How a divided Spain started a revolution

Published on openDemocracy, by Bernardo Gutiérrez, June 1, 2011.

The Spanish Revolution is a result of deep underlying divisions running through the Spanish society, which the political class and mainstream media continue to ignore at the peril of the country’s democracy.

Over the last two weeks I have become a compulsive twitterer. I update my Facebook account as I walk. I write – for blogs, sites, media – about the #spanishrevolution. I think collectively. “How would you explain the #spanishrevolution to a German?”, I tweet. Miguel Martinez, a person I have never met, replies: “Spain followed the dictates of Angela Merkel and continues to support German banks.” Had I asked, “how do you explain the protests to a banker?”, the response would have been even more aggressive. 

I don’t understand why most media outlets framed the protests in Spain as anti-government. Or against unemployment and the dire situation of the youth. Why relate Madrid to Cairo when the real reasons for the demonstrations lie elsewhere?

It strikes me that the Twitter account of Wikileaks was busier than many international newspapers recommending the text The Icelandic revolt of Spain. They saw a clear parallel between the #spanishrevolution and the country in the Atlantic that refused to pay for the mistakes of their banks. The link is so clear that Hördur Torfason, the man who prompted Icelanders to fight politicians and bankers, recorded a greeting to the Spanish people. In fact, the rage against a world governed by rating agencies and financial speculation has been one of the seeds of Spanish indignation … //

… Until Real Democracy NOW called a demonstration for May 15th, taking place in over 50 cities under the slogan: “We are not puppets in the hands of politicians and bankers.” And the protests became a huge success with ten thousand people in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol on May 16th. And Spain finally woke up on the 17th with major protests taking place all over the country.

Crisis. Greedy bankers. Corruption. Unemployment. And the #spanishrevolution set Twitter on fire. A cartoon by El Roto for El País offered the best summary: “The youth took to the street, and suddenly the parties were sidelined.”

The results of the elections revealed another, more dangerous divide than the digital or economic: the democratic one. The international press highlighted the demise of the Socialists. The national press declared the Conservatives winners. But the most important political force were those who abstained, a majority of 33 percent of the votes.

Meanwhile, Spain is full of campers. Young. Adult. Leftists. Nonpartisans. Even a couple of conservatives. But the parties still don’t mention the so called 15-M movement. As the world interprets the #spanishrevolution as a revolution towards a system 2.0 that is more participatory and democratic, the political class has yet to understand this message. Spanish society demands a genuine dialogue, a more open system.

But politicians have retreated to their offices, refusing to engage, while I am still tweeting, navigating, guided by hashtags through the #spanishrevolution. (full text).

An earlier version of this article appeared in German in Der Tagesspiegel – Yes, we camp – Digitale Empörung, analoger Widerstand, Wie sich die Jugend in Spanien gegen das politische System formiert, von Bernardo Gutiérrez, 27.05.2011.

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