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Ciudadanos: civil patriotism or nationalism?

Albert Rivera’s party is defending its new platform as a unifying force, in opposition to an exclusionary independence movement

Albert Rivera (middle) at an event Sunday presenting his political platform.
Albert Rivera (middle) at an event Sunday presenting his political platform.

“One of the nicest things that has happened to me in my entire career was singing the Spanish national anthem,” said the singer Marta Sánchez on Sunday, right before launching into her highly personal rendition of the usually lyric-free “Royal March” inside a packed Madrid auditorium, the Palacio de Congresos.

Watching her closely from their front-row seats were top officials from the political party Ciudadanos (Citizens), whose leader Albert Rivera blew kisses at Sánchez as she began to cry, overcome with emotion. The event served as the debut for a new “patriotic platform” dubbed España Ciudadana (Citizen Spain), which came officially into being amid waving flags, cries of “¡Viva España!” and people chanting “Yo soy español, español, español...” (I am Spanish, Spanish, Spanish...).

Elsewhere in Europe, nobody is ashamed of defending their national flag or anthem

Inés Arrimadas, Ciudadanos

Yet Spain’s fourth-largest political party, which currently tops voter intention polls, insists that there is no nationalism in all this. To them, what happened on Sunday was an enactment of an “open” project focusing on “what unites Spaniards” and aimed at combating nationalism and populism.

“I think that the difference between patriotism and clannish nationalism is very clear. In Europe, people are very clear about it. Nobody would get [Emmanuel] Macron and [Marine] Le Pen’s statements mixed up,” says Inés Arrimadas, the spokesperson for Ciudadanos and leader of its Catalan branch, which earned the largest share of the vote at the last Catalan elections but fell short of a majority. “Elsewhere in Europe, nobody is ashamed of defending their national flag or anthem,” she adds.

Arrimadas says that the citizen platform launched on Sunday is an example of “civil patriotism that respects others,” as opposed to the brand of “identity-based” nationalism defended by Catalan and Basque separatists, which “excludes” those who are not part of the group.

Countering nationalism with more nationalism is not a good thing

José Luis Ábalos, PSOE

But other political parties in Spain are not convinced by these arguments. The head of the Socialist Party (PSOE), Pedro Sánchez, called the platform “a remastered version of a movie we’ve already seen,” alluding to the use of territorial politics for electoral purposes, which Sánchez believes former Popular Party (PP) Prime Minister José María Aznar exploited.

And José Luis Ábalos, the Socialists’ organization secretary, called it an “erroneous” decision that seeks “confrontation” and represents “a serious lack of responsibility.”

“Countering nationalism with more nationalism is not a good thing,” he said.

Podemos, for its part, feels that Ciudadanos leader Rivera has decided to “add fuel to the fire” of the Catalan crisis, and that the party is now “in competition” with the PP to see who can adopt a tougher stand against separatism.

“Rivera and [Catalan premier Quim] Torra are waving their own flags energetically because it’s the only thing that makes them different from one another,” says Pablo Echenique, the number two official at Podemos.

“Rivera’s project is to emulate [French President Emmanuel] Macron on economic issues and [Front National leader Marine] Le Pen on her exclusionary brand of nationalism. A Spanish Trump. This is a dangerous ultra-nationalist experiment that makes a permanent call to conflict among national identities in a Spain that has a plurality of identities,” says Alberto Garzón, the head of the United Left federation.

“Jingoism”

Following the presentation ceremony on Sunday, the citizen platform España Ciudadana is going on tour. The same event will be re-enacted in several parts of the country, including the city of Málaga on June 16.

“We want to create a reform-oriented, inclusive project for a diverse and united Spain,” said Arrimadas. “The goal is to seek what unites us, not to focus on what divides us, which is what nationalism does.”

Meanwhile, at PP headquarters in Madrid, where the conservative party has espoused pro-Spain rhetoric for decades, none of this is going down well.

“Now there are those who would start handing out Spanish citizen cards,” says Rafael Hernando, the PP spokesman in Congress. On Monday, Hernando asked Rivera “not to get patriotism confused with jingoism” because it is “perverse” to claim that you can only be “a good patriot” if you support Ciudadanos.

English version by Susana Urra.

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