As a country, Spain is far from unified. The Catalans have been protesting and marching for independence for years, Galicians are less than keen on the rest of the region and the Basques are likely to throw petrol bombs at any passing politicians they find. However, state differences were put aside for a massive protest against the government in Madrid on Saturday. Unfortunately, the expressively titled “March for Dignity” ended in bloodshed.
Protesters from all over the country met in Madrid to rally against the rising unemployment, asking the government to look to their inner problems, rather than focusing on international debt. Early on Saturday, eight columns of protesters converged on the city center of Madrid. They carried banners that identified the regions they had arrived from. There were people who hailed from Andalusia in the south, Catalonia in the east, Extremadura in the west, Galicia in the north, and Asturias in the northwest, just to name a few. Some chose to walk for days from their regions to the capital carrying flags and banners. Yesterday was the culmination of up to a month of walking for some. The regions chose to put aside their differences for the greater good, a change in government.
People converging on Madrid held signs aloft that read the “right to a roof” or “bread, work and a roof for all.” Since the housing bubble burst, hundreds of people are evicted from their homes every day in Spain. This, coupled with a 26 percent unemployment rate means many Spanish people are struggling to survive. The so-called “austerity package” brought in by the Spanish government introduced spending cuts of up to €150 billion. It promised to lower taxes and create jobs, but there is no evidence that this has happened. This result has angered many people as they feel they are paying for problems caused by corrupt government officials in the first place. Over half of all Spaniards under the age of 25 are unemployed. Many finish their studies and then stay home, unable to move out or find a job. The protest was named a “march for dignity” as protesters feel that their prime minister Mariano Rajoy is stripping them of just that. Rajoy has faced multiple protests since taking office in 2011, and many feel that ousting him and his party from the government would put an end to their more pressing problems. Spokesman for the Andalusian Workers’ Union, Diego Canamero, stated that it was time the government took its people seriously. He felt that if their demands were not met, then the existing parliament should be replaced. The toll on the ordinary people has been extremely high. In fact, it is causing its own kind of bloodshed as suicide rates are currently at a record high. A lot of people are also moving away from their homeland in search of better opportunities.
Unfortunately, although the protest had been largely peaceful, younger members of the groups were said to become agitated as the evening wore on. Reportedly police tried to push the youths away from the perimeter barriers and protesters responded by hurling projectiles at police including stones, bottles and firecrackers. Several youths also smashed the window of a nearby bank. Police responded by firing rubber bullets on the crowd. Over 100 people were injured, 67 of the police officers and dozens of arrests were made.
Protesters plan to stay in Madrid until changes are made. Despite the bloodshed that resulted from the end of the march on Saturday, people are prepared to sit in until dignity is returned to them.
By Sara Watson