The conference organized by the Socialist International in Portugal between February 4 and 5 garnered little attention among the world’s media, but one moment went viral on the social networks. Beatriz Talegón, the Spanish-born secretary general of the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY), lambasted delegates at a luxury hotel in the chic beach resort of Cascais, who included representatives of the ruling French PS and Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE), accusing them of being out of touch with the problems facing young people.
“When people are taking to the streets in Madrid, in Brussels, in Cairo, in Beirut, they’re fighting for what we here, as convinced socialists, defend. [...] Unfortunately, it has not been us socialists taking enthusiastically to the streets and mobilizing,” said the 29-year-old, looking around at her increasingly uncomfortable audience, before continuing: “I am surprised that we claim to lead the revolution from our five-star hotels, traveling in luxury cars. When you political leaders tell people that you understand them, that you support them, that we are socialists, do you really feel their pain inside? Can we really understand them from a five-star hotel?”
Talegón, who is based in Vienna, where IUSY has its headquarters, says her words were not a means to launch her political career, and that she’s not after anybody’s job. But since the speech was posted on YouTube, her cellphone has not stopped ringing and she has received hundreds of congratulatory emails.
Not everyone responded positively, however. In the midst of a protest against evictions for mortgage defaulters last weekend, Talegón and Juan Fernando López, a former Socialist justice minister, were turned upon by a noisy section of the crowd of people on the Madrid march.
Jeers and insults
“They were shouting and insulting us. Juan Fernando, who left to catch a plane, had to be escorted by police. But I stayed. Why should I leave?” On confronting those who were jeering, Talegón was asked why she did not abandon her party to join “their side.”
“Someone called me a bitch and accused me of earning 4,000 euros a month,” she recalls. In the end, she says she found herself isolated from her friends and in tears. “It’s a shame, because I am just a grassroots activist. I don’t even have an official post, and nor have I asked for one. But I have tried to be true to myself.”
She has also been criticized for her speech by colleagues in the PSOE’s youth wing, who say that while they agreed with many of her points, that she too is a professional politician who stays in five-star hotels. They also accused her of scoring political points at the expense of the Socialist Party, charges she rejects: “People keep saying there is a crisis in the party; I don’t accept that. I have never traveled business class, out of principle. My salary is 2,500 euros a month, and 1,000 of that goes in taxes. My accounts are open for inspection.”
She is critical of the former Socialist administration’s handling of the crisis. “I didn’t understand why they didn’t push through the inheritance tax, for example.” Talegón says that the party would benefit from a thorough overhaul that would allow the grassroots a bigger say: “We need an open selection process, if only to avoid infighting between different camps in the party. But I believe that the Socialist Party can survive this crisis and win the next election.”