The coronavirus pandemic and its economic and social consequences have caused an unprecedented situation. We are already leaving the most tragic moments of the health crisis thanks to the enormous collective effort of a population that accepted one of the harshest lockdowns in Europe with discipline and solidarity, but there is still enormous uncertainty about the magnitude of the effects that the destruction of the productive fabric, the increase in poverty and inequality after two months of almost total economic standstill. In these circumstances, union and consensus are more important than ever to adopt the necessary measures and respond to collective demands, as has been done in the Canary Islands by joining efforts. The regional government, the councils, the city councils, Parliament, civil society have been involved in this…
However, we are seeing every day in state politics a level of polarization and political tension unknown up to now, with unedifying images and permanent exchanges of insults both through social networks and in the Senate and in the Congress of Deputies in the one in which the spokesperson for the Popular Party, Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, came to accuse the Vice President of the Government of Spain of being «the son of a terrorist». Day after day we read and listen to statements from the extreme right that are sexist, racist, homophobic, denying the legitimacy of the democratic government and even encouraging positions of insubordination of the State Security Forces and Corps.
Developed societies have suffered a gradual process of political and ideological polarization that has increased in recent years and more specifically in the last decade. The reasons are multiple, but it is worth noting the increase in inequality in developed countries as a consequence of neoliberal policies and the consequent loss of confidence in the democratic system by the population. Also the frustration of those disadvantaged sectors when not finding immediate answers to their demands. More recently, the international articulation of a powerful extreme right movement based on hate speech, amplified by social networks and their «echo chamber» effect, has been decisive.
Far from being a minor problem, political polarization should be one of our main concerns, and even more so in the current scenario, since, as Javier García Arenas, PhD in Economics in the area of strategic planning and studies at CaixaBank, explains, the greater the polarization, the more It is more difficult to generate broad consensus among groups with different sensitivities to undertake profound reforms that allow society to advance. That is, polarization is an obstacle to progress.
The right is perfectly aware of this and that is why it has been applying a deliberate strategy of tension for a long time, which Aznar inaugurated to overthrow the government of Felipe González and later Rajoy against José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Belén Barreiro and Ignacio Sánchez Cuenca, two of the most prominent personalities in sociology in Spain, already analyzed this phenomenon in a study by the Fundación Alternativas in 2007.
According to Sánchez-Cuenca, in statements to the newspaper El País, the tension “is a mechanism that the PP applied in the last legislature of Felipe González; in the first with Zapatero and today with Sánchez, accompanied by Ciudadanos. It consists of insisting that Spain is threatened as a nation by the weakness of the PSOE, an accomplice of its enemies, and chooses as a field sensitive issues such as terrorism and the territorial question. In addition, as we see these days, he avoids the political debate by focusing the agenda on personal attacks on ministers and the president.
A few weeks ago in the Congress of Deputies, Patxi López, the president of the Reconstruction Commission, exploded, after the constituent session once again turned into a deplorable spectacle with multiple accusations crossed. These were his words: «This is the moment to understand what politics is for. If we are not capable, it is that we are useless. We should be capable of self-censoring ourselves to rise to the occasion. I apologize again. No Let’s dig into this and do what we have to do.»
I completely subscribe to Patxi López’s opinion because I also believe that progressives are the first to be interested in stopping this dynamic that has made Spain one of the most polarized countries in its environment. In various public interventions I have pointed out that «anti-politics» is a profoundly reactionary attitude, and even more so at this time when it is being shown that for millions of people, politics is the only thing that can guarantee them decent living conditions. The disaffection that causes tension and the «everything is the same» deprive the people who need it most of the main tool they have to improve their lives.
Fortunately, I believe that in the Canary Islands this polarizing and tense dynamic is more attenuated. I do not want to sin as a chauvinist, but we are a plural, open and tolerant society, in which hate speech has not had the same path as in other territories. Proof of this is that the extreme right did not get representation in any of the Canary Islands institutions. But this does not mean that it does not affect us and that we are not attentive to the risks that these discourses entail in a territory with the levels of poverty, inequality and social exclusion that the Canary Islands have and that is also one of the southern borders of Europe and therefore both receiving migrants, one of the central aspects of the discourse of the new rights.
I believe that all democrats have an obligation to work to curb polarization and tension, because they put democracy itself and the ability of political systems to solve people’s problems at risk.
We can start with social networks, not sharing publications that seek to provoke and sow hatred, avoiding consuming fake news or not giving credibility to the hoaxes that reach us through instant messaging and other channels.
Also, as citizens, we have to electorally punish political parties and representatives who seek to gain electoral revenue by stirring up people’s logical fears and uncertainties.
But it is evident that those of us who carry out the work of public representation are the ones who have the main responsibility. The best way to stop these strategies is by responding to citizen demands, improving our social protection systems, advancing towards a more sustainable, fair and egalitarian model, improving the transparency of our institutions and participation in decision-making. We must incorporate all the collective intelligence of our society, counting on the economic and social organizations to generate broad consensus, since it is the only way to face a diversification of the Canarian economy with guarantees without leaving anyone behind.
Quiero huir del catastrofismo, pero acabamos de salir de la “Gran Recesión” que nos hizo perder casi una década de crecimiento y bienestar social y nos encontramos en medio de una pandemia, que ha generado una crisis sanitaria, económica y social, junto con una crisis climática que nos exige actuar de inmediato para frenar sus efectos. Estamos en un momento decisivo que exige decisiones transcendentales con amplios consensos y ello será imposible si sustituimos el debate público por la confrontación cainita, los insultos, las descalificaciones y el no reconocimiento de las opiniones discordantes.
From the Cabildo de Gran Canaria we want to do politics with a capital letter to get away from these risks. That is why we are committed to facilitating the protection of the most vulnerable people and promoting effective measures to recover the sustainable development of our island and the Canary Islands.
Antonio Morales Méndez
President of the Cabildo de Gran Canaria