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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. 

Hay 174 Comentarios

The good news is that youth are thinking right now how Spain Success and what approaches they apply to beat European economies.

I agree with your thought your opinion is useful for us.

It's best time to tell all European country we can perform better than as compare to others.

Some very good points Noelia. ZP was a very brave social reformer, but economically speaking he has always been held hostage to big business, and the people who really rule Spain: the Bankers.

Diwali can be considered the Christmas of the East and even comparable to the celebration of the Chinese New Year.

The programme of protests demands a new difference in Romance sentiment, as protesters do not ruminate themselves to be represented by any tralatitious organisation nor favoured by the measures authorized by politicians.

completely Agree!! Both are crappy

Some very good points Noelia. ZP was a very brave social reformer, but economically speaking he has always been held hostage to big business, and the people who really rule Spain: the Bankers.
@Eugenio: you're a moron, and you need to learn a lot, not just English grammar, but particularly and above all, manners.
All armies were created to protect a system, not the people. They're as anachronistic as bullfighting.

I agree with some of the previous posts regarding the superficiality of the analysis, which leads to void generalisations, which basically shows a lack of understanding of the complexities de facto powers in Spain.
And I have to say that it was Aznar INDEED (a de facto power representative) who created a big mess, and Zapatero, knowing the impossibility of fixing it, made his best bet: social reform. In many ways Spain is unrecognisable -socially- in its open-mindedness towards topics that were real taboo up to very recently. Furthermore, at a political level, Zapatero was brave enough to set strategies to defend Spain from those de facto powers through setting reforms that undermined their ideology and, consequently, their power.
And perhaps, without that undermining what we are witnessing in Spain today would not have been possible.

It´s not simple. Spanish people are very familiar, with much less desire to be out of touch with parents and brothers. That creates strong ties of support in day to day living, but at the same time, less dynamic individuals. Of course, this is a generalizing argument , but for most of the middle class to lower class people, I believe it´s true.

But now the core´s social support, the family, that allowed to overcompensate for the bad salary rate in the beginnings of any young worker, is showing signs of exhaustion.

That would explain also the recent participation of older people in the "camping". And the tired situation of most Spaniards in seeing how conventional are the politics, and how the politicians take not heed of his needs, and instead, are very fast on preserving privileges or favoring private banks with public money... which has disappeared , credit almost inexistent to to PYMES and individuals. This makes the economy stop , short of breath, and making almost impossible to create new business and jobs.

So, now you see why the 15-M started...

The young people started the protests, but it is not only a protest of young people. Yesterday, I was in the rally in Valencia and it was people from 10 to more than 70 years old in the protests (and one little, little baby). (We were raising hands according ages.) If you deeply see the situation, this is the first blossom of something which started in the 60s and 70s, then submerged and now is rebirthing with a new generation: the daughters and sons of those people of Counterculture who didn't gave up in their ideals. You can understand and see this in the book "The Cultural Creatives: How 50 million people are changing the world", by Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson.

#Guillermo: "Tired of maintain an useless army"


You're joking, or where do you live?
Without our "useless army" in: Ceuta, Melilla, Canary Islands, and ... why not, the whole Andalucia ... how many minutes do you think """our morocco friend""" could take in organize a new "marcha verde".

About "this movement" ... I see it clearly: it's leftist people who thinks the conservative party is the evil, and now they see that the left party, psoe, is not what they think/want. "Zapatero, no nos falles" ... jejeje :-)
This is like been of the Real Madrid or the FCBarcelona: no brain, no turncoat.

I agree with Jorge
"Same shit" would do very nicely. Me cago en la mar James, cut the euphemistic crap.If you've been in Spain that long, you must have noticed that it is Europe's most scatalogical nation

Time now for American or European youth to wake up, too. To forcefully question and challenge all of their very dysfunctional systems. Real Democracy Now, everywhere.

from the United States. Simply put, the problem in Spain is the excessive large number of immigrants that are taking most jobs from the spanish youth, hence the 21% unemployment with equals with the percentage of immigration in Spain, about 5 million.

Second, Spanish negative mentality. As a spaniard in the EEUU, the first thing i notice when arrived to the US is the unity and desire to success of the american people, it's an effective society with the same principals from Boston to San Diego. Hardly anyone criticizes others and they use their brains to achieve more than the competition. That's because most of the technological corporations are located here. Being smart is rewarded by local and state govs, as well as your colleagues. Nothing like this happens in Spain.

Third and last, young spaniards aims too much. Their parents and grandparents weren't having it that ease as they have it now. Almost every young fellow in Spain owns a high performance cell phone but they are unemployed. Parents and grand parents emigrated to other nations to look for better opportunities and they barely could pay the trip to their destination. Today, spanish youth, travel extensively around the world and communicate with fellow europeans from their high speed connected laptop. My grand father had to pick up water with horses and mules from a well that was located 1 mile away. Today, spanish youth can travel from Madrid to Valencia in a high speed train in barely 1 hour and half... but all of this and many other things aren't enough for them, they want a job, a home, a family, a nice car, cool clothing, electronic gadgets etc all just when they graduate from their free University studies... wow, I wish my grand father could aim so much not long a ago..

I'd like to see these pommy bloggers (journalists, they are not) having the BALLS to write a post criticising El País for including bullfighting in its Culture section.
It's all very well to write utter crap about what 'my mother-in-law' serves for Sunday lunch or picturesque little villages 'where I once stopped for coffee'; true grit is shown by calling a spade a spade, not by mincing words.
Bullfighting is CRUELTY, BESTIALITY, SADISM. Never a cultural asset.
Go on, have some BALLS and do it, pommy scribblers...

As Corina said: few people will disagree that the Spanish labor market is "dysfunctional" and offers very limited opportunities to young people. But the claim that the political and judicial systems are "dysfunctional" is completely misguided.

There is a good argument that the judicial system works reasonably well while experiencing some tension at the top, caused by the political polarisation of the country. With regard to the recent cases, the division within and between the Tribunales Supremo and Constitucional in cases involving fundamental rights is really nothing to be ashamed of, but rather what one would expect given their respective makeups (which reflect in turn parliamentary majorities [past and present], as is appropriate). What is shameful is the way these institutions are put in doubt when they produce decisions disliked by some; a regrettable practice that your post abets.

As regards the political system, in the wake of tough adjustment policies having been applied (and the prospect of more yet to come), any political system will suffer strain, as the present situation is showing. I would venture that what's happening is more of an argument supporting the "maturity" of the Spanish political system, which has produced (in this situation and in previous ones -cf 1993) governments willing to do what needs to be done even at the expense of alienating its voter base and destroying its chances of winning the next election. You can argue that it is pressure from Brussels and Washington that has achieved this; nonetheless, reforms are being done in a thorough and extensive fashion, with a reasonable amount of front-loading (instead of leaving most of the work to future governments).

Obviously, these reforms are unpopular and people (especially young people) will protest, as they have every right to do. No one can be surprised that they target the Government and indeed the poliitical system; it's happened before during tough economic times, in Spain and elsewhere. But I am surprised that an outside observer could take the protests to be really directed against the dysfunctionality of the system (where were all these people in 2006, at the peak of the boom?) instead of a reflection of the poor state of the economy, as is clearly the case

I'm so proud of my people, so proud. In my country is the magistrate the one who's going to jail not the corrupt politicians he uncovered, these corrupt politicians are now in the list, asking for votes. Same happens with the terrorist and those collectives that don't want to be part of this country, they have more weight in National politics even havind less votes than other parties. In my country the Banks charge you money for giving your money to them (yes, that's true) instead of paying you for making more money with yours. The goverment cuts our rights in a daily basis, ask for more money from us just to give it to the banks and do all the wonderful things other countries ask for, but none of those their citizens ask for. 5 million people without a job among a population of 40 million is a drama, the rest of people that's working earn a 20% less than the people from Germany and France, but our dear "Angela Merkel" ask us for working more,,,,,,,at the same price. SOIS MIS PUTOS HEROES CHICOS, OS QUIERO. PSOE, PP, MISMA MIERDA SON!!

I think the article is excellent, despite minor mistakes!
I completely agree with the Movement, Im just afraid it will loose its independency, indignation and strenght that it has right now.
As u said, in the Arab world protesters were after the fail of a dictatorship. In this movement, what is the goal? To raise a national feeling that is there? They have already done that, so what now??
Just hope they don't ask for abstention for Sunday but ask the people to go to vote blank.
Btw, the picture on the front page is fantastic, is the resume of all the bad feelings people -mainly young- are experiencing now.

This is a rather simplistic and tired analysis. I decided to leave Spain the year Aznar got in. I was a wise man because I could see very clearly see where Spain was heading. You have to look beyond self-explanatory statements such as "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"; rites of passage? Bollocks! As if life were a set of stages one "has to" go through. We all make our own decisions, we all make our own mistakes. No one forces a twenty-five year old to stay in the town or city where they grew up.
You also neglect the fact that there many Spanish youth who are unskilled; these are vicious circles. Poor education brings about unskilled workers, who cannot be employed elsewhere. No one in Europe or elsewhere would be crazy enough to employ them.
And yes, you should stay away from translation, loose or not, it's crap, not pooey. What a ridiculous choice! Don't forget to put on your nappy before you go out, Jimmy.

I agree with everything you said about the situation of youth in Spain. The "eternal intern" system had become natural, reinforced by the stay-at-home-until-you're-thirty culture. Selection in the job market was not based on skills and talent, but rather in who was wiling to put up with a 300-euro salary for the longest time period. However, calling the Spanish judicial and political system "dysfunctional" is completely exaggerated and in line with many stereotypes northern Europeans have about Mediterraneans. Yes, there have been problems with the appointment to the Constitutional Court. That does not mean that the entire judicial system made up of thousands of tribunals that deliver justice in an everyday basis without any major corruption-related problems is dysfunctional. As for the political system...well, it is just as dysfunctional as in any other European country nowadays. My point is: what makes Spain different from countries that are doing better these days is its economy, not the political or judicial institutions.

Here in the U.S. we would translate "la misma caca" as the same crap or the same shit.

we're tired of these two political parties(PP and PSOE) which are a u.s. satellite passing the u.s. laws.Tired of maintain an useless army and church, tired of the jingoist world politic.
realise a non national party
realise a human party

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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 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.

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