Tues Oct 2nd: General Strike in Catalonia in Protest against Spanish Police Violence on Referendum Day
This is another in my series of post that look back on October 2017 in Catalonia using the videos that I recorded throughout the month. Here are rough transcriptions of five videos I recorded in Barcelona on the day of the General Strike against the violence the police used against voters on the day of the referendum.
I began the day quite concerned that there might be more violence but end it in a very relaxed and confident frame of mind, impressed by the Catalans’ peaceful civism and convinced that independence was possible.
I walked across to Passeig de Gràcia from my home in La Concepció and then down to Plaça de Catalunya, which was where I recorded my first video of the day at about 11 am. On my way down most of the shops had been closed and most of the people who were on their way into the centre of had been pro-independence kids draped in Estelada flags, who didn’t have to go to school that day.
My plan for the morning was to go to the three main squares in central Barcelona, Plaça de Catalunya, Plaça de la Universitat and Plaça de Sant Jaume and then end up at the building of the Delegation of the Spanish Government close to my house because this was where I predicted the main demonstrations would be taking place.
My previous videos had received a lot of comments suggesting that George Soros was behind the Catalan independence movement because his aim was to destabilise nation states. I’d also been sent a rather annoying video by UK Column saying that just like the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine both George Soros and the EU were in favour of independence for Catalonia.
However, the EU’s statements in favour of Mariano Rajoy’s government after the referendum made it clear that they didn’t want to dismember the Spanish state. My position on George Soros was a little less categorical because I believed it likely that the Hungarian billionaire would be likely to put money into any unstable situation in a European country.
That didn’t mean, though, that George Soros was behind or controlling Catalonia’s push for independence. Catalonia had been pushing for independence from Spain on and off for over 300 years and although George Soros was old, he wasn’t that old. However, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if he was funding some of the far left movement associated with the CUP, for example.
My mind went back to my concerns about violence breaking out during the day but looking round at the kids in Plaça de Catalunya the atmosphere was very calm and there was no sign of anyone looking for any trouble at all. However, on my way into the centre of town, I had seen a couple of hippy-looking types walking down Carrer de Roger de Llúria very close to our apartment. They were scruffy-looking and were trying on Anonymous masks and bandana-type scarves over their faces as they walked down the street.
Because they worried me, I managed to walk a couple of paces behind them without them noticing me and I managed to catch that they were speaking Italian. I guessed that they were members of one of the European anti-system squatters movements and were in Barcelona specifically looking for trouble. It’s not at all surprising that radical elements try to take advantage of unstable situations and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if George Soros were found to be funding them.
There were obviously lefties and hippy-types amongst the Catalan independence movement but it was dominated by normal people, who wanted nothing to do with violence.
For my second video of the day, I was outside the lovely old building of the Universitat de Barcelona, which was built by architect Elies Rogent in 1863 in the the period just prior to the flowering of the Modernista architectural style for which Barcelona is so famous in the 1880s. Plaça de la Universitat is not surprisingly the place where many student demonstrations take place and today was no exception.
As I walked towards the students, I received a message from a politician friend to watch out for Spanish National Police and Civil Guard who apparently were infiltrated amongst the demonstrators with the aim of provoking violence. The demonstration seemed peaceful but good-humoured and slightly boisterous with plenty of singing and chanting and I couldn’t help that any undercover cop would stand out like a sore thumb amongst the dreadlocks, piercings and revolutionary tee shirts of the students.
The crowd was made up of a multitude of harmlessly rebellious youth dominated by university students but with plenty of school students who thought it was a cool place to hang out. The atmosphere was festive and most of the kids were draped with or were waving bright Estelada flags. I caught a vague scent of marijuana and pushed on through the crowd.
Taxi drivers had blocked of one side of the square and from the empty drivers’ seats it was clear that they had joined the demonstration, which seemed if truth be known seemed more like a celebration. The chant that Barça fans sang when they beat Madrid, “Boti, boti, boti, madridista qui no boti” had been adapted for the purpose with espanyolista replacing madridista.
It felt as if Catalonia had become independent from Spain already and this was the leaving party. “Ea, ea, ea, Espanya se cabrea” (Ea, ea, ea, Spain is getting angry) sang the crowd. Two students climbed up on top of a bus shelter and unfurled a banner that read “Guardia Civil foteu el camp d’aqui” (Civil Guard just bugger off out of here) and a cheer went up from the onlookers.
It struck me that Sunday had all been about the adults and the the serious task of voting. Today was their kids having the chance to show their support for independence and as kids are won’t to, they were turning it into a massive celebration. Despite the haircuts and the garish dress sense, it seemed my fears of violence and radical leftist infiltration were completely unfounded.
For my third video, I walked from Plaça de la Universitat along Carrer de Pelai and then down La Rambla to the Miró mosaic, which was roughly where the van had come to a stop after the jihadist attack just six weeks. Unlike that fateful day, the day of the General Strike was a pretty normal day as far as La Rambla was concerned. In fact, it was business as usual in the whole of central Barcelona apart from the main squares where demonstrations would take place.
I walked a little further down and took a left into Carrer Ferran, a cobbled street,which would lead me to Plaça de Sant Jaume, which is the government square of both Barcelona and Catalonia. On one side of the square is the Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of the Catalan government, and on the other side is the Casa de la Ciutat, where Barcelona City Council meets.
Having walked around the city centre for a while, I was struck by how few Spanish police I’d seen. The occasional police helicopter had flown overhead but the only other police I’d seen were the local Barcelona traffic police, the Guardia Urbana, who had been walking down La Rambla with their chests puffed out looking very self-important.
The atmosphere on Carrer Ferran was also very normal. Most of the shops were closed but it was hard to believe that these streets had been the scene of the historical events of the referendum just two days earlier or that a General Strike was in full swing at that very moment. A Guardia Urbana van drove past me on its way to La Rambla but there was still no sign of the Spanish National Police or Civil Guard.
Apparently, on Monday, the day after the referendum, the Catalan government had asked the Spanish National Police and Civil Guard to leave Catalonia but the response from the Spanish authorities had been that they would be staying for as long as was necessary.
I turned into Plaça de Sant Jaume and not surprisingly nothing was happening. It was early yet and demonstrations outside the Palau de la Generalitat tended to begin at around 1 pm. I turned to face the neoclassical facade of La Casa de la Ciutat, the Barcelona City Council building. The main door is flanked by two statues.
On the left is Jaume I, the great king who not only conquered Mallorca and Valencia from the Muslims but also laid the foundations for the democratic institutions of Catalonia and Barcelona. The Corts Catalanes were the embryonic Parliament that would give rise to the Generalitat, Catalonia’s government institution a century or later in 1359, and the Consell de Cent, the Council of One Hundred, was Barcelona’s first city council and had met in the very building I was facing since the middle of the 13th century.
In fact, behind the medieval facade the city council still met in the medieval council chamber and the Saló de Cent itself was used for larger functions. It saddened that the cheap publicity-loving pseudo-leftist mayor, Ada Colau, was allowed to enter the building let alone run the city council.
On the right of the main door, stood Joan Fivaller, a Barcelona city council leader the city could still be proud of. When the first Castilian king, Fernando I had occupied the royal residence in Plaça del Rei, it had been Fivaller who had insisted he paid his council taxes. The autocratic Castilian had believed he was exempt from Catalan law in much the same way as the Spanish government behaved today. The difference was that Joan Fivaller was prepared to stand up for what was right whereas unprincipled Ada Colau bent in whichever direction the wind blew and based her decisions purely on the number of votes she thought she’d get as a result.
I looked across the square to the Palau de la Generalitat. No statues here but three Mossos d’Esquadra stood protecting the entrance to the Catalan seat of government. Above the entrance, the sobering figure of Sant Jordi, Saint George, looked down from the balcony where Francesc Macià and Lluís Companys had declared independence in the 1930s. I wondered if we would witness Carles Puigdemont do something similar in the next few days.
I walked out of the square along the line of metal crowd barriers that protected the front of the Palau past a group of ANC stewards, who appeared to be waiting for whatever demonstration that was planned for later. I turned into Carrer de Llibretería and out onto Via Laietana.
I looked up Via Laietana and saw that the day’s main demonstration was outside the Comisaría de la Policía Nacional, the main Spanish National Police station in Barcelona. The street had been closed off and was jam packed with estelada-clad Catalans. Cries of “In-inde-independènca!” rang through the air.
Despite the police violence on Sunday, the atmosphere was surprisingly relaxed. If this was the reaction outside the police station, I had no reason to be concerned about things getting out of hand, not on the Catalan side, anyway.
Perhaps twenty thousand people had filled the road and were facing the police station, where a foreign Spanish flag waved in the breeze. There were no signs of extremism, just regular people showing that they were pissed off about foreign police coming and beating up their mums and dads.
I was reminded of the time I spent three nights in the Comisaría on Via Laietana in my fir on the floost year in Barcelona. After a day at the beach in Castelldefels, I had wound up at Karma, the discoteque in Plaça Reail, and at around 4 in the morning was walking home down Carrer de la Princes slightly the worse for wear to my flat just behind Santa Caterina market, when all of a sudden a police car stopped and two moustachioed policemen forced me aggressively against the wall. They demanded my papers but as I’d spent the day at the beach, I wasn’t carrying my passport, so they arrested me for having no documentation and bundled me into the back of the police car.
I was taken to the station and spent the rest of the night with about 20 other people on the floor of a cell with the light on. In the morning, I was handcuffed to two other people and we were talking down a labyrinth of stairs and corridors, which weren’t wide enough for two let alone three people. I was last in line and the policeman behind me kept pushing me in the back with his truncheon and shouting “Muevete, rubio” (Keep moving, blondie.)
I was then placed in a cell with 14 other people, which had seating for 5 or 6. We were given a single cheese baguette each a day and water. I was allowed a phone call, which I made to a Spanish social worker friend, who must have pulled some strings because the next day I was interviewed and asked my address and if I had any documentation. I said I did and told them I lived on Carrer Cecs de Sant Cugat in the tiny winding backstreets of the nearby Santa Caterina neighbourhood.
I was then taken by eight armed police officers to a massive police van, which they must have known was too wide to go through the tiny backstreets of the neighbourhood where I lived. When it inevitably got stuck, they all cursed me and then after parking in the middle of the street, they all accompanied me to my fourth floor flat. It took me two seconds to find my passport, which I gave to them.
I was taken back to the Comisaría and then spent another 24 hours in the cells until I was released. I spent a total of 72 hours there. All for not having my passport on me. That was when my intense dislike of the Spanish authorities began and was when my loyalties first began to turn towards the Catalans.
Moving up Via Laietana past the Comisaría, the demonstration turned into a march that seemed to be winding its way up the hill towards Plaça de Catalunya. The river of estelada flags flowed up towards Plaça d’Urquinaona. Always uncomfortable in large crowds, I cut up Carrer de les Jonqueres, which took me to the same destination but wasn’t so packed with people. A little girl was perched on top of the statue of Francesc Cambó. She smiled down at me waving her estelada flag.
I walked up the relatively empty side street and turned into Plaça d’Urqinaona. There were plenty of people there but they appeared to be on their way either to Plaça de Catalunya or Plaça de la Universitat. Everything was extremely peaceful and I was reminded once again that my fears of Soros or Antifa violence were completely unfounded.
A shout went up from the crowd of “Els carrers seràn sempre nostres” (The streets will always be ours.), which is a reference to Manuel Fraga, who was a member of the Franco government and also incidentally founder of the current governing party the Partido Popular. When Fraga was Minister of the Interior after Franco’s death, he famously said “The streets are mine!” following the crushing of demonstrations in Barcelona.
I was outside Instituto Jaume Balmes, which was the first polling station to be attacked in Barcelona by the National Police on referendum day. The teachers, pupils and parents had spread a massive Catalan senyera flag along the road. It must have been about 50 metres long and was strewn with flowers and notes. They were singing “Els carrers seràn sempre nostres.”
It was still only around midday and I was amazed by the numbers of people, who were out on the streets. I was also amazed by the general level of good humour and the obvious festive spirit. Perhaps, like at Plça de la Universitat, this was because a lot of young people were out. What was clear was that the Catalans had voted on Sunday and they were taking the streets today. Yes, the streets would always be theirs.
My wife had just phoned, in tears with emotion. The firemen had just marched under our balcony down Carrer Mallorca on their way to demonstrate outside the Spanish government delegation. She had unfurled our own estelada flag and they had shouted up at her “Molt bé, senyora” (Well done, madam). She was annoyed at me for not having been there.
I walked up the hill and hit Carrer d’Aragó, which is one of the main streets leading into the the centre of Barcelona from the outlying districts of Sant Martí, Sant Andreu and Nou Barris. When I lived in Sant Andreu, I had walked in to town along this route on many occasions. General Strike day was no different. Carrer d’Aragó was full of people who were walking into town from the outskirts.
This was yet another festive day and the Catalans were showing the power of peaceful protest. The experience of walking round the city centre and seeing what was happening with my own eyes had made me feel optimistic. I was starting to believe we could actually win this.
I joined a small but rowdy crowd, who were standing across the road from the main entrance. They were shouting “Asesinos” (Murderers), which was a slight exaggeration. Admittedly, the behave of the National Police on Sunday had been violent but they hadn’t actually killed anyone yet.
The front of the delegation building was protected by a line of barricades and then perhaps ten or so Policia Nacional were parked up against the front wall. All the cars hooted their horns as they drove past along Carrer de Mallorca into the centre of town. The noise was deafening.
There was a general rejection of the behaviour of the Spanish police and authorities irrespective of whether they identified mainly as Spanish or Catalan. Only 39% voted for the specifically anti-Catalan parties in the previous election with 48% voting for the pro-independence parties. This left a large group of people, who weren’t particularly committed either way and, it was fair to say, that the behaviour of the police on referendum day had disgusted them.
I bumped into my friend Miquel Strubell, who was one of the founders of the ANC. He was also optimistic about the success of the Revolution of Smiles and felt the Spanish authorities were unable to cope. He saw the police’s behaviour on Sunday as a gross violation of human rights and demanded an apology from the Spanish delegate in Barcelona, Enric Millo, as the maximum representative of the Spanish government in Catalonia. As a Catalan himself, Millo should come out onto the balcony and face the people because was no longer a question of being for or against independence but of basic human dignity. Miquel also realised that much of the horn hooting was not about independence but rather in favour of democracy and human rights.
I switched the camera off and decided it was time to go for a beer.