Article by Lenox Napier. Photos by Allan Binderup
IT’S all getting a little bit tense in Spain.
Large numbers of cars, driven (presumably) by right wing voters, clogged up a number of cities on Saturday calling for Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to resign and a ‘government of national unity’ to take control.
They arrived in their thousands in Sevilla, hundreds in Malaga, Palma and Valencia, and supposedly tens of thousands in the capital Madrid.
Flying Spanish flags and honking their horns, they drove around demanding a drastic change in the way things have been run for the last few months, and demanding the PM and his coalition partner Pablo Iglesias, of Podemos, step down.
The new ‘unity’ government would be made up by three main parties: PSOE, the Partido Popular (PP) and Vox, with the PP and Vox effectively running things, even though voters in the last elections chose otherwise (albeit by a small margin).
The pandemic and the lockdown are the key reasons behind the current protests, well, apart from the fact that no one likes their party losing an election.
It all started reasonably enough – with city dwellers going out on to their terraces each evening at 8.00pm to applaud the stretched hospital staff, who have worked long hours in considerable danger to save many thousands of lives.
Country Spaniards and most expats (if we can divide society into two for a moment) haven’t been as cooped up and were able to spend their time outside – picking the flowers, feeding the chickens and wondering at the strange antics of the townies.
The appreciative city-folk appeared to be saying ‘Gosh, nurses and doctors are more important for our safety than pop stars, actors and footballers’. Perhaps, indeed, they always were.
After a while though, people got a bit bored of the 8pm clapping, and took to singing or playing music from their terraces. And it was only a small step before some of those who had voted for the opposition parties thought they could start bashing saucepans as a political protest instead. Everyone likes a spot of noise before dinner. They weren’t really in favour of a particular plan, but to let the rest of us know that they weren’t ‘socio-comunistas’.
Saucepan bashing, with a stick or something which makes a satisfying ‘clank’, is an import from Argentina and is known both there and here as ‘una cacerolada’.
The new government, which only took office on January 13, has been faced with an emergency that no one had any experience in handling.
Rather than protecting the economy, as a conservative government might have done – they erred on the side of caution and, under the advice of epidemiologists and other medical experts, they went with the lockdown strategy.
And after a short while the old right and left wing divides in Spain started to appear again.
Some media commentators claimed that the 40 years of democracy after the Franco dictatorship have failed to dismantle the power of the negative Spain – that of the young wealthy gentlemen, the cardboard-generals and ‘the retrograde cardinals’.
And of course the bishops have their own radio, COPE, and even a TV channel, Canal 13. They also have the tacit support of a number of conservative daily newspapers: La Razon and ABC among them.
It is argued that the current outpouring of anger is nothing more than a ‘Revolution of the Rich’ led from the smartest neighbourhood of Madrid, Barrio Salamanca, where the saucepans were being most enthusiastically bashed over the weekend.
Said to be waving ‘their hammer and golf-club’ banners, the leftist eldiario.es writes: “What’s happening with the revolution of the rich has nothing to do with the ravages of the pandemic, or the devastation of the economy, or the temporary lack of freedom; what is happening is a manifestation, however freaky, of the struggle of the young gentlemen to hold on to power.”
A more cynical version comes from Meneame, which coined it as the ‘Cayetano revolution’ (this being one of Spain’s poshest names, similar to say Quentin, in the UK).
The website said the uprising ‘consists of a group of people who live in the most expensive neighbourhood in this country and who have never come out to demonstrate until they have had their vacations in Bali or Formentera cancelled’.
It continued: “Dozens of Cayetanos are demonstrating without keeping the required social distance, endangering their lives and that of their families, and inevitably that of the health workers who will soon have to care for them.”
Let’s not forget, after all, that anyone can fall sick from the virus (our Eton-attending Boris did after all), and the lockdown is only a partial solution to the current COVID problem.
However, it’s more comfortable in a large apartment than a small one, or, for some poor folk, stuck for months in a car or a shack.
The economist Marta Flich reminds us that ‘the virus has no ideological preference’.
I couldn’t help but spot a sad video-clip on social media of a woman rooting through a dustbin as the flag-wearing ‘militants’ passed her by and ignoring her completely.
Another clip showed a fellow in the back-seat of his chauffeur-driven convertible slowly nosing through the brightly dressed crowd while howling ‘resign, resign!’… A man of few words.
A meme from the left says: “Why bang an empty saucepan when you can fill it with stew and give it to your neighbour?”
Can one protest against the government without wearing a Spanish flag as a cloak?
The point is, the Government is seen as a mixture of the wrong kind of socialists plus the Venezuelan influenced extremists of the extreme left (Podemos to you and me), plus the nationalists, which in Spanish terms are the anti-nationalists – the boyos from Catalunya and the Basque Country.
Then there’s the republicans, who don’t like the royal family and have their own flag. That’s why we wear a Spanish flag, they say, because the others, the 51%, are traitors.
All good clean fun perhaps, and worth a few column inches. The ultras are on the warpath. Yawn.
But they are good at manipulation… and Facebook and Twitter are full of their propaganda.
As Donald Trump or Cambridge Analytica can tell you, the point is to be read. And seen. And heard. Truth is in the eye of the beholder, and fake news often works better than the real thing.
So we come to Saturday’s protest. A clever idea to make it a demonstration with cars (poor people don’t own cars). Some 6,000 cars and motorcycles, bedecked with flags of course, jammed the centre of Madrid.
The leaders of Vox were conveniently on their stage, at the symbolic Plaza de Colon: Columbus Square.
“We want to bring down the traitor Pedro Sanchez and imprison him for crimes against the Spanish people,” shouted Santiago Abascal, the leader of the far right party, wearing a nifty lapel pin of half Spanish colours, half black mourning.
The leader of the larger PP is now struggling for space on the political perch. Pablo Casado is trying to woo the far-right voters back to his colours with, as one left-leaning newspaper calls it, ‘his total war against the Government’.
Whether the Government, evidently inexperienced in matters of pandemics, has done or is doing a good job is irrelevant.
They will be judged once it’s all over. Right now, they are facing two dangerous enemies: the virus and the opposition, both set on scoring maximum damage.
The fact is that the conservatives are winning the war at the moment – and Spain most certainly does not need a second open conflict.