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Semana Santa, Podemos, and an unfortunate gaffe

January 15, 2015 – 1:09 pm
Semana Santa in Seville - the city's most beloved festival. Mess with it at your peril, politicians.

Semana Santa in Seville - the city's most beloved festival. Mess with it at your peril, politicians.

Earlier this week a news story took Social Media in Seville by storm. But it wasn’t about anything that had actually happened. Instead, it was the perfect example of Social Media picking up on a frighteningly misjudged, quote-worthy comment which was destined to become a bete noir for the speaker. This asunto encompassed politics, tradition, religion, and local pride and passion – a combustible combination.

Begoña Gutierrez, the Provincial Secretary of Podemos Seville, was speaking to El Mundo newspaper in an interview published on Monday. In describing how Podemos’ remit was to devolve more decision-making power to the people, the hapless civil servant-turned-politician suggested that, “If it came to a vote (on whether Semana Santa should be banned), the people would decide.” Semana Santa banned? Gasp! Horror! Outrage!

“Pregunta: Dígame por último si es verdad eso de que si Podemos gobierna prohibirá la Semana Santa.

Respuesta: En Podemos todo lo decidimos los ciudadanos y los ciudadanas. Si se llegara a plantear esa cuestión, serían ellos quienes lo decidirían.”

(Question El Mundo): Lastly, tell me if it’s true that if Podemos was elected, you would ban Semana Santa.

(Answer Begoña Gutierrez, Podemos Sevilla): In Podemos, all the citizens make the decisions. If it came to a vote, it would be they who would decide.

Podemos is Spain's youngest political party - it was founded just one year ago.

Podemos, Spain's youngest political party, is at the far left of the spectrum.

The knives have been out for Podemos for some time with mainstream media and the other political parties, notably the two main players – the PSOE and PP – desperate to sling mud at this new party which was formed just a year ago and which came from nowhere to win five seats at the European elections in May last year.

With some unconventional views, Podemos is a far-left party which promises participative democracy, financial transparency, a monthly minimum salary for all, and debt restructuring. Some unfortunate comments about ETA and terrorism have not helped its cause. It’s a grass-roots anti-establishment party which isn’t about millionaire backers and high-profile campaigns – its European election campaign last year was crowd-funded. Corruption is one of the biggest concerns of the Spanish electorate, and Podemos is all about confronting the culture of back-handers head on.

Any opportunity to make the new party look bad is grabbed with both hands by the two principal parties, as well as many media channels. Unsurprisingly, considering that the political establishment is running scared – Podemos’ leader, an economics professor from Madrid called Pablo Iglesias who famously sports a ponytail, is favoured by 44% of the electorate as Spain’s next prime minister compared to the other parties’ leaders at 32% (PSOE) and 23% (PP). The latest poll, on 11 January this year, gives Podemos an election-winning 28.2% of the vote.

The unfortunate Begoña handed her party’s multiple detractors a loaded gun and said “Go on, shoot me.” Perhaps the 39-year-old mother of two, who is herself from Seville, is inexperienced in dealing with the media. Otherwise she would have known not to even suggest, albeit as an example of citizens’ democratic participation, that Seville’s most famous event be banned.

Begoña Gutierrez, Podemos, Seville, Sevilla, Semana Santa

Begoña's tweet to calm the storm of protest provoked by her comment.

Podemos is all about a return to genuine democracy in which decisions aren’t made by out-of-touch suits who have become rich through questionable business and financial dealings and loyalties, also known as conventional politicians, but by The People. So even if she was simply trying to illustrate a very important point, she chose the wrong way to do it.

Within hours, rumours were circling around the internet saying “Podemos wants to ban Semana Santa in Seville.” Sticky. You have to feel sorry for the poor woman. Begoña responded with some clarifying/backpedalling tweets, and El Mundo charted the storm, with some glee. So it seems that banning Seville’s most popular religious festival is not in the party’s manifesto after all.

  1. One Response to “Semana Santa, Podemos, and an unfortunate gaffe”

  2. Understanding the threat of Podemos involves a bit deeper thinking and study than that reflected in simple-minded statements like, “They are by The People, instead of out-of-touch rich suits.”

    You can start by looking to the work of Nassim Taleb to understand the inherent difficulty and risks involved in trying to organizing and govern a society. Given that it’s a near impossible challenge, you can then look at the theoretical and historical-review work of Milton Friedman to get an idea of the best approach possible, among all the imperfect options. And it most certainly is not that approach proposed by Podemos.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with their intentions whatsoever. Looking around us in Spain, who isn’t desperate to see less corruption? And who wouldn’t love to see all of society living under better economic conditions? But as Friedman clearly demonstrated, never in history has government been able to solve society’s problems, and ironically, the more scope that government has to try to solve society’s problems (through greater taxation to fund greater initiatives), the worse the long term effects are on the society.

    Podemos’s platform would de-incentivize private investment. Nobody would invest in Spain. So who would pay for retirement at 60? Who would pay to ensure every person has a home? Who would pay to ensure high minimum wages? The wealthy? Wealth is mobile in our generation, and would exit Spain the minute news broke of a vote for Podemos.

    But again, even if Podemos’s ideas were economically feasible (which they are not), as Friedman demonstrated, such government planning has never worked in history, and always and everywhere has been detrimental to society in the long run.

    By Matt Henderson on Jan 21, 2015

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