Ode to Catalonia

Independence demo in Barcelona. Via bellacaledonia.wordpress.com

Independence demo in Barcelona. Via bellacaledonia.wordpress.com

Barcelona, August 21

Dear people,

The ferry boat docks at the port of Barcelona. After an exciting summer of revolution in the East, I have finally returned to Spain. Or have I? From the looks of it, many people here will deny it, passionately. This is not Spain. This is Catalonia!

Catalan nationalism is nothing new. It has been periodically resurging in waves all throughout Spanish history. But lately it seems to be out of control. In a few years time the partisans of full independence have passed from roughly one fifth of the population to more than half.

The economic crisis is the catalyst of this latest wave of nationalism. There is a general feeling that it’s all Madrid’s fault, and that if Catalonia were independent everything would be all right.

During the first year of the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona and the greater part of Catalonia were controlled by autonomous anarchist communities whose workers and farmers ruled themselves. They formed part of the republican side together with communists and moderate social-democrats. Between the anarchists and the communists there existed a far-reaching contrast with regard to the social revolution that had taken place at the beginning of the conflict. The communists (supported by the Soviet Union) were opposed to the revolution, saying that the priority was not social change, but winning the war against the fascists. For the anarchists, the revolution and the war were the same thing. They were convinced that without social change it made no sense to fight.

I notice something vaguely similar in the current nationalist belch. For the hardcore revolutionaries of the 15M movement, the struggle against the financial system is also the struggle for freedom. But for many Catalans, left and right, the priority is independence. For them, only once Catalonia becomes a state, people will have the opportunity to bring about social change.

The independence partisans are gaining terrain, they are monopolizing the public discourse. I can feel it, every time I return here, every time I talk to people from both sides. Even just by walking the streets, I can feel the atmosphere becoming more grim and uncompromising.

In late 1936 George Orwell arrived in Barcelona to report on the Spanish Civil War. When he witnessed anarchist society in practice, he had a moment of epiphany. “There was much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for.”

POUM militia at the Lenin barracks in Barcelona. Via fundanin.org

POUM militia at the Lenin barracks in Barcelona. Via fundanin.org

Instead of doing his job as a journalist, he signed up with the POUM, a communist militia in opposition to the official communist party supported by the Soviet Union, and he left to fight in the trenches against Franco’s forces in Aragón. “In trench warfare five things are important: firewood, food, tobacco, candles, and the enemy. In winter on the Zaragoza front they were important in that order, with the enemy a bad last.”

When Orwell returned to Barcelona after the winter, things had changed. The conflict between communists and anarchists had deteriorated into a civil war within the civil war. There was street fighting as the communists tried to capture anarchist strongholds such as the telephone tower near the Plaza Catalunya. The republican press was accusing both the anarchists and the deviant POUM as fascist collaborators. Orwell, who had been risking his life in the trenches, suddenly saw himself and his comrades being regarded as traitors. Instinctively he must have felt that the war was lost.

We walk the streets of Raval. I adore this neighbourhood. Although it’s located in the heart of the city it still retains an authentic proletarian air, very different from the other side of the Rambla. Much of the street fighting described by Orwell took place in these alleys, next to the monastery that was used as a hospital and that now houses the Library of Catalonia.

Raval is an immigrant neighbourhood, with lots of kebab restaurants, phone shops, and prostitutes. At one of the food corners we have a chat with the people behind the bar, Pakistanis. They all speak Spanish perfectly. One of them would like to take a taxi exam, but since last year it’s obligatory to take the exam in Catalan. Thus, for him, the doors are closed.

The Catalan language is the most important weapon of the independence partisans. Officially, the region is bilingual, but authorities are increasingly giving preference to Catalan over Spanish. This starts in school. If you want your child to be educated in Spanish, you are forced to send him or her to a private school, because all the public schools only give lessons in Catalan. A few years ago, Catalan nationalists are even demanding that they be able to speak Catalan in the national parliament in Madrid, with simultaneous translation, as though it were the European parliament in Brussels. “We are a different culture,” they say, and it’s not hard to notice that many Catalans are suffering from a superiority complex. Not only do they feel different, they feel better than Spain.

We cross the Rambla, and we enter the lion’s den, the Ateneu Barcelonès, a private club and focal point of Catalan culture. It’s not the kind of place where you would expect to find revolutionaries like us. Instead it has the feel an English gentleman’s club, the place where you would encounter Phileas Fogg playing whist with his peers or reading the Times in a comfortable leather chair. Upstairs you find an old style library with brown oak bookcases and old volumes behind glass. Downstairs there is a courtyard with fountain, a coffee bar and stylish smoking rooms where the full blooded Catalan nobles come to discuss the glories of the Catalan race.

And then there’s us. We almost feel the need to whisper so that nobody notices that we are vulgarly speaking Spanish. I make a chat with the bartender. Fortunately, as a foreigner, a barbarian, I’m forgiven for not speaking Catalan. With subtlety I steer the conversation towards the independence question. I want to know what the fuzz is all about. Many Spanish and foreigners in Barcelona find it difficult to enter in contact with the Catalans, they openly say they feel discriminated against. The bartender is most kind, but he more or less confirms it without ever saying so. He emphasizes the difference of culture, he acknowledges that many Catalans also feel that Madrid is bleeding them dry economically. For him, independence is the opportunity to start something new, a state that is more democratic, closer to its citizens.

I’m left with this feeling that nationalism is completely beside the point. It will only create more divisions at a time when we need unity most of all. In Madrid, there is a similar shift going on. Over the last two years, in every demonstration the amount of republican flags is growing. More and more people are convinced that ousting the king and establishing the third Spanish republic is a solution. The coming fall, people will be preparing an occupation in front of one of the palaces to put the ‘king in check’.

At the beginning of 15M in 2011, the movement could count on 80 percent popular support, because it addressed core issues of blatant injustice that nobody in his or her right mind could justify. Now it seems as though all the old issues that have divided Spanish society throughout history up to the point of armed conflict are returning to the forefront at the expense of the real problems. Republicanism, separatism, the only thing that lacks for the moment is outspoken anti-clericalism.

All of this will cause a reaction. Anti-catalanism is on the rise all through Spain, and people in Catalonia know full well that Madrid is not going to allow them to become independent. There is a very large conservative part of Spain that has been hibernating during the last few years. It’s the Spain of God, King and Country. If the republicans and the separatists keep insisting that their answer is the solution to all problems, then they will surely awaken the Beast of Spanish nationalism more sooner or later.

The waiter of the Ateneu Barcelonès, although himself a fervent supporter of independence, made one very lucid analysis of the situation, when he said that it is mostly a matter of emotion. “It is emotion that guides people’s actions, that makes them do the most horrible things. Reason only comes afterwards, when the damage has already been done.”


From North to South

Tear gas in the valley. From a No-Tav demo in February. Via desinformemonos.org

Tear gas in the valley. From a No-Tav demo in February. Via desinformemonos.org

At sea, August 17

Dear people,

Years ago I was returning to Italy from Paris. On the train I met a couple from a village on the plains near Milan. Farmers. They must have been in their fifties, and this was the first time they had travelled outside of Italy. For them, it had been a revelation.

With shiny eyes they told me about their experiences. “Have you seen how young people can actually find a job in France? Have you seen how they can afford their own place to live? Have you noticed how public services really seem to work?”

Now France is not the best place in the world by far, but for someone who only knows Italy, it’s paradise. Then when you return, you finally start to notice all the shit. You realize that this is not normal, this is just Italy. And Italy is not the pinnacle of civilization.

I had a similar experience in the last few days. I know this country pretty well, I admire it in some respects, but plunging into it on an empty stomach after some time in the real world makes you realize it’s a farce, and it’s not even funny. Here, the same old politicanti keep playing their same old games, and the same old apathic public keep shrugging its shoulders. I decided to move on West. Back home to Spain.

Still, for a moment I was tempted to go either to the far North, or to the far South of the country. Not just for old time’s sake, but because this image of general apathy is only the surface, and under the surface there is always something happening in Italy.

In northwest, for more than a decade now, the No-Tav partisans keep resisting in the valleys of the Alps against the high speed rail connection between Turin and Lyon. They have reasons enough to protest. Environmental, economical, logical and infrastructural. Rail traffic between France and Italy has been decreasing for years. There is simply no need for a new rail line. Plus, the time that will be saved with a high speed connection compared to the current one is almost none. I was passing by there when the Italian family told me about the miracles of the outside world, and I can tell you, there’s nothing wrong with that piece of rail.

Creating dozens of kilometres of new tunnels also has a negative impact on public health. It turns out there are traces of asbestos and uranium in the rocks, which could harm both the construction workers and the inhabitants of the valleys.

But the Italian government, any Italian government, whether they are classified as ‘left’ or ‘right’, vows to continue this project. It will have to be completed in some faraway future because there is too much money tied to it and too many people who want a piece of that money. Also the Italian government has certain obligations, not towards their citizens, but towards Europe. The Turin-Lyon connection is part of a greater scheme of redesigning European infrastructure that was originally drawn up by captains of industry in the 1980s, and which has to be implemented whatever the cost.

Opponents of the plan also point at the dire state of the Italian railroads in the rest of the country. From North to South, there are trains and tracks that have been lacking improvement and maintenance for years. Many local connections have been cut for lack of funds, forcing travellers to pay two to three times as much for high speed trains and intercities that hardly ever arrive on time.

So while governments everywhere are forced to cut back their expenses, it is pure folly to continue with an infrastructure project that makes no real sense at all. And so it’s for sense, for common sense, that today’s partisans keep fighting on in the mountains and blocking the construction yards, year after year, for as long as it takes.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of Italy, in the inlands of Sicily, a local uprising broke out against the MUOS radar installation that is used by the U.S. Air Force to control drones. These radars cause very strong electromagnetic interference in the surrounding areas, which can be damaging to public health. For this reason, the radars are usually built in deserted areas. Only in Sicily, they have been erected right next to the town of Niscemi.

For a few months now, activists of ‘No-Muos’, have been protesting against the radar installations, together with sympathizers from all over the country. Some ten days ago they entered the base, climbed up the radars and attached banners. They also occupied the town hall of Niscemi and turned it into a headquarters of the movement. The struggle is ongoing.

Italy, they say, is not a real country. Italy is a thousand different towns and regions, each with their own local cultures, cuisines and rivalries. Likewise, Italy probably won’t rise up for one single reason. It will continue its thousand little struggles. In the villages, in the neighbourhoods, in the social centres, in the valleys, and in the mountains.

No Muos demo in Sicily. Via pressenza.com

No Muos demo in Sicily. Via pressenza.com

Nothing To See Here

Homage to Caravaggio by C215, via outsidermag.blogspot.com

Homage to Caravaggio by C215, via outsidermag.blogspot.com

Rome, August 15

Dear people,

While our Muslim brothers are being savagely massacred in Egypt, I have re-emerged in Rome. Here, all is quiet. I move around and there is art whirling through my head. In particular the works of Magritte. I see the images of tanks, bulldozers, snipers, machine-guns, and these awesome Armoured Personnel Carriers donated by Uncle Sam. I see images of dead bodies, some of them charred, and doctors and nurses covered in blood. I see images of weeping women, and of courageous protesters at the barricades continuing their resistance all through the day with stones and petrol bombs. Then I see a text in light projected on a building, saying “this is not a coup.”

The images dissolve. Around me is Rome in the dead of August. Nothing to see here. Please move along.

Numerous wise people have affirmed that the purpose of travelling is not so much to go some place new, but to return to some place you know. And at a day like this, I adhere to that. Suddenly,without expecting it, I see the city from her most beautiful side. Not the centre, where tired old stones are patiently prostituted to generation after generation of pilgrims, but the city’s soul. The popular quarter of Pigneto, outside of Porta Maggiore. The neighbourhood of the students, the artists, the anarchists, the immigrants. A neighbourhood at the frontier of gentrification, trying hard to resist.

I’m here with people I met in Istanbul a few weeks earlier. They show me around. On this hot summer day, when cars for once have abandoned the streets of the city, we go by bike. It’s a truly cinematographic experience. I can feel the phantoms of De Sica, Monicelli and Fellini lurking behind the corners with their camera crews as we come whizzing by on our hand-crafted bicycles. Not so long ago, it would have been hip to tour Rome in Vespa, but those days are gone. The bike has the future.

My contacts take me to the ex-SNIA, one of Rome’s many occupied social centres. Also here, there is not much to see. It’s dark, and the resistance is on holiday. One of the people left behind in the scorching city has opened up the factory to water the plants of the vegetable garden. Life will resume here in September. There will be music. There will be art. There will solidarity. The park next to the factory is one of the few green spaces of Pigneto. It was mainly used by drug-addicts, and now it has been cleaned of needles by the social centre’s volunteers. Now the park is being maintained not by the municipality, but by the committee of neighbours. Le mamme mostly, the parents of the youngsters who are active in the social centre.

From the old factory we cycle on to an ancient Roman tower, a community gathering place just outside the city walls. On the meadows around, there are people eating local produce at gentrified prices, there is a small concert, a stand with books and one with clothes. No-one here believes that Italians will ever rise up. They will simply go on to complain to each other over a cappuccino and a cornetto at the bar. As always they will find a way to get by, by being shrewd and by avoiding the rules. Only if some day for some reason there is a shortage of food, the Italians are likely to take the streets. In Italy, you can take away a man’s freedom, you can take away his honour, his dignity, his mental and physical health, his ideas, his dreams, his pension and his ambitions. But if you try to take away the polpette di carne, he will definitely fight back.

To counter the general apathy there is also a small minority of Italians which is very politically active, and has been so for centuries. Usually, these activists suffer from the syndrome of Guelfi e Ghibellini. This is a typically Italian predisposition to divide oneself in different factions, and then to fight each other. Reasons are not really important. At a certain point, the rivalry regenerates itself.

Aside from local and football rivalries, the most important social clash of the last century was about fascism. There is a persistent share of people in Italy who continues to lean towards fascism. And the explanation for this is pretty simple. Italy has always been a mess, and still is. Only during the twenty years of fascism, things seemed to work relatively well. The economy provided for the basic necessities, there was little social unrest and not too much corruption, public works projects were executed without any hassle, the mafia had been temporarily neutralized, the trains departed on time, etc. The downside of the whole thing was the absence of political participation, the repression of dissent, the exaltation of the state and the race, the glorification of violence and so forth. But many people don’t even consider these to be downsides, and still think that Italy can be saved by the iron fist of a strong leader.

Ever since fascism fell apart, many activists from the far left have seen it as their primary duty to fight the spectre of fascism, wherever it may appear. And in doing so, they have started to resemble them. As anti-fascists they use fascism to define themselves, they are intolerant as fascists, they use violent methods like the fascists, they often even dress like them. You can imagine the outrage among left wing activists, when the fascists occupied a social centre of their own in 2003: ‘Casa Pound’. Now imagine their outrage when the fascists of Casa Pound started to engage in community projects for the neighbourhood, and when they began to address political issues, first in Rome, later all through Italy. It resulted in heavy clashes between the two factions. The same rivalry that has been going under various guises, forever.

There is also a more positive development going on in the social centres. Some people from the latest generation are tired of defining themselves in opposition to something, and prefer to spend their energy on the creation of an alternative. Hence, there are little barter markets sprouting up, and consumer groups for organic produce, and victory gardens, and bicycle workshops.

The bike is becoming a symbol of sustainability and resistance, at least here in Pigneto. Almost every social centre in Rome has its own workshop. There are a handful of artisans in all big cities who make bikes by themselves. They are serving a growing market worldwide. Especially in the States. If you want to be hip, really hip, then you can’t do without your own bike designed and manufactured by an Italian craftsman.

At the Roman tower I spoke to a mechanic who had constructed his own two-story bicycle. A bike like a giraffe, with which he had toured all through Europe, collecting smiles wherever he went. A most extraordinary point of view. And I realize that if the aeroplane was invented by two bicycle constructors, it must have been for a reason.

We cycle on, to San Lorenzo, the university quarter, with particular focus on street art. There are a few dozen artists active in the streets of Rome, working on everything from elaborate graphic novels covering entire blocks, to small scenes sprayed on public mail boxes using different layers of stencils, to pure repeated symbols.

You can find the little phantom from Pacman with his mouth zipped up, you can also find mosaics of the monsters from Space Invaders, which has become a street art classic in cities throughout the world. Some things last for a while, most things don’t. But all of it can be repeated, and it often is.

It’s an ongoing battle. On the one hand the state tries rigidly to conserve the acknowledged masterpieces of mankind in the mausoleums of art, and on the other hand it persecutes contemporary art by covering it up. There’s nothing wrong with that. There will always be another artist ready to leave a mark. It stimulates evolution. And at this particular time of year, when the daily assault of noise and pollution and of hurrying people comes to a halt, it makes it well worth the effort to check out the state of the art, especially with a bike.

On our tour through the alleys around Piazza del Popolo we found many funny, critical and beautiful pieces. We were even lucky enough to find some of the last traces of homage to the great Caravaggio.

Invader, via tafter.it

Invader, via tafter.it

Gezi Park Docu

Dear people,

In all the clashes I witnessed – whether it was in Madrid, in Lisbon or in Istanbul – I have always had the pleasure to encounter Brandon Jourdan in the first line. As dauntless cameraman for globaluprisings.org, he has produced yet another valuable documentary together with his better half, Marianne Maeckelbergh. For everyone who wants to know what happened at Gezi Park, this 30 minute video is a must see.

“Tales from the Crypt”

'The UFO': Communist Party convention centre in the Bulgarian mountains.

‘The UFO’: Communist Party convention centre in the Bulgarian mountains. Via Archdaily.com

[Spanish translation attempt here]

Sofia, August 4

Dear people,

There is one more layer missing. People here have rightly pointed this out to me. The fourth dimension.

Imagine time. Imagine people, cities, nations, empires. Imagine birth, growth, stagnation, decay, death. Over and over again. Imagine the fog. You’re somewhere on the line of time. Actually, you’re exactly in the middle, always. When you look forward, you can’t see where you’re going, which is frightening. When you look back, you can distinguish the road appearing out of the haze. You see yourself, your parents, your tribe, your species.

Here in Sofia I met a Russian girl, an archaeologist, who had come all the way from California to dig up pieces of an old Thracian city. It’s the furthest point of the road behind us that we can still vaguely see. We know it’s much longer than that. This fertile land between East and West we now call Bulgaria has been inhabited long before that by nomadic tribes. The whole idea of settling down in cities, and keeping records, is pretty recent.

Entrance to the convention centre

Entrance to the convention centre

So what’s the use of history? Well, quite simply, it serves to understand who we are, and more in particular what distinguishes us from ‘the others’, what makes us special. We look back, we downplay the tragedies, the defeats, the decline and instead we try to focus on something that boosts our national ego. The Dutch for example, they concentrate on the ‘Golden Age’, when the trading fleets from the Lowlands ruled the seven seas, when great painters left their immortal masterpieces, when those who were persecuted for their ideas or their beliefs found refuge in a climate of relative tolerance.

Here in Bulgaria, like in other places around Europe, you have your Romans and your Greeks and your Christian missionaries, who are used to define us as a civilization. More in particular, as far as the nation is concerned, people learn in school about the Bulgarian Empires, first and second, which ruled the greater part of the Balkans during the middle ages.

In my conversations with the people here, most of the highlights and lowlights of Bulgarian history have made their brief appearances. The people remember with pride how the Bulgarians besieged mighty Constantinople more than once. But then, then came the Turks. For four centuries they dominated the land, and schoolbook history pictures them as cruel heathen overlords.

There is a significant minority of Turks still living in Bulgaria. Many Bulgarians don’t like them, as a result of what they are taught. They also say the Turks refuse to speak to Bulgarian. They can’t stand to see a Turkish minister in the Bulgarian government. During communist times, the Turks were forced to bulgarianize their names. After the fall, they quickly turkified them again, which angered many nationalists. From their side, Bulgarians generally don’t speak Turkish, except for maybe one single phrase, a particularly insulting one.

In opposition to the Turks, Bulgarian history paints the Russians as a big brother, if only because they helped the country regain its independence from Ottoman rule at the end of the 19th century. Fortunately, local wisdom also includes a sense of irony. The saying goes that if you put three Bulgarians together, then one is a leader, one is a follower, and one is a traitor. To which people usually add: “Most probably, two of them are traitors.”

Outskirts of Sofia, via Tumblr

Outskirts of Sofia, via Tumblr

Bulgaria sided with the losing coalition in both world wars and ended up under direct Soviet domination. Forty-five years of communism really screwed this country up. It’ll take time for people to get the communist heritage out of their system. It’s still present all around. The other day I went with a friend into the outskirts of Sofia. Contrary to the centre, which is pretty charming, the outskirts are like a cemetery. People live in huge concrete tombstones, which are heavily suffering the passage of time only decades after they were built. They are lacking maintenance, they start falling apart. Some of them are mere skeletons.

It was here that I heard a few of the ‘Tales from the Crypt’, as my friend called them, the stories of pure Bulgarian hopelessness. He told me about poverty, corruption, emigration, and about the people staying behind who try to avoid the bitter reality by getting drunk on cheap booze every day.

In the 90s, omnipresent authority in Bulgaria transvested itself from the communist party into the mafia. If I’m to believe what I hear, the mafia is not simply a criminal organization that leeches off the economy. Much like in southern Italy, the mafia is the economy. It make things go around, and either directly or indirectly, people depend on it to get by.

I got to see one of the outskirt flats from the inside the other day. It’s everything you expect it to be. The small dark rooms, the leaking tubes, the flaking plaster, the rusty window frames, the broken doors. Then there’s the 1970s furniture, wall paper and curtains. The mix of brown and orange and dark green. There is a world map on one of the walls that still shows the old Soviet Union. The television comes from the era when screens were not flat yet and had a big butt behind them. You know, the kind of screen that used red-blue-green cathode ray tubes. Even the programs it broadcast matched the environment: 1980s trash horror with ditto special effects.

Soviet war monument in Bulgaria via 9gag.com

Soviet war monument in Bulgaria via 9gag.com

Nothing worthwhile to do here but drink, I begin to understand that. Drink and play ‘tavla’.

Now, getting back to the culture discourse, there are numerous ways to classify a civilization. By mobility (nomad or sedentary), by religion (polytheist, monotheist, atheist), by dominant status symbol (property, knowledge, age, valour, etc.) by language, by dominant cereal type (grain, corn, rice), by preferred or endorsed drug (alcohol, coca, caffeine, weed, opium, etc.), or by games. One of the oldest artifacts found in the tombs of Egyptians faraos was a board game. Nowadays you have chess civilizations, mahjong civilizations, poker civilizations, etc. Bulgaria, like Turkey, is part of the backgammon civilization. It’s a beautiful game that adds a touch of luck to strategy and tactics. Me, coming from a different civilization, I had the pleasure to be taught some of the game’s tricks in an original communist environment.

In Sofia’s outskirts you will still encounter the Lada’s and the Moskvitches. I am amazed that these cars haven’t disintegrated yet. They are famous for their crappiness. Let me give you an example. My dad once brought me a toy Zil from the Soviet Union. The Zil was the limousine of the party officials. Usually, toy cars are pretty much indestructable. You can throw them off a skyscraper and continue to play with them without trouble. But the toy Zil fell apart by itself. So imagine the original limousine. Imagine the common man’s Lada.

20130803_121450On our way back to the centre, we don’t pass by the Gypsy ghetto. Bulgarians like to avoid those places. Generally, they hate Gypsies. Their motives are the same ones you will hear in other countries. “They don’t work. They steal. They breed like rabbits.” This is quoted from one of the most open-minded and reasonable people I met here. The Turks are at the penultimate rung of the social ladder. Then there’s a big gap, then there’s the Gypsies at the bottom. The hatred of Turks is mainly based on “stupid prejudice”, and in some cases on envy (one of Bulgaria’s big business tycoons is a Turk). The hatred of Gypsies on the other hand is mainly based on personal experience: “You get robbed a few times, and you turn into a racist.”

It comes down to pure incompatibility. The Gypsies are fundamentally nomads. Most societies try to assimilate them, turn them into “normal people”, store them in big building blocks. The Bulgarian government made similar efforts. But the Gypsies treated the flats as tents, they lit fires in the living rooms and parked their horses on the balcony. They don’t pay for utilities. They tap their electricity directly from the source, which is cited as another reason why electricity companies raised prices out of proportion, causing yet more ethnic animosity.

The Bulgarian population is shrinking, the Gypsie population is thriving. They usually don’t send their kids to school. But the schools are funded on the basis of the amount of students. And it’s obligatory to send your kids to school if you want to receive child benefits from the government. So officially they are registered and attending. This way the school receives funding, and the Gypsies as well. It’s the kind of minor corruption that most people will understand and forgive. But it’s also a symptom of a wider and broader corruption on which Bulgarian society is based. All of this will not change overnight should the current government resign.

Stormtroopers attacking press, August 2. Day 50.

Stormtroopers attacking press, August 2. Day 50.

Friday marked the fiftieth day of protest. To celebrate it there was a re-enactment of last week’s siege on the parliament. People had built a cardboard bus, which featured the images of members of the government. It was escorted by Star Wars stormtroopers and medieval knights who ruthlessly yet playfully attacked any camera who tried to catch the scene.

The fiftieth day also marked the end of this stage of the protest. Parliament will go on holiday. Some people have vowed they will continue the protest here in Sofia, others have said they will follow the government to the seaside and continue to make noise on the beach and even offshore. In any case, the protests are likely to pick up again in September. One of the protesters hinted to this by paraphrasing a famous verse from a Bulgarian poem: “September will be May.”

“September will be January”, the sign said, in reference to the last popular uprising against the post-communists in January 1997. At that time, exasperated by hyperinflation, the people stormed parliament, entered, and brought down the government by force.

Inside the UFO. VIa Flickr.

Inside the UFO. VIa Flickr.

Day and Night

Performance in front of parliament. A bubble as a metaphor.

Performance in front of parliament. A bubble as a metaphor.

[Spanish translation here]

Sofia, August 2.

Dear people,

At Occupy Wall Street there used to be the Morning Bell March and the Closing Bell March. Also in Bulgaria the beginning and the end of the day are marked by protest.

The evening march is the main event, no doubt. It attracts thousands of protesters, it targets the government as a whole and its main slogan is ‘resignation!’ The morning protest only drums up a few dozen people, it targets the parliamentarians individually as they arrive at parliament in their fancy black Mercedeses. The main slogan you will hear is ‘Mafia! Mafia!’

Both protests have their own spaces, and every space has its own encampment. The evening protest takes place in front of parliament, where there is the main camp around the monument with the piano, the banners, the slogans, the cross, the plastic swimming pools and the communications tent. Today, while others staged their morning coffee protest, there was yoga all around the equestrian statue.

Toronto with Bulgaria.

Toronto with Bulgaria.

The morning protest takes place at the back of parliament, in the park, where there is a small camp with a handful of tents, and four park benches in a square under a gazebo, giving it a living room type of feel. Every evening I drop by there to speak to the locals and catch up on the latest news, rumours, accusations, conspiracy theories, etc. Then I usually go back to the main camp, for the live concert.

Yesterday, a second piano had appeared. A small one, without a wing. There was an old man who sat down to play. Beethoven. You wouldn’t believe it. From a classic start he took his listeners on a tour of musical history that had people dancing the charleston and the polka before he arrived at jazz, at rhythm and blues, at swinging 1950s rock and roll. Truly, the man smashed up the piano, playing like Jerry Lee Lewis. If only he had set it on fire, his act would have been complete. Or if he had played on a little longer, the piano would have ignited by itself.

Tonight, as well, we might have a swinging little party, to celebrate 50 days of protest…

Horsehead on the steps of parliament

Horsehead on the steps of parliament