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Anarchy in the UK, headed Spain’s way soon

So far, Spain has been spared the kind of rioting and violence that has plagued the streets of Britain this last week and on other occasions. But Spaniards shouldn't assume that there is something special about their country that will protect them; the same social and economic forces that have shaped British society are at work here too.

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Riots in Birmingham. Could we see the same in Barcelona? Photo: RTVE.

A number of commentators in the Spanish media have pointed out the differences between Spain’s indignados and the young people involved in the looting in London and other British cities. In doing so most point out the similarities between Spain and Britain: both countries are in the midst of recession, subject to severe public spending cuts, have high youth unemployment rates, and where the mainstream parties are widely regarded as out of touch with, or powerless to do anything about, the situation.

“So what do the English do,” asks John Carlin in El País, “they go out and steal flat-screen televisions and trainers… and the Spanish? Well, what the indignados have done,” is to stage peaceful protests, and put forward an agenda (albeit a vague one) for change.

In short, Spain is a healthier, saner society than Britain.

Hmm, well, there may still be some truth in that. But there are a number of points worth raising about recent events.

Firstly, Britain has its indignados: the students who have been protesting against the hike in university fees this year, and those who took to the streets to protest the G20 meeting last year. And we have seen the police response to those demonstrations—peaceful protesters were kettled, beaten, battered, and in the case of Ian Tomlinson, accidently murdered by thuggish police officers. The message from the authorities in Britain is clear: do not take to the streets unless you want a hiding. I don’t believe for an instant that the youths who were out setting fire to police cars and looting sportswear shops in London earlier this week have any kind of political agenda. But neither do I think it is going too far to say that their behavior reflects a better understanding of the nature of power in Britain than the student protesters possess.

So, conversely, does Spain have its hooligan element? How come young dispossessed Spaniards are not looting Decatlón and the Corte Inglés, or setting fire to carpet warehouses? Well, what about those nice middle-class kids in the Madrid dormitory town of Pozuelo last summer who hurled rocks and petrol bombs at police, as well as setting fire to cars and rubbish bins. And all because they were being told that it wasn’t okay to be out drinking and carousing on the streets of a residential area until five in the morning. Similar incidents have been reported the length and breadth of the land in recent years.

As for the indignados, sadly, the movement has not spread, and its ability to muster people onto the streets still does not come close to that of the Roman Catholic Church or Barcelona FC, so let’s be careful about the degree to which we see them as truly representative of any widespread anger. Most people in this country simply want a job and are happy to leave politics to the politicians. In short, neither the indignados, nor the British looters, are necessarily representative.

Talk to Spanish high school teachers about the lack of discipline in their classrooms and they will tell you that parents are no longer able to control their children. Sound familiar? Where were the parents of the looting feral youngsters out on the streets of London earlier this week?

Spain is changing, and changing fast: socially, it is increasingly following the lead of the UK, France, and the United States: consumer societies with worsening income distribution, and fewer and fewer opportunities for social mobility.

Perhaps the commentators praising Spain’s sanity and health should spend some time on the housing estates that ring Spain’s major cities. There they will see the looters of tomorrow: poorly educated, with no employment prospects, from homes where there is little or no parental control.

It’s only a matter of time before Madrid, Bilbao, Valencia, or Barcelona erupt and we see a repeat of the scenes from earlier this week in London.





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Published: Aug 11 2011
Category: Iberoblog, Featured
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=3438
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11 Comments for “Anarchy in the UK, headed Spain’s way soon”

  1. How depressing. I don’t agree – family values and respect for (fear of?) the police are far stronger in Spain. I know there are ghettos of deprivation but social disintegration hasn’t (yet) occurred to the extent that it has in England. There will be riots I’m sure, but they will be about real issues – spending cuts, evictions, unemployment.

  2. This point had to be made.

    Family values stronger than in the UK? Does this statement come from an intimate connoisseur of both countries?

    I think it’s rather about the Brits being more rebellious than the Spaniards, who I’d describe as something between conformists and fatalists. But once a Spaniard has identified an enemy there’s no stopping him.

  3. QUOTE “Family values stronger than in the UK? Does this statement come from an intimate connoisseur of both countries?”

    Yes, it’s not just romantic speculation. I have lived in both countries.

    • What makes me doubt about Spanish family values is that I observe how children in Spain are being much left to do what they want and are not being taught respect. They end up imposing their will on their parents.

      What do you think?

      • I think respect should be earned rather than taught.

        The last time I went to England I watched a couple of well-heeled yummy mummies in a cafe discussing their latest purchases while their small children screeched loudly and threw food and litter all over the floor. They made no attempt to calm them down, then they got up and left without any effort to tidy up after their offspring.

        Yes, children are spoilt rotten in Spain and they do run round doing their own thing, but there is always a family member keeping an eye on them. I believe families are much more integrated here. Children are largely excluded from adult social functions in Britain, which is not the case in Spain. When a Spanish family goes out for a meal, or goes on holiday, the grandparents and toddlers go too. In Britain it is more normal for the parents to go out and leave the grandparents babysitting the toddlers.

  4. Respect for authority is more firmly engrained in Spanish culture in general. Just look at the class room and the work place. Spanish youth, although this is also changing, is also brought up knowing that 5-10 years of poor jobs and meaningless tasks at work (supported by structurally high unemployment even in good years) is part of the rite of passage to enter the adult life.

    As such, young Spaniards are less demanding of rights for more and better jobs.

    I also think the 15-M “Spanish Revolution” has dissappointed many, by actively not seeking to create a new and youthful political party that would lead by example in electoral lists and zero tolerance for corruption and fat-cat behaviour.

  5. I don’t know if you live or have lived in Spain, but being from Madrid and a former London resident for ten years, I can tell you that the riots that took place in London won’t happen here as you suggest they will. The history of Spain and England have nothing in common and this fact play a vital role in the way people here think and act. The rioters in London are pure scum whose only reason for causing so much destruction was to obtain gadgets they can’ afford to buy, a fact that tell a whole lot about their state of mind. The people here are more politically educated and have the brains to figure out how to deal with the problems which is something the scum in London don’t have and NEVER will have. No riots here but mucho M-15!

    • It’s even the case that many of the thugs COULD have afforded to buy what they want. Those arrested include serving (but probably not for much longer) members of the armed forces, models, and an Olympic “ambassador” (ambassatrix?). Anyone fomenting a riot via a Blackberry is hardly in desperate poverty. They are, indeed, “scum” pure and simple. Since rain is enough to disperse them, I would recommend bird-shot next time.

  6. Pure scum? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

  7. Ritos like those in the UK are possible anywhere, including Spain. However, there is something deeply disturbing about this article. It seems the author is in a state of denial (as it seems is British society in general). You are not going to solve what are deep-set the problems by atributing the rioting to “recreational looters” and suggesting that this can and will happen in other societies – like the Spanish. Furthermore, had this happened in Spain I doubt very much you would get Spanish commentators go around predicting the same was about happen in the UK soon. Sorry, but I think this article is disingeneous and farcical. Shame on you.

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