In the interview with Spanish protest movement for social change the member of the organisation platform Coordinadora 25S, Oscar L. Eslava delivers insights into the performance of media and police during the protests, as well as into background of the 25S platform: “The only non-violent choice we seem to have is to follow the Icelandic way.” The 25S activist stresses, that “there is a certain urgency to change things especially for those who dig into trash bins to get food or are evicted from their houses!”, so they will continue as long as it takes.
For the Interview: Birgit Wolf
Three demonstrations in one week! Looking back to the protests of 25 September (25S) and now to 29S. So did you meet the goal of your call to the protests? What are the positive and negative results for the movement?
We wanted to express a simple fact: our Democracy, such as it has been taught to us, has been kidnapped by financial powers that are out of our reach, and their interests have been prioritized to those of the sovereign people. And a goal: we want our Democracy back, we want those who are colluding with these powers in the shadow to be accountable for their acts, and we want a new scenario, that is different to the actual Spanish Constitution dated back to the dictatorship era , that guarantees that we, the people, won’t lose control over our own lives and society again.
We have achieved to express our message indeed! Thousands of citizens gathered together to express their discontent about what the actual Government is doing with their country and their future. It was also to reject that they’re acting against the electoral program they promised to fulfill one year ago and, hence, is guilty of lying to their voters in order to win an election and to adopt measures which they promised they wouldn’t. This is a fraud.
So, now there are more and more people starting to realize the stealing of our democracy we are suffering, and they see there are more people like them that are ready to speak out in a demonstration. In the end, this is a long process, and 25S is only one more step. Officially they say we were 6000 protesters on 25S, and about 2000 on 26S. We estimate there were like 20,000 people on 25 September and 5,000 on 26 September. It’s hard to tell, because people were scattered over a huge area, especially on the 25S.
On 29S, we were at least 60,000 people (so says the BBC), although our Government claimed that there was not more than 4,500 of us. (see photo of coordinadora25S on facebook: picture).
This downgrade is so grotesque that anybody can see they fear the popularity of this rejection to their policies. Moreover Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy made a mistake when he was in New York and thanked the “silent majority” in Spain that stays at home – you could have said ‘docility’ for the attitude he expressed. This would have worked if they still could trust his policies with calm instead of demonstrating. In fact, his saying made many people angry, who gathered in the centre of Madrid at Neptuno square on the 29S.
Then, the square and adjacent avenues also were much more crowded than on the the days before as demonstrations on weekends always allow more people who work from Monday to Friday to come.
And again as a result, the symptomatic clue to their hiding of real numbers became evidence: no news helicopters were allowed to fly over the area and the media coverage was bullied by police to retreat from their posts, and when they risked a fine not leaving they were forbidden to install cranes for the cameras, so they had to climb on the van’s roof or rent spaces in adjacent hotels to give a visual cover of the scenario. The media is also subject to a subtle censorship to avoid a calling effect, and this in an alleged democracy is a worrying matter.
Protesters say, democracy is kidnapped – so what legal procedure is there to end what you call ‘kidnapping’?
Unfortunately, the only choice we’re given to democratically express our will and change something is to vote each 4 years to a limited number of parties. The two only ones with realistic chances to win have demonstrated that they bend their knees in front of the Troika and the financial powers that really drive our lives, that is a reason why many people simply does not bother to vote. And even if one of them should run in three years from now with a program that included all the demands we’re making, there’s no way to hold them accountable for such promises, because lying to get an election is not a legal offence!
This leaves us in the uncomfortable feeling that there is no exit to this situation, and the pressure to mend things increases as time passes and we’re witnessing the destruction of all our social rights that our parents and grandparents have built for us by the day. There’s a certain urgency to change things now, especially for those who have to dig into trash bins in search for food or are evicted from their houses meanwhile we keep pouring money into the very banks that put them on the streets. So, the only non-violent choice we seem to have is to follow the Icelandic way: putting more and more pressure on our Government until they simply cannot ignore it or treat it as the works of a few malcontents. And after this, opening a public process to write a new Constitution in which all the flaws of the present one are corrected, and putting front to a self-evident truth: it’s the people who have the right and the responsibility to drive their own destiny. Politicians must be civil servants, accountable for their acts and obliged to the constant will and scrutiny of their constituents, whom at any moment must have the means to change them or change their policies, or at least to hold them to their promises.
Violent clashes with the police are the main message going around the world, but not the one of the movement. What is the platforms view towards this concerns?
As we had foreseen, our Government did not listen to our demands and they did not open a new process to let the people participate in the construction of a new constitution. But we are building the bases for a change, and the brutal action of unleashing police on us to try to turn our protests into a mere public order issue is not working as they like.
Surely, there has been a violent disruption in our calling for a peaceful demonstration, heated in the precedent weeks by calculated moves from the security delegate in Madrid. Examples of this have been the irregular or even illegal eviction of Casablanca, one popular social centre placed in a squat where we used to hold public meetings. Or the harassment of people meeting quietly in a public park to discuss 25S by means of sending the police to surround them and ask them for their IDs, only to receive a denounce of serious crimes against the state’s high institutions and a citation to declare to a judge in October. As these provocations did not quite succeed in turning a civil disobedience calling into a violent one, we strongly believe, and have proof by media records to back it, that police officials did infiltrate the demonstration to act as ‘agents provocateurs’ to induce violent situations that gave uniformed policemen an excuse to charge against the demonstrators.
On September 26th, we demonstrated again to demand the immediate release of those who were randomly put under arrest during the police attacks, and those who were about to face legal charges for serious crimes against the nation’s state , for now the judges reasonably considers that the facts will be “only” accountable as public disorder cases. We tried hard to avoid new provocations, pointing at anybody that we suspected could be agents provocateurs and not responding to their provocations. Sadly, riot police wanted to attack no matter how. For instance when the demonstration got less crowded they proceeded to drag people away, in many cases with the use of baton, when they peacefully tried to leave.
The 29S demonstration on Saturday, 29 September was peacefully conducted, and after the Coordinadora called it off we could see most of the people leaving under the vigilance of riot police that started to dress its gear and line in formation. I can tell, it was a scary sight! Police vans blocked in threatening attitude the few hundreds standing in front of the fence until one demonstrator stood up and went to negotiate with them a peaceful exit, that he succeed to get, always under the focus of TV cameras.
Nevertheless, when they started to remove the last ones that stood on the square, some incidents arouse, a young boy was beaten on his head and taken to a hospital, people leaving were punched to make them hurry. A notorious 15M chronicler, Stephane Grueso, reported on his Twitter account this had been the first time ever , since May 15, 2011, that he had been beaten and that once people were out of sight from TV reporters, a chasing through the small streets surrounding Parliament started. I have not much information about why or how, but the amateur footage shows riot police storming into some bars where people took refuge and drag them out and just punch them without detaining them under any charges (footage here). Pay attention to the harassment of the boy that takes some pictures. These are tactics that get us closer and closer to a police-like state, and only give us more reasons to stand up in front of such abuses.
All this is one more an evidence that Government is afraid of what could become of our movement, and is looking desperately to disconnect us from the social base that agrees with our statements and could be tempted to join us. For this, they are using the scary ghost of violence, criminalizing us, and using their overwhelming mass-media control of the national TV and radio (broadly criticised for its pro-government bias by the international news media), and other government related communication channels.
Nevertheless, we already had learned from the recent experiences, and we kept vigilant of any “agent provocateurs” that could be infiltrated among us, and kept a peaceful profile at all times. People even stopped a few demonstrators that threw empty bottles over the fence, probably not infiltrate agents but just angry and desperate people, fortunately an insignificant minority that the rest of us kept at bay for the sake of everybody else.
Since May 2011 people in Spain did not stop to get and stay involved. What are the next steps in this process of protests?
We aspire to bring more people in, those who joined the demonstrations since May 15, 2011 but got tired of not getting results; or those who have never joined, but have many reasons to do so and are realizing now that there’s no hope through the establishment’s channels.
On 29S, a general assembly was held before calling-off of the demonstration at 11.00pm. People were given the chance to speak to those gathered there in an orderly manner, the “acampada” style, and a calling for new demonstrations was made for October, in the days in which Parliament will debate and pass the budget for 2013. (Read statement here). This budget holds the sad record that, for first time in our recent history, they will dedicate more money to pay the debt and its interest than any other of its chapters such as unemployment aid, healthcare, investment, education, and so on. It is an outrage and puts us in the same path of Greece, where the same policies have resulted only in a vicious circle of degradation in the living conditions of people without a single hint of hope, because this illegitimate debt can never be paid in these conditions. So, we will continue to express our unconformity and our demands of a change in this highway to hell.
The thing about the Spanish Revolution is that there’s a big consensus about what is the problem and what we do NOT want, but when we start working in the alternatives there’s a wide range of ideas. And that’s only natural. 25S tries to gather all that strength to unite in a common purpose, and find a way out where everybody expresses his/her ideas, in a true democratic process. Of course, authoritarian, fascist, racist or hating ones are not welcome.
How is your personal engagement in the movement and coordiandora25S?
I am activist in 15M through the neighbourhood assemblies and the work group for Short Term Politics of Acampada Sol. The main reasons to join 15M or Acampada Sol and the local assembly were the indignation about the stealing of democracy in favor of financial interests, the deterioration of social conditions and impoverishing of people to reward those institutions guilty of the crisis with public resources, and the example of Iceland as how can the dignity and resistance of a people turn the loss of hope into an alternative way out that holds accountable those responsible for a mindless and greedy behaviour.
Since May 15, 2011, I participated in the protests at Sol square and in some of the campaigns that Short Term Politics has developed, such as denouncing the democratic deficits of last General Elections on November 20, or the “deconstructing lies, offering solutions” information campaign that struggles against the official speech that there’s no alternative to the austerity measures and the destruction of social welfare to pay the financial crisis. Actually, the coordination of the platform 25S, or in Spanish la coordinadora25S, is organized by a board of political but non-professional activists, structured and organized by open assemblies and meetings, where I participate as well.
Any idea how long the platform will continue unless achieving your goals?
As long as it takes. We really appreciate the attention of all international media to our struggle, and we warmly welcome any help you can give us to break up the circle of the Spanish establishment-dominated media by means of giving a different point of view.
Thank you Oscar.
BACKGROUND of 15M, protest camps, indignants, 25S:
There a various acronyms and names of the social movement as 15M, now 25S, acamapdasol; acampadabcn, Spanish revolution; indignad@s and indignadas feministas (indignant / indignant feminists), democracia real ya (real democracy now) are different platforms which all form part of a citizen’s movement of resistance and protest against the Troika, the stealing of our democracy and the austerity measures that we think are unjust.
Some take their name after a concrete day of actions that starts a wave of protests. The original one was 15M, from the beginnings of the mass protests and occupy camps on 15 May 2011, standing for a movement with no leaders and no rigid structures that shares certain philosophies (non-violence, non-hierarchical) and means of organization (assemblies, work groups, networks…). Since it is not a union or a party, the media turned 15M into a label for all the non-institutionalised popular protests.
According to coordinadora25S, now the 25S platform seems to be an evolution, because 15M protested against the situation but could not agree entirely on common solutions, or splitted in sub-groups that advocated for different ones, hence, Democracia Real Ya (DRY ) is somehow parallel but apart from 15M. Another difference is that 25S directly rejects the government and the constitution and aims to open a new process of recovering democracy and the means to have it. Most of the people at 15M, or the acampadas (occupy-camps of the 15M protests in the squares) and/or some of the concrete groups focused on certain struggles (“marea verde” for public teachers, “marea blanca” for public healthcare, and so on) or collectives (feminist or GLTB ones) are now part of 25S.
Oscar L. Eslava, member of Coordinadora25S, participated in preparation, promotion and continuation of protests of 25 September in Madrid. He is an office interior designer and associate in a small office installations company, and amateur writer in his free-time.