Iceland and Spain are about as dissimilar as chalk and cheese. However, the two nations have lately found they might have a thing or two in common. Namely, they have come to share a common point of view about their politicians: That they are rubbish.
So, if in the fall of 2008 most Icelanders rose up against their corrupt political class, three years later (better late than never) the Spaniards mimic those claims against their politicians. Since May 15, thousands of people have taken to the streets in a wave of demonstrations all over the country. The main demand: A real democracy.
HOW TO COOK AN ANGRY RIOT
The easiest way to cook a fresh dish of annoyed citizens is to mix the proper ingredients into the pot.
First of all, add a big dose—a really big dose—of unemployment. Icelanders tend to get upset about their unemployment rate (around 7%) but perhaps they don’t know that in the country where Cervantes was born, the situation is a bit worse. In Spain, the overall unemployment level reaches 21%, which means that five million people, who should be earning their bread and butter every morning, instead kill their time in the park feeding pigeons. What’s more, that rate grows to 45% amongst people under 25, the highest recorded unemployment rate for young people in any developed country.
If this is not enough, the average lucky Spaniard (that strange animal in danger of extinction who is able to find a job) has to deal with another beast; work that is insecure and poorly compensated for, especially for younger generations that in many cases are forced to live with their parents until the age of 35.
By now you might be wondering what politicians are doing to overcome that unsustainable situation. Well, not much. They are precisely the great social cancer in the eyes of the people rallying in the streets. Most of the political class seems to be more concerned about helping bankers instead of common people and an important number of politicians from the two main parties—right wing Partido Popular and socialist PSOE—are suspected of being corrupt, and furthermore most of them are still holding their public offices in a matter-of-fact way (more than a hundred politicians that were seeking election on May 22 were also under judicial investigation, most of them belonging to PP and PSOE).
WHERE IT ALL STARTED
One of the biggest problems citizens have when they are surrounded permanently by political scandals, corruption, incompetent politicians and greedy, unscrupulous bankers, is they tend to view this situation as natural and eventually get used to it.
A spark is needed to wake up people from th eir sleep. In this case it came from an old Frenchman called Stéphane Hessel, who at ninety-three years, has managed to encourage citizens to a peaceful insurrection with his bestselling pamphlet titled Indignez-vous! (“Time for Outrage!”). This old member of the French resistance and Holocaust concentration camp survivor has reached the youth with his passionate writing about the risks of being indifferent to political issues, urging a non-violent insurrection against the powers of capitalism. The Spanish youngsters, seduced by Hessel’s words and with the Icelandic revolution as a model (or their idea of it), have woken up and taken to the streets.
This is the way Democracia Real Ya! (“Real Democracy Now!”) was born; a group of citizens fed up with the system, who organised a mass protest on May 15 in Sol, a centric and well-known square in Madrid. But surprisingly the movement didn’t stop there, since people decided to stay camped for the whole week, until municipal and local elections on May 22. The gathering became more and more massive, people rallied against the politicians and the bankers under the motto “we are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers”, many people were showing Icelandic flags, chanting: “We want to be Icelanders!” and “If Iceland could, Spain can!”. And suddenly, the miracle happened and the rallies spread and became international, with demonstrations in many cities all over the world such as Brussels, Edinburgh, Tokyo, London or even Reykjavik, where Birgitta Jónsdóttir made an emotive speech supporting the Spanish rebellion.
PRESS EQUALS POLITICS
One of the funniest and peculiar features about Spanish press is its close ties to the main political parties and large corporations. All the main newspapers in Spain belong to big media groups, each of them supporting a specific party. Independent journalism is almost non-existent. So it’s not difficult to guess that most news are biased and focused on propaganda, in an elegant, sort of post-modern way.
Thus, readers can find different impressions depending on which paper they have in their hands. If for the left wing press the rallies mean the anger of the people with the well-known corruption problem of the right party, the press related to the latter claim that it’s a movement against the incompetence of the socialist government of José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. If the people are particularly critical with them, they are only a group of young ruffians and anti-system Bolsheviks.
But nothing is further from the truth, since Democracia Real Ya! states that they are a “non-partisan citizen gathering created and encouraged by Internet and social networks […] whose unique purpose is to promote open discussion among all those who wish to become involved in the preparation and coordination of joint actions”. This movement consists of the unemployed, pensioners, mothers who want a better future for their children and all sorts of citizens that have something in common: their weariness with the current political and economic system. It’s not a rally against a particular government, but an outraged shout against corruption, manipulation and fake democracy.
Toñy García, a 53 years old woman participating in the demonstrations, says: “There are a lot of people but they truly have everything well organised. There’s not a drop of alcohol here nor flags related to any party, they pick up the rubbish and keep everything clean, not giving any reason for the police to intervene. They are acting in an intelligent way”. Her sister Tere adds: “We are determined not to be sitting there doing nothing. We aren’t animals going to the slaughterhouse”.
The regional elections on May 22 ended with an overwhelming victory of the right-wing Partido Popular over PSOE. That is funny if we consider all these people were fighting for great changes and then the most conservative party got elected; this seems, to say the least, strange. Samuel González, who has followed the events from the beginning, tries to explain this: “We have to take into account two things. One is the capacity for self-criticism of the left wing voters, that don’t doubt in punishing their own party if they do things wrong. The other one is the lack of sensibility against the corruption from those on the right”.
Whatever, a feeling of deception has appeared in a part of ‘The Outraged’. “The election results show that most people are only concerned with their own welfare rather than a common purpose. This is a sign of absolute short-sightedness”, says Lucía Tornero, a young journalist I spoke to.
But there are also a few who believe that change is still possible and won’t resign, like Juana, who thinks that “there’s something special in the air in Sol, something that must not be stopped; that makes you think everything is not lost”.