It has taken four years for the 15M movement to arrive from the occupied squares to the palaces of power. Last month, grass roots political parties all over Spain have shaken up the establishment and conquered, among others, the municipalities of Madrid and Barcelona. Local platforms and nationwide party ‘Podemos’, inspired by the indignados movement, are now gearing up towards the general election next November, to replace the old regime.
In Barcelona, anti-eviction activist and sweetheart of the movement Ada Colau has been elected the first female mayor of the city. The platform for which she was a candidate, ‘Barcelona en Comú’ (Barcelona in Common), proposes a radical democratic revolution, with continuous citizens’ participation, transparency of government, right to housing and basic sustainment for all, and a lot more.
In Madrid, a traditional stronghold of the Conservatives, the new platform ‘Ahora Madrid’ came in a close second, wresting control of the city in collaboration with Socialists. The new mayor, Manuela Carmena, a 71-year old lawyer, describes herself as a “caring grandmother” to the generation that took the streets four years ago to usher in a new era of democratic change. What she has in common with Ada Colau is a ‘feminine way of doing politics’, based not on hierarchy, but on horizontal organization.
Manuela Carmena was a communist activist under the Franco regime, which made it easy for the leading lady of Spanish conservatism, Esperanza Aguirre, to accuse the Ahora Madrid platform of being a ‘springboard to destroy the western democratic system as we know it.’
She probably couldn’t have made better publicity for her opponents. It reminded me of one the slogans we used to sing when we filled the streets of Madrid. “Madrid será la tumba del sistema”: Madrid will be the tomb of the system.
As for me, I have retreated to private life on my Italian estate, like Cincinnatus. But obviously I cannot remain untouched when a carrier pigeon brings me revolutionary updates from Spain. So I wrote to some of my old comrades, to get a first hand idea of what is going on. This is a brief account of what they old me.
H: “What has happened in Spain is that activists are forming political platforms (Barcelona en Comú, Ahora Madrid, Marea Atlántica…etc) to try and bring down the last remaining wall of the protests, the institutional wall.
It’s typical for activists to become politicians at some point in their lives, but what is new in Spain is that there are a lot of them now and voters only seem to support them gradually. The campaigns for municipal candidates (supported by Podemos, but not a part of it) have been like a continuation of the indignados, with candidates going into the neighbourhoods to listen to people’s proposals instead of organising rallies.
No candidate has won an absolute majority. This opens a new political front in Spain where deals have to be made. We’re entering a phase where a minority will govern and each proposal will have to be approved by fragmented parliaments.”
J: “All political analysts agree that what was formed on the streets and in the squares during the 15M, has crystallised into political movements like Podemos and the integration of left wing movements. Together, we decided to give power to people who had no voice until now… But now comes the difficult part: not just protesting, but building… The adversary is enormous, and they will have to work very hard…
A lot of people said it wasn’t possible, but in the end we did it!!! I think that is the strongest message, but the traditional parties are waiting and hoping that this is just a fashion so that they can go back to their business as usual.”
P: “The streets have given way to the institutions. (…) At the municipal level a LOT of things will change. Things like a ban on foreclosures can pass very soon, at least in some cities.
In the autonomous communities and regional governments where such basic things as health care or education are decided, there hasn’t been an electoral change due to lack of unity. In the cities, Podemos, which incorporates a part of the movement, preferred to go it alone, instead of uniting with other movements like in Madrid and Barcelona, and this didn’t played out in their favour.”
JC: “Podemos hasn’t really been clear about its own political collocation, and has preferred not to touch on subjects like nationalism, the economy etc, apart from becoming less revolutionary and more reformist. I have to say that I don’t really like the party, and above all I don’t like [its leader] Pablo Iglesias and his swollen ego, and I can’t see where this is all going. But obviously, it is the lesser evil by far.”
D: “The vertical leadership style of Podemos did not live up to the expectations, and the confluence of municipal candidatures based on a highly horizontal post-party model have changed the game.
Not even Greece has seen the level of innovation and empowerment that we are witnessing here. You can call me chauvinist, arrogant, or crazy, but I think the Spanish indignados are at the forefront of global change and of one of the greatest successes of the Occupy/Indignado movement. And I am convinced that the changes that are happening will not be happening only here. A lot of people are looking at us, and this is going to exceed the Spanish borders by far.
Here you can smell hope, you can smell revolution, you can smell social and political change.”
H: “Now it’s going to be interesting to see how the municipal platforms in Madrid, Barcelona, Coruña and Santiago are going to work. And from there, we will see if we can create momentum for the general elections. If Podemos opens up its program and succeeds in uniting with the local platforms than I have no doubt they will win the general elections in November.”
P: “The streets are empty for the moment while everyone is waiting to see what is going to happen from above. But if things don’t change, people will fill the streets again. There is a lot of expectation. Suddenly we all have friends in local councils, but it’s also very clear that if they don’t do what they should do we will confront them like we would with any other government.”
In the meantime, even though Pandora’s box has been open for a while, the reaction tries to tighten it grip on the people by approving the new citizen security law that aims at scaring people out of protesting. As from July, ridiculous fines of up to tens of thousands of euro’s can be imposed for demonstrating outside of parliament, avoiding a foreclosure, resisting arrest, blocking traffic, filming police officers etc.
Today, all over Spain, people are protesting the restriction of their civil rights. Just a few more months and they will be in front of parliament anyway, not to protest, but to celebrate.
Barcelona, August 21
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.”
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.”
Madrid, May 26
Now that the revolution is over, let’s talk about the counterrevolution. In particular let’s study the behaviour of its guard dogs. The document I present to you was leaked over a year ago. It’s a military style manual on how to deal with anarchists, written by the current chief of police of Barcelona, David Piqué y Batallé. It was presented as his master thesis to the Open University of Catalonia at the end of 2009 under the title ‘The Sherwood Syndrome’.
Though the work focuses on the case of Gràcia neighbourhood in Barcelona as a practical representation of Sherwood, the author meant it to be a generally applicable battle guide. And he meant to picture the battle as a historic one. The objective is the complete defeat and assimilation of all those people who are living in occupied spaces outside the system. The barbarians. They are likened to the rebellious tribes of Gaul, and in between the lines Piqué himself dreams to be Julius Caesar.
When the guide hit the wires in May last year, it caused an outcry in the left wing community online. Piqué was called a fascist and a psychopath. His academic merits were ridiculed as infantile. Most quotations from his work highlighted examples of violent tactics, unlawful practices and dubious ethical considerations.
Indeed, academically speaking, the manual fails to live up to any accepted standard. It’s extremely superficial. It hardly relies on any sources. It includes anonymous rumours and random quotes. Most historical examples are flawed and out of place. It doesn’t take much to recognise a shameful lack of in-depth knowledge about military history and its political context. But we have to bear in mind that Piqué didn’t write his thesis for academics or historians. He wrote it for chiefs of police.
That’s why the document is only 37-pages, without terminology or references to other academic authors and their works. The grotesque mentions of Caesar and Cato and Hannibal, and wars varying from the Persian Gulf, to Yugoslavia, to Mexico and Cuba serve to inspire the local commanders. And to give them the idea of being on a civilized mission against the barbarians, in defence of the rule of law.
Considered purely as a manual the work deserves some credit for being lucid, reasoned and methodic. This is why it has been adopted throughout Spain as a pocket guide on how to handle anarchists. For the same reason, I think it’s useful to make a condensed analysis of this work in English. If only to “know thy enemy”.
The original guide was written in Catalan. There is also a Spanish translation available. It is divided in three parts.
Parts one poses the problem. Who are these people challenging the system?
Part two describes which tactical models you can use against them in the field.
Part three proposes a five stage strategy to destroy them.
I will synthesize and paraphrase the guide in italics. Quotes come directly from the text in my own translation.
The outlaws hide in Sherwood forest. Some consider themselves heroes the likes of Robin Hood. According to folk legends these bandits stole from the rich to give to the poor. “The problem was, as always, that Robin and his band decided who were the rich to be robbed and who were the poor to be benefitted”. According to old records, Robin was finally captured and rendered homage to the throne.
Today, Sherwood takes different forms. On the one hand it’s a problem of public order, like in Greece and Italy, where the “anarchists behave like vandals, and are treated as such, which causes a lot of violence.” On the other hand, in Copenhagen they administer their own neighbourhood, Kristiania, and “create very few problems to the authorities of the ‘system’.”
The squatting phenomenon comes from northern Europe. It roots in people’s need for housing after the destructions of the second world war. In the 60s and 70s, it gains a political dimension. “The movement is a collective protest that wants an alternative to capitalist society.” From the 90s onwards, it shows signs of globalisation.
Barcelona is a point of reference to the squatter movement internationally. A significant part of outlaw population comes from the rest of the country or abroad. Gràcia neighbourhood has the highest number of squats in the city.
Squats can be private, as a living space for the occupants themselves, or public, as an occupied social centre for political and cultural activities. These centres attract other grass roots groups like “feminists, ecologists, pacifists etc.”
Attempts have been made by established politics to integrate these movements, and failed. “The complexity of the phenomenon and its members – because they have no representatives – makes it impossible to strike any kind of deal with them.”
The problem is that there’s no leadership within the movement, it’s a mix of diverging interests. “From the foreigners in transit doing the ‘Barcelona experience’ to the ideologists of insurrectionary anarchism, passing by failed artists, covert delinquents, homeless, and people with social adaptability problems.”
Ideologically, the squats in Barcelona can be divided into three. Half of them have been confirmed anarchist/libertarian. Most of the others are undetermined. Some are Catalan independence squats.
Despite their heterogeneous nature, the squatters can rapidly take the streets in each other’s defence. They are connected, which presuposes organisation. Roughly one out of four anarchist demonstrations causes damage to public and/or private property. It is to the police force to avoid this, to arrest perpetrators, to guarantee public safety. In this thesis “we want to see which social and judicial model will permit us to orient public policy towards these groups that will avoid a deterioration of collective living without letting tolerance turn into impunity and therefore injustice.”
In general, theory on policing moves between two extremes. From zero tolerance (ZT) to maximum tolerance (MT).
An example of ZT is mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s clean-up of New York in the 1990s. ZT requires a lot of personel, a lot of cell space, a lot of bureaucracy. It’s very costly. The strict enforcement can alienate normal citizens, who dislike to be treated as criminals for a simple infraction. In the long run, ZT is a pain in the ass for everyone.
An example of MT was a short lived project in Zurich, Switzerland. A free zone where police would not intervene. It became a breeding space for drug dealing, prostitution, theft and violence. It infected the areas around it and attracted lowlifes from outside of town and the country. Before too long, maximum tolerance will cause a mess.
An intermediate strategy is needed, deployed on a social, political, cultural and economic level, which will solve the problem. But first, let’s look at the models of tactical engagement.
Regardless of the model we adopt, we start by establishing an “Advanced Command Centre (ACC)”. In the ACC we coordinate the efforts of all public forces at our disposal. Police, Civil Guard, Firemen, Medical personnel, and Municipal cleaners. There must be no doubt about who is in command.
The Clausewitz model
This tactic is aimed at hitting the anarchists directly in their strongholds. Avoid open confrontations. Use the element of surprise. Dispatch special units. Evict their squats at night. Don’t give them the opportunity to resist, or to engage in ‘heroic’ actions.
Espionage is key. We need to know exactly where to strike, what we will encounter, and how to act. Act fast, be efficient, leave no traces.
Two historical examples of the Clausewitz model are the treatment of Japan at the end of World War 2 and the recent wars against Iraq.
The idea behind this model is to impose our force on the opponent. In Sherwood terms: “We enter the forest whenever and wherever we want. Resistance is not just futile, it is impossible.”
In the open field, we must intimidate our opponent with our presence. We block access to the gathering point. In military terms we would be cutting the line of supply. We install filters. We stop and frisk people, check their ID. People who lose their anonymity before a demonstration are less likely to engage in violent actions. Our message is that we’re not worried about the amount of demonstrators, we have everything under control. In Sherwood terms: “We know what you’re up to, and we also know who you are.”
When the demonstration starts, we abandon the filters and take strategic positions along the route. Police forces must be visible at all time to discourage acts of vandalism. Should they still occur, we act forcefully, we arrest, identify, and charge the subject.
This model can be enacted if we dispose of enough resources compared to the opponent. If we don’t, we might want to consider a different approach.
The Sun Tzu Model
The basic idea is to be smarter than the enemy. We must predict him. We must know the terrain. We must be able to win without fighting.
“The anarchists know that their actions have a bigger impact, socially and in the media, if they take place in open spaces. At the same time these spaces are less favourable to them from a tactical point of view.”
The boulevards of Eixample are especially adapted to the fast deployment of troops. In classical military theory we would use the cavalry to surround the enemy. Like Hannibal against the Romans at Cannae, or Caesar against the Gauls at Alesia.
“In this case we don’t want to repress disturbances or make arrests, we simply want to avoid confrontation.”
In the open field we install filters as in model number one, then we close the circle and surround the opponent. He will have lost all initiative and his morale will suffer from it. We need disciplined officers in the first line who don’t react to provocation. Avoid wounded (‘martyrs’) and detainees (‘hero’s’). Identify and release in small groups, make sure they disperse.
The message in Sherwood terms: “Outside of the forest, in the open, you’re vulnerable.”
In the small streets we act differently. Here the outlaws feel at home. We don’t surround, we create a corridor. We block important exits to guide the flow of the demonstration. Beware in the forest that these blocks can be circumvented. So we deploy tactical units of undercover agents behind the lines. If any detached group of anarchists engages in vandalism, they will be caught, isolated, and treated as vandals. In classical military theory they would not be regarded as regular forces and therefore denied the rights accorded to them under international treaties. Like the previous ones, these tactics don’t always work.
Up until now we have seen models which try to limit the amount of detentions and injuries as much as possible. “If what we want, however, is the moral and physical defeat of the enemy – as we now consider him – we have to resort to the next model of enforcement.”
The Miyamoto Mushasi model
To annihilate our enemy, the first thing we need is a very good excuse. The second is to make people buy it. We must provoke violence. We need victims. We must cause outrage. Dehumanize the enemy in the face of public opinion. Rally support for law and order. Create an incident that justifies a violent reaction.
Historical examples of this model are the “Spanish-American War on Cuba, the Balkan Wars, Pearl Harbor, USA-Mexico for Texas, most of the Arab-Israeli conflicts and the Nazi invasion of Poland.”
In police terms we will want the enemy to go on a rampage. The terrain doesn’t matter. Don’t perform actions that weaken the enemy on forehand. “The stronger and the more valient he feels, the more confrontations there will be, which is what we want.”
If the tension is not high enough, we can provoke the enemy by making a raid with the excuse of looking for drugs. The raid will be badly performed on purpose. We make a few unjustified arrests and we humiliate the enemy, just to piss him off.
Come the day in the field, we leave the initiative to the barbarians. No blocks, no filters, no stop and frisk. Let them burn the house down. We concentrate the main body of your forces close by, out of sight. Once the violence starts, we let it happen. “When the violence becomes generalised, the police interraction is deliberately delayed until the damages become socially unacceptable.”
Then we block their retreat and we send in the hounds. First the most undisciplined, vendicative troops. Be fast, determined, and ultra violent. We will want blood, on both sides. We don’t leave any one of them standing. Militarily speaking, we wouldn’t take prisoners. In police terms, we round them all up. The infantry finishes off the bulk of the barbarian army in the centre, the cavalry hunts down those who want to flee.
“Unfortunately this tactic is not only used by totalitarian regimes, but also in many western democracies.”
The Julius Caesar model
Julius Caesar managed to romanize Gaul by practicing the military maxim of “Divide and conquer.” Nevertheless, during the final battle at Alesia, Caesar had to defeat a united army of Gauls. Which he did. Gaulic leader Vercingetorix was sent off to Rome to be executed.
In dealing with Sherwood we have to avoid that the enemy forms a united front. To this effect we exploit the (ideological) differences within the squatter community. We use all legal methods at our disposal to divide them. Deals may be struck with some, offering them benefit of protections from “the Empire”, others must be targetted and eliminated one by one.
On how to eliminate the Sherwood phenomenon as a whole I will present a complete strategy in five points.
This plan must be executed under firm and unified command. Not all phases are necessarily consecutive. The successful implementation depends heavily on support from the public opinion.
“Create an atmosphere of aversion against every type of illegal occupation without explicitly mentioning the squatter movement.”
Use the media. Blow up stories like the one about the Spanish family that went on holiday and came back to find their house squatted by Romanians, and the locks changed. The idea is to create a public debate centered on a tougher stance against squatters. Cato the Elder provides a historical example for this strategy, as he used to finish all his orations saying that “Carthage should be destroyed.”
“Create a political debate on squatting.”
This phase is divided into various sub-strategies. Mind that not everyone who is part of the plan, needs to know the plan in its entirety. We will want to criminalise squatting, while forcing home-owners to develop their property. With support from the media and public opinion we will have tough laws adopted, like the recent Dutch law, which punishes squatters with up to two years of prison time. This same law would allow us to fine homeowners up to 7500 euros if they can’t justify the abandonement of their property.
“With this we pretend that local authorities will decide on the abandoned buildings and homes.”
We want local authorities to make a list of all abandoned property, and implement a policy that will put the spaces to community use, thus neutralising social jusification of squatting.
Whenever this phase leads to resistance in the field, we try to demobilise it quickly and silently using the Clausewitz method. If resistance is numerous and heated, we may want to provoke violent acts on the part of the enemy to further galvanize public opinion in favour of repression.
“Appearance of new legal norms.”
Once the new laws have been adopted we are ready act. But before we do, we issue an ultimatum. We give the squatters the opportunity to surrender, with the prospect of amnesty for those with no legal precedent. Municipal authorities can work out the terms of the deal. Those who refuse to surrender expose themselves to the full weight of the law.
“Attack on the heart of Sherwood, detention and humiliation of possible Robin Hoods.”
After the voluntary surrender of those who wish to avoid prosecution, it’s time to go after the ‘irreducibles’. In practice, we’re entering Sherwood forest to “cut down the trees.” The enemy will most likely put up resistance, so act with force and conviction. Go for the leaders. Avoid heroisms. Arrest each single subject and start criminal prosecution. We give an example to all squatters that it’s wiser to give themselves up, and benefit from the Empire’s forgiveness.
“Keep control of the situation.”
Use prior described tactics if necessary.
Roughly, this is the guide. I won’t indulge myself now in demonstrating why most of the historical examples don’t make any sense and are often clearly misunderstood by the author. Neither will I show that the association of historical military figures with the mentioned models is in most cases inappropriate. I will only make one comment on it, and add a general consideration of my own.
Piqué is fascinated by Julius Caesar. He theatrically ends his thesis with the quote “Alea iacta est“, “the dice has been thrown”. He probably ignores that this sentence wasn’t pronounced at the onset of Caesar’s campaign against the barbarian Gauls but at the moment the man decided to rebel against Rome herself. But the funniest of his historical mixups is right in the title. If this is about Sherwood, then Piqué is no Caesar at all. He is the evil sheriff of Nottingham, at the service of a cruel and illegitimate authority.
The manual was clearly written in a different age. By now, May 2013, there are an estimated six million empty houses in Spain, and yet the police force keeps evicting people from their homes on a daily basis. This is not creating the necessary public support for an all out war against squatters. Quite the contrary. Neighbourhoods and platforms are organizing themselves in solidarity to prevent foreclosures and to open new spaces for living and for sharing. Three and a half years after the guide was presented, Sherwood is everywhere.
Barcelona, May 17
The differences are small, though many people proclaim the opposite. The differences between a place like Madrid and a place like Barcelona, I mean. Both are experiencing the same socio-economic problems, with the same causes, and as a consequence, the same type of resistance.
But otherwise you can’t fail to notice the contrast. The sea, mostly. The sea makes all the difference, also in people’s heads. Madrid is a young city in the centre of the highlands, built to be a capital, the seat of kings. Barcelona is an old city of sea-faring merchants, exposed to the winds and connected to the world, yet proud of its own language and identity.
In the middle ages, these two cultures used to be part of two kingdoms, Castile and Aragón. In a sense, this is what Catalan nationalists aspire to. After centuries of submission to the central government, they see independence as a way to reaffirm the equality between the highlands and the coasts. Many of them are also convinced that it could be a solution to the crisis, just like many people in Madrid think that the instauration of a third republic can be a solution.
With all due respect, it’s nonsense. Revolution is not a question of changing the flag. For this reason, Catalan independence is not an issue in the movement. But on a subliminal level the cultural differences persist within the 15M.
In Barcelona, many of the communications and assemblies are alternately in Spanish and Catalan, with a preference for the latter in written documents. Outside of that, there is a strong connection with Latin America and other countries in the romanic linguosphere like Italy and France. And also, everywhere else. The legendary International Commission of Acampada BCN is a central hub in the worldwide web of resistance movements.
In Madrid it seems as though the movement is very much aimed at itself and the miniature galaxy of the city, the neighbourhoods, the villages, the surrounding towns of the central highland, and all the collectives that are active on the territory. Sure, Madrid is well embedded internationally, but deep down there’s an unspoken conviction that it’s the spider in the centre of the web. When people from the rest of the country and the hispanic world arrive in Madrid they are subconsciously treated as peripherical outsiders who come to learn from the capital’s revolutionary example.
It’s not quite a good example lately, as far as rumours go. Internal struggle and personal antipathy are widespread around Puerta del Sol. As in many other places. In Barcelona on the other hand, the core of the movement seems to be quite solid. I have witnessed people from many collectives linking up and working together in liberated spaces like the media centre. Communications, art, film & photography plus internal, local and international relations, it all flows together. Most of people here are veterans from the acampada or even before, with a lot of common sense and dedication to the struggle.
Before coming here I was wondering what the secret of the International Commission was, how come they have been able to keep functioning at a high level ever since the beginning. And this is simply it. Personal alchemy. A group of people who get along, and who manage to create surplus value. We would need more of that in Madrid.
Their news distribution in Twitter is one of the best. Yesterday’s headlines included a feminist escrache in many cities of Spain to protest against the governing party’s intention to counterreform abortion legislation by abolishing the liberalisation that was implemented by Zapatero’s government. In Madrid the feminists took it to the home of justice minister Gallardón. One man was brutally arrested by police, leaving blood stains on the street.
Today’s headline is a joyful one. One of Spain’s big bankers has gone to prison. Miguel Blesa, ex president of Caja Madrid and good friend of former prime minister Aznar, is accused of fraud for his decision to buy a Florida bank in the midst of the financial crisis, for two to three times the bank’s value, causing Caja Madrid to sink. The judge had set bail at two and a half million euros. Blesa refused to pay, and was taken into custody yesterday evening.
On this hopeful note, I leave Barcelona tonight. Tomorrow I will be back in the heart of the evil empire, my revolutionary home town of Madrid.
#EscracheFeminista in Madrid, culminating in bloody arrest
Barcelona, May 15
The good news comes from Madrid. Last Sunday, the people filled the Puerta del Sol at the end of the demonstration, and the results of the Consulta Sanitaria were announced. In five days, more than a million signatures for high quality public health care were collected, only in the capital region of Madrid.
Evidently the social backbone of the movement is as strong as ever, but it doesn’t show on the streets any more, or only very rarely. In Catalonia police has launched a counteroffensive, and they chose the symbolic date of 15M to do it.
Yesterday morning, already, the recently occupied social centre ‘Las Barricadas’ was evicted. This morning police moved to foreclose the rural occupation of Can Piella, ‘symbol of self sufficiency’. In reaction, activists blocked a highway and raided the headquarters of the landlord to attach a banner to the building. “The law sows injustice.”
In the afternoon, a demonstration was organized in support of the indignant farm. A few dozen people attended. Despite heavy police presence, they were allowed to block the central Passeig de Grácia as they marched in the rain to Plaça Catalunya.
It makes one think, about the strategy of authorities with regard to 15M. In the beginning they tried to quell the movement by force. It backfired. The violent reaction of the first days only helped the movement to take off. Ever since, authorities have adopted a relatively peaceful stance. They prefered more subtle forms of repression, like identifying people and fining them. The next escalation was the eviction of the movement’s physical basis, the social centres. In Madrid this took place last autumn. In Barcelona this is ongoing.
The result is a squat war, where activists put into practice their much chanted slogan “One eviction, another occupation!”
It’s a war of detrition, which doesn’t favour the movement. Already, people are tired of occupying public space and of participating in demonstrations. They will tire of occupying buildings as well, if they can’t hold on to them.
Another fundamental part of the official strategy is the absolute refusal to make any concession whatsoever. It would be a sign of weakness. Like riot police, when they take one step back. It would be a victory that would encourage people to demand for more, to advance, to sweep them away.
We need a change in strategy as well. And this is happening. The movement is divided over thousands of small groups organising their own actions. The next step would be self organisation in schools and hospitals, a refusal by teachers and doctors to cooperate with any attempt at privatisation, creation of neighbourhood clinics, of self-organised kindergartens and education.
If we can create a strong basis of local solidarity, we can start to reoccupy space. Not just space for the usual squatters, but space for everyone. For living, for art and artisanry, for the exchange of knowledge, for barter, for local produce. And, of course, for fun.
Barcelona, May 13
The 12M demonstration in Barcelona was colourful, animated, and fun. It was also quite meaningless. We didn’t take the streets to demand change or to bring it about. We took the streets to celebrate the second anniversary of the movement, or – in Disney terms – to ‘remember the magic’.
There was music, costumes, theatre. Most notably, there was Barcelona’s own team of aluminium foil superheroes: the ‘Reflectantes‘. At every bank franchise, they took on their nemesis, the 1% with their cardboard top hats and their cigars, brandishing their allmighty euros. As in every self respecting fairytale, the Reflectantes managed to defeat the evil bankers, leaving the franchises with two stickers on their windows in sign of victory. ‘Let it be known that this bank cheats, scams and throws people out onto the streets.’ And: ‘Yes we can’.
At the back, we had the ‘Euro Nazi’s’ closing the parade, straight from a Leni Riefenstahl documentary, with their red and black standards and their shoulder belts proudly showing the Euro logo instead of the swastika. In between, all types of collectives marched by. The Mortgage platform, the Granny brigade of the ‘Iaioflautas‘, some anarchists and communists etc.
For activists from the UK who happened to be present, the demonstration was ‘massive’. For those of us who are used to demo’s in Spain, it was ‘okay’ at best. Maybe fifteen thousand people, if we are very generous with the numbers. Roughly a tenth of the attendance of last year.
Nevertheless, the demonstration attracted the attention of hordes of anthropologists from three continents. It was funny to study them as they studied humanity in revolt. If I were an academic myself, I would probably write my master thesis about the behaviour of the ‘homo anthropologicus’ in the field.
Upon arrival at the Arc de Triomf, people dispersed, except for a small group that went on to squat a building in the neighbourhood. As from today it is known as the Occupied Social Center ‘Las Barricadas’.
At night, reflecting on the day gone by, the demonstrations seem to be turning into an occasion for us to meet and connect. In the summer of 2011 there were demonstrations much bigger than this one every single day. Back then we had the feeling that real change was within reach if only we could keep up the pressure. Now it’s different. Change will not come from mobilizations in the streets. Instead of overthrowing the system from the outside, we may have more success if we infiltrate it from a thousand different sides.
Barcelona, May 12
Airports are all the same, but the air is different is everywhere. Arriving here in Barcelona after two months in eastern Europe, the air felt like home.
I entered Plaça Catalunya at nightfall. In one corner of the square I found a small foetus of occupation, an info point made out of a couple of boxes, with a dozen people around it. Some of them I knew, from the marches, from the International Commission of the Acampada Barcelona. They were here to celebrate the time of year – May has come around once again, the revolution continues.
There had been a press conference about the initiatives of the Global May, there had been four simultaneous actions throughout the city, against evictions, against the banks, against gentrification of the city centre, etc.
Occupations of buildings are gaining momentum here. The police can’t keep up with evicting them. I was housed in a five star squat in the centre of the city. The owner had only just finished to refurbish them as luxury apartments for tourists when he got in trouble with authorities over illegal practices. So the place was shut down by the city council and subsequently squatted. Now it’s an operational centre of the International Commission.
One tent was erected on the square at the evening of the 10th, and yesterday the small core of the occupation had significantly grown. Prefab stands were placed around the perimeter, each one dedicated to a single issue. Debt audit, public health care, basic income, constituent assemblies, and the kitchen. All of them with their own sleak logo’s and styles. More than an occupation, it looked like an activists’ fair. And in a certain sense it was. The original spontaneous nature of the movement has given way to a myriad of interconnected initiatives. Cardboard is slowly being phased out.
During the day a handful of workshops were organized on the above mentioned subjects. Most were in Catalan, which is close enough to Spanish to understand. The attendance never exceeded a few dozen people. In the evening a general assembly was celebrated, and here too I noticed subtle changes since the early days of the revolution. For one, the circle was replaced by a hemicircle which divided the speakers from their public. For two, the typical gesture of waving hands was replaced by the traditional applause. For three, public participation was minimal. Representatives of the working groups explained their proposals, and people listened. The language was a mix of Catalan and Spanish. The attendance was nowhere near what it used to be. Maybe a few hundred people.
As always the most interesting encounters took place outside of the official appointments. Late at night we gather in small groups to discuss the philosophy of revolution, the nature of the state, we reminisced about two years ago, the big bang of 15M.
One of the many the initiatives born from the movement, at least here in Barcelona is a political party – the X Party – which aims follow the institutional way to implement the principles of horizontality and direct democracy. The die-hard anarchist core does not agree. But we are not a dogmatic movement. Founding a political party can be useful as another front of struggle.
Evening falls again. In the midst of renewed philosophical debates, the news comes around that FC Barcelona has won the Spanish League. The air fills with tension. We can hear a rumble in the distance. Fireworks is set off. Chanting crowds are moving in.
“Don’t worry,” I hear one of us say. “Plaça Catalunya is territory of the indignados,” and he tells the story of two years ago, when the acampada was cleared by police to prepare for the football celebrations. Thousands and thousands of people descended on Plaça Catalunya during the day to retake the square and rebuild the camp, which they did, exactly the same as before, in a couple of hours. That evening, when the fans of Barcelona came to celebrate their victory in Plaça Catalunya, the square was turned into a fortress. Human walls were erected on all entrances to prevent the football fans from ravishing the camp. The defence was coordinated from the centre, an auxiliary unit of indignados moved from one gate to another, to provide backup where it was most needed.
They held the square.
So this year, even though we are only few, Plaça Catalunya is off limits for the Barcelona fans. And this time it’s police themselves who make sure that the crowds will not reach the square. Instead, they march all around with their chants and their fireworks. All in all, it was a very modest party. I have seen cities go up in flames at the end of the football season, not even because of a championship, but merely because of a promotion.
Today is the big day. In the afternoon, four or five different columns will converge on Plaça Catalunya. From there, at six, we march. And this time, we have specific demands.
Not a euro more to bail out banks. High quality public health care and education. A just redistribution of labour and income. A right to a dignified home. Basic income. Civil liberties.