Monday, March 27

The territorial tension of León with Castilla worsens after the regional elections of 13F

“!Congratulations! But it’s worth something, eh? Stroll with Luis Mariano Santos, leader of the Unión del Pueblo Leonés (UPL) party, through the center of the city of León for a few days after the autonomous elections of Castilla y León is having to listen to congratulations non-stop. “This had never happened to me in my life,” she admits. And that he did not win the elections in the province, although his party almost doubled its votes and tripled its seats, but both the PP and the PSOE took advantage of him, yes, lower than ever. Its three attorneys are a success, but the absolute majority that PP and Vox add can leave them with little or no decisiveness, waiting for the configuration of the next regional government to be known or if there is an electoral repetition.

Leonesismo, the social and political movement that demands the creation of autonomy number 18 for the Leonese Region (León, Zamora and Salamanca), claims its electoral success even though it did not formally win. But he achieved an unexpected milestone, to be the first political force in the city of León and another 10 municipalities of the so-called Alfoz, including the second and fourth most populated, San Andrés del Rabanedo and Villaquilambre. And with those votes in a General Assembly, a national deputy would be achieved, a milestone they have been pursuing for years but have never achieved.

Two hundred meters from the effusive celebration received by Luis Mariano Santos is the institutional headquarters of the León City Council, whose mayor, the socialist José Antonio Diez, has received many glances after the electoral result. Diez was the one who two years ago approved a motion in favor of autonomy for León that began a process in which two years later there are more than fifty city councils in favor of the segregation of the León Region into another autonomy, representing more than half of the census of León. That gesture cost Diez a distancing from the PSOE, and today he analyzes the results of the elections explaining that “a lot of the vote of the electorate has focused on UPL since it is the only party that has defended that right to another autonomy.” The mayor points out that “the majority parties, both PP and PSOE, have not been able to capture and collect that message and that feeling that the people of León have and there is only one party, whose fundamental leitmotif is to fight for that autonomy.”

Do these results aggravate the territorial problem of León in the autonomous community with Castilla y León? We asked both political leaders. Luis Mariano Santos assures that in his vision “the first steps to solve it have begun to be taken”, pointing out that “continuing to deny the evidence that this problem exists in León, Zamora and Salamanca is a situation that involves electoral results such as those that we had”. And remember the recent survey of El País in which more than half of the inhabitants of the province of León were in favor of a new autonomy.

For the mayor of León, it is clear that the electoral result exacerbates the problem, “It is a crisis that is tried to be hidden but it is there permanently, every day with more strength. We have already seen what has happened in Soria, that of León is a historical claim and other territories do not claim because for some reason they are still asleep or there is not enough leadership to express discontent with this autonomous community. José Antonio Diez points out that this issue “is no longer a matter of feeling, it is a matter of data”, alluding to the poor demographic figures of the western provinces of Castilla y León, always among the worst in the country in any analysis. And he does not spare criticism of positions in his own party, “Castilla y León would need a rethinking, it has an enormous extension and two regions that have nothing to do with each other and therefore I do not understand what is the closedness of some political leaders who say that the regional map is closed, I wonder who are they to say that the regional map is closed if the Constitution itself does not close it? For them, yes, but the map is not closed”.

Unequal Leon results

But the results of Leonism in the province are not homogeneous, since in the Bierzo region the echo of the division in another autonomous community does not have much electoral vote. UPL has improved its numbers but it barely managed to be the sixth political force in Ponferradathe second city in population, with just over 1,000 votes at a historic moment.

Neither in the provinces of Zamora and Salamanca does the Leonesismo of UPL obtain electoral revenue. Improving its previous results, this time it has not exceeded 3% in the Zamora province and not even 1% in Salamanca. But for the leader of UPL this “means that in Zamora and Salamanca we probably need a longer period pedagogically to explain our project. Almost 4 out of every Zamoran already speak of the community for the Leonese Region and somewhat less in Salamanca, therefore this is growing. We have tripled results and invites us to think that the road is open”.

What is clear is that UPL has made the most of the two years of Leonist mobilizations, whose beginning can be placed in the massive demonstrations registered in León in February 2019 and which brought thousands of people to the streets demanding a better future. The other Leonese party is PREPAL, testimonial beyond the anecdote that its candidate is the only one that has been on the regional lists for 40 years.

The PSOE of León is divided into two parts, the Leonist more akin to the mayor of the main city and the provincial leadership more inclined to the autonomous unit. But Diez believes that being a ‘leonesista’ and belonging to another party is not at all incompatible, “Being a socialist or conservative doesn’t mean that we don’t have that feeling and that need to get out of this territorial framework. We are dying and what we do not want is to die, we want to have a future and progress because this land has the willpower to be a power but they have cut off all our wings and they have put in place policies that have limited our development”.

The PP of León, which has managed to maintain its representation in the 13F elections, renewed its provincial leadership with Senator Javier Santiago last year, then presenting the so-called ‘useful Leonism’ as its way of acting to “demand solutions to the problems of Leonese wherever”. But his candidacy in the elections was headed by the Minister of Development and the Environment, Juan Carlos Suárez Quiñones, who harshly attacked Leonism as one of his campaign flags, “It’s enough to wrap yourself in flags and manipulate the feelings of good people for nothing.”

Santiago Abascal himself and Vox in the campaign agitated in the province of León, and in others, the territorial problems to seek to scratch votes but attributing all the problems to the very existence of the autonomies. And in his final rally in the city, the extreme right leader waved, it is not known whether by mistake or not, a flag of the Leonese Region.

The autonomist drift

But how has this autonomist drift been possible in León when just over three years ago it was believed to be a minority option? The sociologist David Díez Llamas explained in the campaign that autonomy was not dead but that “it has always been there, from the beginning. Some were born and will die Leonese, and it is not only a social issue of the Leonese identity itself, but the consequences of the enormous economic and demographic crisis in the Leonese Region due to an autonomy imposed 40 years ago at a dinner without asking anyone, they have been revealed and no one denies that in León, from Vox to Podemos and even Ciudadanos”. “I don’t know of a single place in Europe where more than 50% of people support their autonomous self-determination and the rest remain silent, because it is not a matter of 50-50%, no, but very few are against it. “, he points out.

For the professor of psychology and former director of the Northwest Campus of the UNED, José Luis Prieto Arroyo, the Leonese autonomist outburst is based on several factors: “The serious economic and population deterioration suffered in the three provinces, the approval of the autonomist motion in the León City Council promoted by a mayor of a state party and that the vindication of identity is not the only driving force since the autonomist motions and the massive demonstration of 16F have given the people of León the opportunity to protest their unfair situation” . And he gives one more detail: “If even those of Vox vote in favor of Leonese autonomy, showing that they are not anti-Leonesists here, it is that something is happening with the current autonomous configuration.” In fact, he himself claims that “the people of Leon are in a position to create a political conflict with Spain“.

For two years, Leonism has been the recurring theme in León’s politics and has been observed with concern by the autonomous community. It is not something new, UPL has already won 3 seats in the Autonomous Courts and there were motions in the past about the request for its own autonomy, but the issue is still alive 39 years after the creation of a community without a sense of belonging. For now, the winner of the elections and the main candidate to follow as president, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco, has already warned that he will not accept “blackmail from the provinces” in reference to possible pacts with UPL or Soria Ya. But the mayor of León, José Antonio Diez, is clear about what has happened in the province in the autonomous electoral event and warns “Whoever does not know how to see that the Leonese claim is clear and forceful and that as long as there are no policies on the part of the community of positive discrimination in this territory that has been bleeding and crushed for 35 years, it will be very difficult for someone to understand”.