Tens of thousands of Spaniards gathered at the Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid on Saturday afternoon to demonstrate against Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s ruling left-globalist coalition.
Denouncing, among other things, the government’s “corrosion of [Spanish] democracy” and “undermining [its] institutions,” the crowd spilled from the plaza into the streets in either direction. The arial view showed a multitudinous demonstration spanning blocks, a sea of citizens waving Spanish flags and holding placards reading “Sánchez, traitor,” “Government, resign,” “Separatists, get out of here,” and “Democracy, yes, Dictatorship, no” flooded social media channels.
While the government delegation in Madrid’s official figures reported that a total of 31,000 protesters occupied the square and adjacent streets, organizers of the event, which included roughly one hundred civic organizations, say that as many as half a million people showed up to the anti-Sánchez government rally, the Madrid-based online newspaper El Español reports.
The demonstrators gathered under the slogan “For Spain, democracy, and the Constitution,” at around 12:00 o’clock, shortly before speakers from Foro España Cívica and Fundación Foro Libertad y Alternativa—against a backdrop of crowds chanting for Sánchez’s resignation—began speaking of their concern for and rejection of “the political drift Spain has taken” in recent months and years.
“It is not about Left, Right, or Center, but about not remaining inactive as our institutions erode, our democracy deteriorates, and our state weakens,” asserted the manifesto, read out during the demonstration.
The list of grievances included the government’s recent legislation eliminating sedition from the penal system, diminishing the penalty for embezzlement of public funds, liberalising abortion, decriminalizing euthanasia, and freeing violent sex offenders from prison. Many of the government’s policies and appointments have been aimed at satisfying its parliamentary partners—Basque and Catalan nationalist-secessionist parties—or have politicized the judiciary and other institutions such as the national statistics service.
“Together they are more than isolated incidents nor can they just be attributed to getting parliamentary support … They are too serious and too risky for the government to understand them as just political trading,” the speaker continued.
The manifesto called the government’s recent policies a “constitutional mutation orchestrated with the representatives of totalitarian populism, secessionist nationalisms, and the heirs of the terrorist discourse of ETA,” as well as a plan that supposes “an ideological interpretation of the Constitution,” “oppression of the courts,” and “partisan control of the country’s institutions” that could deviate into “a defective and incomplete democracy and a decadent, diminished, scorned Spain.”
Participants interviewed by the European Conservative confirmed that they shared the concerns of the manifesto.
“We just don’t want communism,” one group of participants who sat chatting on a bench as the crowd broke up all agreed.
They discussed how to unite the political Right to defeat the political Left they feared was turning the country into a banana republic.
Another group of two families held a homemade placard that read, “Que te vote Txapote”—in English, ‘let Txapote vote for you’—a cynical nod to Francisco Javier García Gaztelu, ‘Txapote,’ who was convicted for his involvement in several politicians’ murders and remains unrepentant of his crimes. As a key figure in the Basque terrorist organization ETA, the reference ridicules Sánchez’s alliance with ETA’s political successor, the Basque nationalist party EH Bildu, as criminal.
“We’re here for Spain and for our children,” they explained.
Another participant was holding a Cuban flag.
“The Spanish-Cuban community is defending Spain from what happened in Cuba. The government took control of all the institutions and now there are no free elections and people don’t have basic rights,” explained Mario, who said he was the grandson of a Spaniard and had lived in Spain for fifteen years.
“We’ll do everything we can to prevent that from happening,” he added.
In the days before the protest, 255 high profile Spaniards from some 30 organizations had signed a manifesto against the government’s changes to the penal code. They included journalists, artists, and politicians, even members of Sánchez’s own political party, the Partido Socialist Obrero Español.
The protests also enjoyed the support of the national-conservative VOX party, first and foremost, the center-Right Partido Popular (PP), and the liberal Ciudadanos. VOX’s Santiago Abascal, however, was the only leader of any of the parties in attendance, saying, during an address to the crowd, that he was “convinced” of “the need for permanent and massive mobilization until the autocrat Pedro Sánchez is expelled from power.”
He told demonstrators that “there is a government that has confronted the Spanish and that must be thrown out,” adding that it “imposes totalitarian ideologies as it tries to buy the media with everyone’s money.”
Furthermost, the VOX chief accused the Sánchez government of “trampling” on the Constitution, “illegally imprisoning the Spanish,” and “releasing rapists, terrorists, and coup plotters,” in addition to threatening the opposition” with billionaire cronies, through “international forums.”
“Faced with the worst government of democracy, lies to voters, and dark pacts with enemies of the constitutional order and the unity of the nation, we are in the best place we could be,” Abascal concluded.
An analogous protest was held on Sunday in Barcelona, though only hundreds of protestors attended.
With elections this year, it may be—as opponents of the current government repeated in their protest—that Sánchez’s days in the presidential palace are running out.