Spaniards have finally lost patience with their government and are showing their anger through a series of protests
Having lived in Spain during the past year when unemployment figures rose by 4% to 24%, the highest in Europe, I have noticed that Spaniards have been, well, how to put this, calm. Not a trait usually attributed to Spaniards, I have been surprised at many of my colleagues’ and friends’ attitudes towards the economic crisis. Many people have taken an almost resigned attitude, no one likes or particularly supports the cuts, of course, but many people feel that they are necessary to get Spain out of recession.
With the exception of the one day general strike on 29 March this year, there has been little unrest, certainly nothing to rival the Greeks, who have seen a tumultuous year of, sometimes shocking, acts of protest, such as the 77-year old man who shot himself outside the Greek parliament, writing in a suicide note that the government had cut his pension to nothing. Nothing even close to the kind of unrest that has occurred in Greece has hit Spain, but this week, there have been signs that perhaps Spaniards’ patience has been tested too far, that maybe Spaniards have just had enough.
On Tuesday evening, thousands of miners, some of whom had marched for days from the north of Spain, marched down the Gran Vía, Madrid’s main street, their headlamps lit. They made for an impressive and arresting sight. They were marching towards the Industry ministry to protest against plans to slash coal industry subsidies from €301m last year to €111m this year. Unions say the cuts threaten 30,000 jobs and could destroy their industry.
Wednesday saw yet more protesting along the Castellana, once of Madrid’s main streets, towards the Industry Ministry, with police firing rubber bullets at crowds of protestors. Photographs published soon after showing a blood-soaked woman show how suddenly serious the atmosphere of protest has become in Madrid. Wandering down the Castellana yesterday after the protest outside the Ministry of Industry, banners bearing slogans of, ‘Sin pan, sin paz‘ (without bread, without peace), ‘justicia’ (justice) and ‘no’ next to a picture of some scissors (no cuts) lay strewn across the street.
On Thursday, civil servants protested against the planned cuts to their Christmas bonus pay, stopping traffic on some of Madrid’s main streets. They are planning to reconvene to protest at midday and six o’clock everyday from now on.
There was a sense at the beginning of Rajoy’s presidency that, despite not necessarily liking him or his party, he was only doing what was necessary to rescue Spain. Now, after breaking a campaign pledge not to raise taxes, Rajoy risks turning the entire population against him.
“I said I would reduce taxes and I am increasing them…the circumstances have changed and I have to adapt myself to them”, Mr Rajoy said.
Many Spaniards are becoming desperate and there are very few who have not felt the difficult effects of government cuts.They are less inclined to give Rajoy the benefit of the doubt, and now protesting has really got going, protests could very well continue and increase over the coming weeks. Reactions look set to get angrier as an increasing number of Spaniards feel the effects of even more cuts.