2016: A Unique Year for Spanish Politics

I’m so glad I chose this summer to study in Spain because a major presidential and parliamentary election occurred on June 26th, right at the end of our program. Disappointed by the inefficient parliament elected in December 2015, King Felipe IV called for a new election, hoping to set things straight. My inner Government major squealed with delight at the thought of witnessing the advertisement efforts, debates, and the election day itself! However, the political climate in Spain differs greatly from the United States such that campaigns are significantly shorter, with less funding invested ahead of time, as well as citizens’ general disengagement in the current events at hand. Before I explain the weeks leading up to the election day, also known as “26J”, let me provide some context about modern Spanish politics.

 

Since Spain’s democratic “transición” period in the late 20th century after a long, fascist dictatorship, a two-party system emerged with PP (the Popular Party) and PSOE (the Socialist Worker’s Party). Since the mid-2000s, other political parties have emerged from more extreme rights and lefts, Cataluña (Ciudadanos), and even the Basque country! One of the new political parties that was a ~hot topic~ in this year’s election was Podemos (We Can), a leftist group that gained support from intellectuals, activists, and celebrities all over Spain, especially Andalucía. About a month before we arrived in Spain, Podemos joined forces with Izquierda Unida (United Left) to create a prominent coalition on the national scale called Unidos Podemos (United We Can). Not only did I get to research this particular political party for my Spanish culture class in Cádiz, I also got to see its campaign events during the month before the election, which was a super exciting experience!

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Posters for Unidos Podemos displayed on a local billboard.

Story Time! I remember one late night in our host mother’s apartment when Hannah and I sat down in front of the TV to watch the political debate between the 4 front-running parties, including PP, PSOE, Unidos Podemos, and Ciudadanos. About 30 minutes into the debate, our host mom, Mari Carmen, walked into the living room and scoffed at the discussion on the screen, “Politics these days is so complicated. I don’t like a single one of those parties, yet I always vote the same” (roughly paraphrased translation from Spanish). Something that I noted about older generations was that many citizens still clearly remember the post-war nationalist regime and have stuck to more conservative ideologies without ever changing their vote. Therefore, they are disinterested in modern-day politics. A few moments after Mari Carmen’s remark, her 18-year old niece, Alba, walked in and reacted in a practically identical way. Although this summer was her first chance to vote, she told us she wasn’t very excited about the process and outcomes. Overall, young people in Spain are likewise uninterested in politics and religion, despite the efforts that the new parties make to recruit new members. That night, I learned more from Mari Carmen and Alba’s comments than from the debate itself.

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Unidos Podemos members promoting their platform through street performances!

I was very lucky to witness a variety of political strategies during the entirety of the parties’ campaigns. For example, one day as I walked across the flower market plaza in Old Cádiz, I saw a group of musicians performing in order to promote the platform for Unidos Podemos. On my daily walks home from class, I saw more and more of the party’s campaign ads on street corners, billboards, and the walls near our apartment complex. During our excursion to Sevilla, we unexpectedly walked past a political protest calling for equal worker’s rights, on behalf of Podemos. This event was especially intriguing for me, as I did not expect so much political participation from the citizens. These few occurrences of politics in action gave me hope for a good turnout at the polls on June 26th, but unfortunately the numbers were low and the results created another dysfunctional parliament, similar to the one that the King originally intended to change.

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Podemos political march in Sevilla

Despite the unimpressed reactions of Spanish citizens, this election was not a total failure, because it allowed for more political parties to become prominent and share their platforms, giving citizens more knowledge and options. Ironically enough, however, the Spaniards are decently up to date about the 2016 U.S. presidential election; they immediately ask you who you’re voting for once they know that you’re an American student. This is partially because they believe that the American president will have a bigger effect on their economy than their parliament members, but also because many of them do not acknowledge the power that their votes have.

 

What I loved most about Spanish politics was that I got the most important insights not from the classroom, Internet, or TV, but rather from excursions, conversations with my host family, and spontaneous strolls around the city. Although it’s not a political center like Madrid or Washington D.C., Cádiz gave me a great sense of politics in Spain and how the gaditanos contribute to it.

The True Roots of Flamenco

When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with Riverdance, the world-famous dance spectacular, which featured María Pagés, a famous Spanish flamenco dancer. Dressed in a ruffled, red dress, she twirled her hands to the melody of a guitar and tapped her feet along to the drumbeat. Throughout my childhood, I associated flamenco with that very act playing on repeat on my VHS. Little did I know that my experiences in Spain this summer would change my perception of the art of flamenco.

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Flamenco dancer in the Granada cave setting.

On our excursion to Granada in June, we saw a flamenco show in a cave that was transformed into a extravagant show room, filled with autographed photographs of famous dancers on the walls and pots and pans hanging from the ceiling. The performance included amazing tap dancers, percussionists, and guitarists, yet I realized that the act and setting was amplified for tourists, filing in every hour. The following week, our Spanish professor taught a culture lesson on flamenco, emphasizing that the dances in movies and in caves in Granada are not the real root of the art- it is the singing. [Quick history lesson!] Flamenco came about in the 18th century as simple work songs in the Andalusian countryside, with a fusion of arabic influences from when the Moors dominated the Iberian peninsula.  The lyrics were passed down over generations, slowly adding guitar accompaniment and clapping. In the following century the songs include dancers, instruments, castanets, and ~showbiz~. Suddenly, our professor’s mother, Carmen de la Jara (a famous flamenco singer in Cádiz), surprised our class by coming to sing for us. Her raspy trills and musical poetry about losing her lover made me feel her passion so much more than the “shows” I had seen before. Also, watching my professor mouth the words and clap along showed how powerful the passed on traditions are in her family. This act of clapping and stomping together with the singing voice is the truest, and clearly the best, form of flamenco. I saw this on a larger scale when our group saw an authentic flamenco show at the Peña de la Perla – where the locals in the audience applauded, sang along, and cheered on the singer the entire time she was on stage. In the US, it’s considered disrespectful to interrupt a performance like that, but in Spain it is a confidence-booster, a community involvement that highlights the appreciation for the arts. It was so simple, but so amazing. This cultural lesson most certainly showed me the importance of listening before watching in order to understand the context of the art. Next time I go to Spain, I will know how to identify between “showbiz” and authentic flamenco, which according to Carmen de la Jara, “necesita alma” (needs soul).”

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The beautiful stage of La Peña de la Perla de Cádiz
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Carmen de la Jara singing an Alegría with her daughter (our Spanish professor) clapping along -photo credits: BBC Four

Hello world!

¡Hola! My name is Ola Pozor and I’m so excited to share my study abroad experience from this summer in Cádiz! I am a rising sophomore at the College of William and Mary, double majoring in Government and Hispanic Studies. I decided to apply for this program last year, hoping to enrich my Spanish conversation skills as well as my understanding of the history and culture of the mother of the Spanish-speaking world. Little did I know that I was going to get SO much more out of the 5 weeks abroad, such as an amazing relationship with my host family and roommate, Hannah Major (she’s also been reflecting upon her trip via blog), superb navigational skills around the historic, cobblestone city, the ability to write a 10+ page paper in Spanish, a glowing suntan- the list goes on! My time in Spain was truly exceptional, for it has opened my mind to many other opportunities in the field of Hispanic Studies, most prominently an entire semester abroad, which I may pursue in the coming year or so! Studying abroad is one of the best things I’ve done thus far in my college career and I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone considering an adventure of a lifetime. Enjoy! 🙂

Representing W&M while cooking paella at a local high school in Cádiz!
Representing W&M while cooking paella at a local high school in Cádiz!