In those terrifying days of spring last year, almost the only noise that could be heard every night in Madrid was that of the garbage truck. On my street, it happened before midnight, possibly due to the lack of traffic or due to the change in schedules. Sometimes, there was applause for those people who kept doing their job, keeping order for everyone, risking every day in waste management that they did not even know then what danger they would have. They didn’t usually realize that the applause was coming from them, probably because of the noise of the truck.
And then there were the sirens, constant, screaming, a sign that so many people were suffering, that they were probably in a very serious situation because the ambulances were not sufficient except to attend to extreme cases. And sometimes not even that.
We have never experienced anything like this. Even the people who went through the dictatorship and the Transition in Spain say that this pandemic and its effects are unprecedented. Neurologists say that our brain has changed, not just our lives. And that what was lived will have effects that will be noticed in future generations.
A little over a year ago the government, in an attempt at optimism perhaps understandable, but also reckless and hasty, came up with that slogan of “We are better off.” It took us little time to understand that we were not coming out of the crisis and that we had months and months of suffering and exhaustion ahead of us. The “best” was perhaps more logical, more to be expected after an experience of collective and global pain.
In the street, I now hear almost every night the screams of the young people who populate the bars, inside and outside, that have flourished in recent months. At times they scream, sometimes they fight or throw bottles. They are not making a bottle, it is simply the usual fluttering between bars, some new, others that existed, but now have terraces that occupy the entire sidewalk and that make the pedestrian have to go through a narrow line between the terrace and those who are standing at the entrance of the bar or restaurant. It doesn’t matter what day of the week. It doesn’t matter what time it is. Some neighbors complain. Others do not, and even comment that it is an act of “freedom” and back to life. Those who would have been thugs giving the tabarra are now a symbol for some.
The use of the word “freedom”, which has such a sacred meaning to people who have actually been deprived of it, continues to blush in this country and in many others.
The same word that Jarcha intoned when it meant the end of the dictatorship, the one that my friend the journalist Jason Rezaian celebrates after a year in prison in Iran and always so generous, the one that Paola feels for the first time to enjoy being able to parade without fear in Pride after suffering so many threats and having to flee her country.
Now it is not so surprising, nor for that reason less depressing, the scene of a few young people screaming freedom and giving trouble to police and staff in a four-star hotel facing the sea where they were confined for a few days to prevent the risk that they have created for themselves and for others, while complying with the rules that we have all met as a very minor evil.
It can be an anecdote and it is not fair to generalize about young people or about this group in particular (not all of them behaved like this). But the situation and the reactions reflect a seemingly increasingly irritated society.
The Pew Research Center survey of 17 rich countries shows that in many citizens they have a perception of more division and less optimism than before the pandemic, or even at the beginning. In Spain, 77% of those surveyed believe that the country is more divided, and only 21%, more united. The Spanish gap, which has lengthened in the last year, is one of the worst in the world, along with that of the Netherlands and the United States. More than a gap is a crack, as they say our Argentine colleagues.
Certainly, some politicians have fed this gap with falsehoods and empty rhetoric because it has been shown in the world that it rents in votes. But at this point, with so much information and so much experience of what it is to live a pandemic, the excuses for the behavior of some citizens no longer fit.