World Youth Day is finally over and it was a looong day. Six times longer than a regular day, actually. And a lot happened.
I could tell you about the pilgrims misbehaving (public drunkenness, semi-naked frolicking in fountains dedicated to Lucifer – the fallen angel, or just making out while waiting for the pope to tell them they have to stay pure) but that’s what happens when you get thousands of young people together. They chanted “this is the pope’s youth” the same way they could’ve been chanting about their school team or Justin Bieber (is that who kids are into these days?).
But my problem is not with them. Hey, had you offered my 17 year-old self a super-discounted trip to a foreign country with my classmates on the condition that I wave a flag at a passing car one morning, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have taken it. Now, some of the people (or many) are devout and came here out of conviction (i.e. these nuns doing the Mexican wave), and some might even be religious extremists, but still, my beef is not with them. Most of them behaved just fine and seemed really happy to be here. (I do admit, however, to have spent this whole time rolling my eyes and pretending they had some kind of flesh-eating disease as I walked past them).
Who do I have a problem with, then?
With the religious authorities, for the official 50 million Euros they’ve spent on this event compared to the 50k (plus prayer) the Vatican donated for Somalia. And, of course, that this whole thing was aimed at indoctrinating young people.
With the government, for the funding of the event and the privileged treatment of these tourists over any other tourist or local: the drinking in the streets from the video above is illegal, the police have been instructed to let them use the subway with invalid tickets, they got their visas issued for free, got to visit most museums also for free, and many other perks. And it’s not even clear if any money was made with all this extra tourism, it depends who you ask.
But my main problem is with what happened with the secular protests organized by atheist groups, LGBT groups, and religious organizations opposed to this kind of spending at a time when the Spanish economy pretty much sucks. It was complicated, but a protest was approved by the city authorities for Wednesday evening. It was not supposed to be an “anti-pope” protest but an “anti-paying for the event with our taxes” protest. And it didn’t go well. At all.
To be clear, I was not there and the following is only my piecing together of the facts based on reading blog posts, tweets, watching youtube videos, as well as from the mainstream media:
The protest was going on peacefully until it reached the city’s main square, Puerta del Sol, where there were a lot of pilgrims _________ (Pick one or several)
– passing by
– cutting off the protesters’ path by kneeling on the square to pray
– verbally provoking the protesters
The protesters responded by ________ (Pick one or several)
– continuing on their way
– verbally provoking the pilgrims
– responding to verbal provocations
– burning the event flag
– throwing a plastic bottle at the police
Stunned that something like this could happen in a civilized country, another protest was organized via twitter and Facebook for Thursday. And it ended up being much worse than the night before, only this time, many were filming it (like this video where you can see a girl insulting the police, an officer slapping her and then hitting the guy trying to take her away several times with a baton, and then going on to beat the shit out of a reporter filming the whole thing). This is just the video that made the news, but it’s not the only one. The authorities have said they’ll investigate the violence against the reporter.
Yet another protest against the police brutality of the previous two nights was organized on twitter and Facebook for Friday and, as far as I know, it went on without incident.
So, I’m angry at the Catholic Church and the government for spending an obscene amount of money on this; I’m angry at the local authorities and police for the unfairness, the abuse of power, and disproportional response at the protests; I’m angry at the media for not giving enough coverage to what happened; and I’m angry and disappointed that some of the protesters, knowing that many in the media were going to try to make them look like the bad guys, gave them an excuse and a photo op.