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Waves of protest

The gap is growing between citizens and a government which demands ever-greater sacrifices

The large numbers of citizens who converged on Madrid’s Colón square on Saturday bore a message for the government: they are not resigned to merely accepting the cutbacks in public spending, growing unemployment and the long list of sacrifices being asked of Spaniards in the name of austerity. They demand that these sacrifices be divided equitably across Spanish society.

The demonstration, which formed part of a crescendo of protests planned for this fall by the unions, was a civil, peaceful and tranquil event. But we are not yet at the end of the series of cutbacks, nor anywhere near that point. These will continue and go deeper, starting with the state budget for 2013, the draft of which must be presented by the government at the end of this month, with more austerity measures likely to come after that assuming that a new bailout is requested.

The distinct “waves” comprising Sunday’s protest — civil servants, social services, health workers, women’s groups and teachers — reflect the main worries of the population, with unemployment and the future of a frustrated young generation hovering above all of these specific areas of concern. Despite the fact that the turnout was lower than had been anticipated, the mobilization sounds alarm bells for a growing separation between the citizenry and the government.

This distance is widened by the ruthless implementation of austerity policies, it is true, but also the poor manner in which these measures are explained. The cutbacks demanded by Brussels, Germany and the euro zone are indeed inevitable, hence the need for the administration to lay out clearly what it is doing and why it is necessary.

Need for an alternative

For their part, the opposition and labor unions should present viable alternatives. The unions’ demand for a referendum on the spending cuts is not the way forward, even though the Popular Party (PP) government has gone back on promises included in its electoral platform. A platform is a plan of action that exposure to reality can modify. The suspicion citizens may have is that the PP made those pledges in the full knowledge that they were impossible to fulfill. But the cost of any such perceived betrayal will have to be paid, whenever this should be, in the next general elections.