It all started about three weeks ago after thousands took to the streets of Madrid on May 15th to voice dissent at the government’s failed economic policies and proposed “austerity measures”. The movement quickly spread to other cities across Spain and was then joined by protesters in Greece.
The protests, which have remained peaceful throughout, have continued ever since, day after day and night after night in both Spain and Greece. Yet these remarkable events have been barely reported by any of the mainstream media outside of the countries involved. Instead, we’ve had endless reports about corruption within FIFA, which is hardly news, especially to anyone who knows anything about football, or else headlines about “killer cucumbers”. So most people I speak to in Britain still know next to nothing about the mass protests taking place just a few hundred miles away.
According to a friend who lives in Barcelona, a fairly accurate description of what’s happening in Spain can be read in an article by Martin Varsavsky published on Huffingtonpost:
Friends outside of Spain have been asking me about the ongoing movement that has become known as #spanishrevolution. Here’s the summary of what this movement is about:
People have become increasingly frustrated by the many problems in Spain: Over 20% unemployment rate and over 30% youth unemployment rate, incompetent politicians unable to deal with the effects of the crisis, extremely high housing prices both for rental and purchase, a mortgage system that ties mortgage holders for life to the bank if the real estate is sold for under the loan amount, and a general discontent with the status of the political landscape (especially the effective two-party system of the center-right People’s Party and the center-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party).1
After a detailed account of how the protests have been organised via the internet, and a breakdown of the various groups and spokespersons, the article explains that:
While there are no exact numbers, it is safe to say that there are tens of thousands of people who have been or are at #acampadasol [camping out at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid], and many more in other cities. Most of the sit-ins had food delivery donations and some even had their own daycare. They also received legal assistance from two lawyers, David Bravo and Javier de la Cueva. The movement has even found supporters in other countries, with protests popping up in cities like Berlin, Paris and New York to show solidarity with the movement in Spain. […]
In the end, what started with a few ideas and different initiatives on the web has become a huge movement on the streets all over Spain and in many other countries. As I already mentioned, most of the initiators didn’t know each other at the beginning and only met in person a couple of weeks before the 15M event. The main platforms enabling them to join forces were social networks like Facebook and Tuenti, and of course platforms like Twitter and hundreds (or even thousands) of blogs that supported the movements and spread the word. The sit-in at Plaza del Sol even has its own TV channel, with a mind-blowing 11 million accumulated views so far. Around 45 million people live in Spain.
Click here to read the full article.
My friend in Spain is a teacher and she says:
“I don’t know if my experience is anything to go by, but I’m in touch with this age group through students where I work, and my impression until quite recently was that they were totally uninterested in and dismissive of politics. And they are still, in the sense that they see themselves as “apolitical” and reject all political parties – this is of course something I don’t quite agree with myself, old-fashioned socialist that I am, but it’s the way the younger generation (at least the more educated and aware among them) approach things these days. But at least they’re protesting, and they’re doing it in an organized way, and putting quite a bit of thinking into it, which is a rare thing in a country like this, where the notion of being a citizen with rights is much weaker than in older democracies like Britain.”
“Of course the main question protesters are facing now is what to do next. One thing is to point out what’s wrong with society, to make proposals and protest, and a very different thing is to gain enough power. This movement rejects any involvement with parliament-style politics, not even in the form of so-called “popular law initiatives” – I don’t know what the equivalent thing is in Britain, but here any citizen can try to get a new law passed as long as they have a minimum of half a million supporting signatures to back it up. In any case, protesters are not attempting any of this, and they’re not into petitions either as far as I can tell, and so far no political party has said that they’ll take up any of their proposals. The closest one to the protesters in terms of its agenda is a party called “Izquierda Unida”, which I normally vote for, but despite being considerably to the left of the socialists, I don’t think this party would support the movement’s more radical proposals. They did slightly better than usual in the last election, but they have only 10 seats in the Catalan parliament, and two in the Spanish one.”
So what proposals are the protesters actually making? Well, you can read them in Spanish at the main website, and here is a summarised translation of the headings and contents:
1. “Suppression of politicians’ privileges”: most of the proposals here are about dealing with political corruption.
2. “Against unemployment” : among others, measures to reduce the number of working hours, bring retirement age back to 65 (the government changed it to 67 a few months ago) or set up permanent unemployment benefit for the long-term unemployed (many unemployed people in Spain have run out of benefits and are dependent on charity).
3. “The right to accommodation”: the main proposal here is to change mortgage regulations, so that a mortgage can be paid off by repossession (according to Spanish law, you can lose your property to the bank and still have to pay interest for ever, or even capital if the bank reckons that your property has lost value –many people are becoming destitute through this).
4. “Quality public services”: various proposals to maintain and expand every aspect of the welfare state.
5. “Control of banking institutions”: these mainly consist of stopping any further bailouts, and getting banks to return the money they’ve been given by the state.
6. “Taxation”: various measures to stop tax evasion by the rich, and to impose higher taxation on banks.
7. “Citizens’ liberties and participative democracy”: this is a mixed bag of things, ranging from a defence of freedom of speech on the internet, to proposals for change in the Spanish election system (which favours the main two parties). They also argue there should be a referendum every time the EU puts forward a new measure.
8. “A reduction of military expenses”: there’s just a heading here, without further development.
My friend says that the main effect of the protests so far, seems to be on the number of null or blank votes cast in recent elections:
“Whether the protesters become less “apolitical” in the future and set up new parties is difficult to tell. But I think they have made a lot of people aware. Since they started, politicians here have looked a bit less confident. They still bang on about how we need the cuts, but saying that we deserve them has become bad form, at least in some quarters. I suspect this won’t translate into a change of policy in the short term, but who knows.”
Street protests in Greece have also been gathering momentum, and this weekend saw the biggest gathering so far in front of the parliament building in Syntagma square, Athens:
“Thieves – hustlers – bankers,” read one banner as tens of thousands of people packed the main Syntagma square outside parliament to vent their frustration over rising joblessness as austerity bites, blaming the crisis on political corruption and government incompetence.
Turnout was the biggest so far in a series of 12 nightly protest gatherings in the square inspired by Spain’s protest movement. […]
Police put the crowd at 50,000 by mid-evening, but numbers continued to grow as dusk fell over the Greek capital. According to the Athens News reporters on site the number of protesters exceeded 500,000 at around 22:00 on Sunday. Security was also stepped up around the parliament, with the area blocked for the first time by barricades set by the police.
Click here to read the Athens News article.
Yesterday’s demonstrations also came on the eve of Papandreou’s cabinet meeting to discuss the latest round of “austerity measures”:
Protesters from all over Greece on the square rejected the austerity policies to cut the budget deficit that lead to layoffs, wage and pension cuts and a heavier tax burden.
“You got the disease, we got the solution — revolution,” read one banner. “We don’t owe, we don’t sell, we don’t pay,” read another, hung on the square’s lamp posts.
Students, pensioners, young couples with their children and immigrants, were among those gathered on the square over the past week, while protesters also gathered in Greece’s second city of Thessaloniki, in the Port of Patras and other major cities.
Organizers say they are determined to continue indefinitely as the number of people joining the Facebook group “Angry at Syntagma” is growing.
A report of this “huge Athens rally against austerity cuts” even made it onto the BBC News website today, although with estimates far below the half million reported by Athens News:
At least 60,000 protesters angered by cuts and tax rises packed into central Athens as Greek PM George Papandreou planned further austerity measures.
The crowd in Syntagma Square rallied outside parliament on Sunday night chanting “thieves!”
However, the main story on BBC News today is that the “IMF supports UK economic policies”. Apparently, the IMF forecast is for the UK recovery to resume:
Of course, these are precisely the same “remedies” which the IMF have already applied in Spain and Greece, along with a whole host of other unfortunate countries in poorer regions of the world. As a consequence of the inevitable deprivation such measures have already brought to their communities, the Spanish and the Greeks are being forced to take their anger onto the streets, and when similar “austerity measures” begin to bite at home, it is more than likely that this rapidly growing protest movement will spread to our own cities. When it does, we should not expect the BBC or CNN or even Al Jazeera or Russia Today to pay much attention to the gathering storm.
In preparing ourselves for what’s to come, it is essential that we try to learn as much as we can from our friends in the south, since to be forewarned is to be forearmed. One thing we know already is that alternative methods of finding and spreading information will become invaluable, and that means, at the very least, switching off our television sets and doing something less boring instead…
1 From an article entitled “’Spanish Revolution’ of 2011 explained” by Martin Varsavsky, published on 25th May by Huffingtonpost. www.huffingtonpost.com/martin-varsavsky/spanish-revolution-of-201_b_867156.html
2 From an article entitled “Biggest anti-memorandum protest in Syntagma square” (from Reuters) published in Athens News on 5th June. www.athensnews.gr/portal/9/42689
3 From a BBC News article entitled “Greeks stage huge Athens rally against austerity cuts” published on 6th June. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13665140
4 From a BBC News article entitled “IMF cuts UK growth forecast for 2011” published on 6th June. www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13669932