Spanish Democracy: 15-M: How the Spanish “indignant” movement brought about political change | Society
Ten years ago, on May 15, 2011, the online rallying cry for a protest by a popular movement called Real Democracy Now was an unexpected triumph that turned Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol into a protest camp. From there emerged a political movement known in Spanish as 15-M, named after May 15, and sometimes also called the movement of the indignant or outraged. This movement catalyzed much of the discontent caused by the 2008 global financial crisis and became the launching pad for the left-wing political party Podemos.
A decade later, and for very different reasons – a pandemic, rather than the pitfalls of an unreal economy that devastated the real economy – the world is going through yet another crisis marked by rampant inequality. The 15-M movement has left many traces in Spanish society, beyond a handful of popular expressions such as “caste,” a term coined by Podemos co-founder Pablo Iglesias to describe the establishment. Spanish political and judicial system, or “the” 78 regime “, alluding to the political system resulting from the Spanish Constitution of 1978. Its effects on the Spanish party system again became evident in the recent regional elections in Madrid, which concluded the withdrawal of Pablo Iglesias from active politics and the rise of the dissident group Podemos MÃ¡s Madrid, which has eroded the electoral base of the Socialist Party (PSOE) in this region.
EL PAÃS consulted seven Spanish historians, all 20th century academics from different generations and fields of expertise, on the repercussions of 15-M on recent Spanish history. Used to dealing with extended periods of time, they generally feel more comfortable with a broad perspective. However, they all agree that the spirit of 15-M is here to stay, not only in contemporary Spanish history, but also in the history of the Western world.
âThis is definitely a very important date in the developed world,â said Mercedes Cabrera, 69. A professor of the history of political thought and social movements, she was also Minister of Education from 2006 to 2009 and wrote several essays on the economy. the story. According to Cabrera, the 15-M marked a turning point in changes already underway, such as a transformation in the configuration of the political party system. Much has happened in the past 10 years but, as she points out, the cycle is not yet over. âIt was a wake-up call regarding our understanding of politics and the way politics is done,â she says. “And that was a consequence of the crisis and the institutional deterioration of the democracies that were supposed to have achieved eternal victory after the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
All seven historians agree that 15-M was a manifestation of the crushing effect of the 2008 recession, which was accompanied by a brutal wave of cuts that stunned the middle classes, doomed millions of people to poverty and robbed many young people in Europe and the United States. of their future.
Enrique Moradiellos, 60, professor at the University of Extremadura, author of several studies on the Spanish Civil War and winner of the National History Prize for a book on the subject, believes that the meaning of 15-M cannot be explained only in a much broader context. He stresses that this is a relevant phenomenon in the civic response of the people to the economic crisis of the Western world, which has become a crisis of the welfare state. It is, he says, a protest against cuts and austerity, but also against the paralysis of the political system in the face of rising inequalities. Many of the demands that were put on the political agenda at the time were linked to this inequality: the right to housing, or the fight against evictions and corruption.
Moradiellos also links 15-M to other very different – if not contrasting – manifestations of this malaise, such as the Trump phenomenon. “I don’t want to compare [Trumpism] with 15-M. God forgive! “He exclaims.” But they are part of the same response to globalization, to the incursion of new technologies that are revolutionizing the world of work. “
This would include the Arab Spring – we must not forget that this movement started in Tunisia due to poverty and the fatigue of injustice – the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States, the arrival of the left coalition Syriza on the Greek political scene, and even the French populist âyellow vestâ demonstrations. Eduardo GonzÃ¡lez Calleja, 59, professor at Carlos III University and specialist in political violence and social movements in Europe, sees parallels with these movements which protest against certain aspects of post-industrial capitalism. âMaybe it is comparable to the outbreak of the 1968 protests,â he said. âIn 20th century Spain, there is nothing like it. These are processes that embrace peaceful action and go beyond the national framework. “
Juan Francisco Fuentes, 66, professor at the Complutense University of Madrid and expert on the period of transition in Spain who has written numerous books on contemporary history, including an essay on the 1981 coup attempt , believes that the study and understanding of 15-M is inseparable from its context. “Two things stand out compared to other protest movements: its spontaneity and its impact on political life, without causing regime change,” he said. In other words, it affected the Spanish two-party system and raised awareness of corruption, but did not change the structure of the democratic system.
The repercussions on the Spanish political system, mainly by introducing new political forces and actors, are undoubtedly one of the main implications of 15-M agreed by historians. There was a concerted effort to change the status quo that went beyond placards carrying slogans that echoed the protests of May 1968, such as “Economic Slave for Rent,” “Homeless Rebels,” “More Education. , less corruption â, and it also went beyond the assemblies and debates of the Puerta del Sol, which then spread to other parts of the city.
“This will last because it implies a change of course, the arrival of new actors in political life”, declares Mirta NÃºÃ±ez DÃaz-Balart, professor of the history of social communication, former director of the Academic Chair of the historical memory of the 20th century at Complutense University and specialist in the Spanish press during the Civil War. The main players, she points out, were conscientious and committed young people. âIt was a leftist expression, but it took place outside of traditional festivals,â she notes. It could also be interpreted as the end of the transition, a period from the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 to the national elections of 1982. The movement showed society that Spain had changed considerably and that new individual protagonists and collectives had appeared. .
Pilar Mera Costas, professor of contemporary history at the National Distance Learning University (UNED) and author of numerous research papers on dictatorships and nationalism in the 20th century, points out that the 15-M movement paved the way to another way of doing politics. The movement was a visible expression of discontent which explains the success of the Podemos protest parties and the center-right liberal citizens (Ciudadanos). âThe electoral law was the same and yet there was a very clear change,â she said. âPeople started to think they could vote for other parties; a third appeared and won seats in Soria and Burgos. Being the third started to become important. And that may be part of a larger shift in the cycle: It started with Podemos and Ciudadanos and will likely end with the far-right Vox and the Greens. “We are going to be totally European at this rate, because we were the only country to date without an extreme right or environmentalist party,” she adds. “All that’s missing now is a truly liberal party.”
Another enduring repercussion of 15-M was the reinterpretation of the Spanish transitional period: revolutionary events not only change the future, but also transform the past. A new generation burst onto the Spanish political scene and into the social limelight in May 2011: not only did this generation refuse to accept its role in the economic system, but it also shattered what had been most great consensus in the collective memory of Spanish democracy. : namely that the transition from Franco’s dictatorship to an integrated democracy in Europe had been an unqualified success. This consensus is due to the way in which the Transition unfolded, through an agreement which brought together political opponents who had hitherto been irreconcilable. Only violent extremes, such as the Basque far left terrorist group ETA and the political far right, were excluded.
A number of academics believe that so many critics of the transition have ended up undermining the value of consensus and reaching deals. It gave wings to extreme positions and public brawls instead of dialogue as a mode of political communication. Others believe it is an inevitable change in the way new generations view their past. Ana MartÃnez Rus, expert in cultural history and Francoism who teaches contemporary history at Complutense University, explains that she has been teaching 20th century Spanish history for over a decade and noticed a significant change after 15-M . âBefore that, students never questioned the transition,â she says. âSubsequently, they became extremely critical. I don’t think the transition should be sanctified, but neither should we look at what has been done through a 2021 lens. There is also noticeable dissatisfaction with the institutional corruption of some elites, which makes sense. given everything we now know about the head of state. Before that, a very uncritical way of understanding this period prevailed. My students in this class were born in 2000 and they are critical.
Asked about its long-term repercussions, Fuentes points out that six months after the 15-M, the Conservative People’s Party (PP) won the elections by absolute majority. âThe movement spoke on behalf of the people,â he said. âBut when people spoke at the polls, as happened in France in June 1968, the result hardly resembled what [15-Mâs] spokespersons predicted. But he believes there will be lasting effects, including a realization that the brunt of a crisis cannot be borne by its most vulnerable victims; that people react to abuse. Fuentes says this perception is already influencing post-pandemic stimulus packages, which are far more constructive than the savage austerity measures implemented after the 2008 economic crisis. âThis is the main legacy of 15-M: the message that people are not easily resigned to losing everything. â
Since 2018, a plaque recalls what happened in May: âWe slept, we woke upâ. The people of Madrid in recognition of the 15-M movement that took place in this Puerta del Sol. The rest is history.
English version by Heather galloway.