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Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Spain gets indignant, at last

Por: | 19 de mayo de 2011

 

Sol demonstrators Samuel Sánchez 

“PP and PSOE, they’re both just as pooey!” (PSOE y PP, la misma caca es.) Apologies for the loosely rhyming translation but this slogan and others like it seem to encapsulate the protests taking place this week in Spain’s major cities ahead of nationwide local elections on Sunday.

Yes, unemployment and the economic crisis have clearly brought people’s anger to the surface, but what is fascinating about the nascent Spanish youth democracy movement is that it is not serving the interests of any established political group. It is, and some would say AT LAST, a political movement of young people; it is inclusive, because the great majority of Spaniards are suffering the effects of dysfunctional political and judicial systems; and it does not line up the left in front of the right, but rather the young in front of the old – the latter in this case meaning those who are benefiting from the status quo and whose paternalistic complacency at a time where around 40 percent of young people are unemployed and most of the rest endure exploitative working conditions is finally under attack. Just when they did not want it to be, in the run-up to an election.  

Unemployment and precarious employment on short-term or nonexistent contracts and low pay has been a norm in Spain in recent decades. When I first moved here I was taken aback by the general acceptance among Spain’s middle-class youth of a kind of social contract whereby a period of exploitation was considered part of the rites of passage, and that before you could really plan your life and do things such as get married and maybe start a family, first a kind of apprenticeship period had to be observed. It was like being an intern – but for a whole decade until you reached your early or mid-thirties. In the meantime, you stayed at home as part of another unwritten social contract, where little was spoken in either direction.

The older generation, the one in power, seemed to be trusted to keep this system of slow renewal in place. Then things began to go wrong. First, market forces, fanned by a neoliberal government, saw a pool of cheap labor as a desirable resource that should be maintained and the numbers of temps and fake self-employed workers grew and grew. Meanwhile, property prices took off, pricing a large chunk of society out of the housing market. Then, under the current Socialist government, the wheels fell off what was shown to be a fragile boom thanks to the global credit crunch. Zapatero is right when he says the crash was not his fault; but he had done little to offset the imbalances built in to an economy based largely on construction and low wages.

So what issues have the PP been clashing over since the crisis started in 2008? Mainly, questions such as which judges (progressives or conservatives) should occupy seats in the top courts; what was said to which terrorist and when during ceasefire negotiations with ETA; excluding religion from the school syllabus… In short, a whole series of interesting topics, but hardly ones which are central to the lives of most Spaniards. It might not be all Zapatero’s fault, but to hear the Socialist leader blame today’s unemployment on the policies of Aznar’s 1996-2004 administration is the kind of sterile two-party game-playing which those in need of genuine leadership are sick of. Then there is the fact that corruption is widespread in Spanish politics, but it is hard to hear a politician of any stripe make so plain a statement. Instead, they point to an honorable majority who must not be tarred with the same brush, or cling to the technicality that few are ever convicted of any crime (thanks to the chronic sclerosis in the courts).           

The tone of the current protests reminds me of the tongue-lashing meted out to parliamentarians by Pilar Manjón, the mother of a March 11 victim, when the two major parties were squabbling over the influence the terrorist bombings had had on general elections three days later. “PSOE y PP, la misma caca es.”

And the decision by Madrid’s electoral board to prohibit Wednesday’ gathering in Sol could only serve to strengthen the conviction that politics in Spain is a stitch-up between the two major parties. From such a decision one can only think that either they fear that the message of rejection will spread before Sunday’s ballots and they will lose votes to a broad abstention campaign, or that the red and blue factions simply cannot bear to cede limelight to a gray mass of indignation. The kids in the squares are stealing primetime coverage and spoiling the parties’ meticulously planned parades of ticker tape and chiming anthems.  

So are there, as the BBC has suggested, echoes of Tahrir Square in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya? Well, there are some superficial similarities. The spark of protest has been spread on social networks and can draw on a large mass of well-educated but disaffected youth. Then there is the desire to display maturity in the autonomous organization of litter-cleaning parties and information points where protestors can get legal and technical advice. We are not here just to shout, sing and befoul the square, is the message. But in Tunis and Cairo, the demonstrators occupied the streets until a dictator was removed. These protests are sensibly planned to continue up to Sunday’s elections. The point is not to challenge democracy but to demand better-quality representation. The issues raised by the Real Democracy Now platform are not leftist utopias, but a reminder of how some basic human rights are being abandoned and a demand for an ethical cleansing of Spain's political system. Nothing to get indignant about.  

Photograph by Samuel Sánchez. 

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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