“In Spain, merit is not rewarded – stealing and being a scoundrel is rewarded. Everything bad is rewarded” – Luces de Bohemia, Ramón María del Valle-Inclán (1869-1936)
As post-Brexit chaos reverberates across Europe and beyond, I sit down with Madrilenian Mari Pérez and family to discuss divided loyalties, corruption and uncertainty of a different breed, as Spain faces political impasse once again.
With Spanish unemployment levels hitting 21%, stealing food for hunger no longer a crime in Italy, and the rise of anti-austerity parties in countries such as Greece, as well as far left and far right groups left, right and centre, Mari Pérez feels the repeat Spanish elections are taking place the midst of something of a political climax. Take into account a barely dry Brexit result plus headlines from Trump promoting wall-building and racism from across the waters and it seems less a climax and more an apocalypse.
“After Franco, there was support for the socialists,” she recalls. “They didn’t do as well as we had hoped. But as I grew up, people had jobs, women wanted and could work, we could buy this house, we could go on holiday. Now things are not as good. Things are not as good for my children.”
Mari’s three sons seem to share her mentality to varying degrees. “I will never have the life my parents had,” says Guille, the eldest at 37, with two children, 2 and 4. “They lived in the golden era of Spain. I personally am not very hopeful for the future.”
Today they are heading to the polls. For the second time in 6 months. Each member of the Simón Pérez family I interview has a look of despondency in their eyes in response to a particular question – do they expect a different result this time?
“Probably not,” they each say, with a wry smile.
After elections held in December delivered no clear majority in the Spanish parliament, voters have been called forward to vote again. But there is scepticism the result will not change, and that the deadlock, and hiatus in progress for the Spanish people, will prevail.
“People want change,” says Adrian, 34. “There is so much corruption in the two main parties. We need something different and Podemos (Spanish for “We Can”) the new leftist party, is offering that.”
“Some people, like our mother, think it’s risky,” says Guille. “They are very young, there have been rumours of money coming from Venezuela – but they have a chance to create something new. So I for one am willing to take the risk.” Elena his wife agrees: “I am not very optimistic for the future. But I hope this will be a chance, a new chance for the young people of Spain.”
“I do want change”, asserts Mari, gesturing at the TV as a disarmingly fresh-faced, bespectacled lad speaks from a podium, “but they don’t represent me, they can’t represent me. Nor Spain. They are too young, too inexperienced. I know PSOE (the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) are not too good but for my generation, stability has to be more important.”
“They will break the country,” says husband José, who Mari indicates leans to the right from behind a turned hand, “because of the referendums.” Podemos, not only propose anti-austerity policies but also to allow regions such as Catalunya, who have strong movements for independence, to hold referendums on whether they can split.
Alejandro, the youngest at 31 but based in London, has failed to navigate the bureaucratic Spanish system of voter registration in time: “Seriously, I want to vote – I’ve made the journey here to do so – but I literally can’t. And I know I’m not the only one – I think they make it difficult on purpose. To tilt the votes for PP (the conservative People’s Party).”
He suggests his demographic in particular feel disenfranchised by the current state of politics, resorting to less conventional methods to make their views heard: “Many have put in a ‘blank’ or fake vote, to make a point, rather than not vote at all. One guy put a piece of chorizo in the envelope – it’s slang for thief. And my best friend – he said he will spoil his by less savoury means…”
As the results flow in, in the run up to midnight, it is as within the Simón Pérez family – reaching consensus in who should lead the Spanish through an uncertain future is some way off. But debating their different views has brought the family together, and agreement was reached on one thing at least – that their politics has hit something of a low:
“I just read a quote from Luces de Bohemia on Facebook that in Spain corruption and thievery is awarded, not merit,” says Alejandro. “PP have been found guilty of three further major cases of corruption since the last vote. And their votes have increased. I think that says it all.”
Read more about the outcome of the 26-J Spanish elections here and hear more from the interviewees below: