The Western ideal of democracy has been put in jeopardy since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008, especially in the European Union. The World has learned, that when the capitalist system is endangered, everything will be done—even in the democratic European model—in order to achieve stability and economic growth. What the leaders seem to forget are the consequences of this crisis management for ordinary citizens, and the resulting lack of resources to make their voices heard and to keep their governments accountable.
Greece, Italy and Spain, for instance, have been forced to implement economic and social reforms, struggling to get by their huge debts and mismanagement of public funds. Domestically, their governments are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Before the crisis in Spain, the government reduced corporate taxes (among others), optimistic about the economic growth, confident that the market would regulate itself and that lower taxes were the solution. However, when the economy collapsed, it chose to reduce social expenditures instead of reinstituting enterprise taxation. As a consequence, Spaniards’ economic and social situation worsened. Unemployment reached a record of 6 million since 2008.
The housing bubble also brought terrible social consequences. There have been nearly 400,000 evictions since 2008; suicide rates increased and families are living in unacceptable precarious situations. In fact, the Spanish mortgage law allows the bank to seize property as soon as the borrower defaults on his payments, permitting thereby very speedy evictions. Moreover, even if the buyer has been evicted, they must still pay their mortgage back to the bank. Thus, in addition to being evicted and having to find a housing solution, Spaniards also have to deal with their mortgage debt through the Bank. The European Court of Justice itself recognized on March 14, 2013 that the country’s legislation regarding mortgage was “abusive and violated the directive on consumer protection”.
Given the dramatic situation, many social organizations pressured the Spanish government. They asked Parliament to solve the housing/mortgage problematic by allowing a house’s value to cancel the outstanding borrower’s debt, by stopping residential evictions and by providing adequate social housing and reasonable rents.
The government refused to even allow the motion in Parliament!
In a supposed democratic country, this decision did not make any sense, considering that more than 80 percent of the Spanish population supported it. This refusal threatened the nature itself of the democratic concept in Spain. What can the people do if the government in power does not even allow Parliament to consider the proposed changes that are massively supported? Is it right that a large sum of people are suffering from a regulation that is profoundly unfair, and are condemned to silence in our so-called advanced model of democratic governance?
The answer is obvious.
And, then, Spaniards decided that the slogan used by Argentines against the direct violence of the State in the early 2000s was good enough for them: Si no justicia, hay escrache!
The Escrache concept refers to popular, autonomous and ethical justice. The word means: to expose, to uncover, and to bring to light. Escraches were initially social protests in Argentina used to denounce and condemn military and civilians that committed crimes during Argentina’s dark period of dictatorship (1976-1983). Even if those individuals were prosecuted within the official justice system, there have been no real consequences to their crimes and many received official forgiveness from President Menem in October 1989 and December 1990. Feeling that official justice was failing to condemn those crimes, Argentines started Escraches as a peaceful public demonstration meant to inform and denounce the targeted individual’s crimes. “After singing and shouting, the crowd disperses peacefully- mission achieved-the repressor is no longer living in peace.”
Finding no other solution, Spaniards are adapting and using Escraches to denounce the structural violence of the mortgage law and to hold their MPs accountable. Activists are following and harassing MPs, especially those of the Popular Party (PP;the conservative ruling party) even to their homes, shouting in their anger and dismay at a system they do not seem to influence: Yes, it can be done! (referring to the change of the mortgage law) but they don’t want to (referring to politicians).
And it bothers them. A lot.
Some MPs have already threatened those activists, condemning their actions, taxing their activities as undemocratic. Isn’t it ironic that this government, refusing to even consider a request massively supported by Spaniards, are taxing protesters’ Escraches of undemocratic actions? They should certainly revisit the meaning of democracy.
The State also initiated new rules, ordering the police to keep the protestors at a distance of 300 meters to protect senior members of the PP. The PP is trying to criminalize Escraches, thereby limiting their actions and their right to ask for justice.
In a sense, it is true that Escraches could become a double-edged sword: individual attacks, even peaceful, could easily get out of control and become risky if they are too personal. However, truth is that there is actually a discontent about governance across the globe: the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street movement, and riots are all indicators of this malaise démocratique.
Are elections and freedom of speech sufficient means to provide democratic governance? Obviously not. Escraches in Spain demonstrates that citizens want to have their say on issues when it really matters, not only during the election period. Leaders should, by now, realize that power comes with a duty; to represent their people. And as long as Spaniards will not be heard, they will continue reminding leaders of their democratic duties.