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Who is the target of the jeers?

The booing heard on Spain’s National Day against Socialist Party prime ministers has become routine, and is ultimately a sign of democratic degradation

King Felipe VI, PM Pedro Sánchez, Queen Letizia and the Infanta Sofía at the military parade of October 12.
King Felipe VI, PM Pedro Sánchez, Queen Letizia and the Infanta Sofía at the military parade of October 12.Andrea Comas

The habit seems to have become entrenched among a minority of Spanish citizens, and the leaders of the political right do not feel the need to pass judgement. The booing and whistling of Socialist Party (PSOE) prime ministers has become as regular an occurrence as the jeering of King Felipe VI in Catalonia by the more excitable supporters of independence for the northeastern region. Last year, on Spain’s National Day (October 12), coronavirus restrictions meant that there was a small event with no public and no such incidents.

On Tuesday, however, the measures had been relaxed and groups of people were strategically located near the VIP stands (or on the balconies of buildings in what is one of the richest areas in Spain). The cheers that greeted the king at the parade on Tuesday were in stark contrast to the shouts and jeering that were aimed at Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (PSOE). There were also cries of support for Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the regional premier of Madrid and member of the conservative Popular Party (PP).

The insults hurled at Sánchez on his arrival and departure inevitably debased the celebration of Spain’s National Day. Former PSOE prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was the object of similar practices during his time in office (2004 to 2011). Only PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy (2011 to 2018) was spared these insults from this sector of Madrid society. The rejection of the scenes expressed on Tuesday afternoon by PSOE Defense Minister Margarita Robles was no doubt widely shared by the majority of Spaniards.

For the leaders of far-right Vox to encourage this kind of public protest is part of a pre-planned political strategy, and they themselves have been heard to use such expressions in parliament and when speaking to the media. They also question the legitimacy of the current coalition government, which is led by the PSOE with junior partner Unidas Podemos. With corrosive audacity, they speak about the prime minister as an okupa, or squatter, in La Moncloa prime ministerial palace.

Even less comprehensible and more alarming still is the selective silence of the PP in the face of a practice as anti-democratic as political jeering on a day that should be free of sectarian politics, as the applause for King Felipe VI turned into offensive verbal abuse against the head of government. Right-wing parties know that respect for basic rules cannot be up for discussion in a democratic system, and the temptation to remain silent or to tolerate this questioning of fundamental institutions feeds a radicalization that mines credibility from a party that has aspirations to govern.

The motto of the military parade that was held on Tuesday, “Service and Commitment,” could have other political applications beyond the role of the army during emergencies such as Storm Filomena in January of this year or the ongoing volcanic eruption on the Canary Island of La Palma. The target of the booing appeared to be nothing more than the very same impeccable democratic process that currently permits the PSOE-Unidas Podemos coalition to govern, and that one day will facilitate another party – or parties – to do the same: to govern for all.

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