• Joaquín Gosálvez Castillo

A Step Backwards

Joaquín Gosálvez Castillo writes about the political climate in his country,


José Saramago, a Portuguese writer awarded in 1998 with the Nobel Prize of Literature, said: “We must recover, preserve and transmit historical memory, because when we start with oblivion, we end up with indifference”. I have been thinking about the way in which events in the political arena in my country, Spain, have been taking place in 2019 and that this political legislature may be the most polarized and angry in our recent democracy. Today, more than ever, we need to defend historical memory.

Sometimes we would like to believe that things are not as they are, to forget the harshness of an incredibly unbearable reality: we are taking steps backwards. I am writing now because I feel overcome by the harshness of this reality, because I see that we have wanted to take away the freedom to be brave and to be lucid, and therefore we want to be unable to move forward. I need to talk about the collapse of truth, the collapse of historical memory and, what is worse, the collapse of human rights that we are witnessing. It would be obvious and no less important to talk about how badly things work in the world, about the enormous inequalities that exist, about the abuses committed against women simply because they are women, about an immense poverty that we cannot or do not want to eradicate, about an enormous climate crisis that is no more than a secondary issue in our daily lives. However it is more useful to reflect by going back to the basics. That is why I will talk about how our societies have decided to turn their backs on the truth and what that entails, and in particular I will talk about a situation that I think I know well: the situation in Spain.

Between the two legislative elections held in Spain in 2019, the extreme right-wing party Vox progressed by 47% to win the vote of 15.1% of the electorate, that is, just over 3,600,000 voters. But what does Vox propose? To sum up, they want to dismantle the system of autonomies in Spain and return to a political centralism, expel immigrants en masse, repeal the Gender Violence Law, lower taxes for the richest classes, abolish the Historical Memory Law, greatly limit abortion, abolish the Climate Change Law...and more. How did we even get to this point?

In 1948 everything was clear ; humanity had gone through two bloody and atrocious World Wars, we had learned from our mistakes with pain and suffering, and hatred could not be a way to move our societies forward. In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written, and soon after, a large majority of countries ratified it. Humanity's greatest historical milestone was achieved: to agree on a consensual and common basis of ethical and just values that we had an obligation to defend; it was the victory of a common human conscience freed from the burden of a history of violence and blood, from which lessons had been learned for the future.

Today, however, it seems that all that has been called into question in the minds of many people. What seemed to be evidence, today is no longer evident. What we had decided would be our common basis for building a decent and better world for all, is today called into question by more and more societies that vote with conviction for the extreme right.

It breaks my heart, when people vote for a party that wants to repeal a law that has allowed to protect women victims of gender violence in Spain and which has had a very positive effect on thousands and thousands of people. It breaks my heart when, in Andalusia, a party asks in an intimidating way for the names of the professionals who attend to the victims of gender violence. It breaks my heart, when people vote for a revisionist party that opposes the Historical Memory that, in Spain, must serve us to learn lessons from the past and to be able to avoid repeating the dark times of Franco's repressive dictatorship and to help those families whose relatives, victims of repression, are today buried in ditches and have disappeared. It breaks my heart, when people vote for a party that shows no humanity by proposing to abandon Spain's participation in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most consensual convention that has ever existed at an international level, with the aim of expelling unaccompanied immigrant minors from national territory. It breaks my heart, when people vote for a party that says that the biggest challenge of our era, climate change, does not exist and that it is a lie, and they mess with Greta Thunberg instead of tackling the real environmental problems.

But perhaps that is not the worst thing, because at the end of the day we are all free to vote for whomever we want and to think what we want. Yet, that freedom also demands a great deal of responsibility. The freedom to vote requires responsibility for the opinions, approaches and, above all, actions of the parties we vote for. Not exercising this responsibility means not being free in the practice of voting. If Vox is clearly a party that has approaches that are opposed to human rights, which can be verified objectively, how is it possible that there are people - and they are often people I know personally - who say that Vox is not opposed to human rights? If there are people who vote for Vox, they have to assume that this party has certain approaches that are opposed to human rights. You cannot vote for Vox and be a fervent defender of human rights at the same time if you want to be consistent. The problem that arises is therefore the following: either there are people who vote for Vox and lie, or there are people who vote for Vox who are blinded by excessive irrationality. The first case is reprehensible and unworthy for those of us who defend the truth, especially if we consider the philosopher William James' theory of the usefulness and practical effectiveness of truth. The second case is worrying, because it teaches us that there are people who have not wanted to reason enough to arrive at an objective truth, and that these people are slaves of a blind faith that they profess towards the politicians of Vox. It is even more so when you demonstrate to Vox voters, and I suppose something similar will happen with many extreme right-wing voters in other countries, that the party they support has proposals that are incompatible with human rights - this is an objective truth - they are not capable of assuming it and with hesitation and resentment they say that this is not true but they are not able of demonstrating it rationally.

The problem we have with far-right parties is a problem of telling the truth. Of course, there are extreme right-wing voters who know very well what their parties are about, but I think there is a large majority who is persuaded by fallacies, lies and fake news, therefore believing such a party represents their ideals whereas actually not. And we are faced with a wall of inconsistency: we know that without the immigrant workers, the pensioners could not have had such high pensions in Spain during the Great Recession (according to data from the National Institute of Statistics, INE). Yet Vox says that we are facing an invasion and that immigrants cost Spaniards a lot. Then some of us are afraid and want to believe that Vox is right, even if we know that Vox has approaches that are contrary to Human Rights. However a high percentage of Vox voters may have have a high regard for Human Rights, then they say that Vox respects Human Rights because they could not bear emotionally that this was not the case. In the same vein, we know that climate change is real and a huge threat to life, since according to the European Environment Agency, in Europe alone, there are already 400000 deaths a year from pollution, but then Vox says that climate change does not exist and so its voters think that there are other issues that Vox defends that are more important than climate change. The problem of Vox and its voters is one of truth and consistency.

I appeal to anyone who reads this to consider who they are voting for and whether they really represent their ideals. To those who are Vox voters I say: if you vote for Vox, it is because you think there are other things more important than human rights; if you vote for Vox, you have to assume that there are things more important to you than climate change; if you vote for Vox, it is because there are things more important to you than saving lives, particularly the lives of migrants and refugees who die every year at sea trying to cross the Mediterranean. If you are prepared to face up to the reality of what Vox and the extreme right are, then you will be truly free to vote. But if, on the contrary, you defend the truth above all, if you defend above all that action must be taken to resolve climate change as shown by science, if you defend Human Rights above all, if you defend life unconditionally, and if you want to be coherent with what you defend ; then you cannot vote for Vox because, in that case, you would not be assuming your values coherently and you would be acting against your own ideals and yourself, slaves to an excessive feeling of hate, illusion or nostalgia that would not let you see what reality is like. Each of us also has that responsibility to argue to show the truth, because the truth should be the basis of any reasoning we do, especially knowing what politics is like in these times. How can we expect politics to be useful to everyone, if we are not able to understand reality?

To appeal to reflection, I would like to conclude with two famous quotes. The first one was written by a great thinker and a lucid mind whose 60th anniversary of death corresponds to this year, Albert Camus: "Il n’est pas une vérité qui ne porte avec elle son amertume". The second one is from Gloria Steinem, mother of the second wave of feminism in the United States who had the courage to say "The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!”.

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