You are a liberal thinker. You are used to share your opinion without fear. You are content about your job, you make a valuable contribution to society.
Now imagine this.
The economic crisis spins out of control. Government crumbles. Fear takes over. Religious right wing fundamentalists grab power, and they try to re-establish order by force. They come after you. You are a danger to them. To save yourself, you have to leave everything behind. You have to flee. You have to risk your life to cross the sea in crowded boats in order to reach the free world.
You are lucky. You survive. You end up in a country far away from home. You don’t speak the language. How would you want to be treated?
Do you want to be locked up in an isolation camp? Do you want to wait for months or even years, living in fear that the government sends you back to the nutcases that took over your country? Do you want to be denied language classes and other tools to integrate? Do you want to be denied psychological support?
Last February an Iranian refugee committed suicide in an immigration camp in Würzburg, Germany. It led to enduring demonstrations against the inhumane treatment of immigrants by the German government. It was the start of a German Spring that went almost completely unnoticed by national and international media. I’ll give you a brief update.
In March, a dozen Iranian immigrants went on hunger strike. They demanded the end of all deportations, plus their recognition as political refugees, plus the end of the ‘obligation of residence’ which limits the immigrants’ right of movement in blatant violation of European law, plus the closure of all isolation camps.
Some but not all of the Iranian immigrants from Würzburg got their residence accepted. Others went on hungerstrike in April, sowing up their mouths. The local government was so impressed that they tried to ban the protest by law.
In summer, the protest began to spread over the rest of Germany. Inspired by the Occupy movement, immigrants started camping in places like Bamberg, Düsseldorf, Regensbürg and Osnabrück.
“We want to work, we are educated, engineers, nurses, all the occupations that are needed here. We don’t want to live off charity, we want to build up our own lives in safety and peace – just like all the other people in Germany.”
When they reached the border with former East-Germany, they tore up their provisional identity papers, and marched on, defying their ‘obligation of residence’ in Bavaria.
Along the way, they have been offered food, shelter and solidarity by local citizens, authorities and churches. The police did not interfere with the march. In Thüringen, however, they were met by neo-nazis of the NPD looking for a confrontation. Police intervened and made sure that the march could safely continue.
On October 6, some 170 marchers reached Berlin, of whom 100 sympathisers. They put up their base camp on the Oranienplatz in Kreuzberg. A week later, 6000 people attended a protest for immigrants’ rights. On the same day they launched their manifesto on the Internet.
“We, refugees, have ceased to be victims. […] We are actively taking part in the social struggles of Germany, and shoulder to shoulder with all who are here we are fighting for a free and humane society.”
On October 15, the immigrants occupied the Nigerian embassy, to protest against deportations based on voice recognition. It’s a common practice of the embassy to interrogate people who don’t possess identification, and to determine their native land on the basis of their dialect, so that they can be sent back. The German government collaborates.
In Frankfurt am Main, a protest camp was built up on October 20. Similar actions have been held lately in Vienna and The Hague, if only to show that the rest of Europe doesn’t treat its immigrants any better than the Germans do. On October 24, the demonstrators stepped up their offensive. They occupied the Pariser Platz in front of the Brandenburg Gate and went on hunger strike. It has been raining and freezing. And police have been harassing them continuously, taking away blankets, umbrella’s and slogans. But they are still there. Their spirit is strong. They have learned how to suffer, both at home and over here.
Check out the occupation of the Brandenburger Tor, live on Bambuser
Also check the collaborative pad of the Pirate Party on the protests.
In the western world we have a long tradition of considering government an instrument to serve the general interest and to protect individual freedoms. In many other parts of the world, and throughout history, government has existed as a tool for oppression and self perpetuation.
Generally, oppression is exercised through force. Such states are either police states, or pure and simple military dictatorships.
The Spanish state is turning into a more sophisticated dictatorship. It’s not military, it’s monetary.
Over here, you can be fined. Pretty much arbitrarily. There are enough laws to justify it. You can be fined for participating in an unannounced demonstration, or for just walking by. You can be fined or jailed if you call for an action that leads to destruction of property through no fault of your own.
The latest attack of the government on their citizens’ freedom is a ban on making music in the streets of Madrid. This affects many people. If you walk through the centre, you are treated to all kinds of music from classic to folk to rock. Many musicians are really good, all of them simply try to make a living. It’s natural when you have 25% unemployment.
Apparently, in Spain government doesn’t exist to protect the citizens, but to fuck with them, for profit.
They don’t care if you lose your house, if you lose your job. They care about the 750 euro they can extort if you give a brilliant execution of Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Worse, they can also confiscate your instrument.
A government that intimidates its own citizens does not have any legitimacy. It must be fought. It must be destroyed.
Thankfully, this government also offers its citizens the tools to fight back. The official reason for the law is to protect citizens from ‘acoustic pollution’. Personally I don’t consider Pachelbel, Vivaldi, the Beach Boys, Queen, the Beatles and all the other tunes you can hear in the streets to be acoustic pollution, but that’s beside the issue. The real issue is that authorities themselves are the greatest acoustic polluters of all.
As a matter of fact, there exists a law in Madrid that limits the amount of decibels that can be legally emitted by sirens of police cars, ambulances and fire trucks. This is 95 dB (see article 36.1, page 10). At night it is required to be less. But most of the time sirens are put to full blast, which is well over 95 dB.
So there you are. All you need to do is take a camera, take a sound measuring device, and go hunt for police cars. If they go full blast, film them, take their license plate, and denounce them. But don’t denounce them one-fold. Denounce them ten-fold, a hundred-fold. Go hunt for them in groups. Every person that is affected by the acoustic pollution should file an individual denouncement. Flood the justice system. Make them pay.
It has been one and a half year, and let’s face it, almost all that our movement has been able to produce are assemblies and demonstrations. I’m getting tired of those. My head starts spinning if I think of all the millions and millions of man-hours spent in talking and listening to other people’s bull shit without any practical result at all.
What’s worse is that the whole concept of assemblies has been steadily deteriorating over time, instead of evolving into something more constructive. By now, assemblies are open microphones with nobody really caring to create an orden del día or to take notes.
So people take the mic and shout their ideas. “Let’s call for an indefinite general strike!”. Applause. “Let’s all stop drinking Coca-Cola!”. Applause. “Let’s all go home, because it’s cold!”. “Excellent idea!”
This is not revolution. This is nothing at all.
Let’s start to look around. Let’s admit that we are still playing ‘their game’. They are not afraid of us. They have no reason to. We have to change the game. We have to occupy reality. We have to learn.
Don’t get me wrong, but we have to learn from Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Greek fascists.
Why? Because they know how to build up popular support. They know how to build community spirit. They offer food to those who are hungry. They offer shelter to those who are homeless. They offer help to those who are unemployed. And they thrive. Mamma mia, they thrive!
The unforgivable mistake of these groups is that they actively create divisions and encourage hatred by selectively serving one kind of people on the basis of their ethnic origin. In this case the Greeks and the Palestinians.
We have to do better. We have to create unity. “If we do not treat our fellow human beings as brothers and sisters, then sooner or later, it will be war.”
War is playing ‘their game’. War can never be won.
So building unity must be the next level. We must create community spaces for the locals and the immigrants. We must set up community kitchens. We must share what we have. We must turn to local organic farmers. We must create our own industries, our own society. That will be playing ‘our own game’. That will be revolution. Direct democracy will not work if it doesn’t stem from a society in which everyone feels represented.
How can we build this society? We need spaces, covered spaces, especially because winter is coming. Fortunately, these spaces exist, and they are distributed over all Spanish cities and neighbourhoods. They are called ‘Caja Madrid’, and they belong to Bankia, which belongs to the people.
The offices, the headquarters, the franchises, and all the empty houses owned by Bankia are public space and can be legitimately occupied. They can be used to house evicted people, they can be used for assemblies and working groups, they can be used for community kitchens, theatre, etc.
Publicly owned Bankia keeps evicting citizens every day. It’s time for the citizens to take what’s theirs, and to evict Bankia’s management from all the public property they are illegally occupying.
If we really want to make revolution, then let’s stop talking about it in endless assemblies, and let’s get it done.
October 27, 2300 hrs
Today was the last of three days of actions planned by the 25S for the end of October. Forty thousand people marched from Plaza España to congress, according to positive estimates. I can’t confirm the number, but I can say that it was pretty big.
The choice for Plaza España was symbolic. Around the square you will find some of the highest skyscrapers of Madrid, and they are completely empty. With five hundred evictions per day in Spain, you could fill them up in a couple of days.
We take the Gran Vía. We have the drummers with us, and they make the difference. Protest is so much more powerful if there is a good beat to it.
Neptuno is filled with people already when the march arrives. And there’s more music. The Solfonica orchestra gave one of their spectacular performances in the middle of the crowd.
Another performance picked up the news from these days in a very confrontational way. Six people walked up to the barricades, white as corpses, with a rope around their neck. ‘Evictions’ was one of the signs they carried. ‘Unemployment’, was another. It has reached 25% (52% among youngsters), and it made all the headlines.
At nine o’ clock people sat down with their backs to congress, waving their hands, observing a minute of silence. It brought back sweet memories of Acampada Sol last year. Afterwards, a simple slogan thundered over the square. ‘Resignation! Resignation!’
An assembly was organised to speak about how to continue the protest, but it wasn’t well-structured, and moreover, it was cold. Very cold and windy. So people soon left.
Winter is here. And the evictions continue implacably, every day. So the struggle will have to continue as well. The next appointment in Madrid is for November 1-4. ‘Agora 99′, a meeting of European activists on debt, rights and democracy. Everyone is invited.
After Bankia’s refusal to negotiate, the campers took action. At one o’ clock in the afternoon they occupied the Bankia franchise in Alcalà 1, at the corner of Puerta del Sol.
Police went in after them and sealed off the entrance against sympathisers and press who assembled outside.
The occupiers demanded an end to the evictions, and the right to for those at risk of eviction to stay in their houses, paying a social rent.
Bankia is owned by the people. It is now officially supposed to serve the public instead of its shareholders. They don’t know it yet and they have a hard time to adapt to the idea. They can’t even dole out bonuses to their managers next Christmas. Not because the government doesn’t allow them, but because the EU wouldn’t have it.
The hours went by and the management persisted in its refusal to negotiate. Around five o’ clock, the occupiers sent out a comuniqué. It was read to the press on the bank’s doorstep.
They had been denied water. One of them suffering from diabetes was denied medical attention. On the outside there was medical personnel ready with food and water, there was a human rights observer. None of them could enter. According to the comuniqué the occupiers were even denied access to the toilet.
Rumours going around said that they were subject to arrest in case they wet themselves. All the same, the occupiers vowed to continue.
The people outside were not many. And half of them were press. Those who weren’t kept singing that their comrades inside were not alone. And that “Bankia kills”.
Yesterday’s suicide is not the only one linked to an eviction. More cases are surfacing. It’s just that none of those had been theatrical enough to be picked up by the media.
Bankia’s management found itself in a difficult situation. They were up against people with nothing to lose. If they had opted for arrest and violent dispersion of the people outside, it could have had enormous repercussions.
The bank should have closed at three. At a quarter past seven, the occupiers walked out of the side entrance. They had gained a tactical victory. Finally, Bankia had agreed to negotiate with people collectively about a social rent. They also agreed to defer next Monday’s eviction.
The occupiers accepted, adding that they will not lift their camp in front of Bankia HQ, because they don’t have any reason to trust the bankers. They will also formally denounce the way they were treated.
It’s a first step. If it doesn’t lead anywhere, people will return to occupy the bank on the inside. After all, since it was nationalised, Bankia is public space.
For three days now, people who were evicted by Bankia or are at risk of eviction have been camping outside the bank’s headquarters. Today there was a demonstration in their support.
The issue of evictions has finally caught on. Not only on the social networks, but also on tv and in the papers. It was about time. The numbers are staggering. Every day, five hundred evictions are being executed in Spain. At such a rate it amounts to roughly 180.000 evictions a year. If we estimate three persons per household, then we are talking about more than half a million people.
Some of them find shelter with family and friends, some of them are occupying, others are out on the streets.
‘A man’s home is his castle’, so they say. This morning in Granada, a man refused to surrender his castle when police came to evict him. He committed suicide instead.
So evictions are becoming main stream news. Today, El País published a page full of personal tragedies. With all the people forced out onto the streets on a daily basis, you can imagine that they had a wide choice of particularly tearjerking cases.
At the same time in the same paper, current mortgage custom and the way the banks abuse it, have been fiercely criticised by the judges who are supposed to sign the evictions. They argue that a part of the public funds with which the government bailed out Bankia should be destined to lift the burden of indebted families.
“Bail out people, not banks”, is another of the slogans at Occupy Bankia.
The socialists in the opposition have already presented a bill which aims to stabilise the situation and limit the amount of evictions. Bloody freaking hypocrites. They admitted that previous legislation they passed with the same purpose has failed. In the last four years (three of which have seen the socialists in power), 350.000 families have been evicted.
Then there are the ghost towns on the outskirts of the cities. I have seen them. Blocks and blocks of uninhabited molochs, built in the last years of the boom.
It all seems so simple. After the bailout, Bankia is owned by the state. Now the first thing the state has to do is extinguish the debt of people who were evicted by the bank, and do so retroactively. Next thing is to declare a moratorium on all evictions, until this whole debt thing has been sorted out.
There are many more houses than families in Spain. So there must be a way to solve this puzzle. In fact, it is the government’s duty to do so, according to article 47 of the Spanish constitution: “All Spaniards have the right to a decent and adequate home. Public authorities shall promote the necessary conditions and establish the appropriate standards in order to realise this right, they shall regulate the use of the land in the public interest to prevent speculation.”
Bankia has already stated that it will not negotiate with the people camped out on its doorstep.
“Greece, which is also fast-tracking state property sales, is set to overtake Finland as the continent’s largest gold producer within four years, as regulators in Athens sign off on mines kept on hold for more than a decade by red tape and environmental rules.”
From an article in the Independent, October 15. It was all about investment opportunities, about the mining potential of Greece, about the employment it would bring to the region, about the money the government would make so that it could pay off its debts. It’s a long piece, only around the end it notes that “Environmentalism and local opposition remain the biggest obstacle to gold mining in Greece,” and that “local villagers and mining protesters from Thessaloniki clashed with police at the Skouries site last month, according to local press reports.”
This month, protesters clashed again at the site. On the Real Democracy Greece blog I found a witness account of what happened. I post some excerpts, read the original in Greek and English here. This is a story about greed in its purest and most visceral form, and the way it is narrated makes it also irresistably Homeric…
“Yesterday’s demonstration was maybe the biggest regarding the mines and for sure one of the biggest in the Chalkidiki region. More than 2000 people coming from the surrounding area but also from even more far away like Thesaloniki, Kilkis, Thrace gathered in Ieriso, where the car cortege started its course towards Skouries. It was the first time that young people joined our struggle coming from villages apart from Ierisso (where it is considered the ‘heart’ of our movement). People from M. Panagia, Ammouliani, Ouranoupoli, Nea Roda, Metaggitsi, Gomati, Ormylia, N. Moudania, Polygiros, Plana, even from the villages that have workers at the gold mines (Stratoniki, Stageira, Paleochori) ignored the propaganda and joined hands.
The road to Skouries was not blocked by the riot police (as they did several times in the past) but we were informed that about 4 squads were waiting for us in the village. We kept walking the next 8 kms passing through the beautiful forest that they plan to destroy. A small group of 200 remained in Hontro Dentro in order to prevent riot police to coming from behind. Recalling today the brutality of the police, this plan sounds naïve…
When we finally arrived in the village, a wall of policemen was blocking the public road in front of the company’s premises. Behind these policemen they were standing riot policemen and behind them company officials and ’secret’ policemen. In order to keep the atmosphere calm, women stood in front and we all asked to let us pass. They denied completely. Standing in front of their shields we shouted slogans and tried to start a discussion with the policemen that showed no reaction or expression.
’We are your wives, your mothers, your sisters and we are protecting our land. We are fighting for our children and our future. Why do you hit us? What are you gonna say to your own kids when they ask you?’
It was getting dark when the police decided to get rid of us. The attack was ordered without any previous assault or provocation from our side. They started throwing a huge number of teargases, screaming ‘bitches’ ‘fagots’ chasing and beat the ones left behind. I could not run so I entered the woods. I was lying down inside a cloud of teargases with riot policemen walking around me. As soon as I managed to escape from them, I joined small group of demonstrators who were ready to return back with a small truck. There was also a young boy badly beaten in the ribbons.
This was the last image that my camera captured. What followed is hard to describe… Like mad dogs they started attacking everyone and throwing tons of teargases. Women were pulled by their hair, people were beaten while they were trying to enter their own cars and whoever was lying down were trampled violently. The cars could not move fast due to the big number of demonstrators and the traffic jam. Many drivers collided. The riot police was running among the cars, breaking glasses, opening the doors furious and kicking everyone out. One of them saw me wearing a surgery mask and tried to open my door calling me ‘bitch’.
I saw with my own eyes a policeman breaking a glass and throwing a teargas INSIDE THE CAR! The interior of the car turned black from the smoke and the driver was thrown out and beaten. They did the same in many cars.
Without any doubts I claim that the police order was ‘SMASH THEM SO THEY WILL NOT RETURN TO THE MOUNTAIN’. They didn’t want just to disperse the mobilization (this is anyway easy for them with the plastic bullets and the teargases while we were not prepared). Their attack (as we were departing from the place and we were no harm to them) is an organized crime (there is no other way for me to describe it) and I am sure that if they had guns they would have used them.”
The Independent article ends like this:
“Eldorado’s Moure is betting more than $3 billion that objectors to expanding gold exploration in Greece will be swayed. The company intends to invest about $1 billion in the next five years. ‘I think people realize we are part of the solution, that part of the economic recovery will be due to mining,’ said Moure. ‘I’m convinced that people who oppose our projects will come to realize that mining can be a positive force for change.'”
(This video is from a similar protest in Romania)