Ten years since the promises of the 'indignados'

The Puerta del Sol, in Madrid, became the epicentre of the  demands for "true democracy" in 2011.
The Puerta del Sol, in Madrid, became the epicentre of the demands for "true democracy" in 2011. / JAIME GARCÍA
  • The outraged

  • Sociologists and political observers look at the demands and achievements of those who took part in the protests in Spain during 2011

It was called the 15-M movement, and its name came from the date that mass anti-austerity protests and sit-ins took place in Madrid and other Spanish cities: 15 May 2011.

It was the consequence of the economic crisis which began in 2008 and a general discontent regarding politics. Those who took part became known as 'indignados', or 'the outraged'. Their slogan was "they do not represent us", and the intention of those who supported the movement was to promote a more participative democracy, far from the two-party PSOE-PP system (which they referred to as the PPSOE), and an authentic division of powers, together with other measures to improve the democratic system and make it more transparent.

Meetings and discussions were held in the streets and squares, as they tried to set the foundations for a new society.

Indignados in the Plaza de la Constitución in Malaga.

Indignados in the Plaza de la Constitución in Malaga. / SUR

This movement brought to Europe the model of the protest camp which had been formed in the Arab Spring, and it spread quite rapidly across the continent. In Spain, it also led to the formation of a new political party, called Podemos, which was led by Pablo Iglesias.

That was ten years ago now, and political observers and sociologists still cannot agree on whether 15-M achieved the aims which were supported by millions of people in 2011, whether or not they participated directly in the movement. A survey in June that year showed that 66 per cent of people in Spain felt sympathy for the protesters.

"It was a wake-up call for the political parties, anticipating a change to the two-party system in 2015. There was no direct reaction, but it inspired activists within the parties. That is what happened," says Marc Sanjaume, professor of Political Sciences at the Oberta University of Catalonia.

He believes that what was proposed during the meetings in the city squares was "very ethereal" and sometimes unachievable, so in his opinion "people who took part in those debates shouldn't feel frustrated at how it all turned out".

He points out that the movement did have some successes, such as the work carried out by the anti-eviction platform, which led to Ada Colau becoming the mayor of Barcelona, and initiatives which were successful at a local level. He believes that 15-M changed the way the political parties communicated with the public, and even the Royal Household, after Felipe VI became king in 2014, sought greater transparency in the institution.

Others believe that the protest movement did not have the desired effect. "Ten years on, nobody even remembers 15-M now. It wasn't even anything unusual. Something similar occurred a year earlier in Lisbon. It just gave people a way of capitalising on the protests and getting themselves into the institutions," says Juan Carlos Jiménez Redondo, a professor of History of Thought and Social Movements at the CEU San Pablo university. He says some of the language used by the protesters generated hate against part of the population without offering a real alternative.

Future movements

Neither Sanjaume nor Jiménez believe there will be a repetition of the movements that occurred in 2011, even though the country is immersed in another social crisis because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"I see a possibility of mobilisation more along the lines of those we have seen in the USA with Donald Trump," says Sanjaume. "And social mobilisation is organised more on social media these days."

Jiménez believes it would be ingenuous to think that there will not be tension in the future caused by similar movements from the right, referring to the rise and expansion of Vox during the past five years. He says 15-M was "a moment of evident social anguish, a crisis caused by people's expectations being dashed. Young people thought their future was in danger, and they would be lucky to earn 200 euros a month, if at all. This sentiment of an end to a cycle favoured the existence of anti-systemic alternatives. These either succeed or die, and these ones ended up dying. There isn't the same sentiment now," he says.