Interview. ‘We need to focus decisively on pacifism. Not naive pacifism, and not only as a moral stance. But as a defense of European autonomy against U.S. and NATO interests.’

Pablo Iglesias on power and the ‘reactionary conspiracy’ undermining democracy

The former vice president of the Spanish government and founding figure of Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, is more active than ever now that he is no longer a politician. He’s making a podcast he is very proud of (La Base), he writes for several newspapers as a columnist and political analyst, and he is taking part in TV and radio debates. The prospect of going back to being a politician doesn’t even cross his mind at this point, as he writes in his recent book Verdades a la cara – Recuerdos de los años salvajes (“Truth In The Face – Memories of the Wild Years”).

But these days he is back in the news due to a journalistic scandal of which he was a victim. He recounts the story in his own words: “A recording from 2016 has surfaced in which one can hear a conversation involving one of Spain’s most prominent TV journalists, Antonio García Ferreras, who hosts the most well-known political talk show and is the head of a progressive network (at least in theory), La Sexta. He is in a conversation with high police officials, members of “the sewer” [a network linked to the police and interior ministry during the Rajoy government that was dedicated to spying on and smearing the political enemies of the PP], and the president of the right-wing newspaper La Razón, from the same Grupo Planeta of which La Sexta is a part.”

How did it generate so much scandal? 

For two reasons. The first is that the journalist acknowledged that he published a news story knowing it was false: according to the story, I supposedly had a secret bank account in a tax haven, into which Venezuelan President Maduro, among others, had sent money. Ferreras himself acknowledges that the story seemed absurd and implausible to him, but he published it anyway, only giving me a chance to deny it. One of the most powerful journalists in this country acknowledges that he deliberately published fake news to damage Podemos – a month before the elections, back when we were the number one party of the left.

And the second reason? 

He himself said that because La Sexta was a network for a left-wing audience, this hit job against us “did a lot of damage.” In this way, he explained the mechanism by which an ostensibly left-wing TV station (no matter how right-wing its owners are) is also needed for the attacks to be more effective. In order to prevent Podemos from coming to power, the Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry, and the fabrication of false evidence were not enough. It also took “leftist” journalists to do it. We always denounced the fact that they were pushing fake news, and they accused us of picking on journalists. The problem is that the majority of journalists are unable to practice their profession in freedom.

Do you think this has become a problem for democracy in Europe? 

It is a worldwide problem, and it’s no coincidence that the first to express solidarity were France’s Melenchon and five heads of state from Latin America [Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and the future president of Colombia]. One of the main dangers to democracy is the use of lies as a strategy by the right-wing media, which is the main opponent of progressive governments around the world. The owners of big media, which are the main ideological actors in our society, are usually banks, “vulture” funds or multinational corporations. That is the paradigmatic case with Berlusconi: a multimillionaire who used the country’s major media first for his business interests, and then to organize a political party to defend himself against judicial charges.

After 20 years of Berlusconi in Italy, the left is in crisis. Will Spain share the same fate? 

What is happening is evidence of the crisis of the elites. Journalistic power, economic power and its media arm, and much of the upper echelons of the police and judiciary, have had to openly show their undemocratic face to go against the two main political challenges that arose in Spain: Podemos and Catalan independentism. This reactionary conspiracy against democracy is frightening. But it must be fought. The reaction to the Farreras case shows that there is a groundswell building up: Podemos has helped change the ideological structure of the country, and the eruption is ready to happen.

As you explain in your book, the personal cost of your political journey, with stalkers and the persecution of your family, was high. Was it worth it? 

In personal terms, it clearly wasn’t. There are things that I would not do again, now that I have three young children. What they did, to me, to my partner [Equality Minister Irene Montero] and to my children was to send a mafia-type message: you won’t like the consequences. But in political terms, yes, it was: we joined the government. Sure, in a weaker position than in 2015. But we have a Ministry of Equality that is world renowned, a Ministry of Labor that guaranteed a minimum wage at €1,000, a minimum living income, and expanded social protection during the pandemic. There is something to be proud of. Now, other comrades are the ones whose turn it is to be on the front lines.

And what do you think about Draghi? 

During the NATO summit in Madrid, a prominent politician said to me: let’s see how many from all these presidents will withstand the economic crisis a year from now. The prophecy is beginning to be fulfilled: the crisis that came from a war that is in the interests of the U.S. but not Europe is generating political crises in all countries. There are few figures who represent the European power establishment more than Draghi. But that doesn’t negate politics. And there is still politics in Italy, although unfortunately there isn’t a presence of the left in Parliament as many of us would like. In order to avoid great instability in Italy and Europe, we need to focus decisively on pacifism. Not naive pacifism, and not only as a moral stance. But as a defense of European autonomy against U.S. and NATO interests. This will be the key to the debate in the coming months.

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