And now we see it spread: the clamor for change that ripped out of the body politic in many countries in the Middle East has now hit modern day Spain. Protests there have attracted some 25,000 people. And this time it’s not aimed at a political party but a general thirst on the part of young people that the way things are done in Spain change.
Spain has the highest unemployment rate among youth in the European Union. According to reports, the biggest motivating factor is bleak outlook Spain faces due to the economic crisis and about the problems young spaniards now face in this age of austerity that’s completely at odds with the Spain they have known all of their lives. It’s another sign of the consequences of ailing economies all over the world. Some young people have had enough: “Basta.”
A pre-election protest ban in Spain has proved unsuccessful as tens of thousands attend nationwide rallies. Defiant protesters have taken to the streets on the eve of local elections to demand social and economic reform.
Furious Spanish youths were undeterred by a government imposed protest ban on Saturday, vowing that they were “here to stay.”
With local elections due to take place on Sunday, tens of thousands of people gathered in city centers across the county for the seventh day of nationwide protests against soaring unemployment.
Hundreds of protesters, known as “los indignados,” (the indignant) camped out in a ramshackle protest village in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol Square.
Protests also continued in other Spanish cities including Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla and Bilbao.
“We intend to continue, because this is not about Sunday’s elections it’s about social cutbacks,” said Carmen Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the organizers at the protest village in Madrid.
In a blog post on the San Francisco Chronicle site, Christy Concord reports on what she sees in Spain where she is traveling:
As we strolled toward Plaza del Sol [in Madrid], we couldn’t believe the masses converging into what seemed to be a sort of angry party. People draped themselves across every bus stop and fast food stand and spread upward along the many streets that converge in the plaza. Police later estimated the crowd at 20,000 plus.
Spain has a major election this Sunday the 22nd and the gathering was designed as a protest against the meager choices represented among the slate of candidates. Most carried signs that said, “Democracia Real Ya!” (“Real Democracy Now!) or various slogans representing the current batch of Spanish politicians and bankers as at best incompetent and at worst corrupt. There were speakers and music, though the crowds were so large we were never able to even catch a glimpse of the stage. It was an eclectic mix of ordinary people – not the usual band of squatters and anarchists I’m used to from European protests in the 90s. There was no obvious support for any particular party and it was the one place in town that I didn’t see the ubiquitous PP/PSOE campaign materials. Mostly, it seemed that people were just there to express their displeasure at the way democracy has evolved in their country.
Spain essentially has a two party system like our own. There’s the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers Party, represented by current Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and the more conservative Popular Party. Newspapers generally seem to predict major losses for the Socialists, not unlike the losses suffered by the Democrats in our last election. Nobody likes the guys in charge when there’s a recession on. Zapatero’s government was popular when times were good and government coffers were full, as they were able to enact big social welfare reforms. Now that the money’s gone and government belts have tightened, people are feeling the pinch. It’s a not unfamiliar tune for us back home. Because we never seem to save for a rainy day or mismanage even when we do, social services get cut when the economy turns bad and people need them the most.
So everyone’s mad at the Socialists for their handling of the crisis, but their competition, the Popular Party, are currently embroiled in a messy corruption scandal. Apparently, the PP politicians in Valencia were selling government contracts to unqualified companies for campaign contributions. So here’s your choice, gente amable de Espana, corrupt or incompetent, incompetent or corrupt. Hence, the outpouring of support on May 15th at the Plaza del Sol for better options.
The Real Democracy Now Movement, or the “May 15th Movement” as it’s now being called, was started by two ordinary guys fed up with the situation, Fabio Gandara and Jon Aguirre. They’re not even calling for a boycott of the election – in fact they’re encouraging people to vote for whichever candidates in either party they like – they just want a reinvigoration of Spanish democracy.
PERSONAL NOTE: This story is of particular interest to me. From May 1975 through December 1978 I lived in Spain writing for a variety of publications. I was hired as an extra “stringer” by Newsweek to help in their Madird coverage of the final months and death of dictator Francisco Franco and after that became The Christian Science Monitor’s “Special Correspondent” (a kind of super stringer) accredited with the Spanish government to represent the CSM. I also wrote for a slew of newspapers all over the world and did telephoned-in reports for National Public Radio.
Young people were out in force during that time, too — but protesting against Francoism and the slow “evolution without revolution” pace of Democratic change. Most often then not, young demonstrators squared off or were being closely watched by police and paramilitary forces. The clamor then was for democracy that wasn’t a sham. And Spaniards eventually got what they asked for.
But now, in the face of a brutal international economic crisis, young people look down the pike and see bleak futures — even with democracy. Protests were not unexpected in the Middle East — but in Spain? It’s a sign of how difficult and dangerous current economic challenges facing democratic goverments are. Can democratic governments effectively respond and adjust?
A ban against protests did nothing to stop nearly 30,000 young protesters across Spain in the largest protests to rock the country since the 2008 recession, the New York Times reports.
The movement, called “los indignados” (the indignant), began on May 15th, and spread through Spain on account of mounting frustrations regarding the economic crisis, which has left the unemployment rate at 21 percent. Among those under the age of 25, the unemployment rate stood at 43.5 percent as of February — the highest youth unemployment rate in the European Union, according to Alan Taylor at The Atlantic.
“In theory, we are going to continue” the protests after the elections, said Angela Cartagena, a spokeswoman for the organisers at the ramshackle protest ‘village’ that has sprung up in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square.
A “general assembly” of the organisers would be held on Sunday morning to confirm the decision, she said.
Thousands of people have massed in city centres across the country in a snowballing movement that began May 15, the biggest spontaneous protests since the property bubble burst in 2008 and plunged Spain into a recession from which it only emerged this year.
Spain’s electoral commission on Thursday declared that protests planned for Saturday and Sunday were illegal as they “go beyond the constitutionally guaranteed right to demonstrate.”
The Telegraph offers this video that shows the sea of protesters:
The rage in Spain continues:
Madrid city plazas rock to the sound of protesters;
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.