Dreamers on the Puerta del Sol

The Spanish political system has been marked by dullness and corruption. Already, the protests have cracked the surface of stagnation. But a bigger question remains: Can the anger be channeled into concrete demands and sustainable change?

If a young, well-educated generation stands no chance of succeeding on the job market, and if those with a job can barely manage to make ends meet, nobody should be surprised when their anger sweeps across the nation. Similarly, if the two dominant parties, the socialist PSOE and the conservative Partido Popular, fail to present any credible concepts to solve the problems, it is not the least bit surprising when a majority of the population no longer feels like those parties represent them. To make matters worse, politicians are increasingly regarded as belonging to an aloof caste that seeks no solutions to the peoples’ everyday problems since they simply do not experience them.

A system marked by dullness and corruption

The Spanish party system, in which two parties commonly attain about 80% of the votes completes the picture: The electoral system poses huge entry barriers for small parties, allowing the big parties to focus their campaigns on fighting the each other rather than deal with the conceptual variety of a differentiated party landscape. Such is a far cry from conditions that would encourage creativity – and they are particularly prone to corruption. Whereas the first demonstrations on the 15th of May had been organized by a group of mostly young activists, the Spanish protest movement quickly succeeded in positioning their demands squarely in the center of Spanish society. Thematically, it is less about concrete demands, such as electoral reform, but about ridding (party) politics of shady deals whilst anchoring it more firmly within society. Symbolically, that has already happened – there is no more central location in Spain than the Puerta del Sol. For three weeks, the square has served as stage for a public lesson in direct democracy, markedly different from what is usually seen during political events. The largest applause was drawn by the opinion polls by Metroscopia, according to which 66% of those surveyed agree with the protests, while only 21% disagree. For the Movimiento 15-M it will now be crucial to utilize the political leverage it has attained. A first step will have to be a display of continuity in its actions, not only on the large squares but in a variety of places.

The future is unclear

Beyond that, however, the future of the movement is unclear. What media attention is concerned, it has already passed its prime. Because of that, it will be even more important whether it succeeds in strengthening civil society. The chance for this is high, if the announced march into the barrios, or city quarters, is attempted soon. It is furthermore possible that the two large parties, particularly the PSOE, might open up to the protest movement – if only out of election tactics. Turning the movement into an alternative political party is not on the current agenda; but neither was spending several nights on the Puerta del Sol when the movement began. Whatever happens, the Movimiento 15-M has already accomplished one thing: The Spanish youth once agains dares to dream of another, better world. And if their slogan “If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep” is true, it will go on demanding that right.

Read more in this debate: Felix Butzlaff, Bernardo Gutierrez.

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