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Spain, A Perfect Political Graveyard Of Old Left And Right

If the Left is increasingly fighting to preserve hard-won social victories, and the Right wants change, what does the traditional Left-Right division mean anymore?

Poster of the PSOE ripped off on a wall in Madrid, Spain.

Torn posters of the PSOE for the May 28 elections, in Madrid, Spain.

VĂ­ctor Lapuente


MADRID — It has long been said that the Left is more prone to rifts because its aim is to free people from all forms of exploitation. But now, it is the right which deals with the most infighting. Are they now the ones who want the most change, even if that change is made through cuts?

Take architects for example. Some debate about what to build on an empty plot of land, while others discuss how to preserve a building worn down by time. Finding a solution for the latter seems to be faster. Deciding what to create is harder than deciding what to preserve.

That is why, according to popular wisdom and analysis, the Left experiences more divisions than the Right.

Progressive politicians have a positive goal, while conservatives have a negative one. The Left wants to create a new world, and this opens up endless questions. Do we nationalize banks and certain industries? Do we design a social security system, or a Universal Basic Income? Do we cap prices on certain areas, such as rental housing, or do we let the market take its course and then assist the most affected sectors? The God of progress offers infinite paths.

[On Monday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced that he would dissolve parliament and the country would hold snap national elections on July 23 following the very poor showing of Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) in Sunday's local elections. The center-right People's Party and far-right party Vox gained ground.]

Ambitious goals cause internal conflict

The Left’s age-old divisions have been long derided — see the Life of Brian scene where separatist militants angrily point out the supposed differences between the People's Front of Judea and the Judean People's Front. They have also been studied.

In an article about disputes between left-wing populist party Podemos (We Can) and progressive Sumar (Unite) platform in El País, political scientist Ignacio Sánchez-Cuenca explained that left-wing groups tend to split more because they are "more ambitious in their objectives."

Their goal is to emancipate citizens from all forms of exploitation, providing autonomy through an increasingly generous welfare state.

A reversal of roles

Despite its value, people did not fight to expand the welfare state's social rights during 21st century Spain or in the late 20th century elsewhere. Rather, it has been the opposite: a battle to preserve them. Thus, the "conservatives" are the left-wing, and the advocates for change are right-wing politicians. This may explain the recent increase in divisions on the right.

The conservative political environment has now been poisoned.

Unlike in previous decades, where three or four right-wing parties could coexist amicably with peaceful coalitions in parliamentary democracies like those of Central Europe or the Nordic countries, the conservative political environment has now been poisoned.

They negotiate governance, like the Christian conservative People's Party (PP) has with the far right Vox party in the autonomous community of Castile and Leon in northwestern Spain. This is also the case in Sweden, where Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s moderates have aligned with Jimmie Åkesson’s far-right democrats, or as we will likely see in Finland and have seen in Italy recently.

But they no longer cohabit happily, instead exhibiting their differences in public, or increasingly, hiding their alliances and refusing to appear in the same photo. When photographed together, like the leader of the Swedish Liberal party with the far right, it is soberly, without a smile.

Poster of the ERC on a wall.

ERC poster for the elections of May 28 2023, in Barcelona, Catalonia (Spain).

David Zorrakino/ZUMA

Changing faces, same ideas

Why is that? Is it because it's now the right who, within the traditional European welfare state, want to change things? Of course not. In most cases, that's empty rhetoric. The extreme right relies on public disillusionment, without offering anything tangible. Yet these nationalists are the ones who pay lip service to being anti-establishment in a globalized and interconnected world, where people (and goods) can move from one country to another with relative freedom.

The question is, why do strong divisions persist in the progressive camp? After all, the Left no longer represents such a solid option for change — these days, its leaders can be interchanged without a massive upheaval in public policy.

One example is Barcelona’s city council, where left-wing populist Mayor Ada Colau's policies are an unbroken continuation of those of her socialist predecessors. In fact, many have been implemented by the very same people who worked for the previous mayors. If her socialist second Jaume Collboni, or even the leftist republican Ernest Maragall governed, their policies would be practically identical.

Democracy turns to oligarchy

There are surely many answers, but one in particular must be highlighted: the context in which new left-wing parties emerged. A decade ago, they filled the electoral ballots of our city councils, autonomous communities and parliaments with a rainbow of colors.

Then we come to the "iron law of oligarchy." Conservative sociologist Robert Michels created this theory a century ago, in which organizations that begin as particularly democratic (certain aspects of Podemos) end up, for the organization’s survival, in the hands of an oligarchic elite.

And if we look at the history of purges, membership suspensions, rigged lists and media rampages against opponents, few organizations in Spain have represented the iron law of the oligarchy more neatly. The left-wing coalitionUnidas Podemos (United We Can) may be one of the youngest parties in our country, but it is undoubtedly the one that has aged the fastest.

Red Spain is broken. Blue Spain is too. Hopefully someday, someone will light up a gray, but united, Spain.

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Inside The Search For Record-Breaking Sapphires In A Remote Indian Valley

A vast stretch of mountains in India's Padder Valley is believed to house sapphire reserves worth $1.2 billion, which could change the fate of one of the poorest districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

Photo of sapphire miners at work in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district

Sapphire mining in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district

Jehangir Ali

GULABGARH — Mohammad Abbas recalls with excitement the old days when he joined the hunt in the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district to search the world’s most precious sapphires.

Kishtwar’s sapphire mines are hidden in the inaccessible mountains towering at an altitude of nearly 16,000 feet, around Sumchan and Bilakoth areas of Padder Valley in Machail – which is one of the most remote regions of Jammu and Kashmir.

“Up there, the weather is harsh and very unpredictable,” Abbas, a farmer, said. “One moment the high altitude sun is peeling off your skin and the next you could get frostbite. Many labourers couldn’t stand those tough conditions and fled.”

Abbas, 56, added with a smile: “But those who stayed earned their reward, too.”

A vast stretch of mountains in Padder Valley nestled along Kishtwar district’s border with Ladakh is believed to house sapphire reserves worth $1.2 billion, according to one estimate. A 19.88-carat Kishtwar sapphire broke records in 2013 when it was sold for nearly $2.4 million.

In India, the price of sapphire with a velvety texture and true-blue peacock colour, which is found only in Kishtwar, can reach $6,000 per carat. The precious stone could change the socio-economic landscape of Kishtwar, which is one of the economically most underdeveloped districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

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