Beyond the Sound of Castanets

All the occupants of the ’Corrala Utopía’ have been summoned for trespass. “Life changes when you lose everything. There was a time when I was happy, when I was working and doing the housework. Now, at the age of 65, I’ve suddenly become an activist”, says Manuela Cortés. She is waiting for her grown-up children, who along with others have to testify in court directly.
In ‘Nuevo Amate’, a quarter of Seville, new blocks of flats with social housing are almost deserted, whilst 12,000 people in Seville are on the waiting list for such accommodation. Altogether there are currently 528 dwellings unoccupied in Seville. It is rumoured they are not let because speculating with them is more lucrative.
Occupants of the ‘Corrala Utopía’ try to make it easier for themselves to collect water from the public well using a garden hose. After the occupation of the building in May 2012 the municipality turned off the water and electricity. According to media reports, cutting off the mains and building a well outside the building cost 20,000 euros. Seville is the hottest city in Spain, with peak temperatures of about 48°C.
Every weekend the children help their parents bring the weekly supply of water from the well to their flat on the fourth floor. “It’s sad that the children have to live like this. But they learn to eke out resources,” says their mother Inma.
Indoors, temperatures are just below 40°C. With no school in the summer holidays and no money, for the children of ‘Corrala Utopía’ life comes to a standstill. It is only late in the evening, when temperatures drop, that they can play outside.
Maria and Antonio’s accommodation. They were cheated of their last monthly wages, and after being evicted lived with their one-year-old daughter in the car. Their families are not to know how tough things are for them, so they keep it secret. Searching for an alternative they bumped into occupants of the ‘Corrala Utopía’ at the public well, who took them in.
It is a luxury when there is enough electricity left for e-mails. Fran’s family has electricity for not more than three hours a day. There is not enough money for more fuel. They share the generator with the neighbours. When they have electricity they use it to cool down the refrigerator so the food does not go off so quickly. They also do household chores, shower, look for flats and jobs, and charge up their mobile phone batteries.
The forced eviction of ‘Corrala Utopía’ was ordered by the court in January 2014. Toñi went on hunger strike, but ended it after eight days under pressure from her neighbours. Everything in the building has to be ready for the eviction, and every pair of hands is needed. Where they are supposed to go after the eviction is not clear. Arrangements have been made with friends and families to make sure the children are safe and sound and not living on the street.
The residents of the ‘Corrala Utopía’ block of flats regularly occupy the square outside the branch of the ‘Ibercaja’ bank in the inner city of Seville out of protest. They demand an affordable rent that will enable their families to have a roof over their heads. They demonstrate because no banker has turned up at negotiations about the building in Seville for a long time.
Beneath a long tablecloth, Álvaro, María Ángeles and their daughter try to keep their feet warm with a brazier, whilst they do handicraft and read by candlelight. Contrary to its reputation, the south of Spain is really cold and damp in winter. In December 2013 the Spanish government rejected a draft act from the opposition that would have forbidden turning off people’s electricity supply in winter. There is such an act in 14 other countries of the EU already.
Fran is carrying the family’s beds out of the occupied block of flats ‘Corrala Utopía’, in which she lived for the last 20 months. The eviction was ordered by the court in January 2014, even though the European Court of Human Rights outlawed the eviction of people who have no alternative to living on the streets. After the forced eviction on 6 April 2014 many of those affected have to this day been unable to find any legal, permanent, decent place to stay.
To prevent the children from suffering eviction, Inma (31) is moving with her family of five back to her parents, into a room measuring eleven square metres. “It is hard going back to live with my parents. But if I didn’t have them I’d rather squat in another house than live on the street and have the state take my children away.”
To demonstrate their solidarity with the hunger strikers throughout the land, in autumn 2014 students from the Drama and Dance faculties blockaded the pedestrian precinct in Seville for several hours. The hunger strikes are for decent work, affordable rents and for the government to resign; sometimes they go on for months.

What is life like when the crisis descends upon your country? When banks have to be bailed out to the tune of 100 billion euros? When at the same time the unemployment rate is 27 per cent? What is happening over in Spain, with ever increasing austerity measures because the troika is tying loan commitments to them?  What happens to human dignity when living conditions suddenly change in such a way and without anyone’s fault? Is it worth fighting when everything seems to be conspiring against you?

The impact of the Spanish financial crisis is most tangible in the sunny south of the country. In the rural regions of Andalusia the unemployment rate is up to 47 per cent, and two thirds of young people are affected. After six years of the crisis hardly anyone is still receiving unemployment benefit, social security does not pay mortgages and rents, and according to Caritas 350,000 people are malnourished.

There are six million empty houses in Spain – about 25 per cent of the entire housing stock. At the same time there are up to 500 evictions a day. On the other side of those affected in their difficult situation are the banking giants, and it is only thanks to the self-help groups and solidarity campaigns that some manage to fend off or postpone eviction.

“Corrala de Vecinas la Utopía”, “neighbours of the Utopia block of flats”, is what in May 2012 36 families named the large building they were occupying. It was the beginning of an occupation movement by families that saw no other option and realised that a big solidarity movement was needed to win the right to affordable rents.
The fear that their children will be taken away from them by the social security office because they are homeless gives the women in particular strength they never knew they had. They put up resistance and suddenly become politically involved.

Even the European Court of Human Rights forbade Spain from evicting people who had no alternative to living on the streets.

On 6 April 2014 the “Corrala de Vecinas la Utopía” were evicted.

The book with this work was published in 2014 bilingual in German and Spanish. Titled ‘Jenseits der Kastagnetten-Klänge‘ (‘Beyond the Sounds of Castanets’), this essay shows the resistance to the impact of the crisis in Andalusia.

The book can be purchased by emailing me with contact details at mail(at)kollatsch.com.