Protest

Athens vs. Madrid: On the Different Forms Protests Take

Joshua Tucker Jul 1 '11

Spanish Indignado's in Puerto del Sol, Madrid. Photo by Joshua Tucker

Photo is of constructions set up by Spain’s “Indignados” in Madrid’s main square, Puerto del Sol. Photo by Joshua Tucker.

In the last two weeks, I have spent time in both Spain and Greece, two countries that have recently been marked by protest. The violent turn taken by the protests in Athens, especially those held earlier this week, were “well documented in the media”:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13935400. In Spain, however, the movement has been characterized by – “with one notable exception”:http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/06/15/spain.catalan.protests/index.html – an aversion to violence and the use of force by both protestors and the authorities (see “here”:http://www.thenation.com/article/161229/spains-indignados-take-square, “here”:http://www.npr.org/2011/05/23/136570806/protesters-want-greater-say-in-spains-politics, and “here”:http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/europe/06/19/spain.protests/).

One net result of this difference – and this is purely based on my personal conversations with friends living in Spain when I was there – is that there seems to be a kind of respect for the protesters in Spain. They are known as “Indignados”, or “indignant ones”. (And indeed, a recent “El Pais survey”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/43eca9da-9ff6-11e0-a115-00144feabdc0.html?ftcamp=rss#axzz1Qqbr04Cf found that the Idignados had the support of 64% of Spaniards). No one seems quite sure what concretely it is the Indignados want – they are opposed to corruption and austerity, but seem to have no interest in supporting a particular party or forming their own, although they have recently started making some suggestions about electoral reform – but people do seem to respect the fact that they care and that they are doing something, and, I suspect, that they are doing it in a non-violent way. In Greece, however, now part of the story is that the fear of “violence has kept families and the middle-class away from recent protests”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/43eca9da-9ff6-11e0-a115-00144feabdc0.html?ftcamp=rss#axzz1Qqbr04Cf, which makes one wonder if support for these protests will fall in the future as well.

But the bigger question that I am interested in posing to readers of the Monkey Cage is why? Why does protest in one advance industrialized democracy take on a violent tone, while in another advanced industrialized democracy, protesters angry at largely the same thing (austerity because of mistakes made by rich bankers, politicians who have betrayed them, etc.) stay non-violent? From a purely inductive standpoint, two features that distinguish the two countries seem relevant.

First, Greece has an “anarchist movement with a history of being prone to violence”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchism_in_Greece, and the dominant story line that I was able to pick up was that it was people associated with this movement that instigated much of the violence in recent protests. To the best of my knowledge, Spain does not have a commensurate anarchist movement (although it does of course have a violent “separatist movement in ETA”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ETA).

Second, the Greeks were responding a specific set of austerity measures that were being voted on (and were ultiamtely passed) on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The Spanish protests have been focused more generally on the direction in which the country is headed (although of course Greek protesters have general concerns as well, and the protests didn’t just start this week.)

I’m hoping this post will start a discussion. I’m especially interested in hearing from those of you who know more about Greek and Spanish politics than I do (and I would be happy to entertain proposals for guest posts if you have more to say than will fit comfortably in the comments section). But I’m also interested in hearing from those of you who study protest, and can speak to this question of when protest of this nature (ie., not the anti-regime protest of the Arab Spring or the anti-electoral fraud protests of the Colored Revolutions) become violent and when they do not, especially in the context of advanced industrialized democracy. Again, this is a great opportunity to share your research with a wider public that is probably very interested in these types of questions right now.