By Sarah Rainey
They call themselves “the indignant”. Armed with sleeping bags and week old clothes stuffed into rucksacks, around 500 people stand shoulder-to-shoulder in Madrid’s central square.
As darkness falls, and the last few tourists flock to their hotels, the nightly vigil begins.
Some hoist placards. Others gather outside the gates of the Ministry of the Interior, chanting in unison: “It’s not the crisis, it’s the system” and “End the cuts”. Many of them have been here since May 15, when they joined the nationwide protests against government austerity measures and Spain’s chronic unemployment.
But this is not just Spain’s disaffected youth. Among the crowds are parents, pensioners, teachers and civil servants, all angry and frustrated as their nation – once a European heavyweight – teeters on the brink of a crisis. As the rest of Europe suffers amid soaring sovereign debt, the protesters reiterate their demands for jobs, secure housing and increased hospital funding.
This is no longer a peaceful protest. Last week, riots broke out in Madrid’s Plaza de Cibeles, leaving at least 20 young people and seven policemen injured. Police estimate that up to 100,000 people have taken part in protests so far, with countless strikes, clashes and arrests across Spain. There is increasing speculation that the protests may turn violent on Tuesday as participants react badly to the cost of the proposed €60m (£37m) visit by the Pope.
Despite efforts by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain’s Prime Minister, to quell the movement, the ranks of the “indignant” are growing. Early elections have been called and opposition parties are strengthening as the turbulent economy continues to fuel popular unrest. But what does this domestic turmoil mean for Spain in its European context? The markets remain volatile as Zapatero’s government struggles to restore investor confidence and stave off financial crisis. Is this once-stable nation becoming the weakest link in the eurozone?