IN MADRID it is a New Year’s Eve tradition to flock to central Sol square, where crowds of revellers welcome in the new year at midnight. But on December 31, 2023, a group of around 300 people decided on a different kind of celebration.
Outside the headquarters of the Socialist Party on Ferraz street, a group of demonstrators gathered to see in 2024. With them, they brought a giant piñata effigy of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, which they strung up from a traffic light with a noose around its neck, before bashing it into pieces with sticks, punches and kicks.
“We have to finish him off!”, “Take this justice from the people, Bolsheviks!”, and “Son of a bitch!” were among the shouts from the crowd as they destroyed the puppet of the politician, in images that were widely circulated on social media.
The protest has prompted condemnation from the governing Socialist Party, as well as timid criticism from the main opposition Partido Popular.
Ferraz street has seen near nightly protests since the beginning of November, when the Socialists closed deals with Catalan separatist parties that involve amnesty for anyone involved in the independence drive in the northeastern region over the last 10 years, in exchange for their support for Sanchez’s bid to secure another term in office in the wake of the inconclusive July 23 general election.
Thanks to the votes from these parties, as well as the support of coalition partner Sumar and a host of other, smaller groups, Sanchez was voted back into office in November at an investiture vote in Congress.
Since then, the numbers of protestors in Ferraz have waned, but the demonstrations have continued.
In the wake of the piñata incident, the Socialists announced that they wanted the revellers to be charged with a hate crime.
“It was a violent act full of hate,” said Patxi Lopez, the parliamentary spokesman for the Socialists. “What is going to happen next? How far are they willing to go?”
The conservative Partido Popular, meanwhile, did add its voice to the criticism but it accused the Socialists of ‘hypocrisy’ given that the ruling party has failed in the past to speak out when similar acts have taken place, such as demonstrators who set fire to the Spanish flag or burned photos of King Felipe VI.
The PP spokesperson in Congress, Miguel Tellado, pointed to the youth wing of the Socialists, who ‘hung an image of [former PP Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy’, as well as unions ‘with connections to Sumar’ who burned an effigy of the PP leader, Alberto Nuñez Feijoo.
He also called on the Socialists to ‘leave behind this strategy of victimisation’.
The leader of Sumar, meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz, criticised the response of the PP as well as the silence of Feijoo about the incident.
But she did not go as far as her coalition partner, the Socialists, in her own reaction to what happened on New Year’s Eve, disagreeing with the interpretation of a hate crime.
“I think, if you will allow me, as a qualified lawyer, that hating is not a crime, it is a feeling, albeit a serious one,” she said, in comments reported by Spanish daily El Pais. “That said, in democratic terms, it is completely intolerable,” she added.
Who were the organisers?
The apparent organiser of the protest, a 58-year-old man named Antonio Martinez, was called to a police station in Madrid on Wednesday to make a statement.
He refused to talk to officers once there, however, and told reporters outside that he had requested official permission for the demonstration as ‘a favour for Revuelta’.
He was referring to an organisation that has links to far-right Vox, a party that has been fiercely opposed to the Socialists’ deal with the Catalan separatist parties.
Martinez was not present at the demonstration, but he did set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the event. Around €20,000 was collected from different donors, money that went to renting audiovisual equipment and staff.
As was seen in a video shared on social media site X (formerly Twitter), the police stopped the van carrying the equipment from approaching the street.
Bertrand Ndongo, a pseudo-journalist with links to Vox, was also present at the protest and reported the police action that saw the van with the equipment stopped.
A YouTuber called Isaac Parejo, better known as InfoVlogger, was also present. According to Spanish daily El Pais, he called Pedro Sanchez a ‘son of a bitch’ a number of times during his live broadcasts, and also said: “Happy 1936 to the f**king sh*tty reds,” a reference to the year the Spanish Civil War broke out.
Other media outlets present included EDA TV, which is also known for its far-right stance and questionable journalistic practices.
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