'Drunk and proud' Spanish go on the rampage

From Elizabeth Nash 
Published: 19 March 2006 


Scenes of drunken violence and wild revelry have
shattered Spain's reputation as a haven of moderate,
Mediterranean-style drinking that Britain should seek
to emulate. 

An outbreak of binge drinking took hold of the country
on Friday night. It was all a far cry from the
tapas-and-cava evening s out that the world has come
to expect of the Spanish.

For this was an orchestrated contest to establish
which of some 20 Spanish cities could bring on to
streets the biggest number of young drinkers. The
unprecedented competition, or macro-botellon ("mega
big bottle"), resulted in clashes with baton-wielding
police in Barcelona and Salamanca that lasted until
dawn, resulting in more than 50 arrests and 80 people
being injured.

Barcelona is one of several cities that recently
introduced stiff laws against anti-social behaviour in
an attempt to control the growing phenomenon of the
botellon. The practice of drinking alcohol bought from
supermarkets in public places took root initially in
Andalusia as a cheap and agreeable alternative to
bar-hopping among students and young people. But this
weekend marked a darker turning point in a trend that
is worrying parents who fear their children are
becoming alcoholics, and authorities who fear grave
threats both to health and public order.

For weeks, thousands of young people have been
mobilising for the inter-city rendezvous via a
blizzard of emails, text messages and internet chat

The competition began when youngsters in Granada
planned a botellon to beat a 5,000-strong celebration
held last month in Seville. The message spread to
other cities, from Vigo to Valencia, which called for
drinking parties, or "spring fiestas", of their own.
Friday's event took on a harder-edged militancy, with
drinkers insulting police, throwing bottles, and
carrying banners asserting their right to drink and
occupy the streets.

In Barcelona groups broke into shops in the city's old
red light Raval district. By dawn yesterday
Salamanca's historic Plaza Mayor was a desolate scene
of overturned cars and mountains of rubbish. Granada
succeeded in breaking the record by attracting some
25,000 drinkers. The gathering was largely festive,
but scores were treated in hospital for alcohol
poisoning or injuries caused by falling over while

Why have Spaniards broken the national mould, to throw
strong drink down with such abandon? Under-age
alcoholism has increased sharply in recent years and
is now a big problem, with more than a third of
teenagers admitting they get drunk regularly. Half a
million are reckoned to join botellones most weekends.

The authorities, meanwhile, are baffled by the
bottle-swigging monster that's suddenly reared its
head, while the chief of the National Campaign against
Drugs, Carmen Moya, could only suggest: "Youngsters
must learn to enjoy themselves without alcohol." 


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