Spain’s centre-right darling, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, regional president of Madrid, received a mixed welcome when she returned to her alma mater last week to be honoured as an illustrious alumna.
It was a small, low-key event, held in the department of communication sciences auditorium where she had studied. Many students passing by or trying to enter the building for class had no idea why police were controlling the entrance or why tens of police cars were surrounding the building. Most of them did not know the regional president was on campus.
But some did; a student feminist group had announced it would protest Ayuso and the university’s decision to honour her. Approximately 150 police officers showed up in response.
Since her re-election as the regional president of Madrid in 2021, Ayuso has become one of Spain’s most popular political leaders—a celebrity status earned by her management of the pandemic and her sassy opposition to the political Left. But it has also made her the target of opponents.
The main organiser of the protests was the student feminist group Libres y Combativas, the feminist branch of the student union. It posted on its website a call to welcome Ayuso with “a massive whistle and a chorus of hundreds of throats calling her a fascist.”
While a small group of twenty students—displaying her party’s youth wing Nuevas Generaciones del Partido Popular (People’s Party New Generations)—welcomed her with a Spanish flag and cheers, hundreds of other students under the leadership of the feminist organisation shouted threats and personal insults, from calling the regional president a murderer to threatening to burn the university’s administrative building.
“What a pity, what a shame that Ayuso ‘s mother couldn’t have an abortion,” was another chant, according to The Objective.
The Objective also reported that Libres y Combativas receives funding from the ministry of equality. In 2021, the government gave it €10,333.17 in “grants intended to support the associative and foundational movement at the state level.” It received another €10,274 in July 2022 under the same pretext. A generous amount, the news outlet observes, “for an entity that is not known for other initiatives than to demonstrate against the current president of the Community of Madrid.”
Despite its generous funding, the feminist group failed to bring out the multitude of protestors its combative announcement had implied.
But the protests became part of the ceremony itself in the speech by Elisa Lozano, the department’s valedictorian of the 21-22 academic year.
“Today is a very sad day, because when I say Ayuso, I hear applause,” she started the speech.
“Do you know who I want to applaud? My teachers and the Complutense [University]. This is the true Complutense,” she shouted. “Today is a day of mourning. I did not want to come, and I have come to take advantage of my [freedom of] speech.”
She concluded her speech with a derogatory reference to Ayuso’s political party and praise for the protesting students.
Ayuso took the incident calmly, in her own speech remembering her university days as some of the best years of her life and commending the university as a place of diversity.
The tension increased when Ayuso was leaving the building. She was surrounded by a protective police escort and the path to her car was blockaded, but some protestors attempted to break through the police line.
As she drove off, students of different political stripes exchanged shouts and one protester punched another student. The police called for order and the crowd dispersed.
In the days that followed, the government offered no comments on the incident, despite Irene Montero, the equality minister, having recently denounced her own parliamentary opponents as guilty of ‘political violence’ against women.