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Inspired by Arab Spring, Spain's youthful 15-M movement spreads in Europe

Young Spaniards railing against political stagnation and high unemployment are protesting in 166 cities across the country and have sparked other protests in Europe.

By Correspondent / May 20, 2011

Demonstrators in tents spend the night at Sol square during a protest in Madrid, on Friday, May 20. Spanish university students and youth groups are protesting in 166 cities across the country against the high unemployment rate.

Emilio Morenatti/AP



Tens of thousands of disenchanted and unemployed young Spaniards refused to leave tent cities they raised over the week in plazas throughout the country, defying an official ban on gatherings ahead of this Sunday’s municipal elections.

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Some are calling the growing youth movement a "Spanish Revolution" – spread via Twitter and Facebook – that's reminiscent of the 1968 French student movement that catalyzed an unprecedented social and moral overhaul in Europe and throughout the world. Some commentators say the Arab Spring has arrived in Spain. Critics, meanwhile, call it an excuse for a big party.

Regardless, the so-called 15-M movement, a reference to the day protesters occupied Plaza del Sol in Madrid, is calling for political and economic reform in Spain and has spread to 166 Spanish cities and to other parts of Europe. Similar plaza takeovers have been organized through online social networks for Friday in at least 10 Italian cities.

“I’m here against the system, against everything, the banks, the government, the Popular Party, unemployment. You name it. Nothing works,” says Sabina Ortega, a journalism student. “It’s against a two-party system. And my goal is to feel represented. I want politicians to know they are not listening,” she says. “I’ll stay here as long as I have to.”

Unemployed youth

At more than 21 percent, Spain has Europe’s highest unemployment rate and is also suffering from its worst economic crisis in decades, compounded by a series of draconian austerity measures.

One of every two people of working age under 25 is jobless in Spain. They are dubbed “the lost generation.” Young Spaniards are fleeing to other European capitals to find work. Experts, though, say this movement is not just about work, but about feeling alienated and misrepresented.

“This is an expression of discontent and it’s understandable. Spain had a generational shift 35 years ago with the transition to democracy, but it hasn’t had any mobility since,” said José Álvarez Junco, a respected writer, historian, professor in Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and an expert in social movements. “They are facing a wall in their professional and personal expectations.”

Sunday's election

Leaders of the Popular Party, who see Sunday’s elections as leading to the ouster of the governing party in the 2012 general elections, have criticized the movement, while the government and Socialist Party have tried to capitalize on the resentment – although apparently without much success.


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