Spain: a lesson on democracy for all of us?

While everyone in Spain is tensely waiting for the outcome of today’s election, it is clear that regardless of the outcome, Spanish citizens have eventually learned what the most important element of democracy is.

Being Swiss and at that time politically limited from my ‘Alpentrauma’ (i.e. a limited view on the world), what most impressed me when I moved to Spain back in 2003 was the very limited number of political parties. Apart from Catalonia other provinces seemed to only know the parties PP (Partido Popular) and PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español). Accordingly, the political interest of citizens was very much limited and people voted either ‘right’ or ‘left’. Some of my friends preferred to say that there were no right-ish parties in Spain and PP was only a bit ‘less left’ than PSOE.

Although it has been shown that a two-party landscape can be a logical outcome of a democratic system and while some praise bipartisan states for their stability, I always had my difficulties to accept that view. There are many reasons for my position. One of the least political is maybe the observation that humans are lazy. In politics this leads to a situation in which politicians start to sit back and relax once they have achieved the peak of their careers, usually expressed in claiming government of that country. Once in power, they feel absolute and forget that they are only appointed by the peoples to lead their country, not to impose their view on them. I wonder what can be democratic about a government that–as Mariano Rajoy did in 2013–tells its citizens that it won’t step down even after found guilty in a huge corruption case? What difference is there between such government and a monarch?

Even less democratic than an absolute prime minister is the fact that people don’t have a choice for a political alternative when exercising their rights to vote. When before the last elections in 2011 my Spanish friends told me that they would vote again for PSOE “since it was the lesser of two evils” while others decided to “vote for PP in order for PSOE to pay the bill for a very bad economic situation in which Spain was at that time” despite of feeling politically pro-PSOE, I felt confirmed in my belief that two-party states are only slightly better compared to one-party states but had absolutely nothing in common with democracy. In both systems citizens lack the option of choice, a lack that is anti-democratic in itself, not to mention its absurdity. Just imagine how you would feel about a country that had one party for women and one party for men. Or another that had a party for meat-lover and one for vegetarian, while everyone else had to choose between the two of them. Is it possible to represent the peoples of any country in only two parties?

What makes a country democratic is neither the fact that it is listed as democracy in Wikipedia nor the observation that citizens have the right to vote. Democracy is a process and it can only exist where existing institutions allow or–even better–facilitate this process. In a country with only two parties this is most unlikely, because similar to one-party states, there is always one party dictating the course of inaction. Of course it can be questioned whether newcomers such as Cuidadanos or Podemos will do a better job than the established ones. However, in contrast to Rajoy I believe that what matters is having new ideas and also the necessity to discuss, negotiate and make compromises. A government that imposes itself on its citizens in the way PP did under Rajoy is not any more democratic than Italy under Berlusconi or Russia under Putin. However, Spanish citizens deserve better than that, as we all do!

The most important lesson of today’s election is that today, the Spanish people will put an end to 40 years of heteronomy disguised under a pseudo-democratic veil. Citizens have decided to taking ownership of democracy and the process that determines it. I hope that others will follow.

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About blaubear

Born in 1973 in a small village in rural Switzerland and into a society largely dominated by cows (not only was the human population of one-hundred-and-forty outnumbered by them, but politics driven by unreasonable subsidies for diary products) I was connected with nature from early age on. Observing nature on one hand and the deficiencies of a dysfunctional Swiss agricultural policy with farmers that had lost connection to the land that provided their income on the other, I soon started to question society and the meaning of life. Suffering also under a farcical public education I developed curiosity to discover on my own. That was how I soon learned that little of what I had been taught was true. Skepticism and interaction with people from for me new cultures fostered my interest for the world and eagerness to leave a life shaped by federalistic layman-ship. At the age of twenty-three I hit the road for the first time, an event that later translated into passion. Traveling between cultures has since become part of my life. At the age of thirty-three I finally realized my dream and did a degree in Environmental Engineering from which I graduated in 2009, only to leave Switzerland once more for my "real home" Spain. Unfortunately, the stay was a short one: a couple of months later I was offered a job in Southeast Asia, where I worked and also lived (with some interruptions, e.g. I live in Melbourne since late 2012) ever since. Having worked for a Japanese company earlier in my life, I soon felt captured again by Asian culture and thinking which makes a lovely contrast to my European heritage. My journey through different countries and cultures has taught me that regardless of how different our thinking and values are, no matter what approaches we take, we all can learn from each other. And if we are open enough to see the common instead of pointing out the differences, then we have a chance to live in harmony and peace: Life is all about integration, not exclusion! It's an old wisdom that "knowledge is power", as such I never get tired of being around new people, having interesting talks, and reading lots of good books. I hope that my blog can contribute to the conversation.
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