In the lead up to the 25S protests, the Spanish Government tried to intimidate protesters by spreading rumours that fascists groups were behind the event; sending the police to arrest various organisers whose crime was simply to hold planning meetings and bearing a banner with the words “Occupy the Congress”, and comparing the planned protest with the coup d’etat in 1981 led by General Tejero. None of it was true, and the streets of Spain have been flooded by citizens demanding democratic reforms.
It is important to note that the organisers of the event have been transparent about the organising and the aims. They held meetings in el Retiro, a central park in Madrid, and they frequently declared that this was going to be a peaceful protest. In fact, they stated that they would not stop MPs entering and exiting the Congress building and would respect the police perimeter around the building. All they wanted was to ask for more democracy. Apparently, that’s a crime in Spain these days. The organisers arrested received letters, a few days before the actual protest, giving them a date for their trial. They could be facing one year in jail.
Exactly as the police and Government intended, the peaceful protest turned violent. They probably hoped to discredit the event through violence. The media will focus merely on the images of riots, police charging and protesters fighting police. But firsthand accounts give a different picture.
There were three main marches starting in three different points, Plaza del Sol, Plaza de España and Neptuno that converged in front of the congress. Police used “kettle” tactics to divide protesters into small groups. They often blocked access to streets and forced protesters down different paths. When police charged, protesters frequently put their hands in the air and sat down on the ground, instead of fighting. Most importantly, several first hand witnesses report that plain clothes police officers infiltrated the demonstrations and provoked the confrontations.
From early morning, the streets of Madrid were taken over by riot police. The police vans and helicopter were a presence felt all throughout the city.
14:30 - Hundreds of buses were stopped in the outskirts of Madrid. The police frisked every person in the buses one by one and demanded their ID papers (note: carrying the national ID is compulsory in Spain, a remand of Franco’s era).
16:15 - Various MPs from Izquierda Unida (United Left), and two other smaller left wing political parties exit the congress and join the protesters
17:15 - An elderly lady speaks at the assembly. “We want public health and education” she says. “Don’t fear anything or anyone” she continues to the young people around, “you must stay united, unity is essential.”
17:27 - People leave Plaza de España and head towards the congress chanting “Eso, eso, eso, eso, nos vamos al congreso.” (“There, there, there, we’re heading to the congress”)
17:57 - The protest in front of the Congress is about to start. Demonstrators have been instructed repeatedly by organisers to allow MPs entry and exit of the building.
18:02 - In front of the congress, people demand the resignation of the government in full, as it has done a complete U-Turn on every single policy it presented during the election campaign. People demand a new democratic process to change the Constitution and make democracy more active and participatory.
18:19 - Protesters chant “el proximo parado que sea un diputado” (“the next unemployed should an MP”). They denounce the increasing unemployment rate which is around 25 per cent nationwide but in some regions reaches up to 45 per cent.
18:50 - The protesters marching from Plaza de España reach Puerta del Sol. Police stop them on their tracks. Izquierda Unida MP Alberto Garzon tweets that police is blocking access to the protesters. There’s a sense of danger and of the police manipulating the demonstrators in order to intimidate them. They need to find a different route to reach the congress. They chant “Esto no es una crisis, es una estafa” (“This is not a crisis, it’s a scam”) and “Menos politica mas educacion” (“Less politics and more education”). The first refers to the fact that the debt was private (of the banks) and has now been turned public, which means that everyday citizens are paying for the banks’ debts. The second refers to the radical cuts in education and research by the government, cutting 20,000 teachers from public education and reducing research fund to next to nothing.
19:04 - Police make a tactical move. They introduce a line of vans and a number of riot police into Neptuno square, dividing the protesters. MP Alberto Garzon states that an elderly woman confides in him she has never seen such a big police display, not even under Franco’s dictatorship.
19:13 - Police charge the protesters in Neptuno. The charge is quite brutal with witness accounts of police beating people repeatedly even when they’re defenceless on the ground. Some protesters are arrested, various suffer injuries, an elderly man bleeds from the head.
Video of police charges in Neptuno:
19:27 - Police numbers increase in the surrounding of Neptuno square. Protesters are forced to retreat as police won’t allow them to continue the march.
19:47 - The three marches are finally together in front of the congress.
20:05 - Police charge and arrests.
20:25 - Protesters in Puerta del Sol put their hands in the air and chant “Estas son nuestras armas” (“these are our weapons”)
21:00 - Brutal police charge and arrests in Neptuno. Police drag people away and beat defenceless people on the ground.
21:05 - Police charges continue in Neptuno and spread to adjacent streets.
21:15 - The news bulletin in TVE (the public broadcaster) fails to mention police charges but states that protesters have attempted to force the security perimeter, thrown objects against police officers and assaulted police officers.
21:20 - Police keep charging in Neptuno and spreading out into other streets. They seem to be attempting to clear the whole Congress area before the end of the parliament session that is meant to conclude at 22:00.
Violent confrontation at night:
21:30 - A number of protesters sit down in front of the police in Neptuno.
22:10 - Police charge protesters in Atocha, they chase people into the train station. Police in surrounding streets cut any access to Atocha.
23:02 - Spanish law states that all police officers must bear visible identification, they don’t. Jose Sanchez Fornet, the spokesperson for the main police union, tweets support for police not bearing visible identification; in his words: against violent protesters, you should simply beat them up.
23:07 - Violent charges from the police against protesters in the train station of Atocha. Rubber bullets destroy a train’s window.
00:10 - Organisers announce they will protest again next day (26S).
00:27 - Police charge and clear out Neptuno square.
As the peaceful protests turned violent through police tactics and provocation, the 25S protests could already be seen as a success. Citizens are increasingly demanding a new Constitution, more democracy and the right to live with dignity. At the United Nations, Argentinian president Cristina Kirchner had some words of support as she mentioned the terrible repression being felt in Spain.
Undeterred by the events, today they will protest again — and they’re not alone. Greek citizens will also protest today. In Portugal, they hit the streets the 29th and the Global Noise event is approaching 13th October.