Something in the Air

Is it the sweet smell of renaissance, or the bitter taste of bloody revolution?


“I am very satisfied, I think we have taken a very decisive step” says Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announcing Spain’s €100 billion bailout

I’m puzzled. Our government is celebrating that it has received a “line of credit” (not a rescue) of €100 billion Euros, and our Prime Minister welcomes it as “a global plan to breathe life back into the Spanish economy”. Meanwhile, in Asturias, to the north, a miner’s strike is developing into intifada-style guerrilla warfare, and the International Monetary Fund is ‘suggesting’ that the government raise taxes. Luis de Guindos, our smart, Lehman Brothers-educated Minister of Economy, stutters when he mentions the ‘volatility’ of the situation, and even with our financial sector bailed out, Moody’s still downgrades our banks.

We should be raising our glasses of sangria to the fact that we’ve sold our soul to the devil, but we hardly have the strength – we are, after all, one of the ‘sick men of Europe’ – or one of the ‘PIGS’, as the Financial Times affectionately used to call us.

Every time I try to discuss what is happening with my father, he tells me to shut up and not to talk about complicated things I do not understand… maybe I should write a letter to nice Mr Moody, asking for some clemency and explanations, since after all, we are only obeying his masters.

But what puzzles me even more, is to see how the government and the main opposition party (the PSOE – which was in power until 2011) both agree that the only solution for Spain is ‘more Europe’ – that is, less national sovereignty and more integration with Brussels.

Strangely it’s not even Brussels telling us what to do, but Berlin. Every time President Rajoy goes to meet Angela Merkel, he looks like a schoolboy being called to the principal’s office. It’s sad when a nation seems to have lost control of its own destiny, but personally I do not blame the Germans; we Spaniards were all very happy and thoroughly enjoyed all the flashy infrastructure that’s been built since the 1990s with European Union funds.

This crisis should not have come as a surprise. In 2005 the Spanish economy was booming – the flights from Madrid to New York were packed with Spaniards going shopping in the Big Apple. That same year a BP executive in London pointed out something I never forgot: “The situation in Spain scares me,” he said. “I see construction taking place everywhere, but I do not see a productive structure capable of sustaining that growth…” Two years later in 2007 our previous president, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, proudly stated that his government had managed to classify Spain amongst the “Champions League” of world economies.

But something is changing in Spain; people are pissed off and they are organizing themselves. For example, in Catalonia the movement “No vull pagar” (“I do not want to pay”) has managed to convince more than 25,000 Catalan drivers not to pay the excessive amount of tolls that flood Catalan highways. Albertis, the company that operates the concession, has calculated that the economic cost of this civil disobedience campaign exceeds €180,000 Euros.

In 2011 there were more than 58 000 foreclosures throughout the country. But a social movement, the “Plataforma Stop Desahucios” (“Stop Foreclosures”) has managed to stop countless foreclosures nationwide, giving some hope to families who not only are left in the street, but are unemployed and are still obliged to pay mortgage debt to the banks. Even though the value of those houses has decreased more than 12%, unlike their debts…

Back in 2010, Rodrigo Rato – former Economic Minister and once Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund – merged a few debt-ridden banks to create the cataclysm that today is Bankia, Spain’s fourth largest financial institution. Back then Rato never would’ve imagined that two years later, members of the 15-M movement would, in only a few hours, collect the €20 000 Euros necessary to bring a people’s lawsuit accusing him of falsifying the balance sheets. Back then, Rato never would’ve imagined that two years later, despite the flashy advertisements and PR campaigns, the government has had to nationalize Bankia, and pour €23 billion Euros into it. Soon, if we are lucky, he won’t even have to imagine himself standing in front of a judge, looking like an embarrassed child caught with his hands in the cookie jar.

Despite all this chaos, confusion and anger, and more than 20% unemployment of over 5 million people, bars are full when Spain plays in the European Cup, Big Brother still has an audience, people are planning their summer holidays, the streets are full of beautiful señoritas, and life goes on.

But this time, something tells me that this is just not another crisis. 22% of Spanish families live under the poverty line; every night there is an army of dispossessed waiting to pick up the food discarded by supermarkets; the immigrants that arrived in the 1990’s are abandoning ship; and in the streets of Norway it’s easy to find Spanish builders sleeping in the streets begging for something to eat.

Yes my friends, we are, in the words of the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, fucked. And we know it – but this time, we won’t go down without a fight. The question is, against whom? Ourselves? Evil German technocrats in black suits? Our incompetent politicians? McDonald’s? Which makes me wonder, how is it possible to fight against the civilization that engulfs us, without destroying ourselves in the process?

There is definitely something in the air; I just hope that it is the sweet smell of renaissance, not the bitter taste of bloody revolution.

— from Sergio Casesmeiro in Madrid, originally published by the Occupied Times