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Professor Vicente Navarro maps the conditions that led to the rise of Podemos in Spain

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Podemos party in Spain has become a major force. It’s gaining momentum in Spain the way Syriza did in Greece. Podemos also secured five seats in the last European Parliamentary elections. European pollsters are saying that if elections were held today in Spain, Podemos would win. The next general elections in Spain will be held in October or November of this year, and Podemos is poised to take power. If they do, they will pose a serious threat to the ruling elite. As a result, our next guest writes, Spanish financial, economic, political, and media establishments are on the defensive and in panic, having passed laws that strengthen the [repression]. The heads of major banks in Spain are particularly uneasy, says Vincent Navarro, who joins me in our studios in Baltimore.

Vincent Navarro is professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain. He’s director of the John Hopkins University-Pompeu Fabra University Public Policy Center, also located in Barcelona. He’s the author of the Spanish bestseller Hay Alternativas. Good to have you with us.

NAVARRO: I’m very pleased to be here.

PERIES: So, let’s begin at the beginning, which is how did Podemos come to be? Who is Podemos, how did it rise to this level of power, that they took five seats in the European Parliament?

NAVARRO: Well, it goes back to the transition from dictatorship to democracy in Spain. It happened in the situation in which the right-wing successors of the Fascist party controlled the state and all the major media in the country. It was very powerful. On the other side, the left, who had been the leading force of the democratic forces during the dictatorship, were very weak. They just came back from the exile, or they left the jail during the clandestinity. Weak as a political form, but strong in the sense of popular movements, they wanted to get rid of dictatorship. But it was not an  equilibrium the right wing was much more powerful than all the progressive forces lead by the left.

As a consequence, democracy was established that was very limited. The democratic laws were very skewed in favor of conservative forces. For example, Salamanca, a conservative region. You need thirty thousand votes to get to member of the Parliament. Barcelona, you get almost two hundred thousand to get a member of the Parliament. Barcelona is the industrial city-center of the progressive forces in Spain. The same in, well, the same in [many.] So in that sense, there was a very, very insufficient democracy. As a consequence, the welfare state, for example, was very underfunded. The conception of  Spain was inherited from the fascist regime,  a Jacobin State center in Madrid, and everyone is a region of that.

The new generations came up with different values. And fear, which played a very important role, because the dictatorship was a very, very nasty one. For every political assassination that Mussolini did, Franco did ten thousand. And even today, Spain is the second country after Cambodia with a larger of number of people who have disappeared because of political reasons. The fear was still in the  street. But the new generations broke with that. And they just said, enough. We want democracy. And in that sense, the demand for democracy was a revolutionary demand in Spain, because democracy was very limited. So the Indignados movement was the first symptom of that. So people went out to the street and said, enough. We want authentic democracy. La democracia real. Real democracy. And in that sense, they knew that the political system was not representative. The famous phrase, they do not represent us. No nos representan. They were not anti-political parties. They were pro-democracy, but didn’t feel those parties were representing their interests, and they were calling for all the forms of democracy beside representative democracy. They asked for direct form of democracy, and so on. That

PERIES: What is it, what is it that the Spanish people knew that others didn’t, in the sense that most people are content with representative democracy? But obviously here, they’re calling for a participatory democracy.

NAVARRO: Because it was not resolving their problems. I think that when the crisis came up in 2007, it appeared quite clearly that the political parties were, the two-main political parties were instrument of large financial and economic interest. So the instrumentalisation of the state by these big financing always played a very important role . Banking has played major role. So in that respect, it appears quite clearly that the parties were implementing policies that didn’t have any popular mandate. The austerity policies of cutting social expenditures, reducing health services, reducing education. Labor reforms that caused big decline of salaries. Unemployment increased. All that was done without any popular mandate. It was not out in the electoral platform of those parties. So the state start losing any legitimacy.

PERIES: So these policies of austerity measures that were talked about at the G20 level, implemented, really began with Zapatero, not the current government.

NAVARRO: Absolutely. Absolutely. When that happened 2007

PERIES: Which is a socialist government.

NAVARRO: Absolutely, absolutely. That is why he lost all the good will he had building up, because prior to that period they were responsible for some of the development of the welfare state. They didn’t go as far as they should have, but still. It’s true that according to social democratic standards  in Europe, they created the National Health Service, they increased social expenditures. But that changed. When the crisis came up, the way, how they respond to that crisis was the same that any other conservative or liberal party. What in here is called the neoliberal policies. Cuts, austerity, and lowering wages. It’s an attack to labor. That is why,  they are mobilized calling for democracy. And the parties were not responding to them. And the political expression of that movement, Indignados, was Podemos. Which is broader than the Indignados. But no question, without the Indignados, Podemos would not exist.

That is why Podemos is the political channel of enormous anger and frustration towards the political and media establishment that is not responding to people’s needs. So it’s a Podemos movement, but more than a Podemos movement. It comes up they want changes. Where as I said before, today the revolutionary call is not for the nationalization of the means of production. It is for having authentic democracy in Spain. The second transition is what is called the first transition went from dictatorship to dramatically insufficient democracy. The second transition is from insufficient democracy to democracy. Democracy not only in the political sense, but also in the economic sense. You cannot have democracy when there is so many inequalities, where that, those inequalities of concentration of income and wealth diminish dramatically the political process.

PERIES: Without economic democracy, it’s not possible to have democracy.

NAVARRO: Right, right. Right.

PERIES: Can you break down for us, when we talk about austerity measures or government policy that has been cut down, it’s somewhat abstract for some people. Get specific in terms of, what do we really mean when you implement austerity measures?

NAVARRO: Well, for example, Zapatero froze the pensions. The pension system in Spain is responsible for getting out of poverty sixty-two percent of the elderly. Without the pension system, the  sixty-two, sixty-four percent of the senior citizens would be poor. So it is the most important anti-poverty program. The same in the United States, by the way. In that sense, it’s a very popular program. Now Zapatero, a social democracy. When he has been told by the Troika, which is the European Central Bank, the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, you have to reduce public expenditures. What he done? He freezes the pensions, in order to get one thousand, five hundred million euros. But he could have done differently. He could have reverse the lowering of property taxes, which he implemented in 2006, and with that he would have gotten double the number of, two thousand five hundred million euros.

PERIES: This seems so obvious, really. I mean, who would weaken the weakest in your society you know, pensioners are older, elderly people trying to survive day-to-day. They’re not a rich class. How could that be?

NAVARRO: Because it’s a class issue. I think that the dominant groups, dominates the state. To increase property taxes affects those who have property, who is not the general population. The same intent of the current president Rajoy of the conservative party. He cut six thousand million euros for the national service. That is a frontal attack to the national services. Why he does that? He could have gotten far more money by reversing the lowering of taxes on capital. For those large enterprises that have under one hundred forty thousand million euros as part of their activity, which represents less than one percent of all the large enterprises in Spain. But this group is very powerful. I speak about Xerox, Google, Telefonica, etc. They are very powerful over the state. So Rajoy cut on the national health service, which affects the majority of people, the popular classes. But does not touch on the powerful. That is the meaning of alternatives Rajoy should have.

So what we see now, in Greece it’s obvious. In Spain it’s obvious. The same in Portugal, in Ireland, is that the welfare state, what is called social Europe, is under now a frontal attack. What does it mean? Listen. The waiting time to get interviewed for a cataract has increased five times. The time when you go to see a general practitioner, the time of visit rather than being ten minutes, now is four minutes. The number of students in the classroom, rather, in the age nine-ten, then being twenty, now might be thirty-five. Now that the rate of quality of the services, and the quality of life, not to speak about unemployment. Fifty-five percent unemployment of the young people in Spain

PERIES: Fifty-five percent youth unemployment.

NAVARRO: Absolutely. Fifty-five percent.

PERIES: And for the general public?

NAVARRO: Twenty-five percent. So as you can see, that hurts people. And of course those who govern say, we don’t have any alternative. That is why we wrote the book that we publish showing yes, of course you have alternative. Why do you cut here and you don’t cut there? And you see when who are the ones who suffer, who are the ones who get free ride, class issue becomes very clear. Who controls the state? That is why and the social democrats, we’re part of the problem, because we’re absorbed into that. And they, some of them, they didn’t think there was alternatives. But of course, there were alternatives. That is what Podemos comes up, and that is why it was a huge success, I must say, it might sound immodest, but I predicted that that would happen. Podemos is the expression of popular anger saying, enough. And in that respect, in a very peaceful, in a very mature, in a very convincing, democratic way. Nothing violent. But when people go to the street they have a lot of power.

PERIES: So the rise of Podemos is an example for the world. So let’s take up the conditions, and the economic conditions that led to the rise of Podemos in our next segment on The Real News Network. I’m talking to Professor Vincent Navarro from Johns Hopkins University. Please join us for segment two.

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Vicente (also known as Vincent) Navarro was an active member of the Spanish anti-fascist underground in the 50s and early 60s. In 1962 he had to leave Spain for political reasons, and change careers from medicine to economics and political science in Sweden, Great Britain, and later on in the United States at Johns Hopkins University. He is now Director of the Johns Hopkins University-Pompeu Fabra University Public Policy Center. He and another economist, Juan Torres, were asked by Podemos to write the economic program for their government. His book, Bienestar insuficiente, democracia incompleta, won a prize equivalent to the Pulitizer in Spain. His book, Hay Alternativas, in Spanish, was the bestseller in economics in 2012.