Thursday, 19 May 2011
A protest they will never understand - "Genuine Democracy Now"
"This is a protest they will never understand" said one youth, as he, along with around 2000 other young people camped out in Puerta del Sol square in Madrid, defying a ban on pre-election demonstrations.
Despite the obvious differences between Spanish democracy and the deposed Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak, comparisons are already being made with Tahrir Square.
The protests began on Sunday. The police dispersed demonstrators initially, but since then sheer numbers have forced the authorities to take a softer approach. One chant heard reverberating around the square has been "violence is earning 600 euros", refreshingly counteracting predictable bourgeois sentimentality about broken windows whenever protests start to make an impact.
Spain has a 21.3% unemployment rate - the highest in the EU - and many of the unemployed are young people. As in Britain, the major Spanish political parties are attempting to make ordinary people pay for a financial crisis they played no part in. Some Spaniards who do have jobs are going months without pay due to their employees hanging the threat of unemployment over their heads. There are slim prospects for an improvement in the situation any time soon.
The protests, though, have not simply been about the economy. One of the most popular slogans has been “Genuine Democracy Now”; and stalls have been set-up urging people not to vote for the two major political parties.
Most politicians and political commentators simply do not understand this call for greater democracy. As in Britain the US and the rest of Europe, this is not supposed to happen any more, not since we arrived at the End of History. The establishment sees free-market capitalism as sitting at the end of a visible thread running through every epoch of human history. When a mass of people appear who do not share in this grand utopian project, the establishment's response is total bewilderment - what could these people possibly be rebelling against?
Even liberal organs such as the Guardian struggle to know what to make of it all - when the protest swelled to around 2000 people on Wednesday night their online headline story was instead about a man who had eaten 25,000 Big Macs!
Outside of the mainstream narrative that ordinary people should bear the burden of the follies of European financial and political elites, a section of the Spanish populace is demanding an altogether different course, even if the details are at present sketchy. That in itself is something.