Monday, February 05, 2007

Count Me Out

Saturday’s anti-government demonstration in Madrid more or less guarantees that the Partido Popular (PP) and their associated front organisations will continue their all out assault on the government’s policy regarding ETA. The reason why they will not change course is simple; they succeeded in their objective of mobilising their supporters in sufficient numbers to allow them to present the demonstration as a success. It seems, at least externally, to matter little to them that they are clearly not mobilising any sectors of Spanish society outside of the hardcore right wing opposition to the government. The PP put enormous effort into getting their supporters from all around the country to come to Madrid, with the aim of getting a higher number of demonstrators than the anti-ETA march of January 13th, which the PP and their supporters boycotted.

There has been a predictable war of numbers following the demonstration. The Comunidad de Madrid, the regional government controlled by the PP, has claimed that 1.5 million people attended. The Delegación del Gobierno (which answers to the central government) has provided an estimate of 181000 attending. In El Manifestómetro there is a detailed report and they estimate the attendance at an even lower figure then the Delegación. The enormous difference between these estimates is not actually very difficult to explain, the Comunidad always refuses to disclose its methods for counting participants, but invariably applies a multiplier of 9-10 to all demonstrations sympathetic to the PP’s positions. There is another, perhaps slightly less significant, factor for the inaccuracy of the PP’s estimate; they have almost certainly counted me several times as I made my way around different sections of the demonstration.

Now it is a popular sport in parts of Cataluña to form human towers, the people who do it are known as castellers. Don’t ask me why it happens, it’s just something they like to do. However, even they would probably have difficulty in achieving the density of almost 40 persons per square metre which would have been needed for the Comunidad’s attendance estimate to hold up. Additionally, and I’m putting this as delicately as possible, many of the PP supporters come from the more affluent strata of Spanish society, and do not possess physiques which make the scaling of human towers a realistic possibility. So something has to give here, and I’m afraid it has to be the Comunidad’s estimate; most realistic estimates do not count more than 3-4 people per square metre.

Because of important personal commitments (oh alright, I was listening to Chelsea-Charlton on the Internet!), I didn’t make it for the beginning of the demonstration. The advantage of this (completely unavoidable) delay was that I was able at the same time to enjoy almost 1 hour of some of the most politically manipulative TV coverage I have seen in my life. Telemadrid is the regional channel and is controlled by the same people who see millions of demonstrators where others see only houses, tarmac and trees – yes, it’s controlled by the Comunidad and for that reason is now commonly referred to as Telemaguirre in honour of the beloved Esperanza. Forced by my other commitments to keep the television volume down, I was still unable to avoid all of the commentary as those invited to comment on the demonstration freely laid into the government. Telemadrid has a concept of political balance that seems to require the presence of anyone politically from the right having to be balanced with the presence of someone else from the extreme right!

Despite the outrageous bias of the TV coverage, it was unintentionally quite revealing about what was really happening on the ground. What quickly became very evident was the extent to which this demonstration was being controlled in order to maximise its impact. The route chosen is one that I would be able to walk in about 15 minutes without breaking into a sweat, summer months apart. Due to what I suspect was a desire for the Telemadrid helicopter not to accidentally film any empty spaces, the progress of the demonstration down the Paseo de Recoletos was agonisingly slow; the front section of the march was constantly halted as hundreds of stewards received fresh instructions over their walkie talkies. Many of the banners were of a kind that would only be visible from the air, and it seemed very evident that their message was intended for the viewers at home. The political content of most of the placards was also more controlled than the demonstration called by the AVT a few weeks ago, where the placards attempting to link ETA and Zapatero to the Madrid train bombings were much more in evidence.

Later I was able to see what was going on for myself, and despite the efforts to control the political content of the placards there was much less control of what people were shouting – needless to say the references to the government were far more common than those to ETA. I’m starting to enjoy these Saturday afternoons out in a perverse sort of way; it gives me a chance to mix with people who I don’t normally have much contact with. Not that I would like it to happen too often. The most sublime moment was the sight of fur coat clad señoras applauding the group from Unificación Comunista de España, whose reasons for joining this march I will not even attempt to explain. It was made even more sublime by them being followed immediately by the Falange Autentica, one of the several groups that claim to be the true inheritors of the Francoist tradition. There are some moments you just can't capture properly on television.

1 comment:

Ian Curtis said...

Jaja, qué buena la analogía de los castellers con las 40 personas por metro cuadrado que propone TeleEspe.