Adrian Hamilton: The Spanish are having their own Arab Spring

International Studies

Share
Related Topics

While President Obama was in London extolling the Arabs for seeking the kind of democracy enjoyed in the West, the Spanish were occupying the main square in Madrid demanding the same things as the Arab protesters.

"Break the shackles of the past" was one banner seen among the tents of the indignados ("the indignant") while a more literary effort declared: "If you don't let us dream we won't let you sleep." Even in Granada's Albaicin the youth were being summoned by Twitter and Facebook to attend protests.

Of course you can draw too closely the parallels between Madrid and Cairo. A lot of Spanish angst, as Greek anger, has been caused by the financial crisis and the measures taken by their governments to cut the deficits.

But this is not a repeat of traditional union-led, left-wing organised demonstrations against government of the sort we have seen so often in the past. Far from it. The peculiarity of European politics at the moment is that the revolt against cuts is directed against anyone in power to the benefit of the party in opposition.

In Spain, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the socialist prime minister who has tried hard to keep Spain's finances solvent, has been blown aside in the latest local elections in favour of the right wing PP party founded by one of General Franco's ministers, which isn't expected to do much different if it gets into power. Yet in the German regional elections it is the right-of-centre Chancellor Angela Merkel who is being hammered by left-wing and Green candidates, despite the fact that Germany is doing rather nicely at the moment.

The Spanish protests, in contrast, are not a left-right affair. Rather, like the Arab movements, they are demonstrating against the whole system and the major parties held to be part of it. The means of organisation through social networks is the same as in the Arab uprising. The occupation of public places and the establishment of committees to handle food and rubbish draws on the North African example.

Some of the causes are also the same. Spain now has the highest rate of unemployment in the EU, with a youth unemployment of 45 per cent which is pretty close to the rates experienced through much of the Middle East.

Corruption is held to be widespread, with over 100 candidates in the local election being accused of it. The banking crisis has exposed– as in Ireland – a system in which financiers, developers and politicians hug each other all too closely.

Spain isn't on the point of revolution, any more than Ireland or even Greece. But a situation in which the young, and indeed many older people, feel excluded by existing political structures and in which they sense little reason to hope that it will get better in the future is not a sustainable one. Looking around Europe, it is hard to find countries in which you couldn't see the similarities.

To claim that we in the West should congratulate ourselves on an Arab Spring which looks to us as its example is just to misunderstand its nature and our response. The protesters in the Arab squares are demonstrating against an autocracy and corruption which have become insufferable. The demonstrators in Spain are saying the same about their democratic structures.

Where it all ends, no one knows. Theoretically democracies should be more adept at adjusting to changing pressures. But looking around America and Britain, as much as Spain, that is an optimistic assumption at the moment. The Middle East world has risen up just as the West has stumbled down with the financial crisis and consequent recession.

There is really no sign at the moment in its leadership or in its processes that western democracies see a way of re-invigorating themselves and giving hope to the coming generation. Rather the measures taken to cope with the financial crisis are doing the opposite.

Far from it being a moment for self-congratulation, the Arab Spring should be causing us to look at ourselves and see what lessons it has for us.

The nuclear lessons not learnt

The International Atomic Energy Agency may think Japan's response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster "exemplary" but that is not what any Japanese I know believes. To them the performance of the Tokyo Electric Power Co and the government has been truly abysmal. The reactions were late, the public pronouncements misleading and any openness non-existent. With the plant still leaking and likely to go on leaking until November, there is still no confidence in the authorities, as every opinion poll shows.

That, in essence, is the problem for nuclear power today. The experts producing the preliminary IAEA report yesterday see it as a matter of technicalities – mistakes made, lessons in prevention – the ordinary citizen wants reassurance, or at least a sense that they know what is going on, what the risks are and what, if anything, the ordinary citizen should do about it.

You can produce all the reports you want about how "the tsunami hazard for several sites was underestimated," and conclude "nuclear designers and operators should appropriately evaluate and protect against the risks of all natural hazards, and should periodically update those assessments and assessment methodologies," but what matters in the end is public confidence in the technology. And that has been badly shattered, as much by the mishandling of information after the tsunami as the catastrophe itself.

Japan is turning its back on nuclear; so is Germany. The IAEA report will do nothing to change that.



a.hamilton@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Secondary Teacher

£110 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: English Teacher needed for ...

NQT and Experienced Primary Teachers Urgently required

£90 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: NQT and Experienced Primary Teac...

Year 1 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Year 1 Primary Supply Teachers needed for...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: EY/KS1 Qualified Teaching Assistant J...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014  

Announcing my transition from male to female means that I am finally free, at last

Stephanie Hirst
 

Daily catch-up: Recall Bill, pangrams and buildings that never were

John Rentoul
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album