Taking to the streets

Jim Padmore reports on the mass anti-terrorism demonstrations

Having arranged to be in Spain for the general election, I had not planned for what took place. On a personal level, during the first 24 hours I did not have any ‘political’ reaction - I was just totally shocked.

I did not know who was responsible, but it was not the kind of thing Eta usually does. All the time outgoing prime minister José Maria Aznar and the rightwing Popular Party was trying to insist it was the Basque separatists. Then came the demonstrations on Friday. I was on the local one in Vittoria which had 80,000-90,000 people (this in a town of 250,000). That is how it was all over Spain - about one person in four went on the demos, which were supported by all political parties.

It is impossible to sum up the feeling on the streets in a few words. There was a reactionary side - it was a semi-official state event with the official slogan of ‘For the defeat of terrorism’, and the Popular Party hoped it would secure their re-election, which in any case seemed likely.

What was interesting was the anti-government mood in a section of the demonstrations. Slogans like ¿Quien ha sido? (Who was it?) demanded to know the truth about the bombings and reflected a widespread feeling that the Popular Party was lying about them for narrow party political reasons. Also, there were a lot of slogans linking it to the war in Iraq. In many places the Popular Party was heckled, and in Barcelona, Popular Party leaders were physically attacked and had to take refuge in an underground car park, under armed police protection.

The main thing is that the Popular Party only lost 700,000 votes, compared with the 2000 election, whereas the Socialist Party (PSOE) gained three million, which gives some indication of the very high turnout. I would say that 50% of the PSOE’s extra votes were ‘first-time voters against the war’. But the result (PSOE: 43%; PP: 38%; Izquierda Unida: 5%; Catalan nationalists: 6%, Basque nationalists: 2%) is not a landslide and limits the PSOE’s room for manoeuvre.