Left Abroad #3: Podcasting Spanish Politics with Alan McGuire

I talked to British writer, teacher, podcaster, and fellow immigrant to Spain Alan McGuire last week about politics, history, books, and his own podcast Sobremesa.

There’s a dearth of in-depth information in written or podcast form in English about Spanish politics that doesn’t have the same tired tourism angle and I wanted to talk to him about how he came to Spain, his own political trajectory, and why he decided to start his project.

It ran a little long, because Alan and I have quite a bit in common. Thanks to Alan for taking the time to and to you for listening to Left Abroad! Please give us your honest review on Apple Podcasts if you get a chance.

Show Notes

Alberto Garzón on the Spanish Right

Tommy Greene and Eoghan Gilmartin interviewed Consumer Affairs minister and Izquierda Unida leader Alberto Garzón for Jacobin on the Spanish Right’s refusal to accept the current governmental coalition:

You have to remember that the right wing in our country does not have democratic origins. It is not like the mainstream right in France or Germany, where there is, at least in part, an anti-fascist tradition. The Spanish right hasn’t looked to isolate the extreme right, as German chancellor Angela Merkel has done. In Spain, the right-wing parties broker power-sharing agreements and govern with the extreme right [at the regional level].

They conceive of Spain as their own patrimony, in which they are the arbiters of who is truly Spanish and who is a patriot or not. Their vision of the country doesn’t allow for a party like ours [Unidas Podemos] to be in government — it’s a kind of coup d’état, in their eyes, that we are governing Spain at present. They’ve called us traitors, criminals, terrorists, assassins — they have raised the level of discursive belligerence in public life to the point whereby its polarizing consequences have seeped into and are felt in almost all sectors of Spanish society. You can see this in the ongoing campaign of harassment against deputy prime minister Pablo Iglesias and equality minister Irene Montero [with members of the far-right camped outside their family home for the last three months].

A Fugitive Old King and an ‘Impossible’ Republic

Following Juan Carlos I’s quick exit and self-exile (Portugal, Dominican Republic, perhaps Abu Dhabi?) to prevent more bad publicity for la casa real, some are wondering what the future of the Spanish Crown holds.

My wife has nurtured a strong opposition towards the Spanish royals much longer than I have.

What I did not know, however, was the constitution from 1978, the one written during the transition from the Francoist state into an ostensible democracy, makes it practically impossible to hold a popular referendum on the monarchy and construct a third republic. “Armor-clad,” says Alberto Lardíes of the monarchy. He should know, he wrote a book on the called The Borbon Democracy.

Aitor Hernández-Morales in Politico:

In order to hold a referendum on the monarchy, two-thirds of members of the Spanish Congress and Senate would have to vote in favor of the proposal, and immediately afterward the parliament would have to be dissolved. Two-thirds of the successor Congress and Senate would have to ratify the same motion, and only then would it go before the Spanish public — which would have to vote in its favor to make it successful.

Monarchies are old world systems that need to be abolished entirely. It will be an interesting September, when Spanish republican factions will start mobilizing.

Unified Veranda Theory

It’s my Saturday today. I’ve been out on the terrace, watching the fig tree away with the breeze. There are more insects buzzing, snails crawling up the stone walls, and birds darting between the electrical and phone lines that surround our house. I’m also playing around with the vintage camera app Vooravo for some retro-looking photos around the house. I’m bored of photographing the same trees from the well-worn paths of the monte.

This is one of those weekend mornings that reminds me of my years in Sierra Leone; the unhurried day, the privilege of watching time and life of the village pass by from a veranda, the warm sun on my body, the ability to read as much as I want to.

Grateful and guilty, which has been a recurring tension during the lockdown. Grateful to have had the privileges and opportunities to organize my life in this manner, and guilty knowing that not everyone is so lucky. But I know I’m in my head a lot, and that guilt will lead to paralysis or unnecessary suffering.

I misread a quote from some article a few weeks ago. In my head in went something like;

The best safeguard to life under late capitalism is withdrawing from it.

But it actually wasn’t that, at all. It was a critique, that the privileged ones, the ones with an inessential, work-from-home job are the ones who can safeguard themselves from coronavirus.

I recently talked to a friend, a madrileño musician from West Africa with a similar practical philosophy. He mentioned the protests in barrio de Salamanca and the incessant material desires that nag certain classes of people in the capital. It feels foreign, otherworldly. That wasn’t always the case, but a product of half of my life, maybe started after they extubated me. Who’s to say. But I think it’s possible that most can come to the conclusion that infinite growth on a finite planet is illogical.

We can thread the needle, withdraw from the capitalist mentality without completely withdrawing from society like Christopher McCandless; plant a garden, reduce costs and discourage consumption habits, prioritize immaterial experiences, read books, go for walks, re-valorize the countryside, or enjoy voluntary frugality in the city. Flatten the curve of coronavirus and of climate change by socially distancing and driving less, flying less, removing animal products from my diet, eating seasonally and locally. Prefigure a better world by thinking, talking, and planning other ways of organizing life and social relations. Want less, need less, and perhaps work less because of those priorities and that organized withdrawal.

For now, I’ll “do praxis” by non-participation, as much as I can, and theorize by writing into the void, ruining conversations with family and friends by talking climate, and reading Bookchin in my hammock. And I’ll never forget to enjoy the conference of the birds on the phone lines.

An Andalusian Pueblo Blanco Without Coronavirus

Instead of jumping on Twitter in the early mornings and inevitably seeing distressing reports of impunity and inequality, I’ve been reading La Voz de Galicia. It’s local news that relates more to my day-to-day, I practice reading Spanish and Galician, and there’s a plethora of human interest pieces that are pretty interesting. I pick out a few to read while I eat some breakfast to prepare for the day’s fasting. This pleasant article caught my attention today:

“Zahara de la Sierra, from medieval fortress to sanitary fortress”

The town of 1,500, a quarter of which over the age of 65, has not registered a single case of coronavirus. Considering that at the time of writing, Spain is the country with the second highest number of total cases and the fourth highest number of coronavirus-related fatalities, this is astonishing and awesome.

Zahara is a pueblo blanco, one of the whitewashed towns in the southern community of Andalusia with narrow streets and clustered houses. This one is perched on a mountain, with an old Moorish fort overlooking the town. I haven’t been there myself but I’ve been to other pueblos blancos like Grazalema and Ronda.

So how did Zahara de la Sierra manage to stay free from coronavirus, even as nearby towns and villages registered cases and fatalities?

First, they sprang into action the day after the state of alarm was announced and blocked off four of the five roads leading into the town. They sprayed every entering vehicle with water and bleach. The markets set up a delivery service. The women’s association cooked and delivered food to the footsteps of their elderly neighbors. They cleaned the streets a few times a week. They stayed in touch on Facebook. They outfitted music and lights onto cars to entertain children from the balconies. And they used the town’s contingency fund to help family-run businesses and autónomos, freelancers, stay afloat during the lockdown. They also turned away tourists, even though the pueblos blancos are very popular with international tourists and depend on the tourism sector.

This level of neighborhood support and seriousness to health should be envied everywhere.