The Spanish protests have been going on for over six weeks now. In Barcelona, the Plaça Catalunya has been transformed into a protest camp. How is the current situation?
Daniel: Quite contrary to media reports, we have not dissolved the camp. There was a vote whether to close the camp, but it was decided by a simple majority. However, we usually demand an outstanding majority to arrive at a decision. Thus, a lot of protesters rejected the vote and continued the camp. Although the number of participants is declining, we have counted 300 people last week. During the day the camp is more vibrant. Many people are working in the commissions and participating in the assemblies, yet they do not choose to stay the night.
Tatiana: There has been a lot of discussion on how to proceed. We understand that the camp may not be a permanent solution, but we are determined to keep the movement alive. Thus, we have been negotiating with the municipality about different possibilities. Our initial agreement was that we would dissolve the camp, if we are provided with a permanent space to hold our meetings and assemblies and share information with the population. Our condition was that the transition would be seamless; we do not want to lose the square and the public. However, the municipality disregarded this condition: they wanted us to leave the Plaça Catalunya and to return once they establish a permanent information desk.
We did not follow their order, but continued the camp until a new agreement would been reached. On the night to Thursday, the police forced the protesters to leave the square. From past experiences, we know that the police may resort to violence. Hence, the protesters did not oppose the clearing, but we are angry about the municipality's action. We are currently discussing our further actions.
In the first half of 2011, the Mediterranean area has been rocked by protests. In how far have you been inspired by these happenings
Tatiana: Of course, the Arab Spring has been a great inspiration. People in Tunisia and Egypt stepped up voicing their opinion. In the end, their demands were realized: the regime toppled. I was excited that people were finally heard.
A further inspiration has been Iceland. In a referendum, the Icelandic people decided that the loan is not to be repaid with taxpayer's money. Icelanders are not responsible for the bank's failure and the government's inaction. The citizens distanced themselves from politics. Further, ordinary citizens were selected to draft a new charter. Public participation and the practice of direct democracy was increased out of peoples' outrage. That is a role model on how politics can work.
In the protest camp, you are working in the International Commission. What do your efforts look like?
Daniel: The protests are not limited to a specific place, but are happening all over Europe and around the globe. The International Commission is aiming to establish contact with those people. We have talked to people involved in the Arab Spring to learn from their experience. We invited Icelanders to hold workshops on citizens' participation. Further, we have also contacted protesters from Portugal, Greece, Belgium, and France and visited their demonstrations.
Tatiana: In the international assembly, we have drafted different goals, we want to pursue jointly. Foremost, we want to establish an horizontal network to communicate and coordinate our efforts. A mailing list and an open chat are essential. Further, a database will be created to share the knowledge of experts. The different groups are drafting proposals on how the current situation may be improved; these proposals are shared to unify and inspire different groups.
Are you further planning any joint activities?
Daniel: On June 19th, we hold several demonstrations at the same time. In 98 cities, people took their demands to the streets. The biggest demonstrations happened in Spain with 100.000 people, but several thousand people assembled in Greece as well.
Yet, we do not want to stop our joint efforts. In the International Commission, we are planning different 'call outs' to symbolize our frustrations. One idea, we are developing, is that we point out banks, which are operating in a more justifiable and sustainable manner. Then, people can choose to switch their bank, showing their discontent. We realize that we operate in a machine, which we cannot escape, but we can try to alter the playing field. People cannot escape the banking system as they need an account, but they can choose their partner.
Tatiana: Furthermore, the International Commission is planning a global protest day on October 15th. The slogan 'Take the square' is central; we are planning to demonstrate on major squares around the world. We have been in contact with people from Europe and the Arab world, but also from New York City and South America. Protests are emerging in these regions as well; most of which were first held in solidarity with the Arab world, but then developed further.
Many Arab protests realized their demands, such as the overthrow of the regime. What do you hope to achieve in the end?
Tatiana: Most importantly, we have created a new perspective of politics. We distanced ourselves from the old-school way, which the politicians are still using, but founded a new, horizontal way of communicating and deciding. Ordinary citizens have the chance to participate and to use their democratic rights.
Daniel: In the end, our protests may have affect the political culture. Citizens' engagement and participation may be understand as crucial values. Politics can be done in a new way: face-to-face, direct and transparent. People have lost their confidence, but we hope that they have gained new confidence.