- May 21, 2011
Astonishing events are unfolding in Spain, where anti-austerity protests have been taking place across the country on the eve of regional and local elections. 20,000 people have turned the Puerta del Sol in Madrid into a mini Tahrir Square. Last week there were protests in more than fifty cities, in what appears to be a spontaneous grassroots movement called Democracia Real (Real Democracy) that began with a sit in outside the Spanish embassy in London last Monday.
Like the Arab pro-democracy uprisings, the student anti-cuts protests in the UK, and the Greek ‘We Won’t Pay’ campaign, the Spanish protests are primarily a youthful phenomenon. Skilfully using new technologies as mobilising tools, they combine socio-economic grievances with a sharp sense of political disenfranchisement. As the Real Democracy manifesto puts it:
Democracy belongs to the people (demos = people, krÃ¡tos = government) which means that government is made of every one of us. However, in Spain most of the political class does not even listen to us. Politicians should be bringing our voice to the institutions, facilitating the political participation of citizens through direct channels that provide the greatest benefit to the wider society, not to get rich and prosper at our expense, attending only to the dictatorship of major economic powers and holding them in power through a bipartidism headed by the immovable acronym PP & PSOE
These conditions apply to most European countries, where the main political parties have been either directly complicit in the larcenous financial restructuring of Europe’s new ‘age of austerity’ or simply too spineless to oppose it. Where the Arab uprisings were directed against autocracies and dictatorships, the new European street protests are a response to a sclerotic and hollowed-out democratic system based on media manipulation and meaningless electoral rituals.
For more than a decade now challenges to this system have come primarily from the far right and the new breed of xenophobic, anti-immigrant parties like the Northern League and the Danish People’s Party. The spectacular appearance of ‘los indignados’ ( the indignant ones) in Spain is another sign that a new kind of politics is emerging, which combines the left’s traditional concern with social justice with a new insistence on ‘real’ democracy.
In these dark and corrupt times, such movements are an absolute breath of fresh air – and in fact our only hope. May they continue to spread and prosper.