Divide and Conquer, Or How Spaniards are Getting Tired

Spaniards are usually calm and patient.  We don’t protest as much as, say, the French.  We don’t think we need to.  But when we do we're serious.  And the crisis along with the changes the governing Partido Popular (Popular Party) has introduced in the past months has prompted the number of protests to rise dramatically, with an average of 10 demonstrations a day in Madrid.  People speak about little else but the crisis and protests.  While most of the demonstrations are not covered in depth by the media, some have gained attention around the world, especially, of course, those that turned violent.

In some ways, Madrid seems normal, with people in bars or in shops and walking around leisurely.  But for some time government employees have been demonstrating almost daily in front of their offices.  Every now and then teachers, students, and parents go on strike over education cuts.  Some doctors and nurses have refused to follow the latest legal mandates that exclude illegal immigrants from receiving treatment.  Every new austerity measure is followed by strikes; every comment a politician makes in favor of the unpopular policy sparks yet more protests.

On 25 September of this year there was a protest, “Surround the Congress,” that was especially violent, with 35 people arrested and 64 people injured.  Some police officers dressed as civilians provoked clashes (one of the officers was actually attacked by his own colleagues who though he was a civilian).  Policemen also went into Madrid’s main train station, chasing and harassing people and bystanders (protesters as well as passengers, no questions asked).  Some police officials and politicians criticized this lawlessness, but mostly it was ignored or even encouraged by the media and some reactionary lawmakers.  All of this is worrying in a democracy.  Spaniards are tiring of the chaos.

Our pro-austerity politicians are not changing their views.  They blame the opposition party for the country’s ills instead of wondering how it is possible that their own policies are so unpopular.  They also made matters worse by enacting legislation to criminalize protests or conjure useful distractions over long-forgotten issues.  So it is that after this last demonstration in September and the events that followed it, focus mysteriously shifted to the issue of Catalonia’s possible independence.  While many Catalans and others support the region’s autonomy, we had forgotten about the matter during the economic crisis, yet it is being spoken about again.  People have demonstrated in Barcelona and in Madrid against the austerity cuts; we’re all united against them, as are the Greeks and Portuguese.

I don’t think this new conversation over Catalonia’s future is prompted by the upcoming elections in that region alone.  Politicians want us to be confused and angry at each other.  Divide and conquer—and few issues are more likely to stir passions than Catalan independence.  Exacerbating tensions is Education Minister José Ignacio Wert, who keeps voicing inflammatory remarks, including his hope of “Spaniolizing Catalonia” or those that criticize parents for joining student protests.  So it goes.  Divide Spain more.  Politicians accuse others of dividing the country; they question the integrity of the people and other politicians while ignoring the cause of the protests that are actually tearing the country apart.

The Partido Popular, with the excuse of the crisis and the bad leadership of the previous socialist government, has approved new austerity measures that impact those cherished services that Spaniards care most about: education, social security, pensions and employment protections.  Now that our taxes are no longer paying what made us proud of our system, now that rich are getting richer and banks are keeping our houses, we realize that we have to do something.  We are surrounding the Congress again this month.  The protests will keep happening all over the country to show that no matter what politicians want us to think, we are together and united against them.

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