It could have been just another lazy Sunday, but instead, something changed that day, for me and for thousands of other Spaniards who gathered in Alcala street in Madrid, to shout a simple message: ¡BASTA! ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
It was May 15th, 2011. We were fed up, tired and bored of a political system that had failed us for years, and that had destroyed our hope, and made us cynical, frustrated and disillusioned towards our democratic institutions. “They call it Democracy, but it is not”, we sang all together as we marched into the Puerta del Sol. “They don’t represent us!” we shouted. And they didn’t: the politicians, our representatives, were a sham. We could not see ourselves reflected in their lives, in their speeches, in the daily news about corruption cases, and in the lack of respect that they had always showed to us. We spoke a different language, and we wanted them to know it. For the first time in our lives we suddenly felt that things could change.
That afternoon, the Indignados movement was born; and what happened after is already part of Spanish history. It was born, not so much from the economic crisis –although this was a major factor-, but from what we perceived were the fundamental problems of a corrupt and bankrupt political system (what they now call la casta), that had lead to that crisis. Hundreds of thousands of us decided to finally take the streets, and transform them into a new parliament, where we would discuss about the problems that afflicted the country, and how they could be solved. We began organising, collaborating, debating, spontaneously out of the need to demand a better and fairer way of doing politics.
There were people of all ages that afternoon in Madrid, but a big majority was young people, just like myself. I was working in Madrid at that time, I was 26 years old, had two University degrees, and after years of jumping from one internship to another, I was lucky enough to have landed myself in a job in the field where I had studied. My monthly salary of €1.000 (around £700) believe it or not was a good one, and made me a privileged ‘mileurista’. Most of my friends were jobless and still lived with their parents. Some others had already left the country looking for career opportunities abroad. Many more have left since, including myself. Although I left for personal reasons, and even when I couldn’t help but feeling guilty for quitting a “good job”, I did not have much faith in the future that Spain could offer me at that time.
The unemployment rate was at that point the highest in Europe, and has worsened since (this number is only surpassed now by Greece). Almost 50% of people under 35 were unemployed. As a young person in your twenties, you couldn’t feel but angry and frustrated after spending years of your life training and preparing for a future that once had been promised but now, apparently, was never going to happen. There are no official figures of how many Spaniards have left the country to find work, but the painful reality is that a pool of young talent has slowly abandoned the country, with no return date. Other economies will benefit from their skills, other societies will grow with their abilities. It is a shameful situation for a country that struggles to come out of a terrible economic crisis to loose all its potential source of recovery.
The general election that will take place next Sunday carries a lot of that sunny afternoon four and a half years ago. Apart from the two major national parties, the ruling Popular Party (conservative) and the Socialist Party, there are two new political organisations that compete, for the first time, in the front row. The lefty Podemos – born from that Indignados movement- and the right wing Ciudadanos have taken advantage of the disconnection between the traditional parties and the people, and are now relevant options to become part of the new government.
Also for the first time, three of the candidates that aspire to rule the country as Prime Ministers have been born in a democracy. Like us, they did not live in a dictatorial regime, unlike our parents and grandparents. We grew up with stories about those dark and horrible times. We learnt how the “Transición” was a model of peaceful shift between an authoritarian, anachronistic regime to a modern democratic state. But, if it had been such an exemplary transition, why had there been no consequences at all for those responsible of state murders and of running a non-democratic dictatorial state for forty years? Why had there been no trials, no legal actions to amend all the abuse and repression? These questions are still very much alive in Spain, and have bubbled to the surface once more during this campaign. “We have to look to the future”, some say… “the past only opens wounds”. But how can we forget about such a cruel and recent history, when a massive monument to the dictator still stands barely 40 km. away from Madrid, when we have a ruling party that rose from the ashes of Franco’s dictatorship and still holds power even to this day?
We have to look to the future, I agree, but I want to be proud when I look to my parents, who sacrificed their youth fighting for democracy, and be able to tell them that I also did as much as I could to make their sacrifice worthy. That the democracy they fought for was real. I want to return to a country which I am proud of, which gives its people the lives they deserve.
In a cruel twist of irony, the saddest part for thousands of us who live outside of Spain is that we won’t be able to participate in an election that is vital for our future. Our voices will be ignored, we will be denied our fundamental right to vote with the excuse of formal bureoucratic complexities, and we won’t be able to express our opinion about the austerity policies and wrong governance that forced us to leave our country. Spanish politics need a change, and I really hope that this change will happen next Sunday.
Even without my vote.