Protests in Spain took on an anti-Brussels flavour on Sunday when tens of thousands of marchers converged on the centre of Madrid to protest against economic austerity measures backed by the European Commission and northern members of the eurozone.
Previous demonstrations – in a series that started five weeks ago and became known as the May 15 movement – claimed to be non-partisan and directed their criticism more towards Spain’s two main political parties and the country’s high level of youth unemployment.
On Sunday, however, some leftwing protesters specifically attacked a “pact for the euro”, agreed in March to strengthen economic co-ordination in the eurozone and to support budgetary austerity measures and other economic reforms being implemented in various eurozone countries.
One group opposed to the euro pact called on workers to prepare for a general strike. Its declarations were greeted with cries of “Long live the working class!”.
Thousands also demonstrated in Barcelona and other cities. The mood was peaceful and relaxed and there were no reports of any violence by the afternoon.
Spain’s three-year-old economic crisis appears to be deepening the historic political divisions between left and right.
In regional and local elections across Spain on May 22, both the rightwing opposition Popular party (PP) and the hard-left Izquierda Unida gained votes at the expense of the Socialist party, which runs the central government.
Rightwingers, including PP leaders, said recent street protests were organised by leftwing extremists.
Leftwingers said some of the few violent incidents that had marred the demonstrations might be the work of extreme right “agents provocateurs”.
Neither the PP nor the Socialists of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the prime minister, are likely to benefit from the popular unrest now that it has begun to concentrate on economic austerity measures which are supported by the European Union.
Both the PP and the Socialists are determined to cut Spain’s budget deficit by curbing public spending, in order to restore Spain’s credibility in the international sovereign bond markets and avoid the need for a bail-out, following the rescues of Greece, Ireland and Portugal by the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
But after three years of economic recession and stagnation, many ordinary Spaniards said they have become tired of suffering a crisis which they believe to the fault of others, including governments, capitalists and the big banks.
“We’re not going to pay for this crisis” and “Nobody represents us” were common chant in Madrid on Sunday among the protesters, who have become known as “los indignados” or “the indignant ones”.