Angered by “free-market” policies that have created high unemployment and are now forcing government spending cuts, tens of thousands of Spaniards are occupying central squares in Madrid and other cities in a challenge to the country’s economic elites, as Pablo Ouziel describes in this guest essay.
By Pablo Ouziel
May 19, 2011
Spain’s people’s movement has finally awoken. La Puerta del Sol in Madrid is now the country’s Tahrir Square, and the “Arab Spring” has been joined by what is now bracing to become a long “European Summer.”
As people across the Arab world continue their popular struggle for justice, peace and democracy, Spain’s disillusioned citizens have finally caught on with full force.
Slow at first, hopeful that Spain’s dire economic conditions would magically correct themselves, the Spanish street has finally understood that democratic and economic justice and peace will not come from the pulpits of the country’s corrupt political elite.
Amidst local and regional election campaigns, with the banners of the different political parties plastered across the country’s streets, people are saying “enough!”
Disillusioned youth, the unemployed, pensioners, students, immigrants and other disenfranchised groups have emulated their brothers and sisters in the Arab world and are now demanding a voice – demanding an opportunity to live with dignity.
As the country continues to sink economically – with unemployment growing incessantly – one in two young people is unemployed across many of the country’s regions.
With many in the crumbling middle class on the verge of losing their homes while bankers profit from their loss and the government uses citizen taxes to expand the military-industrial complex by going off to war; the people have grasped that they only have each other if they are to rise from the debris of the militarized political and economic nightmare in which they have found themselves.
Spain is finally re-embracing its radical past, its popular movements, its anarcho-syndicalist traditions and its republican dreams.
Crushed by Generalissimo Francisco Franco 70 years ago, that Spanish popular culture seemed like it would never recover from the void left by a right-wing dictatorship, which exterminated many of the country’s dissenting voices.
But the protests of the 15th of May 2011 were a reminder to those in power that Spanish direct democracy is still alive and has finally awoken.
In the 1970s a transition through pact, transformed Spain’s totalitarian structures into a representative democracy in which all the economic structures remained intact.
For the highly illiterate generations of the time, marred in the reality of a poverty-stricken country, the concessions made by the country’s elite seemed something worth celebrating.
Nevertheless, as the decades passed, the state-owned corporations were privatized robbing the nation of its collective wealth, and the political scene crystallized into a pseudo-democracy in which two large parties PP and PSOE marginalized truly democratic alternatives.
As this neoliberal political project advanced, the discontent began to resurface, but the fear-mongers, including many of Spain’s baby-boomers who had once fought for democracy, were quick to remind the youth of the dangers of rebellion.
For many decades in Spain, the mantra was, “it is better to live as we are than to go back to the totalitarianism of the past, and if you shake the system too much, it will take away our hard-earned rights.”
So the youth mostly remained silent, fearful of what could happen if they spoke out.
Through the prism of this generational divide, some contented baby-boomers blamed the youth and their supposed unwillingness to work hard for bringing the country to its knees.
But the youth have stopped this blame game, recognizing the true risks to their own future and finally encouraging the whole country to mobilize for a better future.
The economic and political project of Spain’s elite has destroyed the economic dreams of whole generations of naïve and apathetic Spaniards; it has left the country in the hands of bond speculators and central bankers, and Spaniards will have to pay that price.
Across the continent, Spaniards look out at a failed European project, with its borders quickly being reinstated, a collapsing Euro currency, and the examples of Greece, Portugal and Ireland as stark reminders to those on the streets what they are fighting to disassociate themselves from.
What has begun in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and has been echoed in 52 cities across the country is the crystallization of a popular movement for freedom, which has no intention of fading away.
The people have no choice. Either they take city squares as symbols of their struggle, or their message is never heard.
The government knows this and that is why it has quickly responded by trying to disperse the crowds with its repressive police force, but following some arrests, the people are back with more strength.
A silent revolution has begun in Spain, a nonviolent revolution which seeks democracy through democratic means, justice through just means, and peace through peaceful means.
This struggle has finally captivated the imagination of the Spanish people, and many young Spaniards believe there is no turning back. The challenge ahead will be in keeping the collective spirit nonviolent as the police force does everything in its power to destroy the movement.
The popular movement also must be alert to bond speculators who will threaten the country with economic sanctions in order to scare the population into submission.
A constructive program also will be needed to articulate sustainable alternatives for a different Spain.
A steering committee must emerge from the crowds with the capability of making clear and viable demands that grab the imagination of the country and force the political elite to comply.
These are delicate times in Spain. If this spontaneous nonviolent movement succeeds, Spain may welcome a brighter future. If it fails, violence may become the only option for those in pain.
Pablo Ouziel’s articles and essays are available at pabloouziel.com