Two mounted policemen wait before a Bankia shareholders meeting in Valencia, Spain on Friday, June 29, 2012. Bankia, SA, which crumbled under the weight of bad real estate loans and was recently nationalized, holds almost 17 billion euro in state debt, or 5.5 percent of its total assets. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)
The early June performance by the Sevillian flamenco anti-bank protest group FLO6x8 was a direct hit. Days after the announcement of a $23 billion public bailout of Spain’s third-biggest bank, Bankia, three cantaora singers strode into the city center office of the bank and began to bellow out the purest, full-lunged cante jondo, songs of grief, pain and protest of the Andalusian gypsies. Customers looked on, surprised, then impressed. Security guards fidgeted nervously. One singer, nicknamed Prima del Riesgo (Risk Premium, a term on every Spaniard’s lips, as the spread on Spanish bonds rises to unsustainable heights), pushed open the door to the bank manager’s office. “Goirigolzarri! Tell us!” she sang, gesturing with her hands as if money were flowing through her fingers. “Why did you retire? With all the money you’ve spent, we could feed the world.” This was a reference to the new Bankia CEO José Ignacio Goirigolzarri, brought out of early retirement at 55 (on a pension of 3 million euros per year) to manage the biggest government bailout of a bank in Spanish history.
It was just one of a string of performces by FLO6x8 (6×8 is a common rhythm in Sevillian flamenco), all available on video. In mid-May, cantador Pincho de Leche sang a fandango to Goirigolzarri’s predecessor at Bankia, former IMF managing director and former Partido Popular (PP) finance minister Rodrigo Rato, who is accused in a new lawsuit brought by the indignado protest movement of misleading savers—many of them Bankia customers—into buying shares in the bank only months before it went bust: “Rodrigo, you have six lungs; I have only gills [branquias] to breathe with,” he sang with Lorquian enigma. A dozen young women waiting in a queue of Bankia customers suddenly revealed themselves to be FLO6x8 protest bailaoras and tap-danced across the marble floor. Other targets of the flamenco protest were Aurelio Izquierdo, a former executive at Bankia and adviser to the PP government in Valencia, who was due to be paid a 13.8 million euro pension by the bank, though this has since been reduced to 8 million; and Alfredo Saenz, CEO of the globalized Banco Santander, who earned 15.7 million euros last year.
I arrived in Seville the same June week the European powers forced Spain to accept a 100 billion euro bank rescue plan, while imposing more austerity and the privatization of Spanish public savings banks, or cajas. Demonstrators gathered near the thirteenth-century Torre del Oro to protest new spending cuts, as thirty-five local homeless families settled into an empty apartment building in the Macarena district, now called Corrala La Utopia, in reference to the communal living arrangements of the nineteenth-century Sevillian open tenement block. FLO6x8, meanwhile, was planning a new flamenco hit job at a city-center bank the following morning but had to cancel. “The police are on our trail, so we have to be intelligent,” said Pepe, one of the group’s coordinators, who asked me to refer to him as El Moody’s, an ironic allusion to the hated credit rating agency. “We started this soon after Lehman Brothers [collapsed]; now we are finding new places to perform. ATMs are perfect for singers, bank waiting rooms for dancing. Because it’s not just words—the body of a flamenco dancer is rebellion in itself.”
All this may sound overly romantic. But as Spain’s banking crisis deepens, threatening the very existence of the eurozone, Andalusia—with the highest unemployment rate in Europe (33 percent), burgeoning homelessness and a child poverty rate that has doubled in two years—is a focus of resistence. Only four months after Mariano Rajoy’s resounding victory in national elections, the Andalusian regional elections in March stopped in its tracks the center-right PP’s bid for total state power. The PP vote slumped by a third compared with the November polls, and a strong performance by the small but growing communist-led United Left coalition (Izquierda Unida, or IU), Spain’s nearest equivalent to the Greek Syriza, has allowed the formation of a left coalition government in Andalusia with the Socialist Party. The IU has pledged to mitigate draconian austerity measures imposed from Madrid and Brussels by defending services for the poor, protecting public-sector employment and administering wage cuts progressively by ring-fencing those at the lowest wage scale (less than 1,000 euros per month). Meanwhile, Alberto Garzón, a 26-year-old economist from Málaga and a leading figure in the indignado protests, which drove millions to the streets in Spain last summer, has entered the Madrid Parliament on the IU ticket. Some liken him to Alexis Tsipras, Syriza’s young leader, although since Garzón is a rookie MP and the IU still has only 7 percent electoral support at the national level, the comparison is premature, to say the least.