They say that democracy also includes the rights of citizens to demonstrate. And to complain about things that are not working, to demand their rights, to express their hopelessness, and to call at the top of their lungs for someone to give them a hand – and not a hand round their necks.
The crisis didn’t come as a surprise in Spain, but it has punished without mercy, running over everything that stood in its way: families evicted from their homes because they couldn’t continue paying their rent or mortgage after losing their jobs.
And an unknown number of unemployed, unknown because of the relentless drip-drip of people who are joining the queues at the benefit offices every day. It is clear that Spain, along with Greece, has the highest level of unemployment in Europe, now standing at 25%.
It could be higher. Charity food distributors are overwhelmed with people who have absolutely nothing except charity to depend on . . . cuts are everywhere, without forgetting the loss of health benefits and assistance for parents with children in school.
Then there is the painful increase in the level of VAT, and widespread dissatisfaction with the political parties among the population, because of the ineffective policies which reflect the depth of the crisis.
Plus the impotence that comes from being unable to see immediate improvements – neither in the near or distant future.
And there is the stampede of young people to other countries, where they find – -well, at least something in the way of work. And the frustration of watching how a society struggling to stay afloat is moving towards a major conflict.
It seems that the cuts have turned into the best ally of the crisis. And that is why – among many other reasons – on the 25th of September a peaceful protest was organized at the parliament in Madrid, with the slogan “Surround the Congress”.
It was a demonstration against the cuts, and against the government – a government which is no longer considered legitimate by a large part of the population – and through giving a voice to everyone it may now be supported by many more.
A population that doesn’t believe the politicians any longer, very likely because they don’t trust them; an electorate which sees their voice being silenced in decision-making and looks on at the deaf ears of the powerful while intoning the mantra: “No, they don’t represent us”.
The plan of the demonstrators was to form a circle around Congress in a show of support with many others. It was more an act of desperation to show that something is wrong, because truly Spain is not working, it is not well.
The government representative finally approved the demonstration for Tuesday the 25th, the day that parliament returned.
And that was despite the government delegate Cristina Cifuentes spending days expressing her discontentment with the demonstration, declaring: “to demonstrate near the parliament is illegal”.
The fact is that Article 21 of the Spanish Constitution: The Right to Peaceful Assembly states that “the right to peaceful assembly without arms is recognized”, and adds: “the exercise of this right does not require prior authorisation – – – such demonstrations can only be prohibited when there exist threats to public order, with risks to people or property. The authority of the government will protect meetings and demonstrations against those who seek to prevent, disturb, or weaken the exercise of this right”.
But things hardly ever happen the way they are planned.
Buses coming from Zaragoza, among many other cities, arriving in Madrid with the intention of joining the demonstration were stopped and checked by police. And, as if they were vans transferring prisoners from one prison to another, the travellers were frisked, sniffed by dogs, and had their rucksacks searched.
And in one case, very obviously disproportionate, the actions of the police soon became a revival of the law of the heavy hand.
The police claimed that their actions were the result of the presence of violent demonstrators who began throwing bottles and home-made missiles. However, others can interpret it as something that was done to make clear “who is in charge here”.
Certainly the pictures emerging from the demonstration are disturbing. During what appears like a real pitched battle, the police chose to clear the sites with truncheons in hand, hitting anyone in range without distinction of age or gender.
Those people who were in Atocha station were surprised by police firing rubber bullets, as if they had been taking part in a riot. Some of those people, as can be clearly seen in the many videos posted on the internet, were only waiting for a train.
The end result was bleak. We don’t know how many people were beaten or arrested, or how many injured. And among those who were beaten it is worth highlighting a policeman who had infiltrated the demonstrators, and was struck by his professional colleagues, not knowing what he was.
One of many videos anonymously posted on the internet shows how they beat and shoved him for what must have felt to him like several interminable minutes, in spite of his shouting madly at them to stop because he was one of them: “I’m with you. I said I’m one of you, idiot !”
When Spain will resolve its crisis seems to be the best kept secret. That there are people who are responsible, is an open secret. That Spain needs help and wants solutions now, is not much of a secret – – – And finally it seems to be rather a paradox, given that everyone, demonstrators as well as the police, are in the same boat.
The former feel themselves abandoned in a democracy that appears to have lost all its meaning.
Some have lost their jobs and are demanding to have one. Others would be happy if the bank just gave them a bit longer to pay their mortgage. And many others, although they are studying, are looking fearfully towards a future that is no longer waiting for them, because unfortunately for the moment there is none.
The latter, the police – being merely employees of the state – do what they are told to do. But as the independent journalist Tim Pool, who was covering Surround the Congress from inside the battleground, said: “If the government has to arrest even one single person in order to keep itself in power, that is a tyranny”.
(Translated by Graham Douglas – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)