“THE CLASH OF TITANS” Madrid, 17th August 2011
by Anonymous Reporter
Madrid was hosting during this last week – 16th to 21st August – the so called World Youth Day (Jornada Mundial de la Juventud). An event organized primarily by the Vatican and the Catholic Church. A mass gathering of catholics, in their own words: “It is a great worldwide encounter with the Pope which is celebrated every three years in a different country”.
As it should be expected, the city and its population are polarized over the event. Prior to the Pope’s arrival, there was a demonstration organized on the 17th of August in the centre of Madrid. The reasons for such demonstration, the organizers say, is not against the Pope’s visit per se but rather against the public financing of this catholic event and the dubious legality of such act according to the Spanish Constitution.
Indeed there is conflicting evidence as to how much money Madrid will benefit from these events, and how much public money is being spent. It is unlikely that anyone from the wide public has valid information since the media, depending more or less on their partisanship, provides conflicting evidence. On the one hand, conservative media and organizers of the WYD claim that these events have a “zero cost for the taxpayer [...] we even have estimates of €100 million influx into the Spanish economy” . They argue so because 70% of the cost is covered by the ‘pilgrims’ and the other 30% of the cost is covered by donations.
On the other hand, we may also find in Spanish media several articles that explicitly address the preferential treatment that ‘pilgrims’ will receive during this whole week in comparison to local residents or even the unemployed. For instance, Madrid’s public transport recently suffered a 50% increase in the price of single tickets (from €1 to €1.50), whilst the pilgrims will be enjoying the vast network of Madrid’s public transport at vastly cheaper rates amongst many other benefits. This certainly conflicts the evidence portrayed by the event organizers, and only when the dust settles we will be able to see whether Madrid benefits economically or ends up losing.
The second line of debate revolves around the legality of such event and whether it was organized and handled in accordance with the Constitution. The debate about secularism has once again been brought to the forefront due to, the opinion of most if not all protesters, the heavy involvement of all public authorities in the event. Article 16.3 of the Spanish Constitution seems to contradict itself, and it wouldn’t be the only one.
It reads that no religion will have state-wide influence, yet it also reads that the public powers, by taking into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society, they will maintain “cooperating relationships with the Catholic Church and other faiths”. It seems therefore that not only the Catholic Church has a dominant position in the Spanish Constitution in relation to other faiths, but also that the lack of explicit mention towards atheists or agnostics means that the public powers do not have to take seriously any secular debate. According to recent statistics, there seems to be a gradual decline in the number of catholic church-goers in Spain in contrast to the increasing numbers of atheists and people who declare themselves as catholics but not necessarily church-goers. In 2010, only 13.7% of the self-declared catholics would attend church every Sunday.
Therefore it can be understood that the wording of this legal text, the Spanish Constitution, will be highlighted in the long-run when secularization becomes the norm rather than the exception. The WYD together with the recent demonstration have precipitated this debate in the media and amongst the population at least during this week. The demonstration on the 17th of August was inevitably going to lead to tension in the light of some obvious facts.
Mostly because the local council of Madrid rejected the route that the main organizers planned. Whilst the organizers wished for a high visibility for the demonstration, the council pressed the organizers to move towards smaller neighbourhoods and further away from Sol. In the end no one got what they wanted. True that the demonstration managed to get to Sol, but through small streets which meant that at some point people decided to take different shortcuts to get to Sol after witnessing the crowd. On the other hand, the council (and I’ve heard by some saying that it was done deliberately) did not close down sufficiently the square. This meant that groups of ‘pilgrims’ started to gather near the concentration and it lead to problems on both sides… and as usual the local madrileños were the ones that suffered police violence.
- 18:53 – I arrive at Tirso de Molina, a square near Sol, where the demonstration begins and is also supposed to end back here. There is already a reasonable mass gathered, bearing in mind that the demo starts at 19:30.
- 19:15 – I see several banners from 15M assemblies that gather in Madrid’s neighbourhoods as well as a couple of t-shirts from DRY (Democracia Real Ya).
- 19:32 – There seems to be movement, but the square is too small to see anything clearly and people are not sure about which way to go.
- 21:15 – The demonstration seems to have marched peacefully at all times, albeit very slowly due to the amount of people gathered and the narrow streets. I finally get to Sol (I believe I find myself at the middle of the demo) and protesters raise their hands in sign of agreement and assembly-inspired chants are heard.
I wondered around Sol for a while and notice that C/ Carretas, which links Sol with Gran Via is closed by the Police. Carrera San Jeronimo is also heavily guarded; it leads to the Spanish Parliament. Most of the ‘pilgrims’ seem to have left the square and only the demonstrators remain in Sol. At 21:43 I left Sol without knowing that some of the demonstrators did march back to Tirso de Molina whilst others remained. Indeed the organisation for such a big demonstration seemed to have been lacking on behalf of both parties: organisers and the local council. To my surprise, at 22:53 I start reading tweets about police violence against the lawful protesters that remained in Sol. Here’s some evidence available in youtube.
Here we have the first police charges; the user films at the beginning westwards from where she is located mostly then she turns towards events on the east side of the square:
Police Charges in Sol 17A
Here we have a firsthand insight, although bad quality, from the events in the east end of the square that were recorded from afar in the first video:
Police Charges in Sol 17A – East End of the Square
Finally we may find two videos that have increased pressure on the police to investigate, and they have finally accepted to do so, the events on the 17th of August. Firstly we have the user from the first video, an independent journalist, that was then arrested under unlawful circumstances and in a situation full of tension:
Journalist arrested in Sol 17A
The police officer starts by taking off her ID as journalists without any permission, and she then begins asking the policeman why does he want her information for. “What are you doing?” she asks on two occasions, to what the police simply replies that he needs more information, where she lives, her parents. The journalist then realises that such information is available on her ID card, assuming the police officer is demanding her ID and knowing her rights she starts asking why does the police officer need her information. After seconds of silence, the police officer then explicitly demands her ID card, and the journalist rightfully replies “why is that for?” From the minute 1:50 onwards of that video, the policeman clearly becomes impatient and violent towards a journalist who is simply asking questions that a police officer should lawfully reply to, for instance “why am I being searched” or “what crime have I committed”. She was handcuffed and taken to a police station for no apparent reason. It must be said, that police officers have not been wearing their ID numbers on them, neither have they provided them when citizens demanded them to do so, again breaking the law.
There was a lot of tension on the 17th, the Police did not organise itself as well as they should have. Both the 15M movement in Madrid and the Police are now asking the Government Delegate to resign in Madrid. Such tension on both sides meant that there were more mobilisations on the 18th of August.
This time things seemed to go much better. The police had a tight perimeter in Sol and only protesters were allowed in. An Assembly was quickly set up to discuss the situation and decide on further action. Once it finished, protesters stood up and started chanting, and as it could be expected tension arouse again between pilgrims and protesters. However, the police this time took precautions and opened space between the two groups. They also began evacuating C/Carretas so as to release the protesters into a safer or less populated area… or so it seemed.
The perimeter began to get closer and closer on protesters in Sol and at 22:30 the police officers began ‘inviting’ people to move towads C/Carretas now that it was not that populated. However events once again turned upside down. At 22:42, once the protesters had been moved from the big space that Sol provides and into a smaller street, the police officers without notice got their riot gear out. Batons and helmets became ready in just seconds… and once again, they charged with a complete lack of criteria.
To illustrate this lack of criteria and hooliganism on behalf of the police, this video shows how several police officers slap at least on one occasion an allegedly female teenager, again with no apparent reason. They then hit they boy that is in fact trying to avoid any kind of situation with the police.
Police Violence – Madrid, 17A
After that, they realised that a photographer had taken a clear shot of such violence, and the policemen do not hesitate to hit him as well. His own personal account of the events and the photographs have also been published in the internet.
As of 24th of August, a Spanish newspaper has echoed the fact that at least 3 policemen in Madrid are under investigation due to Police violence on the 17th, 18th and 19th of August.
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Twitter – @anonreports
 http://www.larazon.es/noticia/2509-jmj-coste-cero-para-el-pais-y-cien-millones-de-beneficios (Translation from the very first sentence). La Razón, 7 June, 2011.
 Ibid, Para. 2.
 http://www.publico.es/espana/391044/los-chollos-del-peregrino Público, 11 August, 2011.
 http://www.boe.es/aeboe/consultas/enlaces/documentos/ConstitucionCASTELLANO.pdf Art. 16.3, see pp. 9-10.
 http://www.publico.es/espana/311578/el-numero-de-catolicos-disminuye-un-1-5-en-un-ano Público, 10 May, 2010.
 http://www.insurgente.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8182:los-convocantes-de-la-manifestacion-laica-mantienen-el-itinerario-que-el-gobierno-prohibe&catid=117:creencias&Itemid=549 Insurgentes, 9 August, 2011.
 http://www.elpais.com/fotogaleria/Manifestacion/laica/Madrid/elpgal/20110817elpepunac_1/Zes/12 El Pais, 17 August, 2011 (Photogallery).