Spain is a beautiful country, and I believe that its history, cultures, languages, cuisine and vibrant contrasts between devout traditional Catholicism and radical new ways of thinking make it one of the best places to experience in Europe, if not the world. However, Spain has always had a darker side; a history of struggles against those who would wish to destroy the country (the perspectives of who the guilty party is, be it fascists, the church, communists, bankers, separatists changes depending on who you ask), and this continues today.
A million march on Madrid against austerity measures.
Only after a few days in Valencia (a rather prosperous part of Spain), the evidence of economic hardships is evident. Graffiti can be seen in many parts of the city, with messages like “Capitalism is the cancer of society” written along side hammer and sickles, and often not too far from Communist Party posters. The nationalist side is also evident, with messages in Valencian saying “Espanya ens roba” meaning “Spain robs us”. Shops that have gone out of business can be found on almost every street, and on some, all shops have simply shut. Whether this is due to economic hardships, or a sign of a different way of doing business I still long to understand.
All this climaxed when I visited the city centre and saw many unemployed victims of Spain's recession marching, demanding justice.
Protesters march through Valencia's City Centre.
The crisis for Spain began, as it did for many parts of the world, in the late 2000s, and then continued due to its economy being so in debt. 40 year long loans (people using money which simply wasn't there), the building market crash and bankruptcy of many Spanish companies led to the ongoing crisis, which has caused the government to introduce drastic austerity measures, and unemployment rising to nearly 25% (compare this to figures of around 15% under Thatcher). This has understandably caused anger, and a true desire for change in Spain. Catalonia (the autonomous community in which Barcelona is) seeks independence, as does the Basque Country, people protest and riot demanding social change and justice, but all want some form of change.
I did promise some music.
The music mirrors this, in the typical passion we see in Spanish music (see above for Ska P). From the buskers that I've heard in the street complaining about the system, to advertised concerts with political motifs, it's certainly an exciting time for Spanish music as people need to take out their frustrations somewhere, and it's always better to use your hand to strum a guitar than to punch a policeman. Emotions are running high, and where many nations would despair and only despair, in Spain there's a sense of joy and true optimism that things can and will change, simply because they must.