A day with Madrid's 'Indignant' youths
Thousands of protesters have taken over the heart of Madrid, setting up a semi-permanent camp to demand greater economic equality. FRANCE 24 takes you into the daily life of a movement that could trigger a European wave of peaceful uprisings.
All eyes have been on the Spanish capital’s iconic Puerta del Sol square since a May 15 demonstration against political corruption and economic hardship turned into a permanent occupation. Up to 60,000 protesters filled the square last weekend as Spain’s ruling Socialist Party lost to the conservatives in several local elections.
The sprawling encampment, made up of colourful tents, tarpaulins, battered mattresses and sofas, has kept on spreading despite a lower turnout for nightly rallies. Since then, a number of commissions dedicated to tackling infrastructure, communications, logistics and legal matters have sprung out of the early organisational chaos. The leaderless movement has set up an impressive system to cater to the weary protesters’ every need, from providing food and drinks to sun creams and foot massages.
Arab spring, European summer?
Has the democratic spirit embodied by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts crossed the Mediterranean? Madrid’s “indignados” – the “indignant ones”, as they call themselves – are mostly young people infuriated by a lack of economic prospects and a political elite they consider out of touch. Just like their North African counterparts, the protesters use social media to coordinate their non-violent protests, including massive sit-ins and the permanent occupation of symbolic squares.
But the Madrid protest camp is not Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The Spanish youths’ anger against the system is more diffuse than the Egyptian wave of fury that swept Hosni Mubarak out of power. You won’t find a dummy corpse of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero hanging from a lamp post in Puerta del Sol. The Spanish demands are more difficult to articulate, ranging from calls for specific electoral reforms to a pan-European rejection of government austerity plans.
There is no sign of the protesters coming under siege from regime forces, either. A few relaxed Spanish police officers stand guard in front of the old post office on the southern edge of the square – a stark contrast to the tense and ambiguous military presence in Cairo.
How to keep the momentum rolling
The non-confrontational atmosphere in Madrid has had a direct impact on the protesters’ motivation level, and organisers are trying hard to keep enthusiastic volunteers busy by setting up even more “commissions”.
The Art Commission provides materials for drawing and making banners, sometimes under a cloud of cannabis smoke. But there is no trace of marijuana in the improvised organic garden set up by protesters near one of the square’s fountains, where only legitimate vegetables are in evidence. A small library tent is packed every morning with people reading daily newspapers, provided free of charge. As for the enticingly named Espacio del Amor (Love Space), its main activities are tai chi and meditation sessions.
Although the momentum appears to have slowed since last weekend’s mass demonstration, a sense of optimism still prevails among the thousands of protesters calling the makeshift camp home.
But many here in Puerta del Sol are hoping their movement will ripple across the continent. The question on everyone’s lips remains…will the Arab Spring be followed by a European Summer of discontent?