Yesterday a student and teachers union led manifestacio at the University of Barcelona to protest the neoliberal cuts planned by the current Popular Party government ended with street battles and arson. Estimates of the crowd size from the organizers were between one hundred thousand and one hundred and twenty five thousand, however I’ve read now at several places that it was more likely around forty thousand. Several groups of radicals at the protest were not solely directed against the government cuts but against the Populist Party government itself as it emerged from the same coalition which once brought about the Francoist dictatorship and represents to many a step back for freedom in the country.
While this was going on, I was in my Spanish language school getting texts of about it from Josselyn, who was there. I was admittedly nonchalant about it as manifestacios happen here with such regularity that it seems a normal event. Placa Catalunya is filled almost every weekend with protestors from the CGT, the CCOO, Los Indignatos or some other post-leftist group. As I was bored with the routine of the protests here, I decided to go home rather than join Josselyn and her friends as I wanted to finish creating the content for a Radical History Tour of New York that I’m working on for GPS-My-City.com after having written a similarly inspired one for Barcelona that focuses on the Civil War epoch. As I was looking up addresses and GPS coordinates, Josselyn came in to our apartment out of breath and shared with me what was happening.
Apparently at one point during the manifestacio, groups of students broke into the school in order to occupy the dean’s office – as of now 300 students are sleeping inside the office of the rectorate while groups of anarchists started setting fire to the large plastic trash bins outside of the school, destroying a car next to one of them in the process. After doing this they called over a bull horn for people to go to Placa Espanya in order to disrupt the Mobile World Congress and destroy the tents and equipment set up there.
Up to now the buses and metros were already shut down to prevent quick movement of masses of people from other areas going to Placa Universitat or Placa Espanya, but with the beginning of arson the phone services were halted as well to stop communication between affinity groups from sharing information as to where police round up and defense points were located. As the police were now assaulting people at random with their batons and arresting anyone who couldn’t escape their clutches, Josselyn left with her friend Lawrence by bike. She arrived home, described what I just did above and, as we are a mere five blocks from where the group was headed, we then decided to see what would happen.
When we arrived at Placa Espana the street was already shut down and there were already over thirty armored personal carriers and around a hundred and fifty police in riot gear. They had just exited their cars and setting up a perimeter around the event. From our vantage point on the other side of where the protestors were coming from we couldn’t see what was happening very well, so we crossed the street and climbed onto the monument in the center of Placa Espana. Now some ten feet above ground, we saw that the number that had once been at Placa Universitat was now a fraction of what it was – there were now no more than eight hundred protestors. I scanned the crowd and saw the typical composition of Barcelona’s “radicals”. There was someone swinging around a flag with an anarchy insignia, someone with an Anonymous mask, large number of semi-dreadlocked youth (I say semi-dreadlocked as unlike anywhere I’ve seen before, large numbers of Catalan youths have dreadlocks solely on the back of their head) and many people that seemed to want to confront the police but knew that they stood no match for them in their riot gear.
I spotted a police camera crew filming the event in case there should need to be arrests. While this is now typical fare in most western countries, given the P.P.’s fascist roots and that Barcelona was once the testing ground for the Nazi Gestapo for new forms of surveillance and secret policing tactics it is especially chilling.
After a while it was clear that there was not going to be any confrontation between the police and protestors outside of pithy perorations so we decided to walk around the protestors in order to get to the University of Barcelona. By this time the people that had once filled the square were gone, leaving behind only slogans in graffiti on various surfaces, the burnt remains of the trash and a few broken windows.
The other part of the Vaga action, shutting down La Bolsa bank was more successful. In addition to vandalizing the ATM screen with spray paint and ripping out the presspad, the group managed to break some of the windows with rocks. As we walked, I noticed a young man with a short red Mohawk bleeding from the arm while talking to police – presumably as he’d been arrested there instead of with the three-hundred others at the University of Barcelona.
The student action of entering the school and occupying it was also successful and as of now there are 300 students sleeping inside the office of the rectorate of the University of Barcelona. However what exactly this and the temporary shut down of the Bolsa bank has accomplished on a larger scale, is uncertain.