Anti-system?

A word that crops up constantly in Spanish political media discourse is ‘antisistemas’. It is a curious word, with no satisfactory translation into English. Literally it means ‘anti-system’, and is applied, usually with paternalistic disdain, to people who stand in opposition to the actual economic or political system.

The performance usually shapes up thus: the person accused of being ‘anti-sistemas’ has a chronic problem with the present order of things and lacks sufficient maturity to understand that the way things are is the product of sagacious compromise and moral righteousness. Yes there are problems with the present system, but these must be pursued through patient reform and strenuous endeavour, not pathological oppositionalism.

Whereas on the other hand, the person conducting the accusation is a wily and experienced observer of the world, a connoisseur of tragic inevitability, harsh reality, and the virtues and possibilities of persisting with things the way they are.

The meaning of the word, then, is inseparable from the socio-political context in which it is deployed. It is a loaded term, designed to draw a line of separation between the wise goats and the clueless sheep. It is not indicative of anything especially Spanish, but is simply a tool used by the dominant class in Spain, and those who wish to identify with them, of driving home tried and tested hegemonic ideas that are fairly universal in character: there is no alternative, we are where we are, and so on and so forth.

Naturally enough then, the protesters occupying public squares all over Spain -and elsewhere- are accused of being ‘anti-sistemas’ in media. The accusation in and of itself has an important function: it deflects focus away from the nature of the system against which these protesters are actually protesting, and instead focuses the mind onto the potential psychological motivations of the protesters.  The frame used by mainstream media institutions is simply incapable of treating these people at the level of these people’s perceptions of what the system is doing. This is one of the reasons why in Spain there was very little media coverage while the initial protest on Sunday was underway, but it is also one of the reasons why there has been very little international media coverage either. What receives attention instead, in the Irish Times at least, is Lars Von Trier calling himself a Nazi. And in RTE, the morning news bulletin reports on the protests, but not in terms of democratic action, but in terms of the potential risk to investors of a Spanish default.

What name does a media apparatus that thinks of itself as an organ of democracy apply to protesters who are saying that the existing system is fake democracy? Pro-democracy supporters? Real democracy supporters? That would be ok for places like Egypt or Tunisia or China or Thailand, where it is accepted from the outset that what there is is not democracy. But in Spain?

Público reports that the Central Electoral Commission in Spain has banned further gatherings for Saturday and Sunday.

The commission’s rationale for doing so is that during the supposed ‘day of reflection’ on Saturday, it is not permitted ‘to seek votes in favour of candidates, as well as to invite people to exclude any of these candidates’. The authorisation sought by the protesters had been to request ‘a responsible vote’. The Commission had deemed that this was ‘a behaviour at odds with the provisions of the Electoral Law and exceeds the right to demonstration guaranteed by the constitution’. Meanwhile, in Sol, the protesters say they will stay where they are and will not call a demonstration for Saturday. I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I cannot see the forces of the State being used to violently eject these people from where they are. At this stage I think there is too much popular support for what is going on, and too much disenchantment with the political process, for the police to start wading in. But I have made this sort of call before, only for the police to go ahead and do just that.

Below is a translation of a piece by Luis Garcia Montero that appeared in today’s Público. It touches on some of these matters. ‘The perplexed voter’ he refers to is himself.

One of the symptoms of profound social crises is the accusation of barbarism against those who are trying to defend the basics of  community. In this way, having principles becomes dangerous. The perplexed voter wrote about this phenomenon in a book titled Inquietudes bárbaras. It showed that the supporters of civil rights and democratic procedures ran the risk of representing a radical threat. This is the accusation that rains today over those citizens gathered in Puerta del Sol to demand a real democracy.

The perplexed voter is grateful that they have been able to introduce political discussion to the campaign. It is no longer enough to repeat that Zapatero is guilty of everything. Now we are talking about a corrupt system for which Rajoy is also responsible. The majoritarian parties are reaching very high levels of coarseness. Since the perplexed voter was born in Granada, he cannot resist drawing attention to the arguments used by Javier Arenas [president of the Partido Popular in Andalusia – HG] in his city. It turns out that the presidents of the Andalusian regional government and the national government have little love for Granada and are persecuting it cruelly. When Arenas and Rajoy are presidents, their love for all things Granada will become instantly clear. The perplexed voter is trying to remember what did they do for the city when they occupied their ministerial chairs in the Aznar Government. Nothing at all. Let his example serve to summarise the populist demagoguery and coarse tone of the campaign. As if it were not enough to inflict territorial wounds between Madrid, Vitoria and Barcelona, now they are planning to create a fracture between Granada, Seville and Madrid. What a panorama.

Does demanding real democracy bring the dignity of politics into crisis? The perplexed voter is convinced that barbarism has other residences. The system is damaged when a mafia of speculators buys off two socialist deputies in order to violate electoral results and allow the arrival to power of an accomplice to their property-dealing interests. Damage is also done when a president does not fulfil his electoral promises and applies measures that serve only to impoverish the citizenry and raise the profits of the Ibex 35 by 20%. Damage is also inflicted when rights provided by the Constitution are trivialised. Damage is caused by an electoral list infested with corrupt individuals. Damage is done when magistrates obey the orders of the parties that control the organs of judicial power. Damage is done by an Electoral Law calculated to consecrate bipartidism and impede a just democratic representation.

And the system is damaged by journalists who do not supply truthful news. The perplexed voter still recalls the day of reflection in the 2004 elections. The multitude hit the streets to demand information on those responsible for the bombings in Atocha. The same media accusing the people of being a danger to the system, repeated the mantra that it had been the actions of ETA. Who does damage?

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