Every year old Saint Nicholas comes to Holland. The children love him, because he brings them presents. He is the archetype of Santa Claus. But until recently, just a generation or two ago, the old saint wasn’t only loved. He was feared as well, for he would punish you if you had been bad. He would have you whipped by one of his black helpers, ‘Flagellation Pete’, and then he would tie you up, put you in a bag, and take you back home to Spain.
So here I am. Back in Madrid. I have been a bad boy.
It’s election day today. I wanted to be here to witness what’s going in the capital of the revolution after I had been absent for over three months. A lot has changed. Especially in the rest of the world. It’s November 20th. Since September there have been occupations going on in New York and other American cities. Since October it has been going on world wide.
Five days ago the camp on Liberty Square near Wall Street has been destroyed by police. Resistance is growing stronger as a result of it. In these last few weeks there have also been regime changes in Greece and Italy, after intense pressure from the EU and the financial markets. Now it’s Spain’s turn.
When I step out onto the Puerta del Sol, the square is buzzing. Lots of people are gathered in an atmosphere of expectation. It only takes a minute before I hear someone calling my name. It’s a joyful encounter with a group of comrades from the March on Brussels. And it wouldn’t be the last time I came across familiar faces. It went on all evening.
When I first arrived in Sol there was an enormous camp here. This is where it all started. From here the fashion of camping out in public squares began. But this time the most curious thing is that while people are camping on squares all over the world, down to the smallest villages in Holland, there isn’t a single tent here in Puerta del Sol.
There’s not the right spirit for it. And authorities wouldn’t accept it. ‘Been there, done that’, seems to be the prevailing thought. And also, it rains.
At the stroke of midnight a crowd gathered at the statue of the bear starts moving and singing. Even if we’re not camping, something is going to happen anyway. We move a couple of blocks north to the other side of Gran Vía, where a residential building has just been occupied. Banners are attached to the balconies. “Space liberated – For evicted families – An occupation for every eviction”.
My first impression from what I see and hear is that the movement went on to consolidate itself on the local level, in the villages and neighbourhoods. But in Sol there doesn’t seem to be much of the happy revolutionary spirit that characterised this place during the last elections in May.
Instead of camping, the movement has squatted the ‘Hotel Madrid’, close to Sol. I’ve been walking through there today. It made me think of Revolutionary HQ in Brussels. The place is enormous. The hotel rooms have been divided into living spaces for evicted families, working spaces for the commissions, and community spaces. It seems to be working out quite well from the outside, but there are also people willing to deny that.
There’s not much more I can say to you, I’ve only just arrived. Judging from all the manifestos announcing strikes and demonstrations, there certainly is no lack of initiatives. But people have the feeling that everything is going to change from now on. The right wing party will win the elections today. And probably they will not have any patience with the movement. They will deal with it swiftly, people think. And their hope is that repression will further stimulate resistance. They hope that after today, once the Socialist Party is ousted from power, their loyal electorate will take the streets alongside the movement.
We’ll see. ‘Full of expectation, our hearts are beating’, as the old Saint Nicholas song goes. ‘to know who will get sweets, and who’ll get whipped.’