Something immensely important is happening in Spain at the moment, although chances are you’re yet to hear about it via mainstream media in the UK. The people of Spain – in particular the youth – are rising up, occupying parks and squares in major cities as part of a major anti-government rebellion. Around 130,000 across the country in total.
The protests began when thousands gathered in Madrid on the 15th of May in opposition to austerity, unemployment and government corruption. The protests appear to have been organised primarily via social networking websites.
Demonstrators have camped in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square and in cities around the country since the weekend, responding to calls on online social networks and by the Real Democracy protest organisation.
“If police try to remove us we will sit down, everything will be peaceful, and if we are eventually dispersed we will come back tomorrow.” A spokesman for the organisers, Juan Rubio, said.
Protests have been taking place each day since and show no signs of reducing in size or scale. The biggest day for clashes will most likely be Saturday (21st May), to coincide with the regional and municipal elections.
Spanish Politics in a Nutshell
I recently returned from a visit to Majorca and did a bit of research into the Spanish political system before I flew out. At first glance, politics in Spain appears to be a vast improvement over our own in the UK. Spain has a Socialist Government, ruled by the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) ever since the defeat of the conservative People’s Party (PP) at national elections in 2004.
Upon taking power, the PSOE took the bold step to immediately withdraw all of Spain’s armed forces from Iraq – as promised in their manifesto – prompting Spanish/US relations to take a nosedive of which they are yet to recover. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain has also implemented some of the most liberal laws on homosexual marriage and transsexual rights of any country, as well as relaxing the highly restrictive abortion laws.
There also appears to be greater political engagement and encouragement to make use of your right to vote. On the streets of Palma Nova, where municipal elections are taking place tomorrow, I spotted thousands of posters (as shown on the photo opposite) attached to every single tree and lamp post, along with billboards on each of the motorways I travelled on. (As an amusing aside: I also paid a quick visit to the glass-fronted Peoples Party headquarters on the island, which I immediately rechristened Millbank Majorca.)
Of course, whether you believe all this is actually a good thing or not might depend on your tolerance of what US politician Ralph Nader calls the ‘two party dictatorship’. So what exactly has sparked this mass protest? It’s difficult to locate a single cause, but there are several obvious catalysts.
The Spanish government, following the lead of other European nations (including Britain), is engaged in an austerity agenda in an attempt to reduce it’s budget deficit, the damaging effects of which have caused many to question Zapatero’s handling of the economic crisis. In addition, Spain currently has a massive problem with unemployment: 45% of under-25s are out of work and 22% of the overall population are out of a job. This follows a policy of privatisation which has sold off much of the nation’s assets. Much anger has also been directed towards the banks, as we have also seen in the UK.
This inspirational video, uploaded to YouTube this week, documents the events of the first protest gathering on the 15th of May.
So far, the protests appear to being organised primarily via social networking, using Twitter hash-tags such as #spanishrevolution. The organisers appear to be fully aware that their actions will fail to receive positive coverage in the corporately-controlled mass media, and indeed the video ends with a stark instruction: ‘Look for us on social networking, mass media won’t show you the truth’.
Spanish politicians are indeed worried by this movement, springing as it did out of nowhere with it’s conscious emulation of Arab Spring occupation tactics. El Pais are reporting that the PSOE ‘was “alarmed” by the protesters, fearing them to be disaffected left-wing supporters who would abandon the party at the ballot box’. In response, politicians are attempting to curtail protests during the election period.
The right will still most probably win the elections although a surprise cannot be ruled out. If the defeat is large enough, PSOE prime minister Rodrigo Zapatero will probably be forced to call an early general election. It does not seem realistic to expect a left turn as his government is highly committed to the austerity policies that are being designed at the European level.
Why Not the UK?
If we compare the situation to that of the UK, its not difficult to spot similarities with Spain. We too suffer with the stifling impact of the two-party political system and a damaging austerity agenda. We also suffer from unemployment problems, though certainly not to the same extent. Even our Labour and Conservative parties represent themselves with the same Red/Blue colour schemes as the PSOE and the PP.
So why aren’t we following the lead of the Spanish and Greek populations and getting out onto the streets? Is it perhaps that many of us have been placated in our concerns by the mass media of Britain, which routinely shapes the debate to exclude dissenting voices, a trend continued by the blackout of the #spanishrevolution story itself. A threat of a good example, perhaps.
The active suppression of protest as seen in the events of March 25th in London and the Royal Wedding could also have had a detrimental impact on our decision to pick up a placard. For the moment the Spanish police have been instructed to leave the protesters alone, though I wonder if this will remain the case should the anger continue in the lead up to the 2012 general elections. Perhaps the actions of the Spanish government have simply gone too far this time, jabbing at a raw nerve in the public consciousness.
It certainly appears as though the anger we witnessed following the UK Student protests of November 2010 has dissipated slightly and perhaps the same will happen to the ‘#spanishrevolution’ movement, especially given that the protests have yet to define any leaders or a clearly authorised set of demands. There’s also the unions to consider, which in Spain – like the UK – faced accusations of acting too late in the face of austerity policies. Only time will tell of course, but the next few weeks are certainly going to be interesting ones in Spanish politics.