The Revolution Reaches Europe: Tens of Thousands Protest in Greece and Spain

24.6.11

The revolutionary movement that began in Tunisia at the end of last year has now sparked mass movements in Europe; principally, to date, in Greece and Spain. On the surface, these movements have little in common. In Tunisia and Egypt, the people came out in vast numbers to overthrow the hated dictators who, for decades, had strangled their economies and presided over police states, whereas in Greece and Spain, the protestors are not seeking the overthrow of dictators, and are not rebelling against a police state (although both countries can draw on their relatively recent experience of dictatorship).

Beneath the surface discrepancies, however, the revolutionary movements of 2011 share noticeable similarities — not just because they are all, to some extent, popular uprisings involving word-of-mouth and social networking, without the kind of fixed organisational leadership that has been behind previous revolutionary movements, but also because they are all, fundamentally, attacking the malevolent impact of unfettered 21st century capitalism on entire populations, whether these involve dictators enriching themselves by facilitating Western exploitation at the expense of their people, or the populations of European countries being told that they have to pay for the excesses of their leaders and the banks. Everywhere, bankers, corporations and major shareholders continue to make profits, while everyone else loses, and is supposed to go quietly to the abattoir of their hopes and dreams.

In Spain, where the unemployment rate is over 20 percent — and the youth unemployment rate is a staggering 45 percent — protestors, identifying themselves as “los indignados” (the indignant), first followed the lead established in Tunisia and Egypt on May 15, when tens of thousands of people undertook what the BBC described as “a spontaneous sit-in” in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square. Tens of thousands more protestors then occupied public spaces in Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla and Bilbao ahead of local elections, despite a pre-election ban on political protest.

As the BBC explained on May 21, they were “demanding jobs, better living standards, a fairer system of democracy and changes to the Socialist government’s austerity plans.” One protestor, Natividad Garcia, captured the amorphous, leaderless movement’s aims, saying, “They want to leave us without public health, without public education, half of our youth is unemployed, they have risen the age of our retirement as well. This is an absolute attack on what little state welfare we had.”

Particular outrage was reserved for the “Euro Pact” agreed in March by all the countries tied together through their use of the Euro as currency. As AFP explained, the pact, which was “[d]rawn up under pressure from France and Germany,” insisted on “greater budgetary discipline and economic policy convergence to ensure that countries stabilise their finances and reduce debt.”

Although the Madrid occupation came to an end on June 12, the protestors stated that the movement would continue, and were true to their word. Last weekend, “seething over the destruction of millions of jobs, welfare cuts and corruption,” as AFP described it, 200,000 protesters gathered in Madrid, Barcelona and other major cities “to vent their anger.” In Madrid, 40,000 people “converged from six points around the city to the central square of Plaza de Neptuno, near the Spanish parliament,” and in Barcelona, there were up to 75,000 demonstrators.

The protests were followed, this week, by the start of three nationwide marches which will culminate in a major rally in Madrid on July 24. One, from Valencia, involves activists marching and cycling on a month-long, 300-mile journey through 29 towns and villages to reach Madrid, and others are leaving from Cadiz and Barcelona. The Valencia group, Acampada Valencia, stated that they would be holding meetings en route “to bring their indignation inland just as the movement is growing at the international level.”

In Greece, meanwhile, Syntagma Square in Athens has become the epicentre of an extraordinary movement against the savage austerity cuts imposed on Greece last year as its economy fell into freefall. Understandably angered at the cuts they are being made to suffer in place of those who caused the financial crisis, Greeks of all ages, and from all walks of life, have taken over the square below the Parliament, mixing political activism with theatrical interludes. As Aditya Chakrabortty explained for the Guardian earlier this week, since May 25 protestors — tens of thousands of them — have been gathering here to listen, for hours, to speakers who each get three minutes on the microphone to make their point. “Most of them,” as Chakrabortty explained, “use the time alternatively to slag off the politicians and to egg on their fellow protesters.”

Outside Parliament, as Chakrabortty also explained, the crowd, chanting, “Thieves! Thieves!” demonstrated why Syntagma Square “has become the new frontline of the battle against European austerity.” As he stated:

There is another mic here, and it’s grabbed by a man wearing a mask of deputy prime minister Theodoros Pangalos: “My friends, we all ate together.” He is quoting the socialist politician, who claimed on TV last year that everyone bore the responsibility for the squandering of public money. Pangalos may have intended his remark as the Greek equivalent of George Osborne’s remark that “We’re all in it together”, but here they’re not having it. “You lying bastard!” They roar back. “You’re so fat you ate the entire supermarket.”

The mood here matters, as Chakrabortty also noted, with Prime Minister George Papandreou fighting to keep his job, and trying to “win MPs’ support for the most extreme package of spending cuts, tax rises and privatizations ever faced by any developed country.” As Chakrabortty added, “what happens between this square and the parliament matters for the rest of the eurozone.”

While all eyes are on Greece, with politicians fearful, and economic commentators assessing possible economic carnage, with a new bailout pushing allies to breaking point, and speculation that Greece will default on its current repayments, my sympathies lie with the people, who, like those in other squeezed economies, including Ireland, and, in a more targeted and cynical manner, in the UK under the Tories’ ideological scalpel for the poor, the sick and the unemployed, are being scapegoated for something that was not fundamentally their problem.

What we need, I believe, is a fundamental overhaul of the political systems that we have allowed to exist in the West — or have had imposed on us — since the 1980s. While the artificial boom years of the last two decades involved too much living on credit, the banking crash of 2008 is at the heart of our current woes, and yet ordinary people are being made to pay for it, even though the bankers are mostly free to pursue pre-crash business as usual, the super-rich have bounced back to the obscene wealth levels they were at previously, and corporations continue to evade taxes at a disgraceful rate.

When Greece was bailed out with a €110bn loan from Europe and the IMF last year, the plan was that the money “would tide the country over for a year, in which time his government would at least start sorting out its public finances.” However, as Aditya Chakrabortty explained:

A year in, and the deal is not working. Greece has been in recession for two years and on official forecasts this will be its third. When I ask Athens University economist Yanis Varoufakis to describe the economy, he shoots back one sentence: “It’s in freefall.” … [H]e throws out some statistics: 50,000 businesses went bankrupt last year, industrial production fell 20% and will drop another 12% this year. Unemployment has surged, so that one in six of the workforce doesn’t have a job. These are the sort of figures associated with a depression, and the predictable result is that the public finances are getting worse. Greece’s debt has ballooned to 153% of GDP; on Varoufakis’s projections, even if ministers manage to make all their promised cuts, the government will owe three times the entire national income.

The impact on ordinary workers is keenly felt. For example, Chryssa Michalopolou, a teacher, “calculate[d] that her annual pay has already gone down by the equivalent of one and a half months, while her living costs have shot up, thanks to rising taxes and inflation.” Chakrabortty asked her is she accepted the government’s claims about needing to cut back on public sector spending.

Her reply? “After 15 years’ service, I’m only on €1,200 (£1,056) a month,” she said. “I didn’t see any boom; I simply paid my taxes and now I am being punished.”

That, for me, is at the heart of the problems facing Europe — austerity programs, of varying degrees of severity, that fail to provide any positive message for the future to electorates who, while being squeezed more and more, see no indication whatsoever that those squeezing them are suffering at all.

Times are very tough in Greece, and the vitriol aimed at deputy prime minister Theodoros Pangalos is, as a result, entirely appropriate. Here in the UK, however, we are clearly not “all in it together,” as our Etonian leaders would have us believe, and David Cameron’s “big society” is an unsalvageable joke, but there is still too much belief that the government is responding to a crisis in the only way possible, when there are always options, and treating the City and corporate tax avoiders with kid gloves — as well as funding Royal Weddings and mounting a military campaign in Libya — might not be very good ways of spending money when we are being told that there is no money left to run a decent welfare state.

Someone is lying — and, as in Greece and elsewhere in the West, where austerity measures are underway — the culprits are those in high office, who are not acknowledging that there are alternatives, and that while the greedy continue to go about their predatory business unpunished, the ordinary people are unlikely to be fooled in sufficient numbers, and to accept that it is their fault.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

49 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Terry Sully wrote:

    finally a revolution!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Esteban Chavez wrote:

    hmmm if only we could bring it home to walmart nation, wisconsin was a start.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Marcia Bruton- Van Lenten wrote:

    I’m ready to march, scream!!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Janice Lato wrote:

    The people are getting restless …..

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Or “The people getting angry,” as the Specials sang in “Ghost Town,” their great 1981 hit (exactly 30 years ago). That song’s never far from my mind, but I was particularly thinking about it this week, as Jerry Dammers came to the Parliamentary screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo” on Tuesday. Thanks, Jerry!

    Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WhhSBgd3KI

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m digging and sharing this now.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    And thanks, everyone. Something’s certainly happening, even if it’s just because the illusion of the good times has come to such a crashing end over the last few years.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    H.p. Albarelli wrote:

    ‎45% youth unemployment is a sure recipe for serious trouble, and it should be, but we should keep in mind the same rate and higher has held in the African-American youth ranks in US for decades…. simply put there are NOT enough jobs to go around today in either US , Spain, or any country on the globe, and this is a far far more serious problem.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Agreed, H.p., which is why we need some seriously original thinking. Back in the 80s, when outsourcing first really took off, I saw it as nothing more than the slow death of jobs in the West, then we had call centres to replace manufacturing until they too went offshore, because it was cheaper in India, where young people were given a crash course in British culture and, insultingly, were also given British names, and now we have supermarkets in the UK replacing employees on the tills with self-service machines. These are just a few snapshots, but they all have a particular resonance for me, and this job-shedding mentality still prevails.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    You are right Andy. I refuse to use those automatic machines in the local supermarket, and when an employee asks me to I tell him or her that the person’s job is at risk. Tonight I heard from a friend that Swedish unemployment among minority youth is at 20-25%, which amazed me. One hears only about some average of 9%, but who knows how that figure was arrived at? I remember getting angry around 1985, when I heard about a fellow from the Brookings Institute who advised the Swedish government. He claimed that this country would have to accept a 2% overall unemployment rate if it’s government wanted to keep up the high quality of the Welfare State. Well, the present government has no such desire, whatever spin they might use.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Janice Lato wrote:

    Agree, Andy and H.p. Jobs should be the biggest focus for all countries. So the people, especially the young people, can make a living. Everyone wants to have enough money for food, shelter and the basics. Especially when youth are educated and cannot find jobs. Just setting things up for trouble. Creating jobs should be a high priority for any government. And keeping jobs at home / sustainable living.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, George and Janice.
    Very glad to hear from you, George. Youth employment is near a million here in the UK, and what upsets me is that older people don’t generally care. It’s just another symptom of how much we’re suffering from Margaret Thatcher’s destruction of “society” in the 1980s. Those in their 40s and older have been ripping off the young people for decades now, so far too many older people aren’t really bothered if McJobs for young people turn into unemployment.
    And Janice, yes, that’s it. Protecting jobs was a priority for me at last year’s General Election in the UK, but that wasn’t on anyone’s agenda. Everyone was going to cut, cut, cut, but unfortunately we got the most enthusiastic executioners of the lot in David Cameron and George Osborne and their cronies and LibDem dupes like Vince Cable and Danny Alexander. I don’t see the point of government otherwise — more outsourcing, more unemployment and no jobs at home (and no green agenda, of course) = useless failed government. Next!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Janice Lato wrote:

    Very well said! What is the point of government, then.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Of the people, for the people, Janice. How revolutionary is that?!?

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Janice Lato wrote:

    That is what government leaders say, but actions speak louder than words.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    H.p. Albarelli wrote:

    You’re right, Andy, serious original thinking is needed but I fear that is near completely stymied by the powers that be that have been bought off by big money and big corporations that have near completely devalued human workers; what may be needed is a real revolution of sorts…

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Khan Sohail wrote:

    thanx Andy for this one , very well written and concise . Shared !

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Janice and H.p., and thanks, Khan. Glad you liked it. I’ve been so busy for the last couple of months with Guantanamo and the WikiLeaks files that I’d been feeling out of touch with so many of the other things going on, so it was great to do some research and to catch up on some of these stories.
    H.p., yes, I fear that some sort of real revolution may be needed, and I fear it for two reasons: firstly, because those who overthrow tyrants so often end up being tyrants themselves; and secondly, because those on the right may come up with their own revolutionary movement. It’s why i think we need to raise consciousness as much as possible, so that some kid of shift in perception might become possible. I don’t mean to sound mystical about it, but I’m a man of the pen rather than the sword, so I’d rather aim for transforming people’s perceptions and understanding before I start sharpening my pitchfork and thinking about a real, in-the-streets revolution…

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    H.p. Albarelli wrote:

    I agree, Andy, but today’s youth are a very very impatient bunch.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Then I guess it depends how much time we have, H.p. I was an impatient youth once. I got older!

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    David G. McGrady wrote:

    Get involved or perish. Don’t expect others to fight your battles for you.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Robert Palmer wrote:

    Very good to see people gathering together to oppose unfair austerity measures. And in the USA many will gather in DC for the http://www.october2011.org/ October 6th movement. Please consider being there, the more the more fun and the more chance of making some progress and getting some media attention.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    David G. McGrady wrote:

    Yes Janice Lato, but, it takes A LOT to move Americans in that direction. They are too much into self-preservation and entertaining themselves while hoping things will get better over time without serious personal sacrifices. Which our corporate/bank controlled gov’t is well aware of..

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    H.p. Albarelli wrote:

    you are so so right, David.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    David G. McGrady wrote:

    Robert, you have to take ‘FUN’ the party/carnival atomsphere out of the mix to be taken seriously by those in power.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    H.p. Albarelli wrote:

    ‎…and I don’t think we have a lot of time at all…

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Robert Palmer wrote:

    David, do not take my “Fun” too seriously. I have been at very serious actions and had fun. I have have been at actions with CodePink, who are some of our best activists, and had fun as we expressed a serious message. It the ears do not hear then we speak another way, however having fun is important too. “,,,and don’t forget to boogie..”

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    David G. McGrady wrote:

    I won’t, Robert. Code Pink does a good job of making a nuisance of themselves. Which those in power, pretty much blow off as Rumsfeld did saying ‘those crazy freeze dried hippy types’. To those in power, it’s like swatting a mosquito (having them dragged away by security), which does away with the problem. Unless, that mosquito is carrying malaria or the AIDs virus. Then, the mosquito is treated seriously.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Monique D’hooghe wrote:

    the protesters here in brussels have faced batons and tear gas over the last few weeks

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    David G. McGrady wrote:

    Most Americans would scatter like frightened sheep.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    David G. McGrady wrote:

    Which our corporate controlled govt is well aware of.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Monique D’hooghe wrote:

    we try to get out of the way of the batons and the water cannons as well… long enough to regroup….

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    David G. McGrady wrote:

    That’s the proper thing to do, regroup and get behind them.

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Robert Palmer wrote:

    You can dismiss Code Pink however I know there are legislators who have thanked Code Pink by saying “Keep up your actions.” It is easy for Rumsfeld to dismiss them and those who agree with Rumsfeld can also however those who believe in the positions and issues that Code Pink is speaking about do not dismiss them. I do not. I have been to Code Pink actions and I have joined them.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Mona Kranke wrote:

    Both countries were under fascist dictatorship during the lifetime of the young people’s parents! The people remember how to resist, and they can compare then and now and the time after 1980, but besides Portugal and Ireland have all the other European countries no survivors of the resistance, or a few very old which fought against the German invaders, what is not the same, than to stand against the own leaders, which have declared themselves as “democratic elected representatives of the nation”! But nobody in Europe has more experiences about the outcome of democratic elections than the Spanish people!
    :-((

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    Pedro Saboulard wrote:

    re-posting!

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, everyone. I’m so glad this has taken off — 340 people have shared it to date.
    Excellent conversations going on while I was asleep. I’ll only add that it’s numbers that scare them — and in the US, what was happening earlier this year in Wisconsin must have been freaking out the powers-that-be. As Tunisia and Egypt showed, it’s difficult to take on huge crowds unless you’re really prepared to massacre your own unarmed civilians.
    Mona, great points about history which I hope I referred to adequately, and Monique, my apologies for overlooking Belgium. I shall try to redress that, although a Western country without a functioning government for a year also presents new opportunities and challenges.

  38. Dagens rekommenderade länk – Andy Worthington om den Europeiska Revolutionen | Nemokrati says...

    [...] artikeln ”The Revolution Reaches Europe: Tens of Thousands Protest in Greece and Spain” påtalar Andy Worthington makthavarnas misstag, att fortsätta socialisera förlusterna och [...]

  39. Andy Worthington says...

    Mona Kranke wrote:

    I can’t rate “liked” here today, but comment! ;-) – the FB weekend bug of the month?
    @Andy – I assume to have your kind consent to add a slight off-topic comment!?!
    @Monique – Belgium is an example of nationalism – far outside of this, what we like and want as the “European community” which the most of us have in mind as our homeland!! In different cases!! In my opinion it is significant that this evolution is going on in the heart-land of the EU! It would be interesting to hear about the development in Belgium by a Belgian citizen, who is not a journalist and not living in Bruxelles!
    ^-^
    You are living in Bruxelles? Are you a journalist too? ;-)
    Would you like to write about your opinion in the Belgian issues of separatism?
    I can’t imagine, that their hostilities derive simply from the people’s mind, but are fired by the media! Mostly all the public media in the EU belongs to the zionists, the big 3: TIME Warner, Bertelsmann and some Disney! What do you think about the source of this … I have no English word for this childish and ridiculous sort of self-destruction, what they call patriotism or nationalism in the era of globalisation and a global acting strong enemy at the gates!
    I know about many regions, which were once separated in the past, that there is an undercurrent of hostility, which survived for generations, but most likely occur to the daylight in jokes or humorous sayings – nothing what endangers the social peace and the stability of the country! After all I read and hear, they behave like the Yugoslavians did or Pakistanis still are doing! The outcome of these attitudes can be watched currently at the places of their occurance!
    The enemy of the mankind is happy! “divide et impera” ! Why? In the UK for example are historic hostilities between the English and their “colonized” nations in Wales, Scotia and some minor ethnics at the islands – but this is not a threat to social security! In Yugoslavia was less animosity between linguistic or religious groups before 1990, as today in Belgium!
    My recommendation
    >>Support the NWO! Divide your country into small pieces – preferably with the aid of a civil war! preferably with the aid of a civil war! There are cheap tanks and fighter planes offered! Submarines are also available, because Greece is bankrupt and can’t pay the bills to ThyssenKrupp, KraussMaffei, EADS and and not even the British Harriers!
    BIG OFFER ! The winner gets the Peace Nobel Price, the loser will be transported at the expense of the Pentagon to the court in den Haag! < <
    If the EU would collapse, there is Europe only a handful of small scraps of land which are just big enough to build an U.S. military base on each one! - As the example of the former Yugoslavia shows !
    **Unfortunately I don't speak French**.
    footnote:
    (The European community is our homeland in my use of the term and has nothing to do with the EU administration in Brussels, which is working against the people and for the global imperialism! We already call it "Schengen states" because this is what we want and need ! "EU" sounds like "hostile takeover" and the term is used to define the crowd of unsrupulous traitors and bought puppets in Brussels!
    "Schengen" meaning for people from overseas:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schengen_Agreement )

  40. Andy Worthington says...

    Alexey Braguine wrote:

    This is just the beginning. The internet is now considered a basic human right by most.

  41. Andy Worthington says...

    Alexey Braguine wrote:

    Wealth and economic power is shared by less people. Income within this group has reached previously unheard of levels. An example: Friend of mine showed me a copy of a restaurant bill in NYC for 12 guests. The host paid US$43,000 plus change. That is $3583 per guest. The financial injustices occuring now have reached Dickensian proportions of financial inequality. Oligarchs, bankers, financiers should take notice before the mobs’ anger gets out of hand.

  42. Andy Worthington says...

    Sylvia Martin wrote:

    Westers are waking up to the fact that repression doesn’t have to be just physically violent and politically based. Economic repression and corporatist, secretive government are violent in their own way.

  43. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mona, Alexey and Sylvia — and the 391 people who have shared this so far.
    Excellent anecdote, Alexey, about the extent of the inequalities that people seem to be putting up with because, following the American model, this has become more and more people’s aspirations, and so they don’t want to criticize what they blindly hope will one day be theirs.
    And Sylvia, yes, I agree re: the inherent violence of our governments.

  44. Andy Worthington says...

    Mona Kranke ‎wrote:

    @Alexey – As Andy already wrote: An impressive and short story!
    Explications are not needed!
    As more people in poverty are available, as more can gain the rich! India and China are the best examples, where the poverty is increasing for the most people and therefore are a few very rich! In the Western world it is obvious, because the middle class is disappearing ! But not because their upgrade!
    I try to use short sentences and precise words since 60 years – without much success! It’s an ability of an author indeed!

  45. Andy Worthington says...

    Carolyn Pascoe wrote:

    The commoners finally have had enough against the weathy class and feel it’s time to draw a line in the sand. I just hope the people in the U.S. can be brave enough too to take a stand against injustice and human rights inequality to march in the streets to the halls of power in D.C.!!!!!

  46. Andy Worthington says...

    My hope too, Carolyn, and this looks like a good start: http://www.october2011.org/

  47. Obenar says...

    Hey Andy –

    You and your readers might want to check out Ellen Brown’s Web Of Debt. As I read it the primary way the people of Spain and Greece can get themselves out of their current fiscal quicksand is to take their currencies out of the international money market and to establish truly public/national banks that serve the needs of the citizens and don’t tie into the international banking system.

    http://www.webofdebt.com/

    –Obenar

  48. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Obenar. I hadn’t heard of that book, and I’m very interested in your conclusions. I hope to find more time to look into the economic side of things, but one of the reasons the bankers have been able to get away with their crimes is that ordinary people (like me) struggle to comprehend exactly what crooked measures they’ve been dreaming up for the last 20-plus years.

  49. zeke says...

    I hope the people of Greece and Spain can change things. I think a real revolution is when one class seizes power from another.

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