Photos of Demonstration & riots in Lisbon
A manifestation in Lisbon against the plans of the government, started peacefully, although people showed real anger. After a peaceful beginning, after a while the atmosphere grew more grim and ended up in charges of the police against the demonstrators. The military police made some basic mistakes in approaching the demonstrators, especially those ones looking for a riot.
What astonished me most was that there were no speeches on the side of the demonstrators. No verbal expression other than banners and slogans. Of course there were discussions among the participants. For me as a relative outsider just having arrived in Portugal, it looks like at this moment people have passed the stage of speeching and joyful demonstrating and are now only showing their anger, as they probably are feeling the consequences of failing policies in their personal lifes.
The gates in front of the parliament were somewhere a provocation to the around 3000 demonstrators that were coming to the square in front of the parliament. Of course the demonstrators were only a small part of the people disagreeing with current governmental policies and plans, which seemed to be backed by large segments of the Portuguese society as almost all public and private sectors were striking. No buses, no healthcare, no other public services, even the airport was empty, in short some people had time to take part in the demonstration, Wednesday November 14th, 2012, in the capital of Portugal.
Cuts in salaries, increases in taxes, privatization of healthcare and education, cuts in unemployment benefits and pensions, these are only some of the reasons for the Portuguese to strike. Strikes are appearing more and more in Portugal, tensions seem to get to cooking point. This was also sensible at the demonstration, people were really angry. Now it were not only angry young men and women taking part in the demo, also older workers, activists and union members took part. At the beginning sungs were sung, music was made, slogans like `you can never destroy the power of the people`were shouted. Later the protests became more violent and stones were flying through the air.
The police made some big mistakes: first they let the more violent kids throw stones for a least 45 minutes, only protecting themselves with their boards. Secondly, there was no participation of the normal police in keeping order. After an hour the military police decided to charge, but it only dispersed the crowd and gave some rioteers their golden chance to run into town and burn anything they could find. Because normal police only showed up after two hours (!), the hunt for the rioteers started much too late and they could do damage to many (civilian) objects. The ideal burning object was the big green garbage bin and other plastic bags they found all around the city, combined with stones they took from the streets.
So in the end, there was no public discourse other than the demonstration, no alternative vision to imbue the protestors with, the demonstration missed its opportunity to be more than an exhibition of anger, protest, frustration and, in the end, violence. And it looks like violence almost never convinces big groups of people, of whom some are suffering themselves of it. Scareful looks were to be seen from inhabitants of the neighbourhood near the parliament, afraid their street and their cars might burn. Little shop owners tried to discuss with rioteers not to burn bins next to their venue and, surprisinly, they were often able to convince them. In situations like this basic instincts seem to take over and that is the ideal playground for some to leave a trace of burning ashes uncaught.
Now I have to say, I have the impression the political classes in Portugal seem to have lost contact with big parts of Portuguese society and are seen as agents of larger financial interests and not as representatives of the people. That is the core of the legitimacy crisis of current democracy in Europe in general. Th current rulers in Portugal still seem to handle outdated `machismo` methods, although they also try to smooth their approach with diplomatically formulating politicians who are, in the end, trying to impose measures which are not backed by big parts of Portuguese society. The normal man in the street has no message to austerity measures if he feels he is the one who needs to pay and looses his means of existence, his pension and prospects for his children.
The rather arrogant approach of some politicians reacting on the demonstrations show that they seem not able to explain properly why they think certain measures need to be taken, something that provokes even the moderate man and woman. The standard neoliberal jargon doesn´t work anymore, after the worldwide collapse of the financial markets, that were benefitting from these policies. It shows the incompetence of many current politicians. The ruling conservative parties (I have no better way to describe parties that call themselves liberal or social democratic, but are protecting certain interest (banks), who don´t seem to fall under neoliberalism) all over Europe, have to come up with some more original thinking and adapt their approach, although I doubt whether the current conservative generation is capable of making this switch, especially in southern European countries like Portugal. Just listening to the IMF and the more powerful countries in the EU undermines their credibility and seems to push the conflicts to a next level, a level that seems to come closer to a classical revolution.