They’d had a day of general strike and been joined by Portugal, Italy, Greece and many other European countries in a multinational Mega-Protest.
It had been clear from the morning that things were probably going to take an ugly turn later on.
There were sporadic protest groups cropping up all across the city.
In the center under the midday sun I watched as some of the protestors marched up angrily to shops that were still open and confrontations ensued.
It wasn’t pleasant to watch clearly intimidated shop managers facing down an angry mob and shutters were soon pulled down.
Another European city center on lockdown.
Protest day wasn’t always like this. Countries like Spain and Portugal have been a few years behind Greece (remember when we were told the Eurocrisis was just Greece’s problem!)
A year ago, so taken was I with the calm and peaceful way the Spanish protested, I wrote a blog about it ‘What a difference a democracy makes’ I started by saying “If you want to know how to host a protest you could do worse than look to the Spanish.”
What a difference a year makes.
I remember coming away from a gathering tens of thousands strong in 2011 and joking with my cameraman that it had felt more like a festival than an angry march.
But things have moved on since then. Unemployment’s up to 25 per cent – 50 per cent amongst the young.
Fifty per cent. Half of all Spanish young people out of work.
As one man said to me yesterday commenting on the situation in the country now, “It’s not fair.” It’s not. It’s the inherent unfairness of it all that really gets to people.
Whenever we chase the story as the clashes kick off, running where the protestors run, dodging the rubber bullets with them, people always comment on the fact we got so close. (Too close at times, as happened last year in Athens!)
But it’s not just about getting the pictures. Until you’re there, right alongside people in that situation, you can’t properly get a grasp of what they’re going through.
Being with the protestors and riot police when clashes break out is as sad as it is scary. The raw emotion, the desperation and the anger make my hands shake.
It’s a strange thing to witness people pushed to the edge.
And it is “people”. Don’t watch the footage you’ll see played of the clashes across Europe and assume these are a bunch of angry kids or anarchists looking for trouble.
Of course that plays a part. But that element is only exploiting what’s already happening – normal people being pushed to extremes.
Don’t think this will go away either, it was clear a year ago when people were still blaming Greece that the Eurocrisis was going to arrive on all our doorsteps.
And yet nothing changes and Spain is added to the list of countries where this cycle of anger and violence is becoming normalized.
One colleague said “This is Spain now, this situation is like tapas.”
Make no mistake, the events we are seeing played out now are changing the face of Europe.
For me one of the biggest tragedies of the Eurocrisis is that for most of the people who turn out on the streets they still believe in the European Union, they still want to be a part of it. But the situation is dire and Nazi symbols on banners decrying Merkel and the Germans are the norm at protest movements, countries are breaking apart from the inside as a roll call of areas that are seeking independence grows ever longer and people are turning on one another, those with desperate to cling onto their precarious status and not tip into the category of those without.
Is this the Europe we want?
Right now this isn’t a European Union – one that divides governments from their people, uniting only with anger, is no union at all.
Sara Firth, RT