Spanish Protests Lose Their Way

The popular protests across Spain gave voice to national indignation over the political/economic system, but the result of regional elections was only to shift power from the Socialists to the center-right Partido Popular. Spanish writer Pablo Ouziel says that outcome should prompt some self-reflection among radical groups that seized control of the uprising.

By Pablo Ouziel

May 24, 2011

In Spain, the elections have come and gone, with the squares full of thousands of people continuing with their shouts of indignation, but so far they have not been heard.

The PSOE, the political party of President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s ruling socialist government, has taken a beating, but the formal democracy in which we live has not changed for the better.

The center-right Partido Popular has taken control of much of the country.

What this means, according to most market analysts, is that as the new administrations take over regional and local governments, previously undeclared debt will surface making Spain’s economic reality much more dire than what has been estimated to date.

The post-election week has already begun as a sober reminder of the economic tsunami engulfing the country. The bond market has already punished Spain for the “indignados” movement and for the election defeat of the ruling party.

The stock market has also reflected doubts about the country’s austerity measures, and the privatization of national corporations has continued with the announcement of the privatizing of the national lottery and a couple of the country’s airports.

In addition, the center-right Partido Popular has made repeated calls for an early general election, which it is poised to win.

Therefore, it is not naive to state that so far the popular uprising has helped consolidate the center-right as the voters’ choice for spearheading the country’s return to economic growth.

According to the Partido Popular’s political program, economic growth will be achieved by cutting corporate taxes, reducing public spending, making the firing of workers easier, bailing out failing banks, making it harder for immigrants to stay in the country, and seeking a stable investment environment.

In essence, the choice made by those who opted to vote reflects the opposite solution to what is being discussed by people in the city squares. This is the unpleasant reality that those in the squares must reflect upon, if their demands are to resonate with the rest of the population.

If the “indignados” want to be heard, now it is time for them to listen to the rest of the country in order to propose a truly constructive program with which the majority of the population can identify.

In other words, we must move from this moment of indignation to a post-indignation space in which “responsibility” becomes the mantra that citizens embrace.

Spain’s popular uprising, with citizens camped in city squares across the country, has prompted comments about a much anticipated “European summer” of discontent in which the people of Europe follow the example set by Arab streets and take their turn in demanding democracy, justice and peace.

Some commentary on the Internet has even begun to point to the possibility of a “North American fall” following on the heels of this uprising for change in Europe.

But rather than predicting what might happen in North America, this is a time for reflection and critique of what started in Spain and what such a popular movement will face in coming months.

I have personally camped in the city squares and listened to the proposals made by the committees that have hijacked the movement.

What started as a call for electoral reform and the punishing of political and economic corruption a call that indeed attracted thousands of people to the city squares has quickly metamorphosed into some kind of Bolshevik-like political project led by the country’s squatter movement.

Although to those observing from the outside the calls for nonviolence and participatory democracy coming from the microphones of the committees seem to point to a truly revolutionary change, a close look from within the squares reveals that those calls are as empty as the calls for change we are used to hearing from the country’s politicians.

It is my opinion that this hijacking of a truly democratic uprising inspired by a general indignation and glued together through solidarity has already caused great damage to this spontaneous call for change.

Of course, it is difficult to put forth clear proposals when thousands of people find themselves on the streets.

It is obvious that in such situations groups with organizing capacity are going to take charge in the steering of the movement, but just because a group has the ability to organize meals, public toilets, and speaking engagements in a public square, it does not mean it has the ability to direct the discontent of a mass of people.

Sadly, those who called for the squares to be filled do not seem to understand this, and their mistake, I think, has already begun to demobilize those whose indignation is not only aimed at the actions of politicians and bankers, but is also aimed at the actions of the committees taking control of the squares.

Hopefully, these committees will realize that the best option for the movement today is for them to turn the microphones away from themselves and hand them down to those filling the squares asking for some form of real democracy.

Unless one thinks that the calls of indignation are going to be met by a center-right government, it seems apparent that indignation itself is not salvaging Spain.

Therefore, if we the people in the squares are to gain true democracy while avoid having the International Monetary Fund “salvage” our country through a Greek-style bailout and its subsequent debt restructuring, we must act responsibly and acknowledge that we need the majority of the country to rally behind our calls for change.

This only seems possible, once we critique our own actions, correct our mistakes, and stop proposing utopian ideals through undemocratic means, and instead offer real solutions through truly participatory democracy.

Pablo Ouziel’s articles and essays are available at