The March for Dignity
Last Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people converged on Madrid from the four corners of Spain in the so-called March of Dignity, something barely reported by the UK’s never failingly parochial mainstream media: a snippet on BBC World Service on Saturday night, and the briefest of articles on Sunday in The Guardian, courtesy of Associated Press, were almost the only echo.
The people who marched to the Spanish capital had been walking for weeks. Some had come from hundreds of miles away, from Santander in the north, from Malaga in the South, Valencia in the East; and in Madrid, they were met by tens of thousands of fellow protestors.
A rally was held in the Plaza de Colón, in the centre of Madrid, at five pm on Saturday, with the protestors occupying the 2.5 kilometres between the Atocha Train Station and the Plaza de Colón in what must be one of the biggest demonstrations against austerity ever seen in Europe.
The marchers came to protest against a number of different things, in a country with more than six million unemployed, including:
The dismantling of the Spanish welfare state in the name of EU imposed austerity – the in vogue term for the massive transfer of wealth from the poor of the south of Europe to the rich bankers in the north, in interest payments on debts, both private and public, which can never be repaid – and the privatization of a raft of basic services like education and health.
The tidal wave of corruption cases in the governments and administrations of the two main parties, the PP (Partido Popular) and the PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrera Española) at the national, local and municipal level, the length and breadth of the country, which has gone well beyond what is tolerable in a democratic State: with such endemic corruption, democracy itself is almost impossible.
A battery of anti-democratic laws passed by the current barbaric PP (Popular Party) government presided by Mariano Rajoy (the J is pronounced like the “ch” in loch) which restricts the rights of Spaniards to demonstrate and to express themselves – “insulting Spain”, whatever that means, is now a crime – undermining basic civil liberties. In keeping with that same spirit, the rally last night was broken up by Spanish riot police before the scheduled nine o’clock ending agreed beforehand with the authorities.
Perhaps the most draconian abortion law ever passed in Europe, something which even managed to win the condemnation of an editorial in The Times, no small feat for such a right-wing paper, and which has outraged women the length and breadth of Europe.
The eviction of thousands of Spaniards from their homes by the same banks the Spanish tax-payer only recently baled out; and in Spain, there is no “keys through the letter-box” option if you lose your job and then your home. Those who have their homes repossessed still have to pay any outstanding debt on the property after the bank sells it on at a knocked down price, which is tantamount to a modern form of slavery.
The biggest rise in social inequality in Europe, with spiralling poverty, hunger and the exile of hundreds of thousands of young Spaniards in search of work abroad.
The death of seventeen African immigrants, drowned after being shot with rubber bullets by Spanish border guards as they tried to swim into Spanish Melilla, where the deadly razor wire fences which line the border of the Spanish enclave in North Africa to prevent the entrance of desperate Africans into “fortress Europe”, have been condemned by human rights groups as inhumane and barbaric for the horrific injuries they can cause.
Spanish “democracy” is in a sorry state, run by a corrupt oligarchy which no longer even bothers to pretend to be governing for the general populace anymore.
The discontent runs much deeper than this particular government, though Rajoy and the PP would be more than enough to cause anybody to take to the streets – or indeed, run to the hills. The whole political system and the Spanish Transition to democracy is being challenged, and rightly so. Republican flags, somewhat a rarity ten years ago, are now seen all over Spain.
The protestors say they are in Madrid to stay; that the flame of 15M and the indignados has been reignited by these ordinary men, women and children who have marched for hundreds miles in the name of dignity, and for pan, techo y trabajo (bread, a roof over their head, and work); and against a corrupt and insatiable Spanish oligarchy and their financiers and backers in Berlin and Brussels, who have subverted and betrayed the same fundamental principles that any society which aspires to call itself modern, enlightened or even just democratic must always seek to uphold.
Can the 22-M (22nd of March) movement bring about real change and shatter the neo-liberal status quo in Europe? The fight will be a long one, but I would like to think that George Orwell was right, and not without cause, when he said, almost seventy years ago, that one must believe in the Spanish people; and that the 22-M and the March of Dignity can serve as an inspiration to all of those who live oppressed by neo-liberalism and never-ending austerity, in this Europe of government by the technocrats, for the bankers, against the people.