Skip to main content

How the indignados motivated Spain

By Sandra León, Special to CNN
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Tue June 12, 2012
Protestors gather at Puerta del Sol square on May 15, 2012 during an anti-government rally in Madrid.
Protestors gather at Puerta del Sol square on May 15, 2012 during an anti-government rally in Madrid.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sandra León: Spain's political landscape has been relatively calm despite the austerity measures
  • But the Spanish indignados movement have gathered support in a country with low civic engagement
  • León says a majority of citizens sympathize with the aims of the indignados
  • Public discontent may shift from the streets to the political stage should this bailout not be enough

Editor's note: Sandra León is a PhD in Political Science and works as Lecturer in Political Science at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. She collaborates with the think tank Fundación Alternativas and on the radio show Hoy por Hoy (La Ser).

(CNN) -- Spain has finally asked for a bank bailout from its eurozone peers, to weather the financial crisis that hampered its finances during recent months.

Although Spain's Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has stressed that there are no austerity conditions attached to it, the statement from the Eurogroup made clear that supervision over the country's budget will be strengthened.

The budget deficit aims may mean the Spanish government will implement further structural reforms, such as a reducing the country's unemployment benefits, or raising the retirement age.

Sandra León
Sandra León

As a result, we may see public disaffection shifting from the streets to the political arena.

Unlike other countries -- such as Greece, for example -- in Spain public disaffection with the economic crisis has not yet had a significant impact on the country's traditional political forces.

Instead, Spanish citizens have mainly channeled their anger and frustration over austerity measures through social mobilization, while the political landscape has remained virtually the same.

Although there has been shift in power -- the Popular Party (PP) took over after general elections in November 2011 -- the political arena continues to be dominated by the two largest parties, PP and the Socialist Party, PSOE.

Spain's indebted regions

The striking aspect of the emergence of the Spanish indignados movement was that it came about in a country which has, traditionally, had low levels of civic engagement and social participation.

Spain's crisis has real estate roots

While the indignados have been discredited by the right-wing mass media as being a marginal force mainly followed by perroflautas (Spanish slang to describe wandering minstrels), the movement -- which had its anniversary on May 15 -- has shown no signs of fading away. Indeed, a majority of Spanish citizens sympathize with its aims and support its goals.

Spain asks EU for aid, not a bailout

Recent studies show the indignados are not just a movement of the young and marginalized. Many participants are middle-aged, highly-educated and employed, and a majority of them consider their current financial situation relatively good. At the same time, many share a concern about their future financial situation.

For a short period the indignados managed to get a reform of the electoral system, that would improve the chances of small parties to be represented in parliament, on the policy agenda. But they have not yet achieved any significant policy goal.

Now, some proposals to improve democracy and control corruption have been pushed aside as focus turns instead to the deteriorating economic situation. The movement's current demands focus on the unbalanced distribution of economic costs due to the austerity measures.

This does not mean that the indignados have failed, as their most important success indicator is the activation of the protest "muscle" in Spanish society, particularly among the network of social organizations at the local level.

But if the bank rescue results in further reductions of social welfare funds, or if it is a prelude to the bailout of the state, the government risks unleashing social protest in a way existing social movements may not be able to channel.

Public discontent may then shift from the streets to the political stage. This could ruin the leverage of the traditional political forces and, in turn, the capacity of the political system to manage the economic crisis.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sandra León.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Tue August 27, 2013
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble says the eurozone's problems are not solved, but "we are in a much better shape than we used to be some years ago."
updated 11:28 AM EDT, Wed September 4, 2013
The G20 is held in Russia but, amid disagreements over Syria, can anything be done? John Defterios investigates.
updated 11:02 AM EDT, Wed July 10, 2013
Summer could not have come soon enough for Lloret de Mar, a tourist resort north of Barcelona. Despite the country's troubles, it's partying.
updated 1:50 PM EDT, Fri June 7, 2013
The euro club has suffered major shockwaves but its newest member has emerged as an economic star. What;s behind Estonia's success?
updated 9:23 AM EDT, Wed May 29, 2013
The global recovery has two speeds: That of the stimulus-fed U.S. and that of the austerity-starved eurozone, according to a new report.
updated 9:26 AM EDT, Tue May 14, 2013
The flags of the countries which make up the European Union, outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
The "rich man's club" of Europe faces economic decay as it struggles to absorb Europe's "poor people", according to economic experts.
updated 10:56 PM EDT, Sun May 26, 2013
Europe's competitiveness is threatened as manufacturing companies scrambling to find enough skilled engineers.
updated 11:02 AM EDT, Wed July 10, 2013
Spain's economic crisis is in its sixth straight year yet tourism, worth 11% of GDP, is holding its own, one of the few bright spots on a bleak horizon.
updated 6:44 AM EDT, Thu May 2, 2013
As European financial markets close for the spring celebration of May Day, protesters across Europe and beyond have taken to the streets to demonstrate.
updated 8:10 AM EDT, Fri April 26, 2013
As Croatia prepares to enter the 27-nation European Union, the country's Prime Minister says Italy must return to being the "powerhouse of Europe."
updated 12:56 PM EDT, Thu April 25, 2013
Spain's unemployment rate rose to a record high of 27.2% in the first quarter of 2013, the Spanish National Institute of Statistics said Thursday.
updated 9:55 AM EDT, Mon March 25, 2013
The financial uncertainty in Cyprus is generating images of long lines at ATM machines and anti-European Union protests.
updated 2:15 PM EDT, Mon March 25, 2013
Cyprus will "step up efforts in areas of fiscal consolidation." Where have we heard that before? Oh yes. Greece.
updated 9:39 PM EDT, Fri March 22, 2013
The Cyprus debt crisis is being felt by the banks but also by the people who work at them. Nick Paton Walsh reports.
updated 8:10 PM EDT, Thu March 21, 2013
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on a Russian hotel maid caught up in Cyprus' financial crisis.
updated 12:08 PM EDT, Mon March 18, 2013
Never underestimate the capacity of the Eurozone to shoot itself in both feet, says CNN's Richard Quest.
updated 11:03 AM EST, Thu February 21, 2013
Spain has seen hundreds of protests since the "Indignados" movement erupted in 2011, marches and sit-ins are now common sights in the capital.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT