Escraches: ‘thousands of citizens have decided that in the future we want to be able to look ourselves in the mirror’ – open letter by Ada Colau

Continuing the series of translated pieces regarding escraches (previous posts here, here and here; for background reading on the PAH, see here), what follows is a recent open letter by Ada Colau, spokesperson for the PAH, written in a personal capacity, and published in Público on April 18th. It is also included in a new book by Ada Colau and Adrià Alemany titled ¡Sí se puede! Crónica de una pequeña gran victoria’  (‘Yes we can! Chronicle of a little great victory’). The letter deals with the government’s response to the PAH campaign and in particular the resort to comparisons with Nazi Germany with regard to the tactic of escraches.

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Mr Mariano Rajoy, Deputies of the Partido Popular, members of the Government of Spain,

This is Ada Colau writing to you, but not this time as spokesperson for the Mortgage Holders’ Platform, but as an ordinary citizen.

The past few days have been intense. The Government delegate for Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, and other members of the Government and your party, as well as certain media outlets, have launched grave accusations against me. Many lies and distorted truths have been told: that I was a philo-terrorist, that I was a sympathiser with such and such, that I had been convicted in non-existent court cases, that I was a subversive (antisistema) on account of various peaceful actions, that I have received millions of euros in funding…It’s all the same. Lawyers tell me that I ought to report this, and in certain serious cases I shall, but it is not worth the trouble responding to defamation. Nonetheless, certain basic misunderstandings have built up, and I believe it appropriate that I clarify them.

First of all, you have not understood the PAH movement. Let me inform you. The PAH is a citizen movement in which thousands of people participate, the majority of them directly affected, certain others in solidarity, but all of them mobilised in defence of the right to housing. It is a partyless movement, one that is deeply plural and cross-sectional, in which very different people have found ourselves moved by outrage at abuses by financial entities and the complicity they found with both your Government and the previous one. Therefore I can tell you that your accusations that the PSOE is pulling the strings of the PAH are ridiculous and show a worrying ignorance of reality. You ought to come along to our meetings and see for yourselves. In them you will find voters of all parties and abstentionists; middle and lower classes; immigrants and indigenous; young people and older people..that is, the citizens in general.

Secondly, the PAH does not have nor does it need leaders. It seems you have insisted on seeking out ringleaders in order to decapitate them, as a quick way of putting an end to a protest that financial entities, and now it seems you yourselves, find troublesome. I am no-one important or especially bright. At the moment I am a spokesperson, but there are thousands of people just as involved as me or more so. This is the strength of the collective: we are a profoundly democratic movement rooted in decentralisation and the leadership of each and every one of the people who take part in it. This is one of the secret ingredients that explain how in the most difficullt of moments people get the best out of themselves. Empowerment and solidarity make us unstoppable. And now, let’s talk about the escraches.

It upsets you that we are able to protest outside your house. I understand. I wouldn’t like it either. But if you had ever attended an eviction, you would understand that it is something infinitely more upsetting. There are thousands of people on the brink, out on the street and in debt, in unemployment, with nothing to eat…and all this despite the fact that they live surrounded by abundance. Thousands of families live on the street in the country in Europe with the most empty houses. They go hungry in a State that allows tons of foodstuffs in good condition to be thrown away. And you govern this country, and so you ought not be surprissed that these families should call to your house after having tried in vain to get your attention. This absolutely exemplary movement has exhausted all the routes offered by Spain’s inadequate democracy: for more than four years we have tried to negotiate with financial institutions, we have spoken with political parties, with social services, local councils..We have spent resources on court cases and like little ants we have collected nearly one and a half million signatures. And nothing: the Partido Popular has not moved even a millimetre and announces that it will reject the measures in the Popular Legislative Initiative (ILP). What a coincidence. At the very moment when the PAH enjoys the greatest support from society (between 80 per cent and 90 per cent, according to all surveys). When the one and a half million signatures from the ILP have now been handed in. When social pressure has forced them to process this ILP that they did not even plan to debate. When a European judgement comes through that shows that the people affected are in the right and says that the thousands of mortgage foreclosures and evictions that have taken place in recent years in Spain are illegal. In that very moment, when it would seem that nothing else can delay the necessary legislative reform, your only answer is to embark on a campaign of criminalisation against us.

Instead of listening to popular clamour, you attempt to generate confusion by comparing our peaceful actions with ETA terrorism or Nazi Germany. You need to be evil people to say something like this. I remind you that as regards evictions, the only homes violated and the only deaths as of now have been those of the population. Not those of your honourable ladies and gentlemen, who until now have kept a safe distance, in comfort, looking on at a drama that could have been avoided if you had acted where you are supposed to, in the Congress. Of course the citizens are not stupid and have seen straight away that this whole campaign of defamation merely sought to make noise in order to divert attention. Hence it is not going to work for you. Reality is stubborn and thousands of swindled and evicted people are not going to disappear however much their Government ignores them.

Let me finish by using the parallel with Nazi Germany that you make use of so lightly. If the gravity is not comparable, in both cases we are talking about situations of systematic violations of human rights. Fortunately we are not confronted with concentration camps or mass deportations and murders. But we do have violent evictions, thousands of impoverished people who see their basic needs compromised, condemned for life to social exclusion and the underground economy. And all this to maintain privileges and astronomic profits for the financial elites.

Decades after Nazism, German society has not yet forgiven itself for not being able to react to prevent barbarism. Well, in Spain thousands of citizens have decided that in the future we want to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror. A democracy that allows the systematic violation of human rights, and even promotes it, is not democracy, however much people vote every four years. Democracy will be when the general interest is placed before the diktats of the markets. When there is nothing more important than the life and dignity of people.

Mr President it is never to late to correct things. Do not fear the escraches, do not fear the population. Go out onto the street and speak with people. Do justice and halt the evictions. There are lives at stake and they can wait no longer.

Barcelona 8 April 2013.

Pah

(Photo: Diego González Sanz)

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