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= the post-15M party that captured five seats in the European Parliament in its very first election in 2014


Luke Stobart:

"Podemos was launched by Pablo Iglesias, who gained mass popularity through hosting alternative TV debates and by savaging establishment politicians and journalists on mainstream shows, along with members of the revolutionary Izquierda Anticapitalista (Anticapitalist Left) and other activists. The aim of this audacious radical project was to turn a “social majority into a political majority”. Yet the defining feature of Podemos has been its roots in the 15-M (Indignados) movement that occupied city squares in 2011, in which most of its activists participated.

The 15-M fought the lack of “real democracy” in the May elections that year, using the slogan “they [the politicians] don’t represent us”. In opposition to the methods of “representative politics”, protests were organised through mass participatory democracy, as have those of subsequent social movements. This spirit has infused the activity of 400 Podemos “circles” (local groups) set up across Spain and among young emigres in several European cities. Around 33,000 people participated in open primaries to select electoral candidates consisting of “ordinary non-politicians”. (http://left-flank.org/2014/05/28/podemos-anti-politics-spanish-left/)


The Class Basis of Podemos

Luke Stobart:

"Working-class identification with Podemos is notable — whether of an active or passive nature. For example, circles are more common and better attended in the “industrial belt” of Madrid than the middle-class areas. Votes in the Barcelona area — where Podemos competes with other radical Left projects — are concentrated in similar areas. According to some July research, 19.1 percent of unskilled workers and 16.7 percent of skilled workers then supported Podemos, compared to the average 12.7 percent for the total population. It would be fair to say that Podemos’s main bastions of support are workers and young people (including 25.8 percent of students). This puts Podemos in an advantageous position to encourage workers’ self-organisation and struggle — including among precariously employed youth." (http://left-flank.org/2014/11/05/explaining-podemos-1-15-m-counter-politics/)

The Hacker Logic of Podemos

Andrew Dolan:

(based on a interview of Eduardo Maura, international representative of Podemos)

"In describing this phenomenon Maura speaks of the ‘hacker logic’ that from the outset structured Podemos’s approach to politics: ‘We operated from the very beginning in what we call the logic of proliferation, the hacker logic. When you are doing politics as a hacker you proliferate, you have to be everywhere, you want to be everywhere.’

To do this, Maura elaborates, you need a low cost of entry in relation to both tools and knowledge. This is precisely what Podemos ensured, with remarkable results: ‘To create a branch you only need a Facebook account, an email and a meeting. No membership, no fees. So, in the first two months we got more than 300 branches, not only in different places but also branches that had to do with specific fields, like education, culture, the environment.’ The number of branches has since more than tripled and includes ones focused on feminism, psychology, a basic income and even music – in other words, whatever the participants want them to be.

According to Maura, the logic of proliferation enabled Podemos to not only expand but also to develop the participatory practices necessary for a truly democratic party: ‘Although it was a relatively small amount of people who thought about it and launched it, we knew we weren’t making Podemos; it was other people that were making it happen and this is something we had very clearly in mind from the beginning. There is always this problem of who starts something and how it develops, but this logic of proliferation made us very accountable.’

To continue the tech-speak, Podemos in effect operates an open-source development model in which access to and redistribution of the Podemos ‘blueprint’ are universal, but the ‘licence agreement’ also includes the right of redesign and improvement. Consequently, since its inception, Podemos’s internal development and political trajectory have been shaped by the input of its members – and, indeed, non-members." (http://www.redpepper.org.uk/podemos-politics-by-the-people/)

Processes of participation

Andrew Dolan:

"Although Podemos is still very much a work in progress, its inaugural ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ provides a useful overview of the democratic culture and processes that have already taken root within the party.

A multi-stage process comprised primarily but not exclusively of online activity, the two-month-long assembly began on 15 September and in effect functioned as a forum for deciding how Podemos is to be structured, how it will function and who will represent it in future elections. It is, in the somewhat generous words of Podemos London, ‘a fairly complex process’, comprised of multiple stages.

The first stage was a two-week period for the submission of drafts (organisational, ethical, political) accompanied by a partially overlapping month-long process devoted to their reduction in number through discussion, debate and convergence. Once the window for draft submissions closed, another one opened for the submission of resolutions – ‘short texts summarising a consensus regarding a particular topic’ that have no relation to ‘strategic or manifesto points, or any other aspect covered by the drafts’. These were voted on mid-October.

Drafts were further debated at a face-to-face meeting in Madrid on 18-19 October attended by 7,000 people; voting on them began the following week. The final stages of the Citizens’ Assembly, which commenced following the approval of an organisational principles document, involved the presentation of candidates, live‑streamed debates and, finally, elections to decide which of them will represent Podemos.

The initial planning of this detailed process began immediately after Podemos’s European election triumph and the central concern of those involved was how to make it different and, more importantly, democratic. As Maura emphasises, the organisation process was from the outset an open one, with two lists of 25 people competing in an election – in which anyone, non-members included, could stand or vote – to determine who would organise the technical side of the conference.

When it came to the election, the major disagreement was between those who wanted to implement a system of branch delegates and those who instead argued for one person, one vote. The latter, which Maura himself advocated, won out and the result was that all one needed to participate in the Citizens’ Assembly was a voting code and an email account, irrespective of whether one was a member of Podemos or not. Maura’s explanation for the decision to adopt this system goes to the heart of Podemos’s approach to politics: ‘Most people who participate in the branches have more time to engage in politics, but we don’t think a process like this should be just for people already engaged in politics. We think that this kind of process is a good way of drawing people in and of making them feel that politics is not what they think it is. We think that we should give people the opportunity of not only having their say but also of having the same decision-making power as people who engage in politics at grassroots level.

‘People don’t necessarily want to spend a weekend in a conference hall discussing, but people were interested and a lot of people registered online, where they can also participate. Some of them became members, others didn’t, but they are willing to participate and we are happy they want to.’ (http://www.redpepper.org.uk/podemos-politics-by-the-people/)

Online democracy

Andrew Dolan:

"Aside from the well-attended face-to-face meeting in Madrid, the Citizens’ Assembly was conducted almost entirely online. Much of this was done via the social networking site Reddit, which provided the main platform for the submission, debate and voting on drafts and resolutions. Such has been the flow of information on Podemos’s Reddit site, Plaza Podemos, which also hosts regular open question-and-answer sessions with party leaders, that it caught the eye of Reddit’s general manager, forcing him to enquire what exactly Podemos was and why exactly it was generating so much traffic.

Reddit is by no means the only digital platform used by Podemos. It has also developed and utilised apps for multiple aspects of the democratic process, from determining agendas to voting. Yet despite the centrality of digital technology to the Podemos project, which has garnered as much attention from the technological community as it has from the political, it should not be mistaken for techno-fetishism, nor for a belief that online participation is necessarily better than physical.

Rather, Podemos’s decision to embrace technology is rooted in its analysis of contemporary work and society. ‘Work, and with it people’s lives, have become fragmented and we thought we needed a participation process that recognised this,’ says Maura. ‘The problem that most people have is that working and having a family and doing politics is not compatible, the one often excludes the other. There is no perfect solution but online participation is a very good thing. Most people use mobile phones all the time, so why shouldn’t you be able to do politics from the tube or from the bus?’

The use of technology for political purposes inevitably presents its own set of problems, especially as regards the tendency of hierarchies, both formal and informal, to develop on the basis of expertise. This power dynamic also manifests itself in relation to non-technological expertise, and has an increased resonance in the context of the technocratic dimension to austerity politics and contemporary global governance. Podemos is of course a very far cry from the IMF or any other such technocratic behemoth, but there are a notable number of economists and political scientists in senior positions in the party, raising difficult issues for participation and democracy.

‘You can’t avoid people having different levels of expertise or of interest,’ says Maura. ‘Those who pass motions, pose questions and participate more sometimes have the expertise, but what we have discovered is that normally these people are not used to debating and discussing things in an open space; they are more used to discussing in very small groups in the academy. When a person with a certain level of expertise has to engage in a very open space things get very even very quickly – because you can’t use the same old words anymore, because no one will understand you. These people are facing a new audience and this audience is determining a lot.’

Democratising expertise, then, doesn’t necessarily mean everyone becoming an expert, but rather ensuring that expertise operates within the boundaries of democracy and accountability. Maura says this is precisely what happened with the election to determine who would organise the Citizens’ Assembly, a process he describes as an attempt to politicise the technical and democratise what one might term the tyranny of expertise." (http://www.redpepper.org.uk/podemos-politics-by-the-people/)


Luke Stobart:

"Although the Trotskyist Izquierda Anticapitalista (IA; Anti-Capitalist Left) played a significant role in shaping Podemos from the beginning — for example when IA’s Miguel Urbán led the coordinated the Podemos “circles” as local bases to actively create “popular power”, the leadership of Podemos is dominated by the grouping around Pablo Iglesias. He, as part of a network of Madrid Complutense university lecturers — including Iñigo Errejón and Juan Carlos Monedero, his collaborators in the alternative TV debate shows La Tuerka and Fort Apache — have quickly hegemonised the Podemos apparatus, particularly after several IA members were sacked as full-timers and La Tuerka supporters monopolised the Podemos Citizens’ Assembly organising committee, introducing on-line slate voting that strongly benefited Iglesias. The La Tuerka grouping has several ideological influences. Iglesias and Errejón —Podemos’s bright young chief strategist — played a leading role in activist movements (such as the Spanish version of the autonomist Tute Bianche (“white overalls”) movement in the anti-globalisation protests at the beginning of the noughties, and Juventad Sin Futuro (Youth Without Future) — one of the groups that helped initiate the 15-M protests. At the same time Monedero and Iglesias have been members of Communist organisations and advised Izquierda Unida. All three have worked as political advisors to new Left governments in Venezuela and Bolivia. Errejón did his PhD thesis on Bolivia’s MAS party and is an admirer of “neo-Gramscian” vice-president García Linera. Monedero has had a relationship with chavismo, but was lambasted by Chávez for organising conferences of intellectuals analysing the shortcomings of the Bolivarian revolution. He is known in Spain for his thesis that the failure of Spanish democracy stems from the dominance of the “Transition” process by sections of the Francoist apparatus — an idea used to justify the strategic centrality given by leading Podemos members (including its most radical) to holding a Constituent Assembly. (This historical revision has been criticised by Xavier Domènech as too instrumental and “top down”, and as downplaying the structural contradictions common to all liberal capitalisms)." (http://left-flank.org/2014/11/14/understanding-podemos-23-radical-populism/)

The origin of the party

Giles Tremlett:

"The Podemos plan was cemented over a dinner in August 2013, during the four-day “summer university” of a tiny, radical party called Izquierda Anticapitalista (IA). Iglesias and IA heavyweight Miguel Urbán, then a then 33-year-old veteran of multiple protest movements agreed to work together, creating the strange and tense marriage between a single, charismatic leader – Iglesias – and an organisation that hates hierachy. “Pablo had political and media prestige, but that was not enough,” Urbán told me. “We needed an organisational base that stretched across the country, and that was IA.”

The plan was daring and highly improbable. It was to be an 18-month assault on power, with the ultimate aim being to replace the PSOE as leaders of the left and unseat Prime Minister Rajoy at the 2015 general election. The core clique of like-minded academics from the Complutense political sciences faculty, who were veterans of La Tuerka, would manage the campaign. At last, they would be able to try out their ideas on a national scale.

The first test for Podemos would be the May 2014 European elections. Many voters view the European parliament as toothless because the EU’s major decisions are taken elsewhere. With so little at stake, they take risks in the polling booth. Iglesias and Urbán saw the European elections as a potential springboard for their 2015 general election campaign. The party’s name – which echoes not just Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan, but also a TV jingle for Spain’s European and World Cup-winning football team – came during a car journey a few months after the forming of the initial pact between Iglesias and Urbán. “We thought of ‘Yes you can!’, but that already existed,” said Urbán. “So then we went for Podemos [We Can]. It was nicely affirmative.”

On January 17 2014, Iglesias officially announced the creation of Podemos at a small theatre in Lavapiés, the hip Madrid district that over the past decade has filled up with alternative bookshops, galleries and bars. Iglesias (his eyebrow stud now removed in order to improve his electoral image) explained that a cornerstone of the Podemos project would be indignado-style “circles”, or assemblies. These circles, built around local communities or shared political interests, could meet, debate or vote in person or online. He told the crowd that if 50,000 people signed a petition on the Podemos website, he would lead a list of candidates at the European parliamentary elections in May. The target was reached within 24 hours, despite the website crashing for part of that time.

The Podemos project was born with two contradictions that would become increasingly apparent over time. First, it would be both radical and pragmatic in its pursuit of power. Second, it pledged to hand control to grassroots activists, despite the fact the party depended on one man’s popularity. But at the beginning, these tensions were far from most people’s minds. Excitement and idealism were the norm.

Pablo Echenique, a research physicist with spinal muscular atrophy, saw the Lavapiés speech on YouTube at his home in Zaragoza, central Spain. Three years earlier, Echenique had bumped along Zaragoza’s streets in his electric wheelchair to join the indignado protesters. He was excited by the debates, but frustrated by the lack of action. “They had no bite,” he told me. “There was no answer about what to do next.” When, four days after the Lavapiés speech, Iglesias travelled to a cultural centre beside Plaza San Agustín in Zaragoza for his first European election campaign meeting , Echenique got there early, but the 180-seat hall filled quickly. “Soon there were 500 people outside, so Pablo said: ‘I know it’s cold, but it’s worse not to have a job. We don’t fit here, so let’s go out into the plaza.’ It was freezing.”

It was in Zaragoza that Urbán first realised that Podemos might succeed. “As I waited at the door, someone asked whether I was from Podemos in Zaragoza,” Urbán told me. “I was in charge of Podemos’s organisation, but thought we didn’t really exist yet, so I just said I had come from Madrid. He replied, ‘Well, I’m from Podemos in Calatayud.’ That’s a town with just 20,000 inhabitants. Suddenly I realised that something really had changed. It was the political equivalent of occupying the squares.” A pattern was set, of packed campaign meetings that were generally ignored by the press. For those involved, it was exhilarating. Urbán took home the money gathered at the meetings to count. “We would get €2,000 from a single meeting. It was like belonging to a church,” he said.

Iglesias said politics was like sex: you start off doing it badly, but learn with experience Echenique was inspired. “I told Pablo, ‘You say we should get organised, but I’ve never been in an organised political party. Can you give me some ideas?’ Pablo said it was like sex: you start off doing it badly, but learn with experience.” Echenique joined two circles, one in Zaragoza and one online-based group for people with disabilities. He was one of 150 candidates put forward by circles for the European parliament. These were ranked in order by 33,000 people who signed on for free to the party website. Iglesias came first and Echenique was fifth. Only one of the top 12 candidates was over 36 years old.

Podemos then embarked on the complex process of writing a “participative” election manifesto, based on ideas from the circles and then voted for online. The result was original, but also impractical and uncosted. It called for a basic state salary for all citizens and non-payment of “illegitimate” parts of the public debt, although the manifesto did not specify which parts these were – two measures that Podemos has since back-pedalled on." (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/31/podemos-revolution-radical-academics-changed-european-politics?)

On Pablo Iglesias

Giles Tremlett:

"At the start of the 2008 academic year, Pablo Iglesias, a 29-year-old lecturer with a pierced eyebrow and a ponytail greeted his students at the political sciences faculty of the Complutense University in Madrid by inviting them to stand on their chairs. The idea was to re-enact a scene from the film Dead Poets Society. Iglesias’s message was simple. His students were there to study power, and the powerful can be challenged. This stunt was typical of him. Politics, Iglesias thought, was not just something to be studied. It was something you either did, or let others do to you. As a professor, he was smart, hyperactive and – as a founder of a university organisation called Counter-Power – quick to back student protest. He did not fit the classic profile of a doctrinaire intellectual from Spain’s communist-led left. But he was clear about what was to blame for the world’s ills: the unfettered, globalised capitalism that, in the wake of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, had installed itself as the developed world’s dominant ideology.

Iglesias and the students, ex-students and faculty academics worked hard to spread their ideas. They produced political television shows and collaborated with their Latin American heroes – left-leaning populist leaders such as Rafael Correa of Ecuador or Evo Morales of Bolivia. But when they launched their own political party on 17 January 2014 and gave it the name Podemos (“We Can”), many dismissed it. With no money, no structure and few concrete policies, it looked like just one of several angry, anti-austerity parties destined to fade away within months.

A year later, on 31 January 2015, Iglesias strode across a stage in Madrid’s emblematic central square, the Puerta del Sol. It was filled with 150,000 people, squeezed in so tightly that it was impossible to move. He addressed the crowd with the impassioned rhetoric for which opponents have branded him a dangerous leftwing populist. He railed against the monsters of “financial totalitarianism” who had humiliated them all. He told Podemos’s followers to dream and, like that noble madman Don Quixote, “take their dreams seriously”. Spain was in the grip of historic, convulsive change. The serried crowd were heirs to the common folk who – armed with knives, flowerpots and stones – had rebelled against Napoleonic troops in nearby streets two centuries earlier. “We can dream, we can win!” he shouted." (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/31/podemos-revolution-radical-academics-changed-european-politics?)

On La Tuerka

Giles Tremlett:

"A month after the protests began, the squares had emptied. Six months later, at the end of 2011, Spain elected a new government, amid warnings that, whoever won, German chancellor Angela Merkel would be in charge. Disillusioned voters saw that even the PSOE offered little more than cowed obedience to Merkel’s demands for more austerity. Following a low turnout, Mariano Rajoy’s PP won an absolute majority and introduced further cuts while slowly taming budget deficits that had topped 11%. The indignado spirit, it seemed, had been crushed.

In fact, indignado assemblies continued to meet, and for the most politically active, La Tuerka became essential viewing. With time, the show moved to the online news site Público, and became more polished. Each show would begin with Iglesias or his fellow Complutense professor Juan Carlos Monedero delivering a monologue, followed by debate and rap music. When Iran’s state-run Spanish-language television service, HispanTV, asked for an Iglesias-presented show, starting in January 2013, the team jumped at it. The show, called Fort Apache, opened with Iglesias astride a Harley Davidson Sportster motorbike, placing a helmet over his head and – after a close-up of his eyes – slinging a massive crossbow across his back before roaring off. “Watch your head, white man. This is Fort Apache!” he warned in the trailers. They were still, however, preaching mostly to a small number of the already converted." (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/31/podemos-revolution-radical-academics-changed-european-politics?)

From an interview with Jorge Moruno

Conducted by Carlos Delcos:

* Carlos Delclós (CD): How did La Tuerka come about?

The indignados demonstrated the importance of political communication, as well as the synergy between the streets, television and social networks, a trident generating ideas.

Jorge Moruno (JM): La Tuerka began as a result of a problem we’d been perceiving for some time. The Left had renounced political incorrectness, seeking refuge in the warmth of its own codes and spaces and opting out of the battle over discourse. At the same time, we felt that there was a glaring gap when it came to audiovisual forms of socialization. So it was in the field of communication that we felt it was necessary to fight political battles.

CD: The show really began to take off after May 15, 2011, when the indignados movement occupied squares all over Spain calling for “Real Democracy Now!”. How would you describe the relationship between La Tuerka and the indignados or 15M movement?

JM: La Tuerka began in 2010, well before May 2011. I’d say that, for La Tuerka, the indignados movement had a multiplying effect for two main reasons. The first is that 15M was a politicization of society, where new questions burst onto the scene, ones that hadn’t been answered before. Politics is inaugurated with the claiming of a name by those who were previously invisible, by those who decide to relinquish their anonymity and raise their voice, the voice of the nobodies.

It had been far too long since that had happened. Those of us who did not experience the transition from Franco’s dictatorship in the 1970s cannot recall a comparable moment, when we saw the emergence of the popular, and public discussion had impact on such a tremendous scale. It was a whirlwind of ideas, of paths opening up and trails being blazed. Debates, contradictions, protests, discussions. These set the agenda of our public debate, and it did that from the point of view of those who’d previously had no voice.

This collective hunger for knowledge, understanding and new questions found a watering hole in La Tuerka, and an arsenal of new approaches. Meanwhile, the indignados demonstrated the importance of political communication, as well as the synergy between the streets, television and social networks, a trident generating ideas. La Tuerka is an audiovisual project that is largely driven by the social networks. So in this new context, their rise has done a lot to spread and normalize the show as a standard-bearer, and a major source of information for many people." (https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/carlos-delcl-s/our-situation-is-quixotic-and-machiavellian-interview-with-podemos)

Discussion 1

see: Podemos - Discussions

Discussion 2

The evolution of Podemos since 2014

From an interview of Jorge Moruno conducted by Carlos Delclos:

"CD: That explains the rationale that guided the jump from La Tuerka and Pablo’s success as a prime-time pundit to Podemos. The political scientist José Fernández Albertos has written a lot about how support for the party has evolved since the European elections of 2014. He claims that Podemos has gone from being a party with a clearly activist profile to one more defined by social class, with support largely coming from young people who have been affected by Spain’s economic crisis. Do you think this change is reflected in the evolution of Podemos’s discourse? Was it the result of a deliberate attempt to attract those profiles?

JM: Podemos was born with a very clear intention: to become a political instrument in the hands of a social majority that was severely hurt by the economic crisis. And this was done in order to make the institutions serve the people again. That has been the driving force all along. And they put the social problems suffered by a majority of the population at the centre.

To make that social majority a political majority, it was necessary to escape the debates and postures designed exclusively for the initiated, for very small circles of people. I believe the work of any activist should focus on that result. For that to happen, we have to go beyond the margins and limits of leftist language. The task is clear: there is a set of socially accepted ideas that sustains a common sense which, because of the oligarchical offensive we have suffered, is presented to us as a radical defense. If we have both feet in the air, we will fall. If we dig our heels into the ground, we don’t move. So we must maintain a balance, If we have both feet in the air, we will fall. If we dig our heels into the ground, we don’t move. So we must maintain a balance. between the words people use and our push for a social and political transformation in our country and Europe.

CD: As that balance is maintained, though, it appears that Podemos depends less and less on its activist roots. Do you think Podemos should maintain a relationship with social movements and political actions that work beyond the electoral field?

JM: When Podemos was born, it generated a whole new set of activists with no “pedigree”. That is excellent news; it is what any activist is trying to do. And it implies working with people who are very different and have very different backgrounds. But Podemos has never stopped being in touch with the social movements. They were, after all, the ones who put the problems and narratives that were missing from the debate on the official agenda.

That said, I think citizen movements should have their own autonomy. Relationships with them should not be organic, but ones of support and tension, so that they act as a counter-power. Relationships with citizen movements should not be organic, but ones of support and tension, so that they act as a counter-power. We direly need new institutions that arise from the social field, and a communal fabric anchored in specific local realities. This should not be an appendage of Podemos, but a citizen and democratic guarantee. The electoral field, with its tempos and rules, is not the space from which such a thing is born. It can help with public policies that open the playing field, but these are clearly two different paths we are talking about." (https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/carlos-delcl-s/our-situation-is-quixotic-and-machiavellian-interview-with-podemos)

Internal Opposition

From the interview of Jorge Moruno by Carlos Delclos:

CD: What are your thoughts on the internal debates and criticisms expressed by such currents as Occupy Podemos, Abriendo Podemos (Opening Podemos) or Ahora en Común (Now in Common)? They often claim that Podemos is too top-down in its organisational structure, and that since the party’s constituent assembly at Vistalegre, it has become a traditional party…

JM: I think that an open and transparent debate has always been one of Podemos’s aspirations. So any initiative or idea is welcome, whether or not I agree with what they’re proposing. It’s healthy for there to be different opinions. I don’t really see them as internal discrepancies, though. Everything becomes public quite quickly, and for us the boundary between inside and outside is hard to point to. Anything that strengthens public debate is good.

In my opinion, the herculean task before us is to seduce and convince. In my opinion, the herculean task before us is to seduce and convince.To expand narratives and practices to include the part of the population that is still missing. People who do not come from the social movements, who have never been to a protest, who voted for the Popular Party or have never voted at all. People who think politics is something politicians do. That is where victories are forged, where great changes come from. That is where winning becomes possible.

The left is too used to listening only to itself, to being in love with itself. To leave the small-but-safe refuge, to enter the woods and blaze a new path, to venture into the unknown and be exposed to the wolves: that is what we’ve come to do.The left is too used to listening only to itself, to being in love with itself." (https://opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/carlos-delcl-s/our-situation-is-quixotic-and-machiavellian-interview-with-podemos)

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