I was invited to write a letter of greetings to be read aloud at the start of an assembly of the Podemos circle tonight in Don Benito, Badajoz, in Extremadura, Spain. Here is a translation of what I wrote.
Greetings from an Irishman who lacks practice writing letters in Spanish.
A few months ago the leader of Syriza, Alexis Tsipras, was in Ireland. His visit went unnoticed by the vast majority of the Irish population. The media gave it no news coverage. Tsipras took part in a discussion in one of Dublin’s universities. He was asked why he spoke so much about the countries of the South when Ireland is the country that has the highest level of odious debt. He in turn asked the audience: is Ireland part of the north or the south?
It wasn’t a geography question. He was asking if the Irish people identified more with other peoples of the periphery subjected to the diktats of the Troika, or with the countries of the north and centre.
I would love to tell all of you in this assembly that indeed, Ireland too is one of the peoples of the South. That we are a Mediterranean country, only with bad weather.
But things are a bit more complicated.
In 2011, with Ireland’s bailout from the Troika underway, Irish television showed images of demonstrations in Greece. In the images you could see a mobilised people, and there were even demonstrators with banners that read: “We are not Ireland, we will resist”. The message horrified and embarrassed those who wanted to see some kind of resistance to the looting by debt and austerity policies.
But those in power in Ireland were delighted with the message on the banners and with the scenes of violence in the streets of Greece. They made a point of saying to people: look what will happen if we stop doing what the Troika tells us. We have had far too much violence throughout our history. Do you want to return to that? Do you want to see bombing and murder once again in the streets? Are you mad or what? Of course things are difficult, they said –and they still say- but we have lived beyond our means and now we have to tighten our belts. Better for us to go on being the good pupils, behaving nicely, paying our debts –“our” debts- and you will see how things get back to normal.
Does this sound familiar?
But the major difference today between Spain and Ireland is that you have had the 15M and we have not. You have the PAH, we do not. You have the mareas in defence of public services and we do not.In Ireland there has been no great social mobilisation, no cultural revolution, no rupture from below, no process of political literacy. Nor are there too many public squares where people can meet up to talk about politics, about life in common. And of course, in Ireland there is no Podemos. I would add “for now” but I am aware that sometimes I go a bit far with my optimism.
Ireland is a people of an island, and as such, a rather isolated people, despite the internet, social networks and so on. Here people speak of Europe as if it were a separate place. We are here, Europe there. As you can imagine, a country with a history of 800 years of colonial and imperial domination by the next door neighbour is always going to have certain complexes when it comes to political mobilisation and the threat of violence. Especially whenever any democratic demand gets painted as ‘populist’ and even ‘terrorist’. Maybe that sounds familiar too. Here there is a great deal of fear when it comes to questioning the legitimacy of the government. The revolutionary and democratic history of the country and its anti-colonial struggle are now presented in the media as a lack of maturity. It now turns out that England only ever wanted to be our friend.
Despite all this I feel a kind of patriotic obligation to tell you that in fact, no, things aren’t so bad here, people do mobilise, they do resist. And of course there is mobilisation and resistance. Against the prohibition of abortion, against the closure of hospitals, against fracking, against water privatisation, and demands for justice in light of the crimes of the Catholic Church and the State in a country, as James Joyce said, where Christ and Caesar go hand in glove. And in light of the crimes of the British State and its death squads. But I am afraid that this is not enough.
However, little by little things are changing. Now, after a series of scandals, people are more and more aware of the way in which punitive State institutions, managed by the Catholic Church, served to create a submissive and fearful people, a people in the service of kleptocratic political and financial elites, who get rich on the basis of illegitimate debt, the handover of natural resources to multinationals, and the conversion of Ireland into a tax haven in the service of people like Amancio Ortega [the owner of Zara].
Little by little, people are starting to notice that this great economic recovery of which so much is spoken in the media is at their expense: here poverty is shooting upwards whilst the astronomical debts of the banking sector continue to be paid. In the latest elections support for the parties that have always ruled the south since independence fell to below 50%. It is not quite what you people over there call a “sinking of the regime”, but it is a good sign.
But as I was saying before, Ireland is an isolated country. It does not have, for example, any newspaper or television channel that could be considered left-leaning in the slightest. Its trade unions are waging on accepting every austerity measure and cosying up to German social democracy in order to get the country out of the hole it is in. As I imagine you know, this has never been the best recipe for international solidarity. I think we Irish people need to be made aware that we would not be left alone if we chose to pursue a different path.
And we also need to reconnect with the best of our democratic history. Here, despite all that we have been made to forget, people still consider those Irish people who went to Spain to defend democracy during the Civil War as heroes. They are a source of pride. By contrast, people still recall the Blueshirts who went to Spain to help the fascists as the worst of what Ireland has produced, a source of embarrassment, even if their political heirs are right now in government, and in the same parliamentary group as the Partido Popular.
A few months ago I wrote an article for an Irish magazine on the contemporary importance of the Spanish Republic, and I focused on your Republican March to the Bolsa de la Serena. Many people here, engaged in social struggles, were taken with the article. You could see in it people who were committed to making the conection between the struggles of the past and the struggles of the present, people committed to refusing to allow the dominant forces in the country to bury the memory of struggles for democracy.
Before I wrote this letter I asked various comrades who are engaged in social struggles, in campaigns against the debt, what messages I should send to your assembly, in the zone of operations of the 129th International Brigade in 1937. One of them was, simply, “send help!” Another one was to thank you for the inspiration and the example you are giving. Another was for you to pay no heed to news that arrives from Ireland saying that the country is improving, because it is a lie: things are getting worse. I have to tell you that Podemos is a breath of fresh air for us also, and it is a sign that we are not alone. We were already aware that this Europe does not serve us but rather local and European elites. But with your example, we are also aware that not only is another Europe possible but it is something we have to build together. ¡Claro que podemos! (Of course we can!)
An embrace to you all.