- Violence erupts as Spain goes on general strike (thetimes.co.uk)
- Violence erupts on Spain’s streets as thousands clash with police in 24-hour general strike (dailymail.co.uk)
Jon Henley is travelling through Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece to hear the human stories behind the European debt crisis. He hears from more readers in Portugal and Spain about their personal tales
In Portugal, Claudia Barros writes that things are getting worse and worse:
Individuals filing for bankruptcy or having no money to purchase food, are becoming more and more common in Portugal. It’s not just what we’re used to having and not able to survive with less; people struggle to get a degree and then end up working 35 hours a week for €600 (£525) a month in supermarkets.
“And why is only the public sector going to have to pay extra taxes in November? I make €760 a month, work in the public sector, and am not happy about this at all. There are those who make €5,000 a month and will not be affected by this tax. Is it fair? In addition, public transport fares were increased in January, and again by 15% in September, with another 15% increase expected to happen next January. Electricity was also increased last month, and the tax on food went from 19% to 23%. Things will get worse before they get better.
Sergio Abreau, similarly, says:
The Portuguese prime minister has just announced more austerity on TV. One point of the agenda means no Christmas and summer bonuses for public sector workers who earn more than €1,000 a month in 2012, which means a cut from 14 to 12 pay cheques per year.
I’m a communication designer and I’m currently working for a Portuguese company that exports goods. These companies provide some kind of hope to balance our deficit. I’m almost 29, my car belongs to my family, I live in a rented flat and I have no kids. My generation is simply postponing its future. The result will be that in 10-15 years there will be a sudden decrease of the population. The younger generation will have gone abroad and the country will be left with old people.
Janet Sinclair in Braga isn’t happy and feels we’re sensationalising the issue:
The Portuguese are well aware that times are bad, and they have recognised that they are going to have to go through some tough times before the economy improves. Now they need to be allowed to focus on getting out of this mess without unnecessary pressure from the media whose interests in the crisis are far from objective.
Tiago Mota Saraiva, a Portuguese architect, sends a thoughtful post and argues the IMF‘s policies are not the right ones:
The general feeling of being in crisis has lasted almost a decade. Over that time wages have started to decrease, public investment in the productive fabric almost stopped and a huge process of emigration of the most qualified workers started. As is happening in other countries, Eurozone policies slowly damaged national economies. Portugal’s scale, economy and balance trade do not support a national currency that mirrors the German mark.
One of the consequences of this is that people that have a job are working more for less money. Another is a feeling of distrust on politicians and politics, that may open a door to populism and rightwing movements – as is already happening in other European countries. The last one, and the one that scares me the most, is the idea that we have to adapt ourselves to the conditions that are being imposed by the so-called markets.
This year, Portugal will be paying €7bnin interest rates to banks and sovereign debt speculators (the EU/IMF loan is still in its grace period). That amount is the same that Portugal will pay for all public officials. It’s unaffordable.
As we can see by Greece, austerity measures are not meant to rescue countries. Foreign interventions by the IMF are always meant to save speculators’ investments. As long as the IMF is in charge, the main policies will be focused on paying interest rates. In my opinion, we can only overcome this crisis, in Portugal and Europe, by rejecting and fighting back against the financial policies that are being imposed.
And moving on to Spain, Alex Watkins, a British journalist who works for the Costa Blanca News, writes:
There are a lot of issues here, ranging from home repossessions (16,464 so far this year) to expat families handing over their keys to the bank and simply going home – mostly because available work for them has dried up due to the soaring unemployment rate here.
A generation of young Spaniards dropped out of school to take jobs in construction during the property boom before the bottom fell out of the market, and they have now been left unemployed and unqualified.
Then there’s the regional government school building programmes which have been delayed for years, leaving pupils in overcrowded Portacabins which leak in the rain. One near me was built on reclaimed land in a ravine and actually moves when the rain is heavy.
Regional government cutbacks are biting and healthcare providers are threatening to suspend service if unpaid bills dating back several years are not paid.
MADRID — “Indignant” activists, angered by a biting economic crisis they blame on politicians and bankers, vow to take to the streets worldwide on Saturday in a protest spanning 71 nations.
It is the first global show of power by the movement, born May 15 when a rally in Madrid’s central square of Puerta del Sol sparked a protest that spread nationwide, then to other countries.
As governments cut deep into welfare spending to try to trim huge sovereign debts, the protests have grown and this weekend’s demonstrations are being organised in Madrid, New York and around the world.
“United in one voice, we will let politicians, and the financial elites they serve, know it is up to us, the people, to decide our future,” organisers said in a statement on http://15october.net/.
“We are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers who do not represent us.”
The organisers, relying heavily on Facebook and Twitter, say street protests will be held October 15 in 719 cities across 71 countries in Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia and Africa.
The protests first took hold in Spain, with a jobless rate of 20.89 percent, rising to 46.1 percent for 16-24 year olds, where activists built ramshackle camps in city squares including Puerta del Sol.
Then they spread to Europe, finding strong backing in crisis-hit countries like Greece, and then worldwide — last month reaching the centre of global capitalism in Wall Street.
In Madrid, Saturday’s protest will end in Puerta del Sol, still the spiritual centre of the overwhelmingly peaceful protests even though the protest camp was dismantled in June.
Five marches will converge on the city’s emblematic square of Cibeles at 6pm (1600 GMT) before proceeding to Puerta del Sol for assemblies lasting through the night, activists said Wednesday.
“They are deceiving the people, speaking about the public debt crisis to tighten our belts, cutting our rights and services,” said a Spanish “indignant” activist, who only gave his first name, Manolo.
“The problem in Spain is the private debt,” he told news conference by organising groups ahead of the global protest.
The Occupy Wall Street protest, which started September 17 with a camp of several hundred people in a small square in the New York financial district, has also struck a powerful chord among US media and politicians.
Organisers called a rally in Times Square for 5 pm (2100 GMT), saying they would be at the centre of the international protests.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, predicted Wednesday the Wall Street demonstrations, which bring thousands of people together for marches, would one day spell the downfall of the West.
“This movement will soar to completely mark the downfall of the West and the capitalist regime,” he said.
Anger over unemployment and opposition to the financial elite are common themes in the otherwise disparate movement.
But while Spain’s protesters have specific demands such as attacking unemployment by cutting working hours and imposing compulsory retirement at 65, others are focussed on protesting existing conditions.
The outlook for the “indignants” is not clear.
French economist Thomas Coutrot, co-head of the ATTAC movement seeking alternatives to market-ruled policies, said the indignant movement had a healthy “allergy” to being represented by any person or group.
“But it is true that it is not easy to build a movement without a representative,” he added.
There are maybe a 20 of them, sitting cross-legged on the grass as the shadows lengthen across the Príncipe Real gardens in Lisbon. A graphic designer, a primary school teacher, two economists, a photographer, a business intelligence analyst, an antique restorer, a tourist guide, aged from their mid-20s to their late 50s.
This evening they’re debating the main event of the weekend: Saturday’s demonstration and march through the Portuguese capital, finishing with a “people’s assembly” in front of the parliament building. What happens after that, they’re not quite sure; Lisbon’s last major protest parade, in March, saw 500,000 people take to the streets.
Indignados Lisboa, inspired by the Arab spring and the 15M movement in Spain, brings together people from all backgrounds: “Some are students,” says Luis Alves, a 30-year-old freelance graphic designer and one of the movement’s members. “Others took part in the 1974 revolution, and are sorry it didn’t bring about the society it should have.”
They are united by a desire for change.
“We believe that the people really do have the power,” continues Alves. “People think someone else will fix this, but we have to. The people who are supposed to find solutions, our elected representatives, clearly aren’t. We have to show we’re not merchandise in the hands of bankers and businessmen.”
The movement’s aims are ill-defined (“It’s normal, we’re only just beginning,” says Alves) but boil down, explains Pedro Murteira, a social education student, to common sense. A more participative democracy: a system that works for the good of all rather than the profit of a few.
“Something has to change,” says Alves. “We are not a rich country; the minimum wage here is just €485 [£425 a month] – even in Greece it’s €600. But taxes are going up, electricity’s being hiked by 30%, public transport too. People are getting desperate. There’s real despair.
“I have many friends who are thinking of emigrating. Only two of my friends have proper job contracts. I’m lucky, most of my work is for people outside of Portugal. The market here has died. Banks aren’t lending. Everything, economically and politically, is blocked.”
Murteira says he hopes the crisis will lead to “a whole new way of organising our lives, and of consuming. Not a personal perspective, but a collective perspective. Because the real problem isn’t the crisis, it’s the system. There’s a slogan, you know? No jobs, no houses, no security, no prospects – so no fear.”
After the May protests in neighbouring Spain, 50 or 60 Portuguese Indignados camped out for a week in Rossio square. They were heartened, Alves and Murteira say, by people’s reactions: elderly women who came to give them money; men in suits who brought bags of buns for breakfast.
“Sometimes,” says Murteira, “I think people understand. Then I walk through town on a Saturday night and I see the clothes and the shops and the consumption, and I doubt. But look, we have to come to our senses. The problems we face are so complex that we can only really solve them by a wholly new way of doing politics.”
• If you have a story to tell, know a person I should talk to or live in a place you think I should visit, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org, or @jonhenley (the hashtag for this venture is #EuroDebtTales)
Thursday, June 09, 2011 12:10
Yesterday I wrote about the beginnings of language so thought I’d continue today with the beginnings of art.
The oldest ever paintings were discovered on the walls of caves of Palaeolithic man in France and Spain and are believed to be over 20,000 years old. The painting at the top of this post is of bison and is from the Grotte de Niaux (caves) in the French Pyrenees.
But what made Palaeolithic man decide to dabble in a bit of art work? Of course, no one can really answer this question, despite what they claim, but the most likely reason for the paintings is: magic!
The hunters of the time may well have thought that if they created paintings of the animals they wished to hunt, and added a few arrows within the artwork, this would ensure a successful hunting trip. I guess though you would have to ask: why did they think this would actually work?
Perhaps it’s because we all have within us a natural instinct about how what we visualise and what we see becomes a reality. This is very much the same as the thinking behind today’s visualisation techniques, and how it is also suggested we collect pictures of the things we want. What we see we receive.
There still exists today a belief that certain images have magical qualities as in, say, witchcraft or the popular use of a lucky charm or talisman.
Over time these natural ideas have become less important to man and the function of art gradually changed.
rel=”prettyPhotoAlso found in French Pyrenees caves were small carvings which represented women and have become known as ‘Venuses‘, similar to the picture on the right. They are mostly stylised with rounded, almost lumpy bodies and wouldn’t be described as beautiful by today’s standards.
These ‘Venus of the Caves’ are over 30,000 years old – so pre-date the paintings – and are carved from ivory from the tusks of mammoths. The theory is that they represent Mother Nature or Mother Earth and were used in religious ceremonies to bring abundance and fertility. Again a natural magic, perhaps inborn within man, inspired these Venuses.
It does appear that magic and beliefs were the foundations for the oldest paintings and carvings ever found on earth.
Some might argue that we should re-discover the basics of these old beliefs and once more align ourselves with Mother Nature.
A gym in Spain’s Basque region has come up with an eye-catching way of battling the recession.
It has begun offering naked workouts, for nudists.
Easy Gym in Arrigorriaga is the first of its kind in Spain, pioneering the peculiar practice of stripping while keeping fit.
“With the crisis we noticed there were fewer people using the gym,” owner Merche Laseca explained to the BBC.
“I’m not a nudist myself, though I have no problem with it. But this initiative is about the money.”
The gym did its research before opting to chase the nudist euro.
It discovered that two local swimming pools already offered popular monthly sessions for bathing in your birthday suit.
Every year, in nearby Sopelana, there is a mass naked run along the sands.
There are at least 12 naturist beaches in the Basque region, and many more all over the Spanish coast.
“We’re always interested in new activities,” explains Maite Vicuna, president of the Basque Naturist Association, who attended a trial run of the naked gym last week.
A poll of the group’s members showed 90% support for a facility offering the full range of nude workouts.
“Doing sport without clothes is natural – and much more comfy,” Ms Vicuna argues.
Sceptics suggest that running full tilt in the buff might not be entirely enjoyable, though. Sports underwear, they point out, was invented for a reason.
But the gym owner denies her concept is impractical.
“Being a naturist doesn’t mean being daft. If a woman needs to, she can put a top on!” says Merche Laseca. “But there’s cycling, weightlifting and the Stairmaster: there’s lots you can easily do naked.”
Easy Gym stresses it does provide towels for comfort and “to prevent slippage” on the equipment.
But some sporting types are clearly unconvinced by the concept.
“Each to his own,” the owner of another – traditional – gym in Bilbao told the BBC. “But I think it’s the most unhygienic thing in the world.”
“It’s your clothes that catch the sweat when you work out,” said Idoya Echevarria. “So where does all the sweat go, if you’re naked? Onto the machines? The floor? Or onto the person next to you?”
And after all that research, Ms Laseca was disappointed by the low show at her inaugural session. Only four naturist fitness fanatics turned up.
“But the people who came really enjoyed themselves,” she says, apparently undeterred. From May, the gym will operate every Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday – exclusively for the uninhibited.
A teacher has already been in touch to offer naked yoga classes.
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – A U.S.-led research team may have finally located the lost city of Atlantis, the legendary metropolis believed swamped by a tsunami thousands of years ago in mud flats in southern Spain.
“This is the power of tsunamis,” head researcher Richard Freund told Reuters.
“It is just so hard to understand that it can wipe out 60 miles inland, and that’s pretty much what we’re talking about,” said Freund, a University of Hartford professor who led an international team searching for the true site of Atlantis.
To solve the age-old mystery, the team used a satellite photo of a suspected submerged city to find the site just north of Cadiz, Spain.
There, buried in the vast marshlands of the Dona Ana Park, they believe that they pinpointed the ancient, multi-ringed dominion known as Atlantis.
The team of archeologists and geologists in 2009 and 2010 used a combination of deep-ground radar, digital mapping and underwater technology to survey the site.
Freund’s discovery in central Spain of a strange series of “memorial cities,” built in Atlantis’s image by its refugees after the city’s likely destruction by a tsunami, gave researchers added proof and confidence, he said.
Atlantis residents who did not perish in the tsunami fled inland and built new cities there, he added.
The team’s findings will be unveiled on Sunday in Finding Atlantis, a new National Geographic Channel special.
While it is hard to know with certainty that the site in Spain in Atlantis, Freund said the “twist” of finding the memorial cities makes him confident Atlantis was buried in the mud flats on Spain’s southern coast.
“We found something that no one else has ever seen before, which gives it a layer of credibility, especially for archaeology, that makes a lot more sense,” Freund said.
Greek philosopher Plato wrote about Atlantis about 2,600 years ago, describing it as “an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Hercules,” as the Straits of Gibraltar were known in antiquity. Using Plato’s detailed account of Atlantis as a map, searches have focused on the Mediterranean and Atlantic as the best possible sites for the city.
Tsunamis in the region have been documented for centuries, Freund says. One of the largest was a reported 10-storey tidal wave that slammed Lisbon in November 1755.
Debate about whether Atlantis truly existed has lasted for thousands of years. Plato’s “dialogues” from around 360 B.C. are the only known historical sources of information about the iconic city. Plato said the island he called Atlantis “in a single day and night … disappeared into the depths of the sea.”
Experts plan further excavations are planned at the site where they believe Atlantis is located and at the mysterious “cities” in central Spain about 240 kilometres away to more closely study geological formations and to date artifacts.
The sign on the door says it all, but the acrid smell and smoke wafting across the Private Cannabis Club in the Madrid dormitory town of Paraceullos de Jarama are proof that it lives up to its name. “This is the one place we can smoke in peace,” said a punter at the bar, mixing tobacco and dried, shredded cannabis leaf in a long rolling paper.
The Private Cannabis Club, with its palmate green leaves stencilled on the walls and the club’s name etched on to smoked windowpanes, is at the vanguard of a new movement of pro-cannabis campaigners in Spain. The members spotted a gap in Spain’s drugs laws which, they say, makes the activities of private clubs like these entirely legal.
The spacious Paracuellos de Jarama club, in a former restaurant in a town overlooking Madrid’s Barajas airport, is equipped with a bar, kitchen, billiard tables and TV screens. It is the most sophisticated of up to 40 cannabis clubs that have sprung up in garages and back rooms around Spain since campaigners worked out that laws making it illegal to consume in public did not apply to private, member-only, clubs.
“We’ve been open for two months and we already have 125 members,” said the association’s president, Pedro Álvaro Zamora. Those members pay €120 a year to belong and Zamora and his companions follow rules that seem similar to those of exclusive Mayfair clubs. A sign by the doorbell warns that only members are admitted and a committee vets new applicants, blackballing some. Alicia Méndez, a club official, said: “Potential members are interviewed and we do not accept everyone. Our members have to be responsible people, have the right profile.”
Spain does not have a law banning consumption in private and members claim it is safer to use the club than go out to parks and smoke in public. Zamora said: “The club recognises that cannabis is not good for everyone. We propose a responsible form of consumption. Not everyone should smoke. We know there are risks.” Club members can bring their own cannabis or share in the club’s own stock. They can even take some away as long as they sign for it and the cannabis is for personal consumption.
Although the club house, which is registered with the local authorities, is left alone by police, members can get into trouble if caught carrying cannabis. “It is illegal to buy, sell or transport, so you can be fined if caught with it on you.” The club offers legal help to fined members.
Supplying the club is another problem, as dealing in cannabis is illegal.
“We are fighting for the legal right to grow it,” said Zamora. The club applied for a medical licence to cultivate cannabis but was turned down. Then police raided its secret plantation and destroyed the plants. Zamora said they would challenge in court the right to destroy a plantation devoted to supplying a private club: “We are people who work and pay taxes. We are not delinquents.”
Some judges have ordered police to give confiscated cannabis back to clubs. “They have told them to return it on the basis that there is no threat to public health.”
Zamora stressed that the club’s suppliers did not belong to the drugs underworld: “We don’t go to the black market to buy. We know farmers who cultivate cannabis and can provide us.”
The club also campaigns on laws. “Prohibition does not work. Cannabis has been consumed for centuries and will continue to be … for centuries. Prohibition creates an illegal market and all that brings with it. It’s better to educate people than spend money on prohibition that fails.”
The cities of Europe are braced for protests, gridlock and mayhem today as hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets across the continent to demonstrate against assaults on national budgets, public services, and jobs.
In a test of the residual power of trade unions in an era of casino capitalism and cash-strapped government, workers and union members are expected to stage protests in at least a dozen cities across the EU, climaxing this afternoon in a mass rally in Brussels near the EU’s headquarters.
About 100,000 people from more than two dozen countries are expected to take part in the biggest protest seen in Brussels in a decade.
Two days before the Spanish government unveils a budget that will slash public spending, unions in Spain are mobilised for the country‘s first general strike in eight years. Further large protests are predicted in Poland, Portugal, Greece, Ireland, Romania and Serbia.
“This is a crucial day for Europe,” said John Monks, general secretary of the European Trades Union Confederation which has organised the Brussels protest. “Our governments, virtually all of them, are about to embark on solid cuts in public expenditures. They’re doing this at a time where the economy is very close to recession, and almost certainly you’ll see the economy go back into recession as the effect of these cuts take place.”