So I spent a week in Barcelona this month. First thing I noticed, entering the city: a banner over a motorway bridge, and people protesting against education cuts. Second thing, like last time, the Catalan flags at the windows. There are three types. One with a white star on blue (independence), one with a red star (independence and socialism), and the official flag, no stars, only stripes (union with Spain). You will not find a single Spanish flag flying from the windows.
I won’t go into the nationalist discourse. Just a brief reflection on the tribal instinct. Human beings generally live in packs. They stick together on the basis of certain similarities, linguistic, social, racial, religious, etc. They have a tendency to distrust of differences. In a globalized society, this tendency is largely drowned out by the benefits of cultural, economic and scientific exchange. But it doesn’t take much to stir up those feelings. They are just under the surface. All you need is a soapbox and a loud megaphone. Usually the soapbox is a public stage, the speaker is a politician and the media provide the megaphone. If you keep talking about ‘them and us’, people will pick up on it, and eventually believe what you’re saying. Theoretically it is possible to pitch any group of people against any other group of people in even the most tolerant society. It has been done before.
A Catalan friend of mine came back home after several months abroad and she found everybody suddenly talking about independence. “What the hell is going on?” she wondered. “Did I miss something?”
While I was there, I had the opportunity to meet some of my comrades from the Spanish front, and from the March to Athens. I wondered, what is the state of the movement. The general idea I get is that of nostalgia. Unity turned to splinters. Some initiatives go on, but most people stay at home. Youngsters emigrate.
True. But equally valid is a more positive point of view, as was pointed out to me. A lot of objectives have been achieved. After sustained protests, the anti-protest law that would criminalize the 15M movement is on hold, together with the tightening of abortion legislation, and the privatization of health care in the capital region of Madrid. The faraonic Eurovegas project has also been cancelled. And most spectacularly, there has been brief flare of nationwide resistance, originating from Burgos.
Burgos is at the core of the conservative Castilian highland. It used to be Franco’s headquarters for most of the Spanish Civil War. Popular resistance against the construction of a boulevard in the neighbourhood of Gamonal was swift and effective. ‘Contundente‘, as the Spanish police chiefs like to put it.
A friend from Burgos told me the story with homeric flair. I had to take his word for it, it was too good of a tale. At Gamonal neighbourhood, containers were burned as barricades. Hundreds of well prepared slingers repeatedly battered police lines with stones, filling up their pockets every time they took refuge in the side streets where auxiliary units were preparing ammunition. Hannibal used to incorporate the Iberians into his army, precisely because they were good at this kind of thing.
“So many stones! All at once. It was as though they blocked out the sun!”
Really. That’s what he said. Like the Persians at the Thermopylae against three hundred Spartans. ‘We will be fighting in the shadow.’
In Burgos, however, police didn’t fight back. They mounted their vehicles and left.
Faced with active resistance and nationwide protests the government backed down after only a few days. The project got cancelled.
“The whole country is covered with straw. Anything will do to ignite it.”
I saw a man sitting at a metro station last week. Gracia neighbourhood, Barcelona. He was reading a brick of a hardcover, entitled ‘1914-1918’. It’s a hot topic this year. World War 1, the massacre that ended the Age of Empires and inaugurated the 20th century.
The prologue of the conflict began in Sarajevo, with the assassination of archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, at the hands of a Serbian nationalist. At the time, the region was at the centre of a power struggle between German-backed Austria and Russian-backed Serbia, and, by extension, between the two grand alliances that included almost every great power of the day. Hence, the local conflict went global.
After one hundred years and three devastating wars, the country and its peoples are still divided and subject to powerplay from abroad. Earlier this month, protests erupted in Tuzla, against corruption, plunder, unemployment and a failed political system. What follows is an overview of the current problems in Bosnia-Herzegovina from an anonymous activist on the ground. For more info about the ongoing protests, check out this article in Roar Mag.
“Political dysfunction started with the Dayton Peace Agreement, which disfigured the country and left it decentralized, in service to the ideas which started the war in the first place. Aggression toward the territory. The Dayton agreement left Bosnia-Herzegovina as the only ex Yugoslav state that had or did not have war without it’s head, and dependent on the ideas that come from the outside supporting nations such as are Croatia, Serbia and Turkey.
Soon after the protests started our local official government had meetings with prime ministers of these above mentioned countries. General idea is that we are a protectorate and a colony for political ideas, economical and religious interests that come from each of these countries. Sarajevo, as a capital city lost its role and two out of three main nations (Serbs, Croats) look at Zagreb or Belgrade as their capital cities though they are in different separate and independent states.
As the country got destabilized and decentralized so did the justice system and with nobody to look after the state’s general interests in post war years, along with the theft of the foreign donations and the mobster privatization played by the ruling parties, the whole core of the state is collapsing, schooling system, medical care system … So that generally, Dayton is looked at as a plunder agreement and not as a peace one.
Once a well organized state became a state of small enclaves of isolated religious and ethnic zealots with corrupted provincial mentality. But, there is a saying in ex Yugoslavia, if Bosnia arises the whole Balkans will. Yugoslavia was actually formed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and it was called a ‘little Europe’ back in the day.
Refreshed with a new generation we began the new struggle against socioeconomic dehumanization and humiliation of the common folk for the interest of international religious based mob cartels that want us kept in isolation and hatred while we’re being robbed.
And as soon as the protests stopped people organized in plenums all over the county, seeking honest conversation leading to solutions to the major problems left unsolved, such as, war crimes, post war privatization, social security, cuts for the political parties, nepotism, devastated factories, nontransparent public deals… and in the town of Mostar, which is still kept separated like Berlin was but without the wall, where protesters also burned down the two main party’s headquarters, the message has been sent that these politics of segregation aren’t in our minds and souls as Europeans..”
In the abovementioned article in Roar, the plenum is described by Mate Kapović as being a general assembly, “very similar to the original Russian soviets. The protesters are using them in order to reach collective decisions and demands in a direct democratic manner. What is interesting is that the idea of the plenum, as a political body for democratic decision-making, originated in the 2009 wave of student occupations in Croatia, while the Croatian student movement itself got the idea from the 2006 Belgrade student movement. This, in other words, is a fine example of post-Yugoslav left activist cooperation and mutual inspiration.”