Dateline reports on the painful effects of the Eurozone crisis in Spain, with people in cities and the rural heartland taking to the streets.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 21:32

The financial crisis in Europe is hitting Spain particularly hard, with youth unemployment pushing 50% and hundreds of evictions every day of people who can no longer afford their mortgage repayments.

David O'Shea travels across the country to get a personal insight from the people affected by the economic downturn.
With five million out of work, unemployment benefits only paid for the first two years and property prices plummeting, David finds a country consumed by the crisis.

While some are fighting back with noisy protests, others are quitting completely, leaving the country with a 'brain drain' of highly qualified workers.

Economists say that Spain is 'too big to fail and too big to bail', so who will help the country out of its crisis?

WATCH - See David's insight into the Pain in Spain.

STORY UPDATE (FEBRUARY 2013) - The activist in David's story, 'Robin from the Banks', who managed to borrow half a million Euros for social initiatives with no intention of paying it back, is now on the run after being charged with fraud. Enric Duran failed to appear in court, instead saying "Disobedience is the only option I have for my rights to be respected."

Photo (protest): Getty



As Europe's economic problems deepen, no country is more nervous about the future than Spain, where there are no quick fixes to multiple woes. Youth unemployment, for example, is almost 50%. Economists say that, unlike Greece, Spain is too big a fail, and too big to bail. Dateline's David O'Shea used to live in Spain in happier times, so we sent him back to see what life is like there now.

REPORTER: David O'Shea

Anger and defiance on the streets of Madrid, hundreds pour into a subway station, refusing to pay for tickets. They call themselves "Yo No Pago", or "I Don't Pay", a movement that's grown from Spain's deepening economic crisis where, every week, there are thousands of job losses. And thousands more evicted from their homes.

MAN (Translation): No people will be evicted from their homes. Our neighbours are our friends.

This group is massing on a street in the capital, trying to stop a young couple from being thrown out of their apartment.

MAN (Translation): We will never, ever, allow banks or anyone at all to take our families' homes. Whenever we're needed, we will be there.

Javier and his wife Monica are just one of 40 families in Madrid who will be kicked out of their homes on this day alone. They've lived here for six years, but have struggled to pay their mortgage since their working hours were slashed. But the bank doesn't want to hear about their problems.

MONICA (Translation): They give you no solution, no options. They want to throw you out of your home and make you pay an impossible amount.

Under the Spanish system, evictees still have to pay the shortfall between the loan and the value of their property. With the devastating crash in house prices, that bill can be a life sentence.

MONICA (Translation): My salary doesn't stretch to pay my debt of more than 200,000 euros.

JAVIER (Translation): We don't know where to go now. We're hoping to see if they'll give us more time to find something more affordable.

Any way you look at it, Spain is in deep trouble. Last month, a record 112,000 people lost their jobs, joining almost 5 million others on the dole queue. And there are fears the new labour reform will only make things worse.

WOMAN (Translation): It leaves us workers with no rights, bare-arsed; All the power goes to business. It's an unprecedented historic step backwards

Demonstrations against the government's austerity cuts are getting bigger and bolder, and the authorities are responding in kind. For the police, 2012 is sure to be a busy year. I've spent the last few weeks travelling throughout Spain, from the capital to the coast, and on to the rural heartland. I find a population consumed by the crisis. In the city of Malaga on the Costa del Sol, I meet Javi. He's a civil engineer, but he's been out of work now for two years.

JAVI, CIVIL ENGINEER: Probably it will stay the same situation or worse for years and years

Not long ago, Spain was building almost 1 million houses a year - the same number as Germany, France and Italy combined. Last year, it was a mere 60,000, and the knock-on effect has been brutal.

JAVI: 4 years ago there were probably 1000 workers here working and doing structures and everything and now no one is there.

REPORTER: Another Spanish disaster.

JAVI: Another one. Probably now the bank is again the owner and they have to keep it beautiful but nobody's living there. You can see there are no curtains or lights.

REPORTER: They look pretty empty.

JAVI: Yes.

The last job Javi worked on was a luxury resort-style development next to a golf course. Today, in the 400 apartments, there are not even 10 families living there. The security guard has been here since the boom days.

SECURITY GUARD (Translation): There were queues of people everywhere you went. Everywhere was always full. Business was thriving

JAVI (Translation): The boom;

SECURITY GUARD (Translation): The boom. And then "œpuff";

Then the bubble burst.

These days, Javi spends a lot more time with his son Marco, taking him to school each morning. It's a small consolation, as the family prepares for another financial blow. In Spain, you can only get unemployment benefits for a maximum two years. For Javi, that runs out this month.

JAVI: All the days are the same. I continue searching and searching, and waiting and waiting. I know we're not lucky.

The international job market offers his only hope.

REPORTER: So, South America?

JAVI: Yes. That's the great possibility now.

Life's no easier for Javi's brother Ignacio, and his partner Elisa, in Madrid.

IGNACIO: In the last 4 four years, I think probably more than 50% of our friends have been unemployed. That's something that is a real drama.

REPORTER: Is there any light on the horizon? Is there any way out of this mess?

IGNACIO: Not by now.

They're both architects, but with very little being built, the competition for work is unprecedented.

WOMAN: 900 people applied for this.

REPORTER: For the job that you've applied for? 900. Who are these 900 people?

WOMAN: 900 architects.

They say they have two options - try to find a new career, or join Spain's mass exodus - A brain drain that's reached epic proportions. Last year, more than 500,000 left in search of better opportunities.

IGNACIO: Different statistics say that, for the next two years, we're going to continue the recession. So there's no perspective at all of work, of any kind of improve our quality of life. That's why we have decided to go abroad.

ELENA DEL ARCO: There were all kinds of people doing different things. There were tents set up. There was a library: There were different groups meeting, assemblies...

In the main square in Madrid, I meet Elena Del Arco. She's come back with a friend to the Plaza del Sol, where the Occupy movement began on May 15 last year.

ELENA DEL ARCO: It started as an outburst of anger - people being fed up with the situation, and the need to share this anger.

These scenes went on to inspire protests in Wall Street and beyond. Elena came from the countryside to spend most of the time and camped here.

ELENA DEL ARCO: Obviously the energy that was flowing - it was amazing.

I travel back with her to the rural town of Zafra, near the Portuguese border. Life here is simpler than in the cities, but the crisis is still taking a toll.

ELENA DEL ARCO: Vende - houses for sale. Another one here - for sale. Also for sale? That's for sale. Vende, vende...

At the government language school, Elena continues teaching, even though her salary has been frozen.

ELENA DEL ARCO: We're going to talk about the crisis today - the economical crisis. OK?

Her students paint a picture of increasing desperation.

STUDENT: It's really sad. Some years ago, when you went to Caritas, you only find people from other countries - immigrants? Immigrants, yes. Now, there are people from Spain.

REPORTER: In front of charity places?

STUDENT: Yes. To give them food. There's a lot of people. You would be surprised.

I travel with Elena to Seville, an hour's drive away, to meet a man who's gained a cult following.

ELENA DEL ARCO: The guy who was famous because he managed to get nearly 500,000 euro out of 38 bank, and he got away with it.

His name is Enric Duran. But he's also known as Robin from the Banks. Like many before the crash, he made the most of the easy credit being thrown around. But he never had any intention of paying back the 492,000 euro he borrowed. Instead, he spent it all, establishing community cooperatives which would work against economic growth and the capitalist system.

ENRIC DURAN (Translation): We needed to act on and generate alternatives to capitalism. There are two sides to my work. One thing is getting loans and not paying them back. The other is making it public and defending it on a social level.

Duran spent two months in prison for refusing to pay back the loans. He's now travelling the country trying to get others to join him in defying the system.

ENRIC DURAN (Translation): We need a lot of people to generate a broad system but there are already small networks which self-manage to create self-employment and trade that benefits a number of people.

Duran's message of civil disobedience has been taken up by groups like the "I Won't Pay" movement. And also by flash-mob flamenco dancers, who have been disrupting business as usual at bank branches across Spain.

Defiance of authority may be spreading, but Monica and Javier still feel powerless as their eviction looms.

WOMAN (Translation): No one will leave you or your husband alone. They're downstairs. Yes, the judicial commission is here. The guy from the bank said that if his safety is threatened due to a lack of security he has no problem with putting it off.

See if the federal police can come, otherwise we'll postpone. The neighbourhood united will never be defeated!

The remarkable show of solidarity clearly counts. Eventually, the couple are told they'll be given a stay of execution. It's a small victory, but it could also be a short one. Unless the money is found, this whole tragic ordeal will be repeated in just two weeks time.

YALDA HAKIM: David O'Shea there. David tells us that the couple facing eviction have been given a reprieve until June, thanks to pressure from the activists.












Original Music composed by VICKI HANSEN

13th March 2012