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Change is in the Air Across Southern Europe

Last night (Thursday, January 22, 2015), Pablo Iglesias of Podemos spoke at a massive Syriza rally in Athens, just three days before the Greek elections that Syriza is expected to win. The fates of Syriza and Podemos are increasingly seen as linked – both by their own leaders and the European establishment. In late December, a headline in Bloomberg Businessweek asked, “Is This the Dawn of the #Tsiglesias Era in the Euro Zone?” (12/30/2014). Both parties have surged into the lead in their respective countries on the basis of their rejection of years of austerity imposed by Brussels, and on a pledge to recuperate national sovereignty and democracy. Their programs call for a renegotiation of their national debts, higher taxes on the rich, major jobs programs, and the restoration of rights and benefits taken away during the economic crisis.

Below is the text of a speech given by Iglesias at a Syriza event in October. The video of the speech can be seen here. — Dan DiMaggio.

Good evening. Change is in the air in Greece. Change is in the air in Southern Europe. Brothers and sisters, it’s an honor to speak in front of you today. It’s an honor to be in Athens just a few months before this country will finally have a popular government headed by Alexis Tsipras. This government will be the first in a series of governments through which we will have to regain the sovereignty and dignity of the peoples of Southern Europe.

Brothers and sisters, we are called upon to reconstruct democracy—European democracy—against the totalitarianism of the market. Some will want to call us “Euro-skeptics.” To all those hypocrites, I want to remind them today, from Greece, from a country that was a model of anti-Nazi resistance, that the best of the European democratic tradition is anti-fascism. And that our program to regain our social rights and our sovereignty is inspired by the example of our grandparents, who confronted this horror and fought for a democratic Europe which could only be based on social justice and liberty.

Many things are bringing the Greek and Spanish people together to lead a new European project. But today I want to highlight the historic example of our populations in the anti-fascist resistance and the struggle for liberty and democracy. They’ve tried to look down on us as “Mediterraneans.” They’ve called us “PIGS.” They’ve tried to turn us into a periphery. They want us to be countries of cheap labor forces. They want our young people to be the servants of rich tourists. To all those jackals on the payrolls of the financial powers, today we say that we are proud to be from the South, and that from the South we are going to return to Europe and to all its peoples the dignity that they deserve.

But I don’t want my speech today to be a compendium of sterile encouragements. We are among comrades, and it’s time now to accept responsibility for the difficulty of the tasks confronting us. I just got back from Latin America. There I was able to meet with Evo Morales, with Rafael Correa, and with Pepe Mujica. I am sure that many of you were as excited as I was when you saw “State of Siege” by Costas Gavras and learned about the Tupamaros. Today, an ex-guerrilla, a Tupamaro, is president of Uruguay.

I also met with many government ministers and political leaders. Among them was the son of Miguel Enriquez, leader of the MIR [the Movement of the Revolutionary Left], who died in combat in 1974 in Chile. It was moving to remember the Chilean experience—the experience of democratic socialism to which we also aspire. But upon seeing the son of Enriquez, I remembered what Salvador Allende said to the young members of the MIR: “We didn’t choose the terrain. We inherited it. We have the government, but we don’t have the power.” Allende’s bitter insight is something I also found among our brother-presidents in Latin America. What we have ahead of us is not going to be an easy road. We first have to win the elections—and only afterwards will the real difficulties begin.

The polls say that in Greece Syriza will win the next election. In Spain the polls say that we have already passed the Socialist Party [PSOE], that we are competing to become the second strongest electoral force in the country, and that every day we are seen more and more as the real opposition force. We already have more than 130,000 members, and we will leave our Constituent Assembly next month with our organizational muscle ready. It will be hard, but it’s entirely possible that Podemos in Spain, like Syriza in Greece and Sinn Fein in Ireland, will lead a political change. But it is essential that we understand that winning an election does not mean winning power.

Our program lacks maximum demands although we, like you, are being accused of extremism. To speak of fiscal reform, of auditing the national debt, of the collective control of the strategic sectors of the economy, of the defense and improvement of public services, of the recovery of sovereign powers and of our industrial fabric, of employment policies through investment, of favoring consumption, and of making sure that public financial entities protect small and medium enterprises and families is what any social democrat in Western Europe would have talked about 30 or 40 years ago.

But today, a program like this means a threat to the global financial powers, to German Europe, and to “the caste” [la casta]. There is a worldwide party that is much stronger than the Third International was. It’s the party of Wall Street, which has servants everywhere. These functionaries have carry different ID cards. Some have cards from New Democracy, others from PASOK, others from Merkel’s CDU, others from the Socialist Party in Spain or France. [But] Juncker, Merkel, Rajoy, Samaras, Hollande, and Renzi are all members of the same party – the party of Wall Street. They are the Finance International.

This is why, no matter how modest our objectives are, no matter how wide the consensus in our societies regarding them is, we must not lose sight that we are confronting a minority with a lot of power, with very few scruples, and fearful of the electoral results when their parties don’t win. Don’t forget that the powerful almost never accept the results of elections when they don’t like them.

Comrades, we have a historic task of enormous dimensions ahead of us. What we have to do goes far beyond getting electoral support. We are called upon to defend democracy and sovereignty, but what’s more, we have to defend them on a terrain, like Allende said, that we ourselves have not chosen.

That’s why we have to deal with sectarians firmly. Revolutionaries are not defined by the t-shirts that they wear. They are not defined by their conversion of theoretical tools into a religion. The duty of a revolutionary is not to take pictures of themselves with a hammer and sickle—the duty of a revolutionary is to win.

That’s why our duty is to get closer to civil society. We need the best with us. We need the best economists, the best scientists, the best public sector workers, in order to manage the administration and carry out viable and effective public policies.

We need to listen to and connect with the professionals in the police and the Armed Forces. I am Spanish, and I know just like you do what it means to have a police and an army that in the past worked for a dictatorship. But I know that in my country the majority of these armed professionals are democrats and have families and friends beaten down by the injustice of this swindle that they call “the crisis.” Let me share an anecdote with you: After a meeting of Podemos in Zaragoza during our electoral campaign, a man approached me. He told me, “I’m an officer in the Air Force. I want you to know that many of us would be ready to defend our sovereignty and social rights against the threats of the Troika.” That’s the type of military we need.

Patriotism is not threatening someone, or believing you are better because you have another skin color, or because you speak a language, or because you were born where your mother’s water broke. True patriots know that to be proud of your country is to see that all the children – no matter where they come from – go to schools clean, clothed, well-fed, and with shoes on their feet. To love your country is to defend your grandparents’ pension and to ensure that if they get sick they will be cared for in the best public hospitals.

We also need to strengthen our ties with workers in the Public Finance office, and all other public offices. Some believe it’s the political leaders who make the hospitals, schools, media, and transportation work. They’re not the ones who make sure that public facilities are clean, so that they can be used – that’s a lie. It’s workers who take countries forward. And I know that many of those who work in public administration wish that people like us were governing, so that they could do their jobs, and that they are sick of corrupt and useless leaders like we have had up until now.

We must finally work together – in Europe and for Europe. It’s not necessary to read Karl Marx to know that there are no definitive solutions within the framework of the nation-state. For that reason we must help each other and present ourselves as an alternative for all of Europe.

Winning the elections is far from winning power. That’s why we must bring everyone who is committed to change and decency together around our shared task, which is nothing more than turning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into a manual for government. Our aim today, unfortunately, is not the withering away of the state, or the disappearance of prisons, or that Earth become a paradise. But we do aspire, as I said, to make it so that all children go to public schools clean and well-fed; that all the elderly receive a pension and be taken care of in the best hospitals; that any young person—independently of who their parents are—be able to go to college; that nobody have their heat turned off in the winter because they can’t pay their bill; that no bank be allowed to leave a family in the street without alternative housing; that everyone be able to work in decent conditions without having to accept shameful wages; that the production of information in newspapers and on television not be a privilege of multi-millionaires; that a country not have to kneel down before foreign speculators. In one word: that a society be able to provide the basic material conditions that make dignity and happiness possible.

These modest objectives that today seem so radical simply represent democracy. Tomorrow is ours, brothers and sisters!

Pablo Iglesias Turrión is a Spanish politician, spokesman and General Secretary of the party Podemos.

Translation by Dan DiMaggio.

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