Spaniards stomp their heels at bailed-out bankers

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 22, 2012 11:27 AM
Spaniards stomp their heels at bailed-out bankers

By Paul Day and Clare Kane

MADRID (Reuters) - A flamenco troupe bursts into a bank branch in Seville in southern Spain, lampooning bankers in dance and song. Further north, in Galicia, 50 men dressed in prison garb march into a bank shouting slogans against costly state bailouts for lenders.

In Barcelona and Madrid, a growing organization of elderly protesters stage regular "occupations" of bank branches, wearing reflective vests and carrying signs decrying the bailouts.

The deepening economic crisis has prompted creative protests among Spaniards frustrated at budget cuts in schools and hospitals at the same time as banks that lent recklessly during a building boom line up for 100 billion euros ($126.06 billion)in European aid.

YouTube videos of the flamenco protests are all the rage and Spaniards circulate a growing flow of e-mail jokes and spoofs to try to alleviate grim expectations that they will be the next European country to need a full international rescue package.

The most frequent protest target is Bankia, one of Spain's biggest banks, which was taken over by the state in May in the most costly bank bailout in Spanish history, estimated at some 23.5 billion euros.

Meanwhile the government has cut 45 billion euros out of its budget this year, hiking taxes, slashing public spending and forcing cuts in the treasured public health and education system.

"The workers are going to have to pay for this bailout since the banks are clearly not going to. It's pillaging, is what it is," said Anxo Noceda, a local union head in the town of Vigo who helped organize the "prison-break" protest at a Bankia branch in the northern region of Galicia.

During the protest the "prisoners" chanted "it's not a lack of money but an excess of thieves." Spain's banks, many run by politicians, ended up with 300 billion euros in exposure to the over-heated real estate sector, much of which has soured.

With the economy in its second recession since 2009 and one in four Spanish workers out of a job, mostly peaceful marches and mass demonstrations in cities have become common.

Bankia and its former executives and board members - including politicians from the ruling People's Party - are now the target of a judicial investigation into allegations of fraud around its launch last year on the stock exchange.

GRANDPARENTS ON THE MARCH

"We want to add a bit of color to Spanish politics," said Ovidio Bustillo, an activist with the over-60s protest group called "yayoflautas," a name combining an affectionate word for grandfather and a derogatory term for street people.

"Democracy in Spain needs a deep clean," said Bustillo. The yayoflautas, with about 300 members in their base in Catalonia and more around the country, some of them veterans of protests against the 1939 to 1975 Franco dictatorship, began occupying banks in October.

On Friday the yayoflautas, who have 14,000 followers on Twitter, occupied branches of Deutsche Bank across Spain and the German consulate in Barcelona to protest what they see as Germany's imposition of austerity measures in southern Europe.

"Today all the yayoflautas have occupied part of German land, the bankers' bit," the group said on Twitter.

The protesters, whose oldest member is 84, benefit from a lighter hand from the police when they take to the streets.

"We're usually surrounded by media and it's different if the police get a bit rough with a 20-year-old lad and if they do that to someone with white hair," said Maria Dulce Alonso, a yayoflauta from Madrid.

Celestino Sanchez, 62, one of the original 17 yayoflautas, said the group is not afraid of the authorities."What can they do? Send us to jail? I've already been, many of us have been in jail," he said, referring to the history of protests in the Franco era.

FOOT-STOMPING LAMPOONS

"You've changed, my friend, since you came in to money. I need two jobs to pay my mortgage," wails a middle-aged flamenco cantaor in jeans and sunglasses to an audience of bemused clients and staff in a Bankia branch in Seville.

A video of the protest (http://link.reuters.com/jex88s) shows a growing group of flamenco dancers join the singer. Dressed in long black dresses they stomp out their frustrations on the bank's stone floor.

"You get in trouble and I get thrown out in the street," the singer continues, referring to rising numbers of evictions of mortgage defaulters in Spain.

The protest was staged by the FLO6x8 flamenco group, whose slogan is "body vs capital."

Bankia may be a favorite protest target, but it is by no means the only one.

Other videos show the Rumba Rave, a seemingly spontaneous dance number by more than two dozen people in a branch of Santander bank, or "Ninja Girl," who tears open a purse full of pennies over her head and struts defiantly in the faces of confused-looking bank clerks.

As middle-class and less-well-off Spaniards see their quality of life declining, the government has struggled to get across its argument that aid for banks is being done through loans or temporary equity stakes and will be returned.

Spain, the euro zone's fourth largest economy, has seen its sovereign borrowing costs soar as investors shy away from a growing perceived risk of non-payment.

With news bulletins on all channels leading with talk of debt spreads and other once-obscure corners of the financial sector, another viral video pokes fun at the growing national obsession with the bond market.

The short film (http://link.reuters.com/pex88s) shows three Andalusian housewives debating derivative trades and monetary mass.

"What we need is quantitative easing to mitigate the recession," one of the women's neighbors adds to the debate from her rooftop terrace as she adjusts her apron.

Her friend gives a Spanish shrug of derision and waggles a bread stick in the air. "You're mad!" she snorts. "The inflation process is sky rocketing. What do I do with my savings? Eat them?" ($1 = 0.7873 euros)

(Additional reporting by Gustau Nacarino; Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Myra MacDonald)