15M: a year on, the struggle of the indignados continues

by Jerome Roos on May 15, 2012

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Anniversary of 15-M movement marked by deepening crisis, massive bank bailout and fears of eurozone break-up. The indignation only grows stronger. 

We are witnessing an remarkable convergence of historic currents. Today, as the indignados celebrate the first anniversary of a movement that shook the very foundations of Spanish society and sparked a global wave of occupations, the representatives of the Old World are once again gathering in Brussels and Berlin to discuss contingency plans for the increasingly likely break-up of the eurozone. As the old world crumbles, the new one struggles to be born.

Exactly a year after thousands of protesters swarmed into Puerta del Sol and set up an autonomous political space within the square, Spain has been dragged into the heart of the European debt crisis. The country’s borrowing costs spiked to their highest ever levels yesterday as financial markets trembled in the face of a silent run on the banks and an impending Greek exit from the eurozone.

Fearing that Spain might be next in line to need a bailout — or be forced out of the single currency — investors massively fled to the ‘safe haven’ of German bonds. At the same time, the indignados launched a campaign to close the public’s accounts at Bankia, the country’s largest real estate lender, which was bailed out with public money last week. At 10bn euros, the total cost of the bailout roughly equals the total cuts being made in the public education system.

As thousands gather for participatory assemblies in Puerta del Sol and squares across the country, the newly elected French President Francois Hollande flew to Berlin to meet with Angela Merkel and European finance ministers once again huddled together in Brussels to discuss the fate of the eurozone. The past days have seen a radical escalation of market panic as a deadlock in Greek coalition talks increased speculation about the break-up of the single currency.

This morning, the Guardian reported that “European leaders and financial markets brace for a Greek exit from euro,” noting that a “return to the drachma nears amid a political impasse in Athens and open discussion in Brussels of a possible end to the single currency.” Meanwhile, the Financial Times writes that “fears that the eurozone’s firewall will prove insufficient to shield Spain and other embattled countries against the effects of a possible disorderly Greek exit from the currency union hit European financial markets.”

With unemployment at a staggering 25 percent (over 50 percent for young people) and 350.000 families having lost their homes since 2007, the social crisis in Spain is increasingly starting to resemble that of Greece. According to the National Statistics Institute, over one in five Spaniards now live in poverty. Yet while the economy is rapidly contracting, the government still had the wit to announce the most radical austerity measures on the continent.

The fear among economists and the restive Spanish population is that the announced budget cuts will feed into a negative spiral, further reducing growth, raising unemployment and thereby feeding into further mortgage defaults and house evictions. With the Spanish banking system still ailing from the collapse of a massive real estate bubble, the deepening recession and deluge of defaults is likely to lead to more bank failures — and therefore more bailouts.

But the indignados will have none of it. Determined to create alternative networks of direct democracy, self-organization and mutual aid, the Spanish are organizing hundreds of events, workshops and thematic assemblies across the country today to disseminate public awareness about possible alternatives and discuss future pathways for the movement. With the spectacular images of hundreds of thousands gathering in Puerta del Sol last Saturday, the movement has clearly demonstrated that, far from fading away, popular indignation is only growing stronger in the face of this deepening crisis.

Last night, at the very well-attended general assembly in Puerta del Sol,  one slogan continued to resonate from the crowds: “De Norte a Sur, de Este a Oeste, la lucha sigue, cueste lo que cueste.” From North to South, from East to West, the struggle goes on, whatever the cost. Here on the squares of Spain, as one historic current coincides with another, the New World struggling to be born slowly watches the old being torn asunder.

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