“We have put our knowledge to the service of change”

The leader of new party Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, argues that his policies are not populist

Luis Gómez
Pablo Iglesias, in a photo from last month.
Pablo Iglesias, in a photo from last month.Álvaro García

Things have changed a lot for Pablo Iglesias. “This has messed up my life,” he said the night his new party, Podemos, became the fourth-most-voted political force in Spain at last month’s European elections, despite only being registered as a party three months earlier. Many of its voters are young and maintain leftist affinities, although Podemos leaders have denied accusations of populism directed at them from mainstream parties. Iglesias’ time is now measured to the minute. He grants EL PAÍS a half-hour interview in his office – there’s a TV truck with a satellite dish on the roof waiting for him outside.

Question. You saw the Spain vs. Netherlands game. Any comments?

Answer. Even one of the best teams in the world can have a bad day, and you shouldn’t ever lose sight of that.

Q. What’s your prediction?

A. I would like to see La Roja win, but I think there is a lot of competition, and everything is working toward a victory for Brazil.

Q. In some of the public statements you have made, you have said you are a patriot. Do you feel Spanish?

A. Yes of course I feel Spanish, and I feel that we have to take back the term patriotism from the patriots who wear bracelets with the colors of the Spanish flag, and then sell off our sovereignty or close down schools and hospitals. I believe that loving your country is all about loving its people, respecting them, respecting social services and having the right to make decisions about any issue. I believe that being a patriot is about not threatening anyone who talks in a different language.

Q. If you lived in Barcelona and you had to vote in a referendum on independence in Catalonia, how would you vote?

I believe that loving your country is all about loving its people, respecting them”

A. I would like Catalonia to stay with us, but I am not Catalan and it is not down to me to decide on the future for Catalans.

Q. Is Podemos not just a laboratory experiment being carried out by an elite group of political scientists?

A. Of course we have put our knowledge to work, but that’s nothing new. There are political scientists who work for Obama and who worked for Bush, and who say which country should be bombed and where military bases should go. We have put our knowledge to the service of change, as happens with all the political groups who work with people trained in social sciences.

Q. Are you anti-system?

Calling someone anti-system falls just short of saying you are a criminal who sets fire to cash machines”

A. We defend the health system, the education system, a system that defends social rights, we defend the good parts of the system within which we live, which is the fruit of the work of many people. It’s noteworthy that they use terms that criminalize. Calling someone anti-system falls just short of saying you are a criminal who sets fire to ATM machines. No, we don’t do that, and the real criminal is the person who privatizes the health system or who closes down schools.

Q. Other political scientists have accused you of populism.

A. I believe that one of the jobs that social theorists should take on is to not put labels on things, because labeling is more a job for journalists than political scientists, and if labels do not serve to explain things, they don’t explain anything. Analyzing the situation in this country it is understandable that people are sick of dynastic parties and that new initiatives have emerged. Trying to put a label on that with terms that, what’s more, carry unfavorable values, is not recommendable. There is nothing more populist than dressing up [Popular Party candidate at the EU elections, Miguel Arias] Cañete as a farmer and getting him to sit on a tractor.

Q. Your proposals are unworkable.

I don’t know why we can’t go after big corporations that operate here but avoid paying taxes here”

A. We have chosen the name Podemos [We Can] because everyone else says that these things can’t be done. The political program of the other parties is: this can’t be done. Our program is very reasonable, I don’t know why we can’t go after big corporations that operate here but avoid paying taxes here…

Q. But that can’t be done in two days.

A. Yes it could, with a law. You can’t operate in my country if you don’t pay tax in my country. Zara: every piece of clothing bought on the internet is taxed in Ireland. With a law that could be sorted out in a week.

Q. And with a new law, would that see the end of Zara?

A. No, we are going to invite [parent company] Inditex to pay taxes, like the majority of citizens do. We don’t want them to go – we want them to operate here, to generate profits here and pay here.

Q. What from Latin America would you implement in Spain?

A. The case of Spain is different. The structure of the state is different. There are a lot of differences. But there are measures that could be taken. For example, Ecuador, which has put into place a system of grants called Prometeo, which attracts the best brains to Ecuador, and is bringing in hundreds of Spanish doctors. Over there they banned ATM machines from taking commission, which sounds to me like a measure that could easily be implemented.

More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS