This quarter, I am studying abroad in Madrid. We only have class Mon-Thurs, so the majority of us use our time over the weekends to travel, myself included. This past weekend, I decided to travel to Lisbon with some friends. It is a beautiful city with great food (I highly recommend it), and its friendly people and low prices, at least in comparison to Madrid, quickly won our group over. We had a jam-packed schedule, as we were only in Lisbon from Thursday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. As Saturday winded to a close and we were walking to our hostel to get our bags and head to the airport, our group gave ourselves a solid pat on the back. In a mere 3 days, we had seen all that we set out to see, ate some fantastic food, and met some incredible people. We had planned so well…. or so we thought.
As we were walking to our hostel, we noticed a fair amount of people in the streets, a pleasant contrast to the relative emptiness of Madrid’s streets on the weekend, and in particular, a small group of protesters in Terreiro do Paço square. We figured this was normal, especially since the Portuguese economy is not doing any better than the Spanish economy (to learn about that, go read some of George’s old posts). In fact, Lisbon’s walls and streets are filled with graffiti and posters, proclaiming things like, “Money is taken from the poor and given to the bankers. More hours. Less pay. Less life!”
As we exited the hostel and got ready to head to Terreiro do Paço square, a hub for buses and the nearest bus stop for the bus to the airport, we realized that there were an increasing number of people in the street…and an increased police presence. In fact, Terreiro do Paço square had been blocked off by the police and streets were being closed for the incoming masses of protesters.
What we expected to see (image from Wikipedia)
What we actually saw (image from Reuters)
We were in the middle of a manifestação, or protest. Not prepared for the chaos about to ensue, we figured we would head to the closest square, where we hopefully could catch a bus or take the train or metro to the airport.
Image from the International Business Times
Rolling suitcases in hand, we ran through the crowded streets in the opposite direction of the march of protesters that was headed from the outskirts to Terreiro do Paço square. All ages of people were in the streets, shouting, holding signs. Some wore masks, impersonating Guy Fawkes, who has become a symbol of anti-greed.
The manifestação had been called by the CGPT, or Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, to protest the austerity measures that had been taken on by the Portuguese government last May in exchange for a 78 billion dollar loan from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. These austerity measures included an increase in sales taxes and increase in public transportation fares, and salary reductions. More controversially, the government has lengthened workday hours without additional compensation, cut holidays, and reduced compensations for fired workers. Since these measures, the economy has only worsened, with employment hitting around 13%. (more…)