Kelvinwright's Blog

postmodern thoughts

A new year of discontent – Real Democracia Ya

Last year I wrote about the summer of discontent, after having numerous flight delays of up to 9 hours, caused mostly by air traffic controller strikes. It then became the year of discontent, when Spanish Air Traffic Controllers decided to refuse to work, staging a sudden and illegal walkout, until a state of emergency forced them to return to their (rather highly paid) desks. I arrived in New York two days late.

2011 seems not so much a case of “same old, same old…”, but more protests, better organised, and changes of decades old regimes. I’ve already blogged on the fallen regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. Even as I write, a rebellion in Libya seems more like a civil war, with UN support to defend civilians. Syria seems to continue killing its own civilians at will, at least while the outside world does not intervene. What began as protests of a few, changed into a mass-movement with the aim of bringing about political change.

In the first few years of the economic crisis, well known institutions went bankrupt. And in the last years we have seen countries go down the same route, needing bailouts to avoid going broke: Greece was followed by Ireland, who have been followed by Portugal, and now it seems Greece again.

And here in Spain, as people become fed up with Government ineptness and political failings on all sides at dealing with the worst economic crisis the country has faced since the 1936-39 civil war, what started as a small movement of tens of people in Madrid, has manifested itself into something that could potentially become much more significant. For a few days, in the Puerta del Sol, a group calling itself Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now) was camped there, demanding a political change, as much as a change of Government. These are not rebels, or people calling for historic memories to be dragged to the fore. These are everyday citizens affected by the crisis: unemployed unable to find a job – the unemployment rate in Spain is above 21%, and continues to rise; pensioners who have seen false promises from the Government and their pensions cut; entire families; students unable to find work, where almost half of the under 25s are unemployed; young people who when they do find a job are expected to work long hours for salaries so low that busking becomes a more viable alternative. These are the everyday faces of the crisis, and they have had enough. And we are witnesses to it.

At 5 o’clock this morning a forced removal by the police seemed to have resolved the problem. However, as I walked through Plaza del Sol this afternoon, there were suddenly more than one hundred police officers present, vans, cars. It was as though they were expecting something.

As I write now, a new, stronger protest that started in the plaza. What began with a few dozen has suddenly returned to the scene, and there are thousands of protesters present. It seems that a forced eviction has given the movement a new power. This new protest was organised just the same as those in other countries: SMS messages; social networks. The speed of communication in the postmodern world allows for such protests to be organised and for the word to spread before the authorities can react.

I go to bed not knowing how the present will shape history. I do not believe that history will see a change to the political system as the protesters are demanding, although the country needs such a change if it is to avoid following Greece, Ireland and Portugal on the route to needing a bailout to avert bankruptcy. There are local elections on May 22nd. Some have said that these protests are not against the Government, but only against the political system of two major parties and smaller local political groups with regional interests that exists in Spain. Perhaps this is true. But it is also true that if the economy was healthy, if the unemployment rate was half the 21%, if the young could see hope, if pensioners could enjoy their well earned retirement then the protests would not have a base with which to build from. When people have hope and work, and a future, they have no need to protest. When these things are removed, then eventually they will stand up and speak out.

All political parties will do well to listen to the people who can put them in power, but who also, if there are enough of them, and if they are well organised, can remove that very privileged power.


May 17, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Thoughtful and true

    Comment by Simon | May 18, 2011 | Reply

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