Brexit: lessons for the future

Britain has decided to leave. I am sad, slightly shocked and worried. This is a huge blow to European integration, probably the biggest setback in 60 years of European project. I would like to write about the causes of this result, but also its consequences and the lessons we can learn from it.

Let’s be clear: the European Union is a positive project with plenty of benefits, but it is also is an imperfect construction full of mistakes which still needs reform. Among its problems, it faces a democratic deficit and an excessively liberal structure which privileges financial interests over citizens’ concerns. As such, we cannot remain uncritical about this EU; more and more people are asking the correct questions but unfortunately, many are not giving the rights answers. Brexit is probably the worst one so far.

Yes, the EU has its part of responsibility. But do not fool yourself, the results of the referendum have little to do with a rational criticism of the EU and its policies. There are the consequence of two factors which have been visible in the last years. Firstly, the rise of the nationalist, xenophobic and reactionary far-right which disguises its true ideology behind a well-calculated Euroscepticism. Secondly, the passivity of national governments, which have desisted in their defence of EU and even worse, allowed it to be used as a scapegoat to avoid responsibilities for policies taken at home. This is especially true in the UK, paradoxically the less integrated country of the EU. It is undeniable that David Cameron was comfortable with the social anger targeting the EU instead of the British government and that he even encouraged this attitude.

The referendum itself was not a mistake, but there was no need of convoking it. As The Economist writes, “Back in 2013, the public opinion was not clamouring for it”. It was a short-term gamble to silence noisy Eurosceptic backbenchers and to maintain the unity of the Conservative party. It was an irresponsible electoral move thought on party terms, not national. Three years later, the country experiences its worse political instability ever and David Cameron resigns with leaves a disastrous legacy.

The campaign and the results

Then came the campaign. The ‘Remain’ side was poorly led. David Cameron was overconfident in his convincing capacities and he wrongly thought that his February deal with the EU would suffice to convince undecided voters. He is not an Europeist and he was uncomfortable defending a position which was unnatural to him. He campaigned for the EU because he knew that the alternative was worse. In consequence, the arguments were more about the catastrophic consequences of leaving than about the positive effects of remaining. Thus, the ‘Remain’ campaign had absolutely no capacity of illusion: it relied too much on the politics of fear. Jeremy Corbyn was not very active in the ‘Remain’ campaign either, but he is not to blame: the ‘in or out’ debate was nothing but a civil war within the Conservative Party which spread to national and European politics. No wonder that he did not want to be stuck in it. On the other hand, the ‘Leave’ campaign was even worse. It was full of lies and contradictions. The Brexiteers, especially Nigel Farage, dragged the debate into the recurrent topic of immigration, until it became the core of the campaign, eclipsing all other considerations. As Owen Jones wrote, the campaign focused on immigration as if “migrants and people fleeing violence and poverty were the cause of the multiple problems afflicting European society, from the lack of secure jobs and houses to stagnating living standards to public services ravaged by cuts”. Unfortunately, this xenophobic and nationalist campaign won. Traditionally working classes worried about immigration, ended up voting ‘Leave’, proving that nothing had been done to counteract the dominant and false argument on immigration.

The results are worrying in many ways. Look at the politicians who have celebrated the outcome of the referendum: Marine le Pen, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, Matteo Savini and so on. It is a victory for scaremongers, bigots and xenophobes. Furthermore, the statistics of the referendum project the image of a truly ‘Broken Britain’ (how ironic…) with four major cleavages. First, an impressive generational one. Second, a cleavage between nations. Third, one between educated and less educated people. Fourth, one between well-off and less well-off people. It would be easy to blame the uneducated poor for this result, but the causes are far more profound. Look for the reasons in the rising inequalities provoked by liberal and austerity policies, which have left many people impoverished, disenchanted with politics and felt abandoned by a political class which does not look for their interests.  

european stars

Europe is crying

The consequences for the UK

The list of consequences is too long for this post, but I would highlight one word: uncertainty. The short-run economic effect will be affected by this completely new situation. Understandably, firms will delay investments and important decisions until the new status of the UK is agreed with the EU. Once the agreement comes into force, firms might fly and relocate elsewhere in Europe. This will likely throw the UK into a recession and hurt employment numbers. The British Union is likely to suffer: Scotland will push for independence and Northern Ireland might push for reunification. Universities are also big losers. EU students wanting to study in the UK will now probably rethink their choice until the uncertainty dissipates: this means less talent and less money will come to the UK. Diversity on campuses will diminish. British students will lose access to the Erasmus program which allows them to study abroad in Europe. Overall and without getting into details, it will become harder for everyone to work or study in the UK until the uncertainty dissipates. The same applies to Britons in the EU. The long-run forecast is more difficult. As EU trade treaties will not apply anymore once it leaves, Britain will have to renegotiate all of them. Eventually, the economy will stabilise and recover, but it will lose attractiveness. Foreign investors, start-ups, young talents and so on see the UK as a fantastic place to invest or set up partly because it is part of the EU. With this door closed, they will look for alternatives in the continent. Many will leave and many more will just not come in the first place.

The relationship between the UK and the EU

Now here comes the crux of the matter. The Treaty on the European Union contemplates exits in its Article 50. The procedure is the following: the UK has to notify the European Council its desire to leave. Then, the UK and the European Council negotiate an ‘exit agreement’. Once it is reached, the European Parliament has to approve it by a qualified majority. Then, ‘The Treaties cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement’. There is a very important point here: the European Council negotiates the new situation with the UK as an outside actor, not a member of the Council anymore. Whatever the final agreement is, the UK is not in a position of strength and stands to lose. If it wants to remain part of the internal market, as many ‘Leave’ supporters argued, it will have to accept European standards, allow free movement of people and contribute to the European budget, like Norway does. The Article 50 is not the only possible outcome; other agreements can be reached. However, if the EU wants to be credible, it must strictly stick to the Treaty provisions. Any concession will undermine its legitimacy, create a dangerous precedent and give wings to Eurosceptic forces around the continent to further disintegrate the union. Sadly, the first divisions are already arising. Several finance Ministers, François Hollande, Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schultz have asked the UK to start the procedure as soon as possible, saying it won’t be an amicable divorce. On the other hand, Merkel says there is no need to be nasty on the UK, opening the door for a more favourable agreement. This is dangerous for the whole Union (I will develop the possible outcomes and the relationship-in another post).

The consequences for the EU

They are contradictory. For instance, Brexit could actually be positive. The British conception of the EU as a big economic market has done much harm to European integration. The UK has constantly slowed down European initiatives, filibustered many actions that could have led to a closer union and has an important part of responsibility in the frustration created by this EU. Many pro-European actors will be happy to see such a burden leave. But as I mentioned in the introduction, it is also the biggest setback in European history. For the first time, a member state leaves the European project and menaces to trigger a dangerous domino effect. The Austrian election was already a worrying sign. If Britain reaches a successful deal with the EU, nationalist parties in the EU will probably push for the same, endangering the whole project. Hopefully, this could be the major catharsis the EU needs to reform. Unfortunately, none of the actual national leaders has the European vision to lead a major reform project. A truly and rare European actor is Guy Verhofstadt. Unfortunately, he is in a weak position (he is just an MEP) and he is alone. Some of his policy proposals are right, but I believe the EU has to take a more social turn, not a liberal one.

What the EU must do is to stand up with courage for its core values, to take a battery of measures and to set a grand project for the next years. First, it has to stand up against right-wing nationalism. This means opening borders for refugees, equally redistribute them in European countries and fight the anti-immigration discourse. The measures that could be taken to relaunch the morose European integration include: enhancing transparency, public inversion in transport infrastructures, the end of unnecessary austerity policies, restructuration of the Greek debt, redefinition of the ECB status, dropping the unpopular TTIP negotiations and many more. My idea for a grand project which could reconcile the EU with its disenchanted citizens would be fighting fiscal evasions and tax heavens. It is politically feasible, economically positive and it will show that the EU is effective in tackling today’s world problems and that it works for its citizens.

I will end up on a positive note. It has been said that our generation is disenchanted with the European project. That we take everything for granted and that we do not value what has been achieved. Yet, on the 23rd of June, more than 65% of people aged between 18 and 24 voted ‘Remain’. This does not mean that they agree on everything with the EU, as I do not, but it genuinely acknowledges that the European project is right and that the future of the people of Europe is together. The creation of a truly European youth is succeeding. These voices may have been silenced today, but they will come back stronger. I have no absolutely no doubt that the UK will, as an equal partner, be part of the EU once again in the future. We will welcome them with our arms opened to continue the construction of this outstanding project: the European Union.

© Mario Cuenda García

You’ll Never Walk Alone

No, no voy a hablar de la final de la Europa League, pero sí del Liverpool. Hoy me apetece contar una historia que ha sacudido las últimas décadas en el Reino Unido y en la cual las mentiras y la injusticia han prevalecido durante mucho tiempo. Voy a hablar de la tragedia de Hillsborough, acaecida en 1989 y en la cual 96 aficionados del Liverpool perdieron la vida. Hace un mes se emitió una sentencia histórica que puso punto y final a una injusticia larga de 27 años. Me gustaría dedicar este post a los 96 aficionados fallecidos en la tragedia de Hillsborough en 1989 y a sus familiares.

El 15 de abril de 1989, el Liverpool se desplazaba a la ciudad de Sheffield para disputar la semifinal de la FA Cup contra el Nottigham Forest en el estadio de Hillsborough. Era un estadio pequeño, con gradas sin asientos y enormes vallas que separaban el público del campo pero a la vez dividían las gradas en diferentes secciones muy estrechas. La entrada al estadio se hacía por un único acceso con solamente siete torniquetes para miles de personas, y a continuación, por un túnel estrecho que daba directamente a las gradas. Era, en definitiva, una enorme ratonera con grandes fallas de seguridad.

La grada asignada a los aficionados del Liverpool. Fuente: The Guardian

La grada asignada a los aficionados del Liverpool. Fuente: The Guardian

Aquel 15 de abril, los torniquetes fueron incapaces de procesar el número de personas que quisieron entrar en el estadio. Aunque los aficionados llegaron mucho antes del inicio del partido, se formaron colas delante de los torniquetes que al poco tiempo derivaron en una masa de gente bloqueando la estrecha entrada. No había forma matemática que miles de aficionados pudiesen pasar por los siete torniquetes en menos de una hora. Así, que diez minutos antes de comenzar el encuentro, el jefe de policía dio orden de abrir las puertas de salida para que los aficionados entrasen sin pasar por los torniquetes. Miles de aficionados se adentraron por las puertas y a continuación por el estrecho túnel. Nada más empezar el partido, se pudo ver en directo como la parte asignada a los aficionados del Liverpool desbordaba de gente. Literalmente. La cantidad de gente detrás de la portería era mareante. Los aficionados se veían aplastados los unos con los otros, frente a la valla protectora. La gente desesperada, empezó a saltar las vallas y a ser rescatada por los aficionados de la grada superior. Durante seis eternos minutos, el partido se jugó y la policía no intervino. Cuando lo hizo, abriendo las puertas para que los aficionados pudiesen escapar al cuentagotas, era ya demasiado tarde. Los cuerpos sin vida de 96 personas se amontonaban contra la valla protectora, asfixiadas por una avalancha humana.

La grada de los aficionados del Liverpool el 15 de Abril 1989. Fuente: The Guardian

La grada de los aficionados del Liverpool el 15 de Abril 1989. Fuente: The Guardian

Aficionados rescatando a otros el 15 de Abril 1989. Fuente: The Guardian

Aficionados rescatando a otros el 15 de Abril 1989. Fuente: The Guardian

Murieron hombres y mujeres, adultos y niños, padres e hijos, parejas y hermanos. Aficionados que fueron a disfrutar de un partido de fútbol de su equipo preferido y jamás volvieron a casa. Hillsborough es la mayor tragedia del fútbol inglés en toda su historia. ¿Cómo es posible que miles de aficionados se viesen atrapados de esa forma en semejante ratonera sabiendo que además ya hubo un incidente similar con varios heridos en ese mismo estadio en 1981? Las ambulancias tardaron en llegar, los agentes de policía se vieron desbordados y en ningún momento se declaró la situación de emergencia. Inmediatamente se abrieron investigaciones para encontrar responsables. Y desde el primer momento, la dinámica de la investigación fue clara: responsabilizar a los aficionados del Liverpool de la tragedia.

Ya en directo, pues el partido estaba siendo televisado, el jefe de la policía mintió a la prensa que cubría el partido al filtrar que la causa de los problemas en la grada del Liverpool se debía a que aficionados sin tickets habían forzado una puerta de salida. Era una mentira enorme: fue él mismo quien ordenó la apertura de las puertas para que entrasen los aficionados del Liverpool. Esto fue el pistoletazo de salida de una campaña de demonización y de encubrimiento. La investigación se convirtió en un escándalo de proporciones enormes, en la cual las familias de las víctimas tuvieron que soportar 27 años de humillación, indignación e injusticia.

Poco a poco, se fue construyendo un mito según el cual los aficionados del Liverpool fueron los únicos culpables del desastre. La policía y la prensa enfatizaron el supuesto rol del alcohol en crear la tragedia. Se escribió que fueron unos aficionados borrachos como cubas quienes forzaron la puerta de salida y provocaron la muerte de 96 personas en la estampida. A los pocos días del desastre, el panfleto The Sun, publicó una portada titulada The Truth (la verdad) dónde acusaban de forma falaz y rastrera a los aficionados de abominaciones. Mientras los aficionados todavía en shock velaban a sus fallecidos, The Sun escribió que los fans del Liverpool habían robado a los muertos, meado sobre los cadáveres y agredido a policías haciendo el boca a boca. Eran unas acusaciones falsas, una tentativa de demonización sin precedente y sin vergüenza alguna, en un panfleto de tirada nacional, cuyo único objetivo era desacreditar a los aficionados del Liverpool y presentarlos como gentuza sin escrúpulo alguno. Obviamente, todo era mentira, pero el daño estaba hecho. Desde entonces, es imposible encontrar The Sun en los alrededores de Anfield Road, el estadio del Liverpool. Es boicoteado y vetado a conciencia por los aficionados del Liverpool.

La portada de The Sun. Fuente: The Sun

La portada de The Sun. Fuente: The Sun

Las mentiras del Sun fueron la cara más repugnante y visible de la campaña de deshumanización de las víctimas y de los aficionados del Liverpool pero no fue ni de lejos la única. La otra cara fue la institucional. La policía analizó las tasas de alcohol en sangre de todos los aficionados fallecidos (¡incluidos niños de 10 años!), que luego fueron publicadas en la prensa. Recientemente, la investigación sacó a la luz que también se buscaron los posibles antecedentes criminales de los aficionados fallecidos. ¿Qué tendría que ver un antecedente criminal en la muerte de una persona en una avalancha humana? Absolutamente nada. Pero criminalizando a las víctimas, haciéndoles pasar por borrachos y delincuentes y filtrando esa información a la prensa, se podía conseguir de forma mucho más efectiva que la culpa recayese sobre ellos y no sobre los verdaderos responsables.

Aun así, los informes oficiales sobre la tragedia reconocieron serias deficiencias de seguridad pero durante largos años se consideró que no había pruebas suficientes para inculpar a nadie por negligencias u homicidios involuntarios. Así, durante años, no se cuestionó en justicia la seguridad del estadio ni el papel de la policía. El mito de que los aficionados del Liverpool eran los máximos responsables del desastre quedó grabado a fuego en la conciencia colectiva.

Sin embargo, el trabajo incansable de las familias de las víctimas ha permitido que se haga justicia. Se incluyó en la investigación el hecho de que el Jefe de Policía a cargo del estadio durante casi 30 años había sido cesado 20 días antes del accidente y sustituido por un policía inexperimentado. Pero lo que realmente fue un punto de inflexión en la investigación de la tragedia fue cuando hace unos años salieron a la luz nuevas pruebas que demostraban que los testimonios de la policía habían sido falsificados. Muchos agentes habían detallado en sus informes los déficits del dispositivo de seguridad pero todas las partes negativas de sus testimonios habían sido borradas o recortadas por sus superiores. En definitiva, los responsables policiales trucaron la investigación al falsificar testimonios y omitieron pruebas que les inculpaban. Incurrieron en delitos de falsificación y omisión de pruebas, rehuyendo así responsabilidades para que recayesen todas sobre los aficionados del Liverpool. Poco a poco, la justicia fue reuniendo pruebas que demostraban que los verdaderos culpables de la tragedia no habían sido los aficionados. Reconociendo que hubo deficiencias graves en la seguridad del estadio y en los servicios de emergencia la justicia dictaminó que los responsables del desastre habían sido la policía y de la seguridad del estadio.

El encubrimiento policial fue muy burdo, pero persistió por mucho tiempo porque tampoco hubo interés por parte de la justicia, la clase política o la prensa por investigar o cuestionar la versión oficial. Fueron la prensa y los políticos quienes durante años sustentaron el mito según el cual los aficionados del Liverpool eran los únicos culpables del desastre dando pie a campañas de demonización de los propios aficionados.

La historia de Hillsborough no se puede entender sin explicar el contexto de los años 1980 en el Reino Unido. No es ninguna casualidad que la versión prevaleciente durante muchos años demonizase a los aficionados del Liverpool. Peor aún, no es casualidad que la versión calase y que no fuese cuestionada por la sociedad o las altas esferas del estado. Lo explica muy bien Owen Jones en su libro ‘Chavs: la demonización de la clase obrera’. Los años 1980 se caracterizaron por la destrucción de la cultura ‘obrera’ existente en el Reino Unido en la cual se demonizó a los trabajadores como catetos, brutos, borrachos, aprovechados… Poco a poco, se fue legitimando un discurso en el cual martirizar a las clases trabajadoras era aceptable, un discurso en el que el ensañamiento contra los obreros estaba permitido. De esa forma, las medidas neo-liberales aplicadas Margaret Thatcher, que se caracterizaban por un individualismo feroz y una falta de solidaridad total, podían aplicarse justificándose en el discurso anti-obrero. Fomentando una visión de la vida en el que para triunfar había que salir más allá de la vida obrera, el pensamiento dominante de la creciente clase alta era el siguiente: ‘yo no voy a pagar tantos impuestos para sustentar estos obreros que no han querido ganarse la vida de forma digna’. Este el ambiente en el que se llegó a Hillsborough. Y una vez acaecida la tragedia, la maquinaria difamatoria se disparó. Los aficionados del Liverpool eran obreros, unos catetos que ni siquiera hablan inglés correctamente, unos borrachos y unos brutos. En el mejor de los casos, unos idiotas que habían provocado la tragedia; en el peor de los casos, unos desalmados que cometieron todas las atrocidades redactadas por The Sun.

Por ello, la sentencia de hace unas semanas es histórica. Se depuraron responsabilidades legales de forma directa y se destruyó el discurso ideológico dominante durante tres décadas. La pregunta siete del auto rezaba así: “¿Tuvieron algo que ver los aficionados del Liverpool en el desastre?” Ante las lágrimas de los familiares emocionados, el jurado popular respondió: ‘No’. El resto de las respuestas confirmó lo que ya se sabía: la tragedia fue un homicidio involuntario e imprudente de la policía y los medios de seguridad del estadio. 27 años después, al fin, se demostró que la tragedia se pudo haber evitado. Es cierto que la estrategia de demonización a corto plazo fue efectiva y que todavía persisten sus coletazos; pero hoy la justicia prevalece y empieza a derrotar a la mentira. Lentamente, el discurso dominante forjado por el neoliberalismo se resquebraja; esta sentencia representa una derrota. Por ello, hay que darle la importancia que requiere y no se puede dejar que Hillsborough, lo que vino después y esta sentencia pasen al olvido como una historia cualquiera.

Acabaré este post mencionando uno de los momentos más emocionantes de estos 27 años. En el vigésimo aniversario de la tragedia, se celebró una ceremonia de conmemoración en Anfield Road, el estadio del Liverpool. El ministro de Deportes en ese momento, Andy Burnham, dio un discurso en el que dijo: “Hoy en día, podemos decir que nunca olvidaremos a estos aficionados”. Desde la grada, alguien gritó: ‘¡Justice!’ Y a continuación, las 40 000 personas que abarrotaban el estadio se pusieron de pie gritando: ‘¡Justice for the 96!’ Ya llegó la justicia. At last.

Homenaje 25 años después de la tragedia. Fuente: The Telegraph

Homenaje 25 años después de la tragedia. Fuente: The Telegraph

P.D.: Por respeto a las víctimas no he querido subir ninguna foto impactante sobre la tragedia, pero se pueden encontrar fácilmente en Internet. En Youtube se puede ver un fantástico documental de dos horas de la BBC que explica la tragedia y recoge testimonios de familiares y víctimas. Se llama Hillsborough y lo recomiendo con fervor. Para profundizar en mi argumento sobre la demonización de los aficionados, recomiendo el libro Chavs de Owen Jones.

© Mario Cuenda García

Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia

El pasado jueves, en el marco de los VII Encuentros de Yuste sobre la Transición Española a la democracia, organizados por la Fundación Yuste en un marco incomparable como es el monasterio de Yuste en el norte de Extremadura (en el cual vivió el emperador Carlos V los últimos meses de su vida), los participantes al encuentro tuvimos la oportunidad de escuchar y conocer a Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia.

Juan de Dios Ramírez Heredia es actualmente el presidente de la Unión Romaní Española y tiene el honor de haber sido el primer diputado de etnia gitana de la democracia española. Fue elegido diputado en los tiempos convulsos de la Transición y también fue diputado en el Parlamento Europeo. A lo largo de su vida, ha sido un político activista y reivindicativo y ha defendido los derechos del pueblo gitano tanto en España como en Europa, obteniendo avances significativos en contra de la discriminación de la etnia romaní.

Cabe recordar que la discriminación en contra de la etnia gitana sigue ampliamente expandida en nuestra sociedad. Discriminación lingüística en España (recomiendo enfervorecidamente el  vídeo”#YoNoSoyTrapacero”), deportaciones en Francia, discriminación estatal en Hungría… Estos son solo unos pocos ejemplos que demuestra que aún nos quedan muchos pasos para lograr el fin de la discriminación contra esta minoría histórica. Acabar con ella es un trabajo que nos corresponde a todos.

Fue un placer escucharlo y un auténtico honor conocerlo. He de admitir que en mí ha dejado huella. Dijo Bertold Brecht:

“Hay hombres que luchan un día y son buenos. Hay otros que luchan un año y son mejores. Hay quienes luchan muchos años, y son muy buenos. Pero hay los que luchan toda la vida, esos son los imprescindibles.”

Juan de Dios es de los imprescindibles.

Juan de Dios y yo mismo

Juan de Dios y yo mismo

© Mario Cuenda García

Why Owenite communities were destined to fail

Robert Owen, a British Industrialist in the XIX century is considered to be the father of socialism in Britain. A philanthropist, he developed a series of ideas which have been labelled as ‘Utopian Socialism’ and he distinguished himself by revolutionising the social organisation of a community of mills he owned in Scotland. His example inspired a series of identical communities which one after another disappeared at different points in time. Nonetheless, questions and debates around his figure and his ideas are still actual. Can he be labelled as a socialist or a communist? Were his communities the first cooperatives? The debate which will be assessed in this essay looks at the following question: were Owenite communities destined to fail? My answer is that these communities were indeed destined to fail. It seems easy and uncontroversial to say this in the XXI century, knowing that they indeed failed, but there is not much focus in literature on why they were set to fail. To support my answer, the essay will be structured in the following way. Firstly, I will analyse Robert Owen’s social views. Secondly, I will examine his political thoughts. Thirdly, I will look at what he did in New Lanark and during his campaigns. Finally, I will expose my arguments on why the Owenite Communities were set to fail, relying in three main arguments.

I make an explicit difference between Robert Owen’s social and political views because he was without a doubt a social visionary, but he could be described as a political traditionalist. Owen’s social thoughts challenged the major beliefs of his time. In the early XIX century in Britain, the bourgeoisie argued that poverty was inevitable if progress was to be achieved. Furthermore, poor people were responsible for their fate. Owen denied all of this: he believed society should provide means to the poor to develop themselves. He was probably one of the first thinkers to argue for a kind of societal intervention to alleviate poverty. Gregory Claeys, a political scientist, named Owen’s doctrine ‘philosophical necesitarianism’. The core belief of this doctrine was that individuals were not fully responsible for their ideas and actions; rather, these were instead determined by the society they lived in. Hence, people’s bad behaviours which included cruelty and selfishness were ultimately influenced by the environment that surrounded them. Hence society should be drastically changed to create the ‘New Society’. If people changed their behaviours from cruelty and selfishness to kindness and sympathy, this would progressively change society until the New Society is created. This is a rather utopic view, which later on gave his ideas the name of ‘Utopian Socialism’.  Finally, Robert Owen thought that the impulse of this ‘New Society’ should come ‘from above’. This means that either a rich philanthropist like him or the state, should re-organise society to change it. This is a very ‘paternalistic’ approach to politics.

 If there is a fair amount of consensus on his social thought, his political views are somewhat more contested and it is easy to find divergent opinions in the literature. On one hand, he has been presented as ‘despotic’ and undemocratic while on the other hand, he has been described as more democratic than socialists of his time. Indeed, his political thoughts were less advanced that the social ones and they were constrained by the epoch he lived in, with an emerging capitalism and an undeveloped antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Thus, according to Ralph Miliband, Owen had really negative views on the workers. He saw them as an ignorant mass, who in their desperation could engulf society in anarchy and chaos. He did not believe in the emancipation of the working class. Rather, he talked about emancipating humanity with a universal union and peace with all men. Hence, his proposals did not want to present any threat to wealth and power. He believed the same order should be maintained and that his proposals were indeed a wall against a revolution. However, there was an important change in his political views in the early 1820s: gradually he started embracing socialist positions. He started believing that the system of private property and the subordination of all human affairs to the drive of profit was also an impediment to social improvement.

In 1800, Robert Owen arrived to the New Lanark mills in Scotland. He started implementing a series of social changes that would bring him fame. In Great Britain, the conditions of the working classes were horrendous: men and kids worked more than fourteen hours per day. In New Lanark, Owen founded infant schools, where children went during the day. Working hours were no longer than 10 and a half hours per day. More impressive: when a crisis in cotton stopped work for four months, his workers received their full wages all the time. After a couple of years, the business doubled in value. Owen has been accused of improving the life of his workers but without giving them the means to organise. In fact, he even introduced some forms of democratic management: workers committees elected judges who would rule over infractions committed in the community. Meanwhile, Robert Owen tried to spread his ideas. He made a continental tour to promote himself. He even made a conference in front of the Congress of the USA. At the beginning, he was not seen as an agitator and he was very well received in many circles, but when he started pushing for reforms, he faced the hostility of many rich. On the other hand, he did not believe in the working class leading itself and was also confronted with the growing Trade Union movement.

However, Owenite communities were destined to fail, both as an example of societal organisation and as an instrument of change. The three main reasons of failure were the following. Firstly, the communities were heavily reliant on a paternalistic figure, either the state or a philanthropist. If this figure did not fully commit to the wellbeing of the community, it could not succeed. Indeed, some Owenite communities failed as soon as the philanthropist withdrew. Following this first idea, the second reason why they were destined to fail is because they did not offer enough empowerment to the working class. Workers had some responsibilities, but as Owen did not think they were entitled to govern, he never gave them full responsibilities. These two reasons together show why these communities were destined to fail as a societal organisation. The third reason why this communities were destined to fail, this time as an instrument of change, is because they did not challenge the established political and economic order. Taking terms from Olin Wright, this was a mixture of symbiotic and interstitial transformation. Interstitial because the communities were created at the margin of the system. Symbiotic because a powerful figure was needed to start the process of transformation. Overall, even though New Lanark wanted to change society, it did not present a fundamental challenge to capitalism. Robert Owen cared about conditions of life of the poor, but he never sought to empower them: he always considered the ruler as a major agent of social change and even after heading towards socialism, he did not lose faith in the goodwill of the powerful. Overall, to end on a positive note, I would argue that Owenite communities were the embryo of socialism, a sort of proto-socialism. Hence, as the very first expression of the quest for a new social and economic order, it probabilities of surviving were low, but it set an example and ideas which would be used later on.

To summarise, Robert Owen was a philanthropist and a man ahead of his times in terms of social beliefs. He did not think that poor people were responsible for their condition. Rather, it was the society in which they lived that influenced their behaviour. To eradicate poverty, a ‘New Society’ impulse by a philanthropist or the State should be created. Politically he was more conservative. He did not believe the workers could govern themselves and he saw them as an ignorant mass. His beliefs were a wall against a revolution. In real life, Owen got confronted both with rich people and the Trade Unions. In New Lanark, he improved drastically the life of all the workers with his measures. Overall, however, Owenite communities were destined to fail for three reasons. First, they were heavily reliant on the figure of the philanthropist. Secondly, they did not give any real empowerment to the working class. Thirdly, it did not represent a challenge to the established order. Rather, it was a mixture of symbiotic and interstitial transformation which ultimately was set to fail. It nonetheless laid the grounds for future socialism.

Note: To make it easier for the reader, I have not included footnotes nor the bibliography. However, this can be found for further consultation on the original paper, which is uploaded and available in the website

© Mario Cuenda García

Del Cielo a la Eternidad

Hace dos años, me desperté bajo un cielo nublado. Era febrero y estaba en haciendo un pequeño intercambio de una semana en la localidad inglesa de Gloucester. Como tenía todavía un poco de tiempo por delante antes de las clases, cogí la Tablet y me metí en Facebook. De repente, tropecé con una noticia de El País. Aún recuerdo el texto y la foto que la acompañaban: “Ultima hora: fallece Paco de Lucía”. Mis ojos legañosos se abrieron de par en par con incredulidad y de mi boca salió un suave grito ahogado: “¡No!” Pero sí, Paco de Lucía nos había dejado huérfanos. Él, que en vida ya había abrazado los cielos, se marchó a conquistar la eternidad.

Un 25 de febrero de 2014 nos dejaba Paco de Lucía con 66 años. Un infarto se lo llevó mientras jugaba con sus hijos pequeños en una playa de Cancún, lejos de su Algeciras natal. El faro del flamenco español se apagaba súbitamente, poniendo fin a 40 años de puro arte y maestría. El genio de la guitarra flamenca, innovador y visionario, insuperable e inigualable, se fue para siempre, dejando vacío un trono que ninguna guitarra flamenca logrará rellenar. Paco de Lucía fue un maestro único, una estrella brillante marcada a fuego para siempre en el firmamento del flamenco.

‘Es imposible’, pensé aquél día, ‘’Si solo tiene 65 años, ¡le quedan al menos 20 años de vida!’ Me negaba a creer que aquél concierto en Bruselas en junio de 2014 fuese la única vez que pude verle, que no tendría la oportunidad de volver a disfrutar de su música en directo. Pero los escenarios se apagaron irremediablemente con él aquél día y de la misma forma, mis ilusiones de conocerlo.

El mundo flamenco lo despidió con el alma partía y lágrimas en los ojos. Paco de Lucía se marchó a conquistar la eternidad junto a su compañero Camarón de la Isla. Desde hace dos años, Paco de Lucía es inmortal y su legado es eterno. Hasta siempre, Maestro.

Paco de Lucía

Paco de Lucía

© Mario Cuenda García

EU countries are taking an authoritarian turn – and we have to stop it

Since the fall of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc in 1991, the European continent has not experienced any dictatorship, with the exception of Belarus. When the Eastern European countries joined the European Union, many saw this threat disappearing. Indeed, to enter the EU, member states had to commit to democracy and to a certain degree of liberal values and personal liberties. On the other hand, the EU was seen as the enforcer of the new democracies. Meanwhile, neighbouring countries like Russia and Turkey shifted slowly but surely towards authoritarian regimes.

As a result no one expected the rise of authoritarian measures,  which is currently taking place inside the European Union. Some of this measures are happening in Eastern European countries where the relatively ‘new democracies’ are now with conservative and nationalistic governments, which do not embrace European values and impose authoritarian measures nationally. It is indeed one more expression of the East-West cleavage in the EU. Western European countries are also imposing authoritarian measures at home and there are two reasons for this. First, there is fear of terrorism. Facing the threat of massive and indiscriminate attacks, some governments have slowly but surely headed towards authoritarianism, sacrificing liberties over security. Secondly, the economic crisis has increased poverty and made many people worse off. A climate of elite distrust has grown and this has led to social unrest and protest, with some restricting it.

The first warning sign came a couple of years ago, when Viktor Orban became the Prime Minister of Hungary. His years in government have been marked by illiberal measures such as a restrictive media law, and marginalisation of the Roma population, among many others. But as Hungary was only a small country out of the 28 member states, the European Union was not greatly concernced. However, in October 2015, the conservative party Law and Justice won the general election in Poland. In a matter of months, it passed laws that weaken constitutional checks and balances, as well as restrict media freedom. In December, the ministers of Justice of Hungary and Poland manifested their opposition to the legalisation of homosexual marriage in a Council of Ministers of the European Union. Poland and Hungary are giving headaches to the European Institutions and to the member states. Indeed, the EU has already expressed concerns both in public and in private. Some MEPs have suggested a temporal expulsion of Hungary or the suspension of their right to vote in European Affairs. Last month, the Commission decided to put polish democracy under evaluation.

The refugee crisis contributes to these problems. Hungary built a fence this summer and its treatment to refugees has been poor and violent. The new Polish government claims that refugees carry diseases and do not want to welcome them, in spite of the agreement reached by the previous government. But this time, they are not the only countries to act in this way. The Czech Republic voted against the refugee redistribution schema and Denmark has passed a law which allows the government to steal goods of the refugees to pay for their maintenance costs.

The country, which has implemented authoritarian measures due to the terrorist threat, is obviously France. After the 13th of November terrorist attacks, the President François Hollande imposed a State of Emergency. The National Assembly approved it by nearly unanimity, as it was seen as a temporary measure following the attacks; European member states and the French public opinion were supportive to a large extent. Three months later, not only is France still under the State of Emergency, but the Assembly has approved a further enlargement. What are the implications? The executive power has been granted more powers over the judiciary. Demonstration are prohibited; indeed during the COP21 conference in Paris, ecological activists were confined to home arrest. Indiscriminate searches can be carried out in homes without judiciary permission at any moment of the day or the night. A plan of mass vigilance have been approved. Finally, French MPs have voted in favour of removing the nationality to citizens with double nationality having committed a crime against the nation. The State of Emergency threatens civil liberties and France cannot use terrorism as a justification of such liberty cuts. Neither Spain nor the UK implemented such measures after the terrible attacks they suffered in 2003 and 2005 respectively. The Commission is worried, as Jean Quatremer, a journalist for the French newspapers Libération, writes in his blog: if France was not a member the EU and wanted to join it under the State of Emergency, it would not fit the democratic criteria!

Governments restricting protest is the last kind of authoritarian measures I have identified. This is especially visible in Spain, which last year introduced a ‘gag law’ aimed at criminalising social and pacific protest. The ‘gag law’ restrains the right to protest and impose harsh sanctions on whoever breaks it. International newspapers such as Le Monde or The New York Times have denounced it as an intolerable freedom cut in a democratic country. Its editorials have described it as ‘ominous’ and ‘with smells of Franquism’, asking for the Commission ‘to condemn the new law’ and urging Spanish lawmakers to ‘reject the measure’. This paragraph of The New York Time explains best what the ‘Gag law’ is about:

“The law would define public protest by actual persons in front of Parliament as a ‘disturbance of public safety’ punishable by a fine of 30,000 euros. People who join in spontaneous protests near utilities, transportation hubs, nuclear power plants or similar facilities would risk a jaw-dropping fine of €600,000. The “unauthorized use” of images of law enforcement authorities or police – presumably aimed at photojournalists or ordinary citizens with cameras taking pictures of cops or soldiers – would also draw a €30,000 fine, making it hard to document abuses.”

The criminalisation of social protest reached worrying grounds last week. Two puppeteers (yes, you read it right, puppeteers) were arrested and sent to prison, allegedly accused of praising terrorism. In Spain, where the Basque terrorist separatist group ETA killed more than 900 people between the 1970s and 2011, it is strictly forbidden to praise terrorism. Later on it has been proven that the two puppeteers were not praising terrorism; in fact, they were denouncing police manipulation. In their representation they used a banner with the inscription ‘Gora Alka-Eta’, which in Basque means ‘long live Al-QuaETA’, mixing the names of the two terrorist groups and playing with the names. The banner was placed by a policeman near an unconscious protester, precisely to accuse him of terrorist allegiances (how ironic!). Clearly, the banner was part of their representation and they were therefore not praising terrorism. As it was denounced by politicians, journalists and cultural personalities censoring critical fiction is something which happens in dictatorships, not in democracies. Even more worrying, in the last four years more than 1000 persons have been accused of praising terrorism. Some of these accusations were right. However, given the really high number, it is legitimate to ask if unfounded accusations of praising terrorism are not becoming a way of intimidating and criminalising social protest in Spain.

It is undeniable that due to different factors, some European member states have taken authoritarian measures unimagined a couple of years ago. In this post, I have mainly talked of governmental actions, but I believe a much bigger threat lies outside power, mainly in the far-right parties, which are growing in France, Austria, the Nordic countries and have a strong presence in Greece, Germany and some Eastern states. Actually, they already influence national politics by weighting the balance in their direction. More worryingly, their increasing electoral support shows that some people are actually ready to support the implementation of authoritarian measures. This is really scary and it throws us back to the worst years of the last century. A radically democratic solution has to be proposed to oppose the rise of authoritarianism in Europe. Civil society, from social movements to the press, have to keep denouncing and pressing. Citizens should reject authoritarian laws in the streets and in the ballot box. Politicians have to adopt inclusive discourses which illegitimate authoritarian parties and oppose them with more democracy. It has been proven: the best way to weaken authoritarianism is democracy. For, France must end its State of Emergency and Spain’s new parliament has to abolish the ‘gag law’. Finally, the European Institutions have a huge role to play as well. It is not enough to condemn what is happening. European politicians and technocrats should be more visible and offer as well more democracy and transparency. Get closer to the people and make them participate. Otherwise, they will fall down in the arms of undesirable parties and individuals. Clearly, those are not easy times for Europe, nor is the solution easy, but it is time to act against this growing authoritarianism. The first step is denouncing. Then will come the protest, and we well might be in this process soon.

Many thanks to my friend Paula García Domingo and my dad for revising this post!

© Mario Cuenda García

Sobre los titiriteros

Este fin de semana hemos presenciado un hecho grave acaecido en Madrid: dos titiriteros han sido detenidos y enviados a prisión preventiva, acusados de apología del terrorismo por exhibir en un momento de su actuación una pancarta dónde estaba escrito “Gora Alka-ETA”. Se ha creado un revuelo mediático, institucional y jurídico, que a su vez ha conllevado un estado de confusión enorme entre la opinión pública y los actores institucionales. Poco a poco, se va aclarando lo ocurrido y con toda la información disponible, puedo afirmar con total seguridad que los titiriteros no deberían estar en prisión y me uno a las voces que piden su liberación inmediata.

Para empezar, hay que explicar en qué contexto surge la pancarta en la obra de teatro. Como se puede apreciar en un vídeo del diario CTXT, un policía la coloca al lado de una bruja detenida e inconsciente, se supone que en una caricatura denunciadora de la la manipulación policial. El personaje de la bruja no es anecdótico, ya que personifica la caza de brujas. Por último, la pancarta es un juego de palabras en vasco. “Viva ETA” se dice “Gora ETA”. “Gora Alka-ETA” significaría “Viva Al-QuaETA”, un juego de palabras que junta los dos grupos terroristas Al-Qaeda y ETA. Os invito a ver el vídeo, porque demuestra que la pancarta se coloca claramente en el contexto de la obra, y no es un mensaje explícito de apoyo a la banda terrorista.

Con esta sencilla explicación, queda claro que la acusación de apología del terrorismo está completamente infundada. No es una exaltación de la violencia armada, sino en todo caso una caricatura en el contexto de una representación teatral. Obviamente, surgen preguntas. ¿Era la obra apta para niños? Desde el Ayuntamiento de Madrid, han surgido respuestas contradictorias. Aunque lo fuese dudo mucho de que los niños entendiesen la escena. ¿Debió haberse representado la obra? Sí, parece ser que ya se hizo en Granada sin no hubo ningún incidente y prohibirla sería una afrenta a la libertad de expresión. ¿Hiere la sensibilidad de cierta gente? Puede ser. En tal caso el Ayuntamiento debía ser consciente de ello y actuar en consecuencia.

Hay varias cuestiones que deben ser discutidas, como por ejemplo la sobreactuación de la justicia y los límites de lo ‘políticamente correcto’. Soy un ferviente defensor de las leyes que prohíben el enaltecimiento del terrorismo y del fascismo. Sin embargo, en algunos sitios parece confundirse la prohibición del enaltecimiento con la prohibición de cualquier tipo de mención al tema. ¿Habría reaccionado la justicia igual de haber sido una obra para adultos en un teatro privado? No lo creo. Es cierto que la línea entre la sátira, la caricatura y la broma de mal gusto puede ser muy fina, pero detener y enviar a prisión preventiva a dos titiriteros por una escena de su espectáculo es una respuesta completamente desmesurada, indigna de un estado de derecho y más propia de una dictadura. Además, una obra de guiñoles, y cualquier otra obra de teatro, escrita, cinematográfica que enaltezca implícitamente o explícitamente el terrorismo debe ser permitida en el marco del derecho a la libertad de expresión. Me asusta ver que en España no se haya respetado semejante derecho básico y se defienda su violación desde muchos sectores del espectro político.

Todo este revuelo contrasta por cierto con una situación similar que ha ocurrido este fin de semana en el carnaval de Alost, en Bélgica, donde unos comediantes locales se han disfrazado de los hermanos Abdeslam, responsables de los atentados terroristas que costaron la vida a 130 personas en Paris. Incluso utilizaron una furgoneta pintada donde se podía leer: “Hermanos Abdeslam, mudanzas París-Bruselas”. No parece que vayan a ser detenidos. Y admito que en este caso me parece una broma de mal gusto que puede haber ofendido a gente. Pero desde luego, no acabarán en la cárcel y nadie en su sano juicio pediría semejante condena.

Concluyendo este post, creo que ya con más tranquilidad, queda fuera de duda que los titiriteros no buscaban hacer apología del terrorismo. Por ello, me uno a las voces que reclaman su libertad. Pido también que seamos sensatos a la hora de hablar del terrorismo. España ha sufrido la lacra del terrorismo durante más de 40 años y las heridas aún no se han cerrado. Queda por finalizar el proceso de desarme. Hay que abordar procesos de reconciliación. Han de discutirse compensaciones. Hay procesos jurídicos que permanecen abiertos. La lista sigue. Cuando se discute sobre terrorismo estos han de ser entre muchos otros los temas políticos en el centro del debate, y no una pancarta satírica exhibida por dos comediantes en un carnaval de barrio. Volvamos a una política seria que trate de temas importantes y deje de lado polémicas estériles que jamás deberían haberse iniciado.

© Mario Cuenda García