Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Spain captured the world headlines last week as thousands of young people poured into Madrid’s Puerta del Sol to demand “real democracy now”.

The massive protest was under the Movimiento 15-M banner with similar demonstrations witnessed in Barcelona, Bilbao, Murcia, Valladolid, Santiago de Compostella, Vitoria, Zaragoza amongst other Spanish cities as well as amongst young Spaniards in Washington, New York, Frankfurt, Berlin, Athens and Mexico City.

The most tense day was last Saturday – a day of reflection in Spain’s town hall elections and also in polls for some regional governments. It is a day by law when no political activity can take place and the Junta Electoral Central that governs such matters had deemed the Puerta del Sol gathering illegal.

In the event the thousands gathered in Madrid’s central plaza remained in place without any confrontations with the police. The minister of the interior, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, consulted with security officials, but took the view that as long as the protests remained peaceful no action was to be taken.

A wise political move as socialist Rubalcaba is the favourite to succeed PSOE premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Zapatero will not contest the general election next March and this summer a new socialist leader will be chosen. A bloody confrontation last Saturday ahead of the polls on Sunday when PSOE was humiliated in many of its strongest seats would not have read well on his CV.

The irony of course is that the political beneficiaries of the deep anger over the high unemployment, financial meltdown and corruption has been the centre-right Partido Popular which is well set to take power in Madrid at the general election. Ironically the far-left Izquierda Unida (which includes the Partido Comunista) has also received a boost from PSOE’s mauling but not sufficient to make any inroads in to central government. Gaspar Llamazares, the IU MP, stated: “The results of the IU were positive but insufficient. Positive in the extension of autonomous and local seats but insufficient because we did not collect the votes lost by PSOE or of the radical democracy. We need to change and become the focus of the social and political left.”

As Llamazares has identified the problem for all political parties in Spain is their total rejection by a large number of young people in the country and especially those who took to the streets. They view all politicians as “deplorable” with over half subscribing to the view politics has nothing to do with them neither does it encroach on their private lives. Also in the firing line is the Catholic Church, large companies, the unions, the Spanish Royal family and parliament.

The majority view is the Catholic Church is too rich and meddles too much in politics. Of the politicians themselves they are viewed as pursuing their own interests and in promoting the interests of the multinationals and banks over those of the people. “We live under the dictatorship of the markets” was one of the protest banners.

There would also appear to be a collapse in the support for social movements compared with just six years ago. Ecologists, pro-human rights groups, pacifists have all lost support with only one in five young persons belonging to any form of association and those are largely cultural, sporting or youth orientated.

The family has always been a strong feature of Spanish life and is the refuge for many in the economic crisis with its accompanying high unemployment. A survey has shown that 85 per cent of young people still live with their family whether they study or work and the average age of leaving home has risen to 27. Not surprisingly 71 per cent rate their family as the most important aspect of their lives ahead of their health and friends.

Spain, as in many nations, is being confronted by a generation of pessimists. Over 40 per cent see unemployment as the major problem in their lives, over half of 15 to 24 year olds view their future with extreme pessimism, indeed it is a generation that believes it will be worse off that its parents.

The Partido Popular might be riding high in the polls but it would be very foolish indeed if it believed it is tapping in to this anger and dissatisfaction – for the party of the centre right, mired in corruption, is seen as part of the problem not the solution.

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on Thursday May 26 2011)

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