Tag Archives: #1O

One week in the life of Barcelona

Last Monday’s sentencing of Catalan political and civic leaders to years in jail led to a week of protests and riots in Barcelona and other Catalan cities. The week started with the sentences, at around 0930 on Monday. At 1300, I headed down to Plaça Catalunya with two colleagues, to see take part in a demonstration organized by the new, online blockchain-powered protest movement Tsunami Democràtic. Before long we learned that the action itself wasn’t to be a simple demo in Plaça Catalunya, but an occupation of the airport.

“Tots a l’aeroport!”

So we headed up to Gran Via and joined the hundreds of people there, already making their way down towards Plaça Espanya and beyond. We continued to walk down Gran Via as it turned into a motorway – it’s always a strange feeling to walk along the motorway – particularly as part of a spontaneous demonstration. It took about 3 1/2 hours to walk from Plaça Espanya to the airport’s main terminal, by which time we were thousands of protesters. We walked up the closest ramp to the departures area, but stayed back from the heart of the protest, where demonstrators were facing off with a thin line of Mossos attempting to limit the movement of the crowd. While we looked on, this police cordon broke, resulting in a surge of protesters from the left of our field of view, to the right. 

This was followed by the first of several baton charges that we witnessed, and the arrival of more police vans. Around this time, I saw and heard police firing what were probably ‘foam’ pellets, a type of non-lethal crowd suppressant. They can still cause serious injuries.

It was the first time I’ve ever seen protesters fired on, in more than 20 years of participation in demonstrations.

Occupying Barcelona airport

As heavy rain set in, my colleagues and I decided to head back to Terminal 2 and try to get a train back into the city. It was another long walk, this time something of a trudge, with our clothes and shoes wet through. Thousands more protesters were arriving as we left, and some called out to us to stay a bit longer. “You’re the evening shift: we’ve already done our bit”, we called back, and this was met warmly. While many had used cars and the metro to get close to the airport, we had actually walked all the way, and deserved a rest.

Also, we were all a lot older than many of the protesters arriving. The average age can’t have been much more than 18 or 19, and many were basically kids: teenagers of 14, 15. There was a sense of excitement, of exaltation rather than trepidation. After an uproarious response to a brief police maneuver, some lads next to me nudged each other and grinning called out “Come on, let’s get down there!”, before running out into the fray. This, coupled with knowledge of the violent and often far-right BRIMO, meant I was not surprised when more trouble broke out later.

There is a lot of frustration out there. I mean, old fogeys like me are frustrated so imagine how bad it must be for teenagers who’ve grown up in constant economic and political crisis, the only remedy being police sanctioned clubs where marijuana can be more or less legally consumed.

I got home at about 2100, having walked 25 km. The number of protesters at the airport swelled, and finally the police moved to retake the space, triggering some disturbances. The demonstration was officially called off at maybe 2200 or 2300, and I think it took a few more hours to clear the space in front of the airport. In all, 155 flights were cancelled.

Policing context

Monday saw the start of riots and disturbances in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia and Spain. What started as simple protests against the prison sentences became demonstrations against police violence and in support of the right to peaceful assembly, and these then turned into violent confrontations, which have left hundreds injured (including police officers). 4 protesters have lost eyes thanks to police use of rubber ball ammunition. Sunday was the first night in a week without violent altercations.

Actually, the style of policing was presaged by a few events prior to the sentences. Firstly, we had the arrests of 9 CDR activists accused of terrorism by the state. This was another step in the campaign to demonize the CDRs and the whole independence movement as violent or at least potentially violent. Another aim might well be to split the independence movement but I’d say that it has responded pretty much unanimously by rejecting the arrests in disbelief. If there is a split, currently, it lies between the people on the streets and the main political parties (ERC and JxCAT). More on that later.

The next, and perhaps most important foreshadowing of last week’s police violence came from the head of the Guardia Civil in Catalonia, Pedro Garrido. In an almost unthinkable breach of protocol, one of Spain’s most senior security officials plunged head first into politics, giving an openly political speech and warning Catalan independentists that his force would “Do it again”, a macabre echo of Jordi Cuixart’s words about the October 1 2017 referendum. Cuixart had referred to voting. Garrido, presumably to beating the shit out of peaceful protesters.

Last week

In the end, it was the Mossos and the Policía Nacional who handled the brutal repression this week. Much of the time, they appeared to be running amock, completely out of control.

You can view some videos of the week’s violence here: https://catalanrepression.github.io

Friday, we observed a general strike. As an aside, I recently became a union member for the first time, and it’s a great feeling to be part of an organized labor organization. More on that later, too.

I joined one of six ‘marches for liberty’ which converged on Barcelona, and ending with another large demonstration in the city center. Another 15 km walked, in the name of democracy.

As we marched into the city, some neighbors cheered us on from their balconies.

Catalonia’s October, 2 years on

Two years ago this morning, I got up at about 5:00 am and made my way to the Institut Banús, 15 minutes walk from our house in Cerdanyola del Vallès. By the time I arrived, there were several dozen people milling around outside the school. I spotted our downstairs neighbor, Isabel, who had been there all night. She told me that there were more people inside the school. Everything was ready.

Voters queue outside Institut Banús in Cerdanyola during the Catalan referendum on 1 October 2017

Those of us who waited outside the school were there with a single shared purpose: to protect our local polling station. Protect it from violent attacks. Protect it from the people who wanted to stop that day from happening. Never in my life have I experienced such a sense of solidarity. That magical, empowering feeling of joining together with friends, neighbors and strangers alike to make a shared dream reality.

It was October 1st, 2017 and we were determined that Catalonia’s referendum on independence would go ahead, despite it having been declared illegal by the Spanish government and courts. I wrote more about that day in one of my last posts, a few weeks after the referendum happened.

So what has happened since then? Too much to say, really. A declaration of independence, immediately suspended and later reactivated, and all the while, the Spanish flag flew over the Palau. And Spanish police helicopters hovered over Barcelona.

Our legitimate government, unable to carry out its promise of an independent republic was deposed under article 155 of the Spanish constitution, and then locked up in jail or forced into exile. Leaders of civic organizations and the speaker of the Catalan parliament were locked up too (the latter for allowing a debate to take place, which is sort of what parliaments are for). Spain established direct rule in Catalonia for the first time since the 1970s. Elections were called, strikes were held, a pro-independence majority was returned in the Catalan parliament… but the “beheading” of the political movement, as Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría described it, had tangible effects. The new president supports independence. That’s about the only good thing I can say about him.

This is a profoundly difficult and painful moment for the entire independence movement. Instead of working to implement the republic, we spend our time discussing the next Spanish national elections – should people vote? Who should they vote for? It’s almost ironic that at this nadir, the most unifying event that could happen was the sudden dawn raids and arrests of 9 activists in the Committees for Defense of the Republic (CDRs).

The arrests, in Mollet, Sabadell, Santa Perpètua and Cerdanyola, have suddenly galvanized the movement. Because no-one believes that our fellow activists would turn down the path to violence, an idea which is completely anathema to the modern Catalan independence movement.

Edit on October 24, 2019: it was confirmed today that none of the CDR activists were in possession of any explosives. The whole thing looks like it was a media show.

There’s a real sense that things are a lot closer to home now: it used to be people we’d seen on TV and maybe voted for, who were getting locked up. Then it was innocent activists like Tamara Carrasco, not allowed to leave her hometown under court order for a year, before the charges against her were quietly dropped. Now it’s friends of friends who are getting arrested, people we’ve stood near to in demonstrations. People we know.

But the feeling of solidarity lives on, despite party divisions and political maneuvers. When the sentences for our political leaders are announced, we will respond with more civil disobedience, more solidarity and more certainty than ever that we have the right to build our republic.