elections. At the time, the party was only four months old.
European officials were initially taken aback by the party’s success. After all, there was a time when these coalitions of the radical left didn’t stand a chance in national elections. But the success of Greece’s most notorious anti-establishment party, Syriza — which won control over the Hellenic Parliament in January — shows just how much the tide has turned against Europe’s political mainstream.
Like so many of Spain’s millennials looking for work at the height of Spain’s financial crisis between 2010-2012, Rivadulla, the engineer who supports Podemos, had to leave Madrid for Bristol to find a job. As youth unemployment continues to hover above 50%, Podemos’ pony-tailed leader, Pablo Iglesias, has riled up the masses by blaming the country’s political woes on EU bureaucrats and bankers.
“When Podemos is in government, JPMorgan is not going to be able to pick up the phone and tell us what to do,” Iglesias told the TV channel Cuatroin an interview last November. “The people vote for governments, not investment banks.”
Active in politics from a young age, Iglesias was a well-known political pundit, journalist, and political science professor at the Complutense University in Madrid before he decided to take the anger of Spain’s indignados and turn it into an organised movement for change. Iglesias registered Podemos as a political party in January 2014 and ran in the European elections — with great success — four months later.
Podemos’ supporters are passionate and proactive, even from abroad. For Spaniards such as Rivadulla who are forced to leave their country in search of work, the best way to support the party from afar — and bond with other Spanish expats — has been to form circulos, small groups of activists who meet periodically to campaign on local issues and raise awareness for a new establishment in Spain that crosses political boundaries.
“Podemos is not a party of the left or of the right,” Rivadulla said. “It is simply a party that wants to govern on behalf of the masses. The major political parties have been entrenched in power for so long, they have forgotten who they represent.”
While Podemos’ supporters are predicting the kind of success for the party that Syriza had in Greece, others aren’t so sure. “Pablo Iglesias is articulate, shrewd, and charismatic, and his party has had unprecedented success so far,” Diego Hidalgo, founder and president of FRIDE and Club de Madrid — two prominent political think tanks in Spain — told Business Insider. “But Podemos’ momentum will ultimately stall because it is still a radical leftist party, and many people don’t identify with their policies and programs — many of which remain unclear.”
Hidalgo argues that Syriza’s win will ultimately have a negative effect on Podemos’ image. Most likely, Syriza will either fail or have to give in to the EU’s economic conditions, neither of which will set a particularly good precedent for the staying power of radical leftist parties in the years to come.
For many Spaniards, however, Podemos’ power lies less in its immediate political influence than in its power to counteract civic apathy. “There is a new common sense, a social majority, and that is what is driving Podemos,” Jorge Moruno, Podemos speech-writer and strategist, told Newsweek in October. “Our role is to transform the social indignation into political energy.”
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