Spain's 'Indignados' Mark One Year Of Protest

Tens of thousands of protesters took to Spain's streets to mark the one year anniversary of the indignados, or "angry ones" — a protest movement that inspired Occupy Wall Street and other grassroots movements. Since the Spanish youngsters first occupied a central Madrid square last year, much has changed in Spain. The Socialist government was trounced in elections late last year, and now ruling conservatives have implemented harsh austerity measures. Youth unemployment is over 50 percent. And the indignados have returned, saying they have even more to complain about.

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Anti-austerity protesters packed city squares across Spain today. They turned out to mark the one-year anniversary of the Indignados or angry ones. Their protest movement helped inspired Occupy Wall Street and other grassroots efforts across the globe.

But since Spaniards first occupied the central Madrid square last year, they have been hit hard by austerity measures. Youth unemployment now tops 50 percent. And as Lauren Frayer reports, the Indignados are back.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Among the protesters here in Madrid's Puerta del Sol Square is Mariano Nieto, a 48-year-old patent lawyer who recalls the sense of hope he felt standing in this same spot one year ago. Back then, it was the eve of municipal elections, and Spaniards gathered to protest economic inequality and corruption.

MARIANO NIETO: At least and at last, there were people crying for dignity and for a better share of world's wealth.

FRAYER: Spaniards have a track record for taking to the streets and changing history. Back in 2004, Nieto took part in anti-war protests here that helped Socialists win power and pull troops out of Iraq.

NIETO: That time, it seemed that the demonstrations in the street and people crying for more justice, et cetera had its reflect in the political landscape, isn't it? But this time, there were no politicians collecting the hope of the people.

FRAYER: And this time, what do Spaniards and the indignados have to show for their activism?

GAYLE ALLARD: Nothing. I mean, I think they should change their name to los frustrados or something because it's just, you know, they were indignant, and so what?

FRAYER: Economist Gayle Allard says public anger hasn't slowed politicians' drive toward austerity here even after elections in France and Greece brought anti-austerity politicians to the forefront.

ALLARD: It's still the attitude of, yeah, we really don't like this. We're indignant about this. Somebody should do something.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ALLARD: But at the same time, Europe asks us to do it, we're going to do it. It's really surprising.

FRAYER: While the government here meets Brussels' demands, Spaniards see their standard of living slump more each day. They're paying higher taxes for fewer benefits. Education and health cost more. And now, their tax money is going to bail out Spanish banks. One in four workers overall is jobless. But some people, like Eva Quintero, who went to a few protests last year, say they simply don't have the energy to be angry any longer.

EVA QUINTERO: I really don't understand if the government now are doing the best thing. But I think that it's not possible that all people, let's say, buy a Mercedes. I mean, you have to do things and to get things and to buy things only if you can afford it.

FRAYER: Back in Madrid's central square, Mariano Nieto, the patent lawyer and indignado, is yelling the same protest slogans from a year ago. He says he feels emboldened by the election in France of a Socialist, Francois Hollande, who wants to renegotiate the EU fiscal treaty to tamp the pain of austerity. But Nieto says he doubts his own leaders will listen.

NIETO: It's more like children that cry when they feel that they've been treated not fairly. It's a bit of that. At least, crying, that's the last thing we have, and that's what we do.

FRAYER: For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

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