Auld Lang Syne
Goodbye to 2018 in Catalonia: a year marked by continued repression by the Spanish State and regression for Catalan independentism and republicanism; a year full of painful dates and anniversaries – 15-M, 9-S, 20-S, 27-S, 1-O, 3-O, 27-O, 21-D – to use the popular but impractical Spanish shorthand system. I write out of fear that history will forget the crimes committed by Spain’s politicians, security forces, judiciary and footsoldiers in “defence” of the oneness of Spanish State, out of fear that the extraordinary events of the past 15 months will continue to be normalised and ultimately be forgotten. Here, I focus on the month of December, starting today and travelling backwards in time, but suffering terribly from flashbacks. For the record.
Auld Lang Syne is less a song of parting than a song of reunion written for Scottish emigrants setting off for the new world wondering if they would ever see their families and friends in the old country again. It urges them not to forget. Though nobody knows the words or what they mean, it was sung around the world at midnight last night.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,Auld Lang Syne – Robert Burns
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
28-D: the Day of the Innocents
Spain’s “Fools’ Day” is on 28 December. In Spain and the Spanish-speaking world, Holy Innocents Day commemorates the Massacre of the Innocents and is celebrated by playing pranks on friends and family. In this respect, it is akin to the April Fool’s Day of the English-speaking world or the French “poisson d’avril” (April fish) on 1 April. The pranks represent the ingenuity employed by parents in saving their infants from King Herod the Great of Judaea’s cutthroats. The story of appears in the Gospel of Matthew and forms part of the nativity narrative. The babies slaughtered in Jesus’s place are the first Christian martyrs. However, most scholars regard the story as a fabrication.
If the Massacre of the Innocents is a concoction, the fact that the Spanish news media celebrate the Day of the Innocents by publishing fake news would seem apposite if they did not publish so much of it on the other 364, or 365, days of the year. In Spain’s politico-media complex every day is a Fool’s Day of one kind or another, and has been for at least two years now. The almost exclusive use of falsehood and hyperbole on the Spanish right creates hysteria and confusion, whips up hatred, preys on people’s ignorance and appeals to their basest instincts and phobias. And, in the end, most people in Spain always agree that, somehow, the Catalans are to blame, for everything, as the leaders of Spain’s autonomous regions demonstrated so comically in their New Year’s Eve addresses to their people. Catalonia was pretty much all they talked about. This looks unlikely to change in 2019.
25-D: Fum, fum, fum
When discussing events in Spanish and Catalan politics, “smokescreen” is one of the most commonly used phrases. “Smoke and mirrors” is also common. The “Catalan Process” has generated inordinate amounts of both from governments, political parties, civil organisations and the media. In 2019, who will tell the biggest lie?
Who will tell the biggest lie? Smoke, smoke, smoke”Fum, fum, fum: Catalan Christmas carol
21-D, 2017: election fraud
On 21 December 2017, Catalan voters were forced to return to the polls under the auspices of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution whose application had imposed direct rule on Catalonia by central government in Madrid. The result of the election, a continued parliamentary majority for parties in favour of the independence of Catalonia, was not respected. The candidate lists, which contained the names of Catalan leaders jailed, in exile or under investigation for alleged offences relating to the referendum held on 1 October 2017, were accepted before the vote, but not respected once the result was known. Since the Catalan election on 21-D, 2017, many more elected representatives have been investigated, charged, jailed without trial, or suspended from office. Essentially, the Catalan government has been run by a Supreme Court judge for 15 months.
21-D, 2018: “a repugnant act of treason against Spain”
When Pedro Sánchez announced that the Spanish government had chosen this date to hold its first cabinet meeting in the Principality of Catalonia in democracy, it was considered by most in Catalonia to be provocative and insensitive. The choice of venue, the Llotja de Mar, also came in for criticism from the police for security reasons. The Spanish right, on the other hand, painted the meeting as a betrayal. People’s Party (Partido Popular – PP) leader, Pablo Casado called the meeting a “repugnant” act of “treason against Spain” and demanded elections.
Casado insisted that the Spanish Constitution is “the greatest work of dialogue” despite its having been written by a panel with a Francoist majority in a Spain whose head of state, King Juan Carlos, had been installed by military dictator Francisco Franco in 1969, a Spain that was never offered a referendum on Republic or Monarchy contrary to the wishes of the people and the advice of the international community, and ultimately a take-it-or-leave-it vote in a climate of fear and ignorance, but that is a story for another day. Pablo Casado’s brand of Spanish nationalism and historical revisionism has been like a breath of rank air since he became PP leader last June.
The meeting of the president of Catalonia and the Spanish prime minister, followed by the meeting between two small representations from the two governments, was not about “dialogue” but actually “a dismantling of national sovereignty”, said Casado, displaying the standard level of hyperbole used in Spain when referring to Catalonia.
The meetings, in the end, produced nothing more substantial than a long overdue recognition of the crisis, a promise to discuss a new Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia (let it not be forgotten what happened to the last one 2006-2010) and a few random and symbolic acts. This reflects the magnitude of the problem in deepest, darkest Spain where some would lynch you for so much as smiling at a Catalan. After seven years without dialogue between the Catalan and Spanish governments, there is now talk of little else, though there is still nothing on the negotiating table.
Anyone negotiating with “those holding the population of Catalonia hostage” is committing a “repugnant act”, Casado postulated. This is a bit rich coming from the leader of the party responsible for the only hostage situation in the Spanish State, the party that used the judiciary to jail Catalan politicians and civil leaders without trial on charges of rebellion and sedition, the party that Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría insisted we support on 21-D, 2017, for “decapitating independentism”, the most corrupt party in modern European history, the party that has paralysed the Catalan pro-independence parties and civil organisations for 15 months, with the help of the Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) and the Citizens Party (Ciudadanos).
The cabinet meeting also took place against the backdrop of constant calls from the PP and Ciudadanos to reapply Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. As Aitor Esteban Bravo of Basque Nationalist Party, PNV, pointed out in reply to Albert Rivera regarding Ciudadanos’ motion to reintroduce direct rule from Madrid in Catalonia on 18-D, what the Spanish right is proposing is, legally speaking, “complete nonsense”, as unconstitutional as it was in its first application by the PP in October 2017, I repeat, with the support of Ciudadanos and PSOE.
“The Case Against the Catalan Independentist Process”, legally “Special Case Number 20907/2017”, looks set to begin in the Supreme Court of Spain at the end of January. If the preliminary hearing, which also took place on 18-D, was an omen, an independent hearing characterised by legal rigour is the last thing that the accused can expect. When the Public Prosecutor states that the Catalan declaration of independence was published in the DOGC, the Official Gazette of the Generalitat, he is lying. Nobody batted an eyelid. Alternative facts are the norm in Spain’s disgraced legal system.
If Special Case Number 20907/2017 is anything to go by, it will be a show trial.
Back to 21-D, 2018
Opposed as it was by almost everybody except for “Socialists”, PSOE’s Barcelona cabinet meeting was a risky public relations exercise. When you think you need to mobilise almost half the police force of Catalonia and bus in a Praetorian guard of 1,500 Spanish police to ensure the celebration of the first cabinet meeting in Barcelona since Spaniards regained their right to suffrage in 1977, perhaps the great expense of putting on a purely symbolic show was ill-advised.
Holding cabinet meetings in the regions of Spain is like when La Roja comes to town: designed to keep unionist natives happy, patronising events about which few cared until the constitutional crisis and the carefully stagemanaged resurgence of Spanish nationalism. The “Catalan Process” has been blamed for awakening Spain’s dormant far-right beast. Look more closely at the Spanish State and its politico-media complex to find the siren responsible for luring all the fascist woodworm out of the woodwork.
The Spanish government pitched the visit as a sign of the government’s desire for dialogue. It was an opportunity to hold a summit on the Constitutional crisis in Spain caused by the expressed desire of the Catalan people to secede from Spain. Instead, Sánchez and Torra engaged in a pantomime mini-summit at which a series of trivial ideas were discussed and then president Torra presented the mysterious “21 demands”. So the cabinet meeting in Barcelona was little more than a show of Spanish strength, a little territorial pissing before Christmas. For the Spanish right, it was painted as weakness: the government of Spain IS the government of Catalonia after all, they insist.
Everybody loves an airport with a long name, don’t they?
The task for Sánchez was to be seen to be open to dialogue while offering nothing substantial. The result of his curious balancing act was a series of symbolic gestures. The Spanish government has unilaterally decided that Barcelona-el Prat Airport will now go by the catchy name of Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-el Prat Airport. Tarradellas was president of Catalonia in exile from 1954 until 1980 when the Generalitat was restored.
To rename the airport without even consulting the elected representatives of Catalonia smacks of colonialism. Perhaps it should be “elected” representatives as many of those on the 21-D election’s successful candidate lists are, ironically, also in exile, or prison, or have been blocked from taking up their positions by the Supreme Court judge responsible for the “Case Against the Process”, Pablo Llarena. There are far more important issues regarding the airport, such as its management from Madrid, seen by successive Catalan governments as deliberately detrimental to Barcelona Airport and of benefit to the also beautifully named Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport. These mouthfuls are as clumsy as the “model” Transition they are supposed to commemorate.
The task for Sánchez was to be seen to be open to dialogue while offering nothing substantial
The PSOE executive also announced it would repeat Zapatero’s 2009 gesture, a declaration of “reparation” of the figure of Lluís Companys condemning the Council of War that executed the Catalan president by firing squad after he was captured in exile by the Gestapo and handed over to the Spanish State. The document is of no legal importance since the sentence of the illegitimate Council of War is not formally anulled. The Spanish government also announced new investment in infrastructure in Catalonia while still owing previously announced investments.
Pedro Sánchez has dusted off José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s 2004-2011 playbook and expects the Catalans to renounce independence and travel back to 2006 with the promise of a new Statute of Autonomy, if they are lucky. The last attempt ended in 2010 with the document cut to ribbons by Spain’s Constitutional Court. For all their bluster, Catalonia’s main political parties – Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Repúblicana de Catalunya – ERC) and the Catalan European Democratic Party (Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català – PDeCAT) – seem to have accepted the long path to improved autonomy, but do not dare to say so explicitly. The hostages paralysed the “Process” and the remaining or replacement Catalan politicians are scared of going to prison, which is respectable, were it not for all the empty rhetoric about the republic spouted over the past two years by them, and their colleagues in prison and exile.
The hostages paralysed the Process
At the moment, ERC and PDECat are trying to find the way to approve the Spanish government’s budget having sworn they would do no such thing without being called traitors. I wish them good luck with that.
No action on the issue of a new Statute, however, is expected from the Spanish government until after the political trials. There is a form of blackmail behind the approval of the budget that is as reminiscent of the Transition as the airport names: get behind the Constitution or you know what you will get; accept fascismo blando or it’s more military dictatorship; get behind PSOE or it’s a far-right PP/Ciudadanos/Vox government; get behind the State budget or the government will fall and you know what you will get. There is also the possibility of a change in government with no guarantee that any promises made by the Moncloa’s current incumbents would be respected by their successors.
PSOE’s strategy seems to be to keep its plates of good intentions spinning for as long as possible, without ever culminating the act, and keep the Catalans going round and round in circles. Meanwhile, Spain’s transformation into a mature modern democracy is firmly stuck in reverse.
All round, it would have been wiser to shelve the meeting. That is unless the possible advantage for the Spanish government was another: to provoke violence and “prove” the mad narrative which forms the basis of the Public and State Prosecutors’ (and far-right party, Vox’s) “Cases Against the Process”, which has dominated the rhetoric of right-wing Spanish parties and Spanish media’s headlines and television studios for the past 15 months, and which reached previously unseen levels of hysteria in December. Every day is April Fool’s Day in the Spanish media, remember.
They predicted that there would be blood, they mused over potential deaths due to the hypothetical actions of imaginary commandos, guerillas, paramilitary groups, they invented Kale Borroka of Catalonia, they wondered if Barcelona would burn and the Parliament be seized. The Spanish State’s implementation of a new Plan ZEN in Catalonia depends on the fallacious parallel between Catalonia in 2017-2018 and the Basque Country in the 1980s.
Catalonia is constantly described as being lawless, a place where unionists fear to leave their homes for fear of reprisals. The reality is that independentists have been criminalised and it is they who have often been attacked. The myth is key to the narrative of Spanish unionist politicians and media outlets and is designed to incite catalanophobia. Not even Ciudadanos leader, Albert Rivera, can compete with Pablo Casado’s mendacious ravings. Here he is screaming blue murder about the meetings, calling the Catalan president “mentally unbalanced” and accusing him of wanting “bloodshed” and a “civil war”.
And here we have Alejo Vidal-Quadras – ex-vice president of the European parliament, ex-leader of the Popular Party in Catalonia, founding president of far-right party Vox – predicting an assault on the Catalan Parliament and the Llotja de Mar in a militarily planned operation by imaginary commandos of Catalans who would, I suppose be armed with lethal flags, dangerous ribbons folk songs and a few rocks. Vidal-Quadras is the standard incendiary fascist of Catalan origin so beloved of the Spanish talkshows. Needless to say none of his forecasts came true.
Such talk is mindless and offensive, and right-wing Spanish politicians never miss a chance to repeat it. How many Spaniards believe it?
Beware of agitators
During the build up to 21-D, 2018, the sudden appearance of mysterious new groups and an increase of agitation in existing channels promoting violent action had become a concern. The infiltration of agitators from far-right groups or the police themselves at demonstrations with the intention of causing violence is an old problem. Police infiltrators and spotters are not difficult to pick out. On 15 June, 2011, the 15-M movement, a.k.a. the Spanish Revolution, blockaded the Catalan Parliament to prevent MPs reaching the chamber to approve the Generalitat’s budget. In this video a group of police agitators have to be escorted out of the demonstration having been singled out by demonstrators after provoking baton charges and salvos from uniformed riot police.
21-D, 2018: the protests
ANC had announced a slow drive which caused hold-ups for those travelling to the Barcelona protests and CDR roadblocks caused traffic problems elsewhere. There was on-off train strike to further complicate matters. Catalonia was not brought to a standstill and the different protests seemed to have worked against each other.
Early in the morning, an indeterminate number of demonstrators gathered at three points around the Llotja de Mar, the neoclassical building of which Alejo was so enamoured in his demented prediction of a 21-D revolt (above). This demonstration had been called by the CDRs, one of three official acts from identifiable organisations.
At all three points, there was a large presence of bloodthirsty Spanish media, doing animated pieces to camera as if reporting from the banks of the River Ebre in November 1938, armed only with a bottle of Viladrau mineral water. Rigorous journalism was neither expected nor forthcoming.
On Via Laietana, there was Ana Rosa Quintana’s “correspondent” reporting uncomfortably for her daytime television talk show that revolves around celebrities, gossip and reality TV. He was there to shout “Look at those Catalans! Aren’t they violent!”
Armed and dangerous
According to official figures as reported by Ara newspaper, 13 demonstrators were arrested – mainly for throwing objects at the police, paramedics attended 62 people, 57 for bruising, 35 of whom were Mossos. (Videos and pictures from Ara newspaper). According to the Catalan public television news channel, 324, 77 were injured. The real figures will be somewhat different, as they always are. The medical reports for the 35 Mossos injured through their helmets and full body armour would make interesting reading. And what of those who are injured out of their own clumsiness or bad physical condition or those who prefer to lick their wounds in private as nothing seems to be broken? On both sides. Official figures, like opinion polls, can be terribly misleading.
On 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the CDRs had cut off the AP-7 motorway in L’Ampolla in the Terres de l’Ebre for 15 hours. On 21-D they blocked it again, along with the N-340 road. Three of the 13 arrests made on the day were effected in L’Ampolla. The final arrest – for public disorder, destroying public property, arson and obstruction – was made at 5 p.m. when police raided a bar in the town.
According to witnesses, the group of riot police performing the detention caused damage to the bar and insulted those present. The CUP called the police operation “illegal”.
The demonstrators in Barcelona confronting the Catalan police seemed generally young and inexperienced. They made half-hearted attempts to break police cordons and took a pasting in the baton charges. None would have got close to La Llotja de Mar had they managed to break through, with two further rings of security containing thousands more officers. As at every demonstration I have seen since the Mossos d’Esquadra took over from the Civil Guard, the situation completely was completely under control. The Mossos are so joyously overzealous when dishing out punishment. There is relish in their work. Their violence is normally disproportionate and gratuitous. All those hours in the gym being put to use. Over the years, I have grown tired of watching people get beaten up by the police at these set-piece face-offs.
A young man lost a testicle to a foam projectile and another was hit by a 3-tonne black maria. The prize for the worst violence of any demonstration in Catalonia in the past decade always goes to the Mossos d’Esquadra, unless the Spanish Civil Guard or National Police have come out to play too, as they did on 1-O. If they are not having someone’s eye out with a rubber bullet they are using their vans to run people down as the preferred method of crowd dispersal.
Whilst discussing the Mossos 2018 and their current use of the supposedly safer riot guns with foam projectiles, let us remember the Spanish National Police’s continued use of rubber bullets on 1-O, the day of the Catalan referendum on self-determination, which cost Roger Español the sight in one eye.
And Ester Quintana, who lost her eye to a rubber bullet discharged by a Mosso d’Esquadra on 14 November, 2012. The Mosso d’Esquadra accused of firing that projectile was acquitted. The Generalitat de Catalunya paid compensation but never accepted responsibility.
This video shot earlier in 2012 shows the Mossos d’Esquadra shooting at demonstrators and passers-by during the 15-M general strike on March 29 for the pure fun of it. At no time during the the recording are the Mossos seen to come under attack (published on April 1, 2012, by 15Mbcn).
Although total numbers of Mossos d’Esquadra have remained stable in Catalonia in the past ten years, the numbers of BRIMO have doubled. The notorious Gag Law was not the only response to the massive mobilisations of the 15-M movement, the indignant, the Spanish Revolution. Modern police vans are not the “lecheras” (milk floats) or “tocineras” (pig wagons) of old, a confined private space in which to rough people up on their way to the station, especially political demonstrators. The modern police van has been weaponised.
The “carousel” is a dangerous crowd dispersal technique used by the Mossos d’Esquadra’s Mobile Unit (Brigada Móvil or BRIMO), the Catalan riot police. It involves driving the vehicle at demonstrators at high speed, performing a U-turn and speeding off in the other direction. Either you get out of the way or you get hit. The vans then seek out the smaller groups that have been created, riot police jump out and baton charge the demonstrators frozen on the pavement, jump back in and move on to the next hapless group.
On 25 March 2018, the BRIMO gave a clear demonstration of this most dangerous of techniques as they broke up the demonstration outside the Spanish government delegation in Carrer Mallorca. After the baton charges came the police vans. We will come back to this night – 25-M – later.
The Mossos d’Esquadra are represented by several unions and numerous unofficial associations and platforms covering a broad(-ish) spectrum of political opinion. There are Mossos for This, Mossos for That and Mossos for the Other, but mainly there are Mossos for More Money: “Y el dinero pa’ cuando?” (And the money, when?)
2018 has not just been a year of demonstrations protesting about the political prisoners or in favour of a Catalan Republic. The streets have also filled with off-duty police demonstrators policed by on-duty colleagues. One of these associations, MosSOS, has embraced the type of direct action that lands regular citizens in court.
They cover their faces to hide their identities, light flares, burn roadblocks, cut off streets, hold a sit-in a Catalan government building and will not allow the Minister of the Interior to leave until the BRIMO eventually arrive and clear a way through the police officers hurling abuse. And that was just this month.
Barcelona has also seen repeated demonstrations by Spanish police union Jusapol (or “Xusmapol” – Scumpol – as they are more popularly known) celebrating Operation Copernicus, their violent repression of the Catalan referendum. One of them ended in a Vox rally and the another was headed by Ciudadanos, under the pretext of, you guessed it, asking for more money
The depths of the media sewer were not only represented by Ana Rosa Quintana’s not so intrepid “correspondent” mentioned above. The demonstrations also brought the predictable visit from Cake Minuesa, the graceless provocateur who is back at Francoist TV channel, Intereconomía, after a stint at Telemadrid. He also collaborates with Eduardo Inda’s far-right digital rag, Okdiario. It is Minuesa’s job to provoke Basques, Catalans and lefties and report a death threat, a punch in the face or a headbutt, whether they occur or not. His technique consists of mixing with the crowds rather than sticking to designated areas, getting in people’s faces, insulting them and hoping to get a more “newsworthy” reaction than well-deserved verbal abuse.
Curiously, nobody has been charged with the assault and Minuesa has been accused of setting up the assault himself with the help of Vox activists. Journalists such as Minuesa are trying to affect events, trying to be the news instead of reporting it. In contrast, TV3 journalists have been assaulted at every unionist demonstration in the past 15 months having provoked nobody.
On Avinguda Paral·lel, demonstrators generally milled around peacefully. Attempts to move forward were repeatedly met with baton charges. To read the Spanish press, one would imagine there had been a war on the avenue once known for its theatres.
During one of the long lulls, there was a curious incident when a small group overturned a bottle bank, presumably with the intention of launching bottles at the distant police lines. As can be seen in the video below, they were immediately surrounded by demonstrators, who disarmed them, righted the bins and shepherded them way.
These screen captures from the video show their distinctive clothing:
A little later, we ran into the little group again on Carrer d’Àngel Josep Baixeras. They were proudly watching the now viral video of how their action had been deftly defused by a few peaceloving and annoyingly tidy independentists. Nothing for any self-respecting hooligan to be proud of, surely?
It is therefore all the more disappointing, but hardly surprising, that the “independentist violence” narrative has been bought by part of the Catalan establishment. When two of the stories of 21-D are this group of demonstrators that stopped a few hooligans from throwing bottles and a man who spent ages imploring demonstrators not to push only to get a baton round the back of the head which required five stitches, you know that it has been a comparatively quiet day. How many demonstrators could tell a similar tale to Carles Canet?
Isolated incidents committed by unknown or unidentifiable groups are nothing new. There has been a steady stream of messages from pro-independence politicians, civil leaders, commentators and gurus imagining themselves to be acting responsibly by demanding that people uncover their faces, but not understanding that direct action, although non-violent, often involves breaking the law. It is called disobedience. Many actions at the limit of non-violent protest are offences under the penal code. Activists can be identified by police, media and private cameras. It is not like the 1980s. Now, there are cameras everwhere. The swingeing penalties that can be dished out under the Spanish “Gag Law” for relatively minor offences are designed to discourage protest. It came as a response to the 15-M movement. Is it so hard to understand that nobody wants a prison sentence or a conviction and a massive fine? It is not the demonstrators who need to be more identifiable, it is the police.
1-O seems to have confused people and caused them to forget what the Mossos are, and have always been. And older people seem to have forgotten the protest movements of recent decades across western Europe. Compared to what was happening then, and what is happening now in France, the protests in Catalonia have been nothing if not restrained, too restrained for the tastes of many.
After all, their democratically elected representatives go to trial within the month on trumped-up charges of rebellion, sedition and embezzlement having spent between 315 and 442 days in pre-trial imprisonment, and face sentences of up to 25 years in jail. It still does not seem real. Imagine, in the EU, in 2018, after everything we have been through, and the Spanish State is still acting as if it is 1975. I still have to pinch myself. Within a few months they could all be looking forward to a lengthy stay at his majesty’s pleasure, having committed no crime. Suggestions that the government or the people open the prisons have been rejected by some of the prisoners. They want to stand trial. They want the opportunity to prove their innocence. It is painful to watch.
Three months after Franco’s death, there were demonstrations in favour of an amnesty for political prisoners and a Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia. It was the biggest demonstration in Barcelona since the Spanish Civil War. “On 1 February, 1976, there were 757 political prisoners in Spain. In the ‘Model’ prison in Barcelona alone there were 126 guilty of writing against the regime, taking part in in a strike or belonging to an illegal political party – when all political parties were illegal”.
Stop the City, London, 1983-1984
People complain that they are not sure of the purpose of demonstrations taking place now, that the young people taking part do not know what they are doing and why, and it is understandable, but the general unease with social change in the early years of Thatcher’s neoliberal revolution years was vaguer, more anarchic than anarchist. I was at university in London, was aghast at the news that there was no such thing as society, attended and was among the 1,000 arrests. The demonstration had barely begun and we were standing about wondering what to do. A van pulled up, a snatch squad jumped out and arrested a friend, I asked the officer for his number, was grabbed around the neck from behind, thrown on the ground and carted off to the police station.
There was a soundtrack to the anti-establishment subculture in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s and early 1980s – The Aesthetic of Our Anger. Anarcho-Punk, Politics and Music.
The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp was an altogether more serious protest, lasting from 1981 until its disbandment in 2000. The Peace Camp was set up to protest against the storage of cruise missiles at the Greenham Common Royal Air Force Base. Perhaps there is a lesson there regarding stamina in a struggle.
Greenham was powerful. It taught my generation about collective action, about protest as spectacle, a way of life, incredibly hard but sometimes joyousHow the Greenham Common protest changed lives: ‘We danced on top of the nuclear silos’ – THE GUARDIAN
The following year I found myself living in Toulouse where the SCALP (Section carrément anti Le Pen) had been founded. The previous year, in June 1984, the Municipal swimming pool venue where Jean-Marie Le Pen was to hold his first rally in the city was blown up by Action Directe. The following year, the nature of the demonstration reflected current contrasts between demonstrations in France and Catalonia. For me, the demonstration had ended in a riot. For my French friends it was normal. It was a far cry from Anti-Nazi League demonstrations in Britain. It was the first time I had met the French riot police, the CRS, seen Molotov cocktails thrown and breathed teargas.
This took place as the British miners’ strike, “the most bitter industrial dispute in British history”, was drawing to a close. A year long strike that ends in defeat is food for thought. Strikes have been much discussed in the past 15 months but little used.
The photo of Sant Joan de Vilatorrada Councillor, Jordi Pesarrodona, wearing a red nose next to a Civil Guard outside the Department of Governance and Public Administration, which was being raided on 20-S, has always reminded me of the famous picture of a policeman and a miner in a toy police helmet taken at a moment of great tension during the miners’ strike. The subjects, locked in a stare, seem about to smile. George Brealey was not charged with any offence. Jordi Pesarrodona, on the other hand, has been persecuted.
There is always a difference in the nature of demonstrations depending on who has called for the demonstration, when and why. The players are the political parties, the main civil organisations – ANC and Òmnium, and to a lesser degree the loose-knit associations that make up the CDRs, far-left and antifascist groups, a myriad other smaller platforms and groupings, and others – social groups, and tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of unaffiliated individuals.
The numbers attending depend on the level of outrage or the level of organisation. The range of demonstrations goes from the massive stage-managed performances of the Diada, which are months in the preparation, to improvised demonstrations in reaction to events, such as on 25 March in Barcelona, when ANC/Òmnium marched in Marina and the CDRs and “others” surrounded the Spanish Delegation in Carrer Mallorca as president Carles Puigdemont was arrested in Germany after being illegally tracked by Spanish secret services. The contrast between the two acts on 25-M reflects also existed on 21-D. The Catalan establishment does not like the spontaneous or improvised protests at all because they cannot control them.
At the end of the short chronicle above a woman in a dressing gown calls a young man setting fire to a bin an “asshole” and urges him to uncover his face. The video also shows numerous baton charges and more examples of the “carousel” in action. I was present that night. The Mossos d’Esquadra did not lose control of the situation at any point. They were, however, brutal.
21-D: what could have been
So what has changed since the 1980s? Nowadays, the police are better trained, better equipped and better paid. Back in the 1980s, there was not the problem with technology and surveillance that exists now. Word-of-mouth and fliers were the most powerful organisational tools for demos, and raves.
If the Llotja de Mar had been surrounded around midnight on 20 December there would have been a 1-O moment, but protestors would be facing 4 years in jail. At least, that was the threat. In the end, the Battle of Barcelona hyped in the Spanish media in the previous weeks was another day of floating protests barely testing police lines punctuated by set-piece face-offs resulting in baton charges, blank and foam projectile salvos, rounded off with a bit of “carousel”. There are lessons to be learned from this and all the now defunct movements mentioned before.
What made Stop the City so exciting was this it didn’t play by the rules. There was no march along a prearranged route negotiated in advance with the police. No permission was asked for – instead people were invited to turn up and use their own creativity and imagination. In March 1984 a combination of numbers and innovative tactics gave the protesters the upper hand for much of the day. Rather than get caught up in ritual set piece confrontations with the police, there was endless movement with groups heading off in all directions and no direction, blocking traffic and forcing the police to spread themselves thinly. There was a tangible sense of power – it was the first time I had seen people de-arrested.Stop the City 1984 from History is made at night – The politics of dancing and musicking
Bring Down the Regime
The cabinet meeting passed off without incident. No demonstrator had got within 200 metres of La Llotja. When the small amount of dust kicked up my the morning’s protests had settled and darkness had fallen, came the transversal act supported by a score of organisations, including ANC and Òmnium, the CDRs, the CUP and Arran, the Joventut Nacionalista de Catalunya, the JERC, the Forja, Endavant and Joves Demòcrates, all under the grandiose slogan “21-D: let’s bring down the regime”, 40,000 people according to local police and 80,000 according to the organisers, filled Passeig de Gràcia. Two of the victims of the extreme police violence on 1-O, Marta Torecillas and Roger Español, addressed the crowd and Sílvia Bel read the official statement.
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Carles Riera, leader of the CUP, believes there is an attempt to divide independentists into two groups: good and bad, non-violent and violent. The main pro-independence parties have become complicit in this narrative of division and violence. There were, in fact, as many critics of the afternoon demonstration as there were of actions taken in the morning. It is, however, a sterile debate. Whatever type of demonstration one supports, they have an indeterminate effect on events, but it is a fundamental right, however lost the causes may seem. So, given the possible pointlessness of any action, all should be embraced. Demonstration fatigue and growing apathy should worry Catalan independentists as they fight not only the Spanish establishment but a good part of the Catalan establishment too. Who said it would be easy?
The Catalan leadership continues to mislead, or not lead at all, and the Catalan government is ineffective. The slogans and rhetoric of the parties and civil organisations now seem hollow. The day after the 21-D demonstrations, ANC presented its road map to the republic with the words “Sabem on anem” (we know where we’re going). But they do not know where we are going, and nor does anybody. The debate over the nature of protests is nothing compared to the split over the path the Catalan independentist movement should take.
Happy New Year!