Spain: Portrait of a neglected youth

Mathilde l'Hôte, translated by Lucie Perrier
20 Novembre 2014

Six years after the 2008 financial crisis, Spain’s economy is getting better, with its GDP growing at a rate of 0.6% in the second quarter of 2014 and a decreasing unemployment rate. However, Spanish society has been deeply disturbed.

Crédit Reuters
Crédit Reuters
Words of a disillusioned youth: “Spain is getting better”. At least that is what it seems, given the improvement in the economic situation, with positive growth for three quarters and a decrease in unemployment. However, with an unemployment rate of 23.67% between July and September 2014, Spain remains the second country in the European Union to be the most affected after Greece, and far below the average of the Eurozone with a rate of 11.7% in April 2014.

More worryingly, unemployment for those aged 25 and younger remains exceptionally high (52.38%), despite a declining trend since early 2014. This figure reinforces a feeling of deception shared by many of the youth who are trying to create a new future.

Universities: an economically elitist choice?

Since 2013, the conditions for obtaining and awarding scholarships for higher education have been tightened. The eligibility criterion changing from an average grade of 5.5/10 for the high school diploma to 6.5/10 has made it impossible for many studentsto finance their education. "This new law seems like a paradox," says Alex, an undergraduate student of English at the University of Valencia. Since April 2012, a decree of the Spanish government has been authorizing autonomous regions to increase university tuition fees by 50%, raising the annual fee to an average of €1,500. In addition, it is increasingly difficult for young people to rely on family support, as many parents must first try to solve their own financial problems.

At first sight it seems like bank loans for students are the last funding opportunity. Yet again, many changes have been made in this area since the crisis. Gone are the days  when student loans were given at zero interest. From now on they align themselves with the same rates as the real-estate loans, according to banks. Carles, a journalism student at the University Jaume I of Castellon, wonders “with what money will I be able to pay it back?”.  His question is easily understandable considering that with a dramatically high youth unemployment rate, the employment prospects are very limited and most of the time the proposed income is clearly lower than the required qualifications.

"No nos vamos, nos echan"

Facing those numerous challenges, many young people have decided to leave Spain to try their luck in countries where the economic situation seems to be more lenient. "No nos vamos, nos echan" ("We  are not leaving, they are throwing us out"), is a popular initiative, which denounces the situation of exile forced on Spanish youth who are in a precarious situation. Although it is difficult to assess the exact number of young economic migrants, the association developing itself around the globe has denounced that "a whole generation now has to choose between unemployment, insecurity and exile." Maria, a 24-year-old student from Salamanca,  went to Ireland for a year after finishing her undergraduate degree: “There are  no professional opportunities here. We must fight to seek other opportunities elsewhere”. However, those who leave for Europe rarely find a job in accordance with their skills. For many, this is still a way to put money aside with the hope  of going back to Spain one day.

There are also those who stay. "Qué vayan ellos" (“They should leave”) is the message they send to the politicians, considered gravediggers of the Spanish economic and social system. In this oppressive situation, the word "revolution" appears in numerous speeches. And even if, as Carles underlines  they hope for it to be "democratic and peaceful", we can sense a certain urgency that is harder and harder to contain.  

Whatever the individual situation for each of them is, the Spanish youth is unanimous: national and European politicians are responsible. Before the crisis, "money had been spent in the wrong places" throws in Alex, in referenceto banks and shareholders’ dividends, among others,. Today, with budget cuts in public services, in particular in education, students have the feeling that they are  paying for mistakes they did not make . On Thursday, October 23rd, thousands of students, professors and parents again demonstrated in the streets of Madrid and six other Spanish cities to denounce the reforms of the education system.

A “lost” generation?

Despite the continuing protests, resignation can increasingly be read on many faces. Time passes but the situation remains the same. When they address themselves to politicians, students feel they speak in a vacuum; illustrated by Carles’ words: “a wall obsessed with money and power”. This feature, equally attributed to left and right wing politicians, notes a total disaffection for traditional politics.

However, even if they have lost faith in their current leaders, they believe in the future of their country and especially in the potential of their generation. Since January 2014, we have been witnessing the rise in power of a new left-wing party, Podemos, led by Pablo Iglesias Turrión. This young 36-year-old professor has based himself on the contestation of the famous movement of the Indignados and on a campaign team with an average age of below thirty, to develop his party, which defends ideals such as participatory democracy or, yet again,  the fight against corruption. During the last European elections, this new party obtained five seats and is now part of the major political strengths of the country. 

Speaking of this new political alternative, faces light up. "They are just like us!" declares Maria, referring to the members and leaders of the party. In addition to providing ideological novelty, Podemos offers the opportunity to end the two-party system that has been dominating Spanish politics for years. For many young people, it is an undeniable hope for 2015, which will be rich in political events, with regional, municipal and legislative elections.