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Events in America last week only remind us that democracy is fragile. Whilst the 90’s and the early 2000’s might seem like the ‘norm’, it was actually a bit of a red herring. We should try to remember that democracy has always been fragile and prone to crisis and threat. To use the worn-out Winston Churchill quote, “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
Here we need to distinguish between a threat to democracy and a crisis, without using any words that have lost their meaning in recent years such as ’fascism’ and ‘coup’. The killing of opposition party leaders, the proroguing of parliament, bribery, the storming of government buildings, and the suppression of movements are all threats to democracy that can come from inside and outside the governmental bubbles. Crisis however is different. During a crisis, democracy loses its legitimacy because of a loss of faith or because it seizes to function. When these crises happen, democracy must respond, otherwise that very crisis may become a threat.
10 years ago in 2011, Spain went through a crisis of representation. Until then, Spain had been praised as exceptional for its peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1970’s. Yet with the arrival of economic problems, that soon changed. On an international scale, the world was still struggling in the aftermath of the 2007-8 financial crisis. The Great Recession had begun. In Europe, the Eurozone debt crisis was underway. By 2011, Greece and Ireland had already had their first bailouts and at the beginning of the year Spain’s neighbour Portugal would also request help from the EU as it could not meet the targets it was set. Spain would be next. Struggling with the growing economic crisis, the PSOE government, led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, would make unpopular reforms to both the labour laws and pension system in late 2010.
In the wake of the Arab Spring, Spain started to mobilise against what a good deal of people felt was an unrepresentative democracy, heavily dominated by the Popular Party and the PSOE. Small groups protesting specific issues from the young who felt they had not future to the elderly fighting pension reforms, these movements would soon start organising together for a more representative and participatory democracy. Come May 15th 2011, a huge protest through the centre of Madrid made up of these groups, would kick start the biggest political changes in the country since the transition. The 15-M movement was born.
In this episode of The Sobremesa Podcast, I talk with Cristina Flesher Fominaya, the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Social Movement Studies, co-founder of the open access social movements journal Interface, and author of the book Democracy Reloaded: Inside Spain’s Political Laboratory from 15-M to Podemos. Here we talk about how the 15-M Movement came about, what they were doing in the Sol camp, and how it would change the political landscape that we have come to know today.
The Sobremesa Podcast discusses and covers all matters relating to modern day Spain. Each week, I interview specialists and people involved with the different arenas of Spanish life. From on-the-spot political analysis to the history of social movements, The Sobremesa Podcast brings you the issues that no other place is covering in English. You can find us on all podcast platforms including Google, Spotify and Apple. All episode can also be found on my personal website. (Sign up here)
We have a great selection of previous episodes for you to explore, and in the coming months we will explore regional politics, municipalism, the rise of Vox and nationalism and the history of Basque nationalism pre-ETA.
During the rest of the year, I hope to cover more culture and history. If you have any request or know anyone that would be interested in appearing, then you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cristina Flesher Fominaya (PhD University of California, Berkeley) is Editor in Chief of the journal Social Movement Studies, and co-founder of the open access social movements journal Interface. Her three most recent books are Democracy Reloaded: Inside Spain’s Political Laboratory from 15-M to Podemos (Oxford University Press 2020); Social Movements in a Globalized World 2nd Edition (Palgrave Macmillan/ Red Globe 2020) and The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary European Social Movements: Protest in Turbulent Times (2020)