News / Europe

Inspired by Arab Protests, Spain's Unemployed Rally for Change

People take part in a demonstration in Madrid, May 18, 2011.
People take part in a demonstration in Madrid, May 18, 2011.


Lauren Frayer

Thousands of demonstrators are occupying squares in major cities across Spain, protesting high unemployment and lack of opportunities for youth, ahead of municipal elections on Sunday. Many of them say they've been inspired by similar protests across the Arab world.

Protesters have been camping out in the capital's main square for days. Volunteers set up food and medical tents, adorned with homemade revolution posters. Someone pinned an Egyptian flag up overhead.  

But this is not Egypt, it is Spain. Educated but unemployed youth who are frustrated by the poor economy and perceived government corruption have taken over Madrid's main square, Puerta del Sol - inspired by similar youth uprisings across the Middle East.

Pedro Escol, an unemployed scientist with a PhD, surveys the scene around him - piles of sleeping bags, revolution banners and angry youth.

"This situation in the square reminds me of Tahrir Square in Egypt," said Escol.  "We are brothers with them. We are brothers.  We have the same problems."

Escol says he's frustrated. He has a good education, but can't find work. He thinks politicians here are corrupt. And he says he was inspired by what young Egyptians did back in February. They took over a public square for days, calling for change. And it worked.

"Now I understand, that to take a square like [a] symbol is a very good way to force the government to talk about it, because the square is from the citizens.  It's our square."

What started as spontaneous gatherings in Tunisia, and then Egypt, have now formed a blueprint for protests elsewhere - even in Europe. Calls have spread on Facebook for similar rallies among Spaniards living in Germany, the UK and Italy.

James Denselow, a Middle East expert at King's College in London, says protesters in Europe are copying some of the same tactics used in Cairo's Tahrir Square - exercising rights Europeans have had for decades.

"In European countries you've had free legitimate protests as an often constitutionally-protected right for decades, whereas in the Middle East this is incredibly new, which is a reason why it's proving so infectious partly," said Denselow.  "I think there's a feedback loop in the sense that European countries are using lots of the same methods and tactics as groups in the Middle East, no better so than online social networking and Internet tools to organize."

Denselow says that while their political circumstances have been drastically different, with dictatorships in the Middle East and democracies in Europe, some of the economic conditions for youth in both regions are remarkably similar. Some Mideast regimes have fallen, and European governments have had their own stumbles.

"These are educated young professionals who are finding a workplace that is not accommodating them, whether it's in terms of people with degrees or people struggling to pay for their degrees," Denselow added.  "There's been a government brought down in Greece and replaced quite quickly by another unpopular government, and problems in Ireland too. Each country has its own unique characteristics that reflects a reaction to those protests."

In downtown Madrid, Angela Cartagena is a volunteer on the protesters' quite savvy media outreach team, giving reporters tours of the protest camp. She says organizers learned lessons from the supply lines and that sustained Egyptian protesters in Cairo last winter.

"We have a legal commission, a communication one which I belong to, an infrastructure sub-commission also inside," said Cartagena.  "We have a cleaning committee, which I think is very important. They're doing a great job, they're taking care all the time, cleaning the square, everything."

Cartagena says demonstrators are even calling for a Spanish "revolution."

"It depends on your concept of revolution," Cartagena noted.  "This is a kind of democratic revolution, in a sense. Of course it's not a revolution like in the Middle East, the situation is completely different. But we are also trying to make a new democracy. They are trying to get [their first] democracy, and we are trying to get a new one - a different one, a better one."

Spanish protesters are angry about government austerity measures and high unemployment, and their voices are directed at all Spanish politicians, not only those currently in power. But local and regional elections are being held Sunday, and polls predict losses for the ruling Socialist Party. The next general election for parliament, however, is scheduled to be held by next March.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs