Icarus by Henri Matisse

The Red Spot at the Puerta del Sol

What was behind the massive protests during the recent Spanish city elections? Following the defeat of the Zapatero party, an eyewitness looks more closely at this phenomenon, as a fact that doesn't fit into any ideology.
Ignacio Carbajosa

At the university, a group of friends came out of lectures and agreed to meet at the Puerta del Sol. The following day, they didn't even go to lectures. People who normally change channels when there is talk about elections now want to be informed about what is happening in Madrid. The political agenda has changed, and everyone has something to say about this highly complex phenomenon. In the end, many find a way of expressing their dissatisfaction, valid or not, and they look upon this event with sympathy; it expresses something in itself. And every evening the square fills up. Something is happening... "We are the protagonists of history," some banners proclaim. And who doesn't want to be a protagonist? Who doesn't want something new, a surprise to come into his life? In a word, who doesn't want to be happy, break with the routine, breathe some fresh air?

The leaflet that Communion and Liberation published before the local and regional election aptly declared: "Most of the social malaise, in this period of crisis, has to do with the censure of this infinite desire that constitutes us. When the real desires and needs of people are excluded from public debate, ideology grows, and violence increases, however tacit."

In this electoral campaign, an unforeseen factor has entered; an unexpected guest: the "unlimited desire for realization that is part of us," that Matisse, in his genius, represented as a red spot at the level of the heart of his Icarus. The politicians do not understand. They are restless, like many respectable conformists. Or even worse, they think it's enough to offer jobs to answer the protests. The most perceptive realize that our country's political class needs regenerating. The majority are relieved that the movement has not influenced the elections and can be considered over.

NOT UP TO HUMAN EXPECTATIONS. But not even the first people who gathered in Puerta del Sol seem to grasp what responds to this desire. Most of the proposals are old before they are born, and history will bury them because they were not up to the expectations of our humanity. There is a paradigmatic anecdote going back to 1968, quoted by that great Milanese educator, Luigi Giussani. One day, he met a student of his who was building a barricade, and he asked him, "What are you doing?" The student proudly replied, "I am here with the forces that change history." Giussani told him, "The forces that change history are the same as those that change the human heart." We must have the courage not to submit to ideology and test all the proposals for change according to the criterion that our nature has given us: our desires, needs, and original evidences. Whatever is not useful in the relationship with my girlfriend, or with my friends, whatever is not at the level of that red spot, does not build anything.

The human movement that awoke while following the people camped in the Puerta del Sol gives voice, albeit in an unconscious way (who can read clearly that expectation that we all are?), to an ultimate need that, among us, is widely censured. Let's say it clearly: in Spain there are some things that cannot be spoken of publicly (in the public square, in the mass media, in school, in the bar, or among friends), and not because it is forbidden by law. They simply don't have a public dignity. It's a matter of a strange, harmful "self-censure" that we have almost unconsciously imposed on ourselves. To speak of the sadness one has inside, the need for lasting affection, sorrow for the evil I do and for the evil I suffer, of my hidden desire for happiness, of the questions about the meaning of life and of death… is not allowed. Someone will say: "Have a little discretion, please."

THE BILL. Thank God, reality rebels when it is not treated for what it is. This happens in a society in which people's desire for fulfillment is censured. Sooner or later, it will present the bill. It was already doing so in Spain, though few people were able to understand it. We have not reached "the end of history," as Fukuyama led us to believe, witnessing the triumph of a Western society that had achieved well-being, and tranquility with it–because the "red spot" of Matisse's Icarus never stops pulsating. It is a sign of the authentic religious attitude of every truly human person–refusing to be satisfied with anything that does not respond to the heart's infinite desire. The genuine revolution consists in laying once more on the table, in the political debate, the whole breadth of our need, and allowing the encounter to happen within the experiences that, in our own lives, have offered fulfillment. These cannot bring anything but good for society.