Spain’s “indignants” were to take to the streets yesterday to mark the birth a year ago of their protest movement against government spending cuts, economic inequality and sky-high unemployment.
The activists, who once led hundreds of thousands into the streets, plan to protest in 80 towns and cities across the country, including Madrid and Barcelona.
The marches will launch a four-day protest that will end on Tuesday, on the anniversary of the movement’s birth in Madrid’s central Puerta del Sol square.
Dubbed 15-M after after its birthdate last year, the Web--fueled movement has since inspired similar movements from the US to Israel.
This time, Spaniards have even more to protest: a recession, unemployment at 24.4 percent and 52 percent for the young, and more than 30 billion euros (US$39 billion) in austerity measures so far this year.
They will also face Madrid authorities determined to stop a repeat of last year’s month-long sprawling encampment in Puerta del Sol that included everything from a canteen to a kindergarten and a library.
In Madrid, several separate columns of protesters plan to march on the city center from all directions. They will then converge on Puerta del Sol for an assembly.
The government issued a permit for the “indignants” to use the Puerta del Sol for a five-hour assembly yesterday and for 10 hours on each of the following three days.
The authorities said the “indignants” had to wrap up their activities in the square by 10pm, but the activists plan to mark a minute of silence at midnight, setting the stage for a possible showdown with the police.
Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the government would ensure that “the law is respected and that the protests take place within the times that have been set, beyond those timetables, they are not allowed.”
“To stay in the square beyond those hours would be a violation of the law and of the rights of other citizens, and this government will ensure the law is respected,” she told reporters after a weekly Cabinet meeting.
The “indignants” have staged overwhelmingly peaceful protests and neighborhood assemblies since their camp at Puerta del Sol was dismantled on June 12, although attendance has tapered off, as has media interest.
“The movement has mutated, it is still there, what has happened is that it is not on the streets, it is online and in social networks,” said Noelia Moreno, who was a spokeswoman for the movement last year at the camp at Sol.
“This is a long-distance race, no one can change an entire political system in one day or one year, it takes time,” the 30-year-old unemployed video producer added.
Critics charge that beyond staging rallies, the movement has had little impact.
Antonio Alaminos, sociology professor at Alicante University, said the “indignants” had failed to organize and were left expressing a discontent born from social and economic malaise without a concrete ideology.
“The result: lots of small, relatively disconnected groups that no longer form a social movement,” he said.
Fermin Bouza, a sociology professor at Madrid’s Complutense University, said the movement “oscillates between two extremes, the utopian and pragmatic” and should “agree to form a solid movement, capable of regaining some popularity and be useful to all.”
“As it is not a political party, they don’t have limits to their dreams, but this is a double-edged sword,” he added.