Sofia Tipaldou reports from the front line in the battle against austerity in Spain

“Allow me to show here, in New York, my recognition for the majority of the Spanish people who do not demonstrate, do not come out on the front pages, and do not watch the newscasts”. With these words, the Spanish President Mariano Rajoy, greeted the demonstration of September 25 that turned Madrid into a battlefield.

The protest Surround the Chamber turned into one of the biggest and most intensive demos against Rajoy’s austerity measures. Thousands of people united to show their discontent in front of the Chamber of Deputies. The government downplayed the participants’ numbers. The protests were called by a platform of various activist organizations called 25-S, Indignados, students, unemployed, left movements, workers unions, ecologists, housewives and pensioners, came from all over Spain to protest. Buses bringing demonstrators to the capital were stopped by the police to identify their passengers.

The demo aimed to show politicians the people’s weariness. “Come out!”, “They are not representing us!”, and “Fire them!” were some of the slogans the crowd was shouting. The tension started when some demonstrators tried to get through the fence the police erected to protect the Chamber. Policemen started attacking the crowd. The demonstrators were lifting their arms and replying “these are our weapons”.

Police weapons are of a different sort. Batons, water cannons and even plastic bullets were used to disperse the demonstrators. The result was 64 injuries (27 of which policemen) and 35 arrests, according to the government. The police justified its brutal repression by accusing the demonstrators for violent acts: they were throwing bottles, batteries, and other objects, and then some of them were beating up policemen. Pictures of bleeding demonstrators and videos from police violence travelled quickly around the world.

Some 1,300 policemen were deployed in front of the Chamber, they came from the whole country. 6,000 demonstrators and 1,300 policemen, that makes 4.6 persons per police officer. Without being a policeman myself, I wonder if it is such a difficult task for a policeman to hold 4.6 persons on the street – given all his special training skills and his armour – without resorting to massive violence. The governmental party (PP), though, does not seem to share my concerns. On the contrary, it congratulated with “enthusiasm” the police forces for their proportionate and prudent action against “a sabotage” of the Chamber of Deputies.

The demo also opened a debate in the Spanish media on the role of police infiltrators. A video shows how some secret policemen beat up someone who shouts that he is a “companion”. No, the issue has not been raised for the police’s uselessness, it has been raised because there are accusations from participants that it is the undercover policemen who provoke violence, in order to justify repression. Nor should such information shock us. It is, or must have been, a commonplace by now for people participating in demos to find that their “companion” may beat them up or arrest them or both.

What really shocks us is that during the 25-S demo the issue got such huge dimensions that even mainstream media could not avoid to report it. One of the 25-S spokesman, Celestino Sánchez, declared in an improvised press conference in the demonstration’s aftermath that “beneath each hooded person, who acted with violence yesterday, there was a policeman”.

The next day, September 26, the initiative Surround the Chamber convoked a second demonstration, without asking for an official permission. More than 2,500 people, according to the government, gathered on Neptune square, 200 meters from the Congress, where the violent police repression of the previous day took place. The people made a sitting protest, demanding the resignation of the government and of the president, and the liberation of last night’s detained.

The previous day’s violent clashes were not repeated. The police force was severely reduced to 180 agents, without helmets this time. The spirits from both parts were reportedly much calmer than the day before. “Only” 3 persons got arrested and another 3 injured. Their next protest will take place on September 29.