Thursday, June 23, 2011


We started with the Arab Spring and that has seemingly morphed into the European Summer. In Spain the people are taking to the streets and are questioning the very foundations of their democracy. It would be laughable if it were not so tragic but the centre-right Partido Popular would have Spaniards believe they are the answer. Wrong: the PP are the problem.

“Los Indignados” is the collective term for the protestors in Spain. They form under the banner 15-M, May 15 being the day they took to the streets ahead of the local and some regional elections on the 22 nd. The indignant ones are not just young activists: they come from all age groups, mothers with babes in arms, pensioners, workers, the jobless – every Spaniard who wants to cry “¡Basta!” “Enough!” – and their number is steadily growing.

The movement started in Madrid where the “Indignados” moved in to the Puerta del Sol on May 15 and set up camp. Madrid as a city and region is controlled by the PP so the centre-right party was happy to see them on the streets as the elections drew near, a very public rejection of the socialist Zapatero government.

The PSOE government wisely chose not to intervene as the election board ruled the gathering illegal if it continued on the eve of the polls – a day of reflection in the Spanish electoral process. The PP swept to power in regions, provinces and town halls making historic gains. Then the party’s mood changed. They wanted the plazas cleared, the “Indignados” were a nuisance, an eye-sore, a blight on business – the PP demanded the government take action.

The protestors held their position; in Barcelona the results were bloody confrontations with the Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, who were also accused of infiltrating the 15-M movement and acting as provocateurs. Eventually they dispersed, usually cleaning up as they went. The action groups have not evaporated they have merely reformed basing themselves in the very city, town and village neighbourhoods from which they draw their strength and support.

On Sunday 19-J protests were held throughout Spain with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in Madrid, Barcelona, Pamplona, Gijón, Salamanca, Valladolid, Valencia, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Bilbao, Vitoria, San Sebastián, Sevilla, Málaga. These were set piece events but far more significantly virtually every small town and village also held their own angry protests. Posters accused the prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of being “a lackey of the banks”. Others proclaimed ““There is no democracy, government by the markets”, “the crisis that pays the capitalists” and “Democracy, rest in peace.”

In March I wrote an article in The Morning Star on political corruption in Spain. I quoted fellow journalist, Francisco Rubiales, who pens the “Voto en Blanco” blog which has long campaigned for Spaniards to withhold their votes from corrupt politicians. He spoke of a Spain infected by the worst political, social, cultural and human cancer – deep and rampant corruption which closes off the country’s road to the future and snatches away the dignity of the Spanish people.

On Monday after the 19-M protests he wrote thus: “What happened yesterday in Spain is important because it signifies the awakening of a nation which has until now been subjected and castrated by one of the worst political classes in the world. Spain, fortunately, wakes up and displays its teeth to the politicians that already hide, frightened, behind the police forces who have been armed and trained to suppress popular outrage. When a political class has to defend itself from its own people with the police because it lacks the arguments, it has lost democratic legitimacy. It is the beginning of a new chapter in the history of modern Spain: of popular outrage against this worthless political class. Welcome the protests, symbol of the courage of a people and their attachment to the values of decency.”

Of course all the political parties have rushed to engage the support of the 15-M movement. This week the vice-secretary of communications of the Partido Popular, Esteban González Pons, stated: “The solution to the indignation is dignity and this they can do at the polls, the votes, the voice of the people, the change and we think that is the PP. When after the 15-M the Spaniards were permitted to vote, they voted more than ever for the Partido Popular and we are going to prepare to be the alternative to restore the dignity of Spain.”

The centre right could not be more wrong. True Spaniards voted out the ruling PSOE and hence the Partido Popular benefited as too did the far left Izquierda Unida. Yet the move by the PP to link itself with “Los Indignados” is either cynicism or stupidity, possibly both. The political heirs to Franco are a key element of Rubiales “worst political classes in the world.” It is a party riddled with corruption and if Zapatero is a lackey of the banks then the leader of the PP and probably Spain’s next premier, Mariano Rajoy, is their partner, friend and ally.

The 15-M movement and through it an ever increasing number of Spaniards are demanding a thorough overhaul of the political and economic system with an end to endemic corruption. The PP cannot deliver that hence the party’s attempts to try and fool the people in to believing it can will rebound in the most violent of forms. Spain is a country in political crisis; when the Partido Popular comes to power the powder keg will explode because in its election euphoria it has overlooked the simple fact – it is the party that stands for everything that the 15-M movement rejects.

(The photograph was taken at the Jerez 15-M meeting on Sunday - David Eade (c))
(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on Friday June 24 2011)

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