Written by Kevin Dunne.
An estimated 6,000 people marched on the Spanish Parliament building in Madrid Tuesday afternoon in response to increasingly poor economic conditions. According to Raphael Minder of the New York Times, “Parliament took on the appearance of a fortress as about 1,400 police officers surrounded the building to keep back demonstrators. The organizers of the latest protest said in a statement that they had no plans to try to occupy Parliament, but instead wanted to surround the building to show that ‘democracy has been kidnapped’ by inept Spanish politicians.” The protest was organized by social media sites, not the two mainstream unions that typically organize movements such as this. In several videos, the crowds of protesters are primarily younger people, showing just how influential certain social networking websites are becoming across the world.
Spain’s economy has all but totally collapsed within the past months, in part because of the actions of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Facing major pressure, both internal and external, Spain’s financial troubles have intensified. Catalonia, which is responsible for one-fifth of Spain’s economic output, has been weakened by some of Rajoy’s polices on taxation, budget cuts, and redistribution plans. Catalonian leaders have asked for more independence from the rest of Spain. Raphael Minder also reports that, “Catalonia’s demands for more autonomy have been fueled by its own financial problems, which forced the Catalan government last month to request $6.5 billion from an emergency fund of $23.3 billion set up by Mr. Rajoy’s government to help regions meet their debt financing obligations.” This, along with Rajoy’s austerity plans, are what set the protesters off, causing them to march on their Parliament building. Austerity is defined as a policy of deficit-cutting, lower spending, and a reduction in the amount of benefits and public services provided. Essentially, Rajoy’s proposal would seek to reduce spending by axing some public programs and services, such as cutting pensions and possibly increasing the retirement age.
Prior to the protest, Catalonia called for an early election on November 25th to decide if they should split from the rest of Spain. The rest of the country has been in a waxing and waning recession for the past few years, and with unemployment at a staggering 25%, it is no wonder austerity measures were introduced.
During the protests, several people, including two police officers, were reportedly injured and several were sent to the hospital. Over 1,000 officers were sent to respond to the protesters and contain the crowd (which halted traffic), but several videos show minor acts of violence erupting. Overall, the protest was relatively peaceful and the protesters effectively conveyed their message to their government.