Hit and RunPosted: February 28, 2014
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.”