The Catalan Question

Via links.org.au

Via links.org.au

Dear people,

Spain got another taste of elections this week as Catalonia went to vote. The big issue was independence, and the result was a stalemate. Now, I know that most people don’t really care about national politics, even less about politics in other countries, so I can imagine that local politics in other countries doesn’t really arouse enthusiasm abroad. But Catalan independence is a big issue in Spain at the moment, so I’ll briefly bring you up to date on what’s happening before trying to analyse what this all means with respect to the democratic revolutionary movement in Spain.

Catalans have been periodically regurgitating their will to break away from Spain over the last few centuries, most recently in the late 19th century, then during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, and lately these past few years. The reasons for the current outbreak are to be found in the rejection of parts of the region’s Autonomy Statute as ‘unconstitutional’ by the Spanish High Court in 2010. Most symbolically, the judges cancelled a reference to Catalonia being a ‘nation’, which sparked a lasting outcry all over the region. The economic crisis did the rest.

When you listen to Catalans speaking about the question you can clearly hear the echoes of years of televised propaganda, which revolves around two core issues: 1. ‘Madrid steals from us’, and 2. ‘We are different from Spaniards’, meaning: superior to them. No need to add that the rest of Spain doesn’t feel a particular sympathy for Catalonia as a result of this, which has in itself become a third reason for many Catalans to want to break away.

Politically, the independence issue was relatively marginal until the leader of the biggest centre-right party decided to ride the wave of popular indignation and switch from moderate regionalism to full support for independence, a few years ago. This guy was called Artur Mas. He has his picture in the dictionary under the voice ‘mediocrity’, right next to the picture of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy. Mas has gambled his political career on the ephemeral prospect of going down in history as the father of Catalan independence. He won’t be the first to fail at that, and he definitely won’t be the last.
At the moment, support for independence hovers around fifty percent of the population. The Spanish prime minister has reiterated that Catalan independence, and any binding referendum on the subject, is out of the question. But aside from that he has wisely kept a low profile. Catalan nationalists easily take offense at anything said by a Spaniard with whatever intent, so in order not to rouse the spirits of independence more than necessary the Spanish government mainly keeps its silence.

From his side, Artur Mas has been trying to create goodwill for an independent Catalonia among European political leaders and businessmen, but has been rebuffed practically everywhere. The EU simply doesn’t want the hassle. Spain can make a lot trouble with its veto right in the European institutions, it’s a democratic western country so no-one abroad really understands why some of its citizens want to break away, and in general the EU is built to deal with international integration, not with national disintegration. Because there is no scenario for this eventuality, an independent Catalonia would automatically be expelled from the EU and the euro. Business leaders are afraid of the ensuing instability and have threatened to leave the region in case it really becomes independent.

Still, Artur Mas bravely pushes on. Because the Spanish high court has prohibited any binding referendum he has sought to transform the current elections into a plebiscite on independence. To do so he made a very uneasy alliance with left wing republicans under the name ‘Together for Yes’. They did not get a majority of seats. And the only way for them to govern is to reach a deal with an ultra left wing independence party. Not a good recipe for political stability, especially if you take into account that while independence parties gained a small majority of seats, they did not win a majority of the popular vote.
Indeed, it does look like the current independence drive has reached its peak and is now slowly losing momentum. If there had been a more charismatic leader than Artur Mas, it might have persisted, but even then it would have been unlikely that Catalans would have gained their independence. Realistically, there are two prerequisites for them to do so. One is an unequivocable majority of popular support, so not fifty or fifty-two percent, but more something like sixty or seventy percent. Two is the ok from Washington. Because let’s face it, in these matters the US still holds the keys. If the State Department decides that Catalonia should become an independent state, then the EU will find a way to deal with the hassle and Spain will be forced to accept the outcome. But that’s very unlikely. The US has no problem to carve up states around the world if it suits their interests, but Spain has been a loyal ally ever since the days of Franco, and the Obama administration has reiterated that they highly value a strong relationship with a united Spanish state.

Last but definitely not least, in case of independence the FC Barcelona would no longer play Real Madrid twice a year, but would instead be relegated to a provincial league of semi-amateur clubs with no interest at all for football fans the world over. And this is probably the only reason why people outside of Spain would care for the Catalan question.

So how about the no front in recent elections? Both the big national parties have very limited support in Catalonia, and with Artur Mas swinging to independence, the middle class vote against it has been reaped by a relatively new party called ‘Citizens’. Economically conservative and socially progressive, Citizens has made Spanish unity and reconciliation between the inflamed spirits on both sides their issue. Their pronunciation against independence and the fact that they haven’t yet had the time and opportunity to stain themselves with political vices is what made them gain support. On the same side, the indignado party Podemos has been crushed in Catalonia, mostly because Pablo Iglesias has pronounced his party against independence.

Earlier this year, Ada Colau and her ‘Barcelona in Common’ platform were able to win the elections precisely because she was smart enough not to touch the independence issue. In fact, the indignado community in Catalonia is divided, so supporting one side means alienating the other. Now, Podemos has made the national choice of unity, with which they continue to distance themselves from the people that gave life to the indignado movement four years ago. In Catalonia they presented themselves under the worn-out slogan of ‘Yes We Can’, which was also confusing because ‘Yes’ generally indicates the side that supports independence. They didn’t even win ten percent of the vote.

The defeat of the post-indignado party in Catalonia and the absence of a serious grass roots alternative doesn’t spell good news for the general elections later this year. Podemos seems to be turning into just another political party that doesn’t represent the people they are supposed to represent, and many of its potential voters are actually growing fed up with Pablo Iglesias’ face. It’s also unlikely that a national platform like ‘Ahora en Común’ will be able to organize itself and stand a chance while being true to its local heterogeneous roots. And maybe that’s not even something people will want to strive for. Democratic regeneration is already taking place on a local level, in the neighbourhoods and in the cities, where people only represent themselves in order to make a tangible change in their lives. Catalan nationalism is a digression from the core issue. Independent or not, it would be the same mess. Truly revolutionary would be a place where there are no ‘states’ and ‘nations’, but only local communities, each one independent from the other, and all of them linked by nothing but human solidarity.

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Hit and Run

Via El Jueves

Via El Jueves

Dear people,

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.”


Autumn Vibes

Teachers' protest camp in Mexico. By Tim Johnson

Teachers’ protest camp in Mexico. By Tim Johnson

Madrid, September 11

Dear people,

I still haven’t created my big interactive world map yet, like the one in Dr. Strangelove. But you can imagine it on the wall of Global Revolution HQ. It’s a map with countries lighting up where there’s unrest, turmoil, rebellion or all-out revolution, depending on the colour code.

After a quiet late summer, a few countries are lighting up now. Columbia, Mexico, Romania, Poland, and once again, Turkey.

Let’s start with Turkey. Last Monday there was a demonstration against police violence in Antakya (Antioch), in particular against the assault on a 14-year old kid who had gone out to get bread in Istanbul in June and was hit by a tear gas cannister. He has been in a coma ever since. Bitter irony has it that one protester in Antakya, 22-year old Ahmet Atakan, was killed by a tear gas cannister himself. Reportedly, he was shot from five meters distance, which would amount more or less to a summary execution.

"Police Murders". Via @RedHack_EN

“Police Murders”. Via @RedHack_EN   

The day after, yesterday evening, Turkey was ablaze. In dozens of cities around the country people took the streets. Barricades were built in Istanbul, Ankara, Eskişehir and elsewhere. There were fierce clashes, police employed teargas, toma’s and rubber bullets. People responded with stones, molotovs and chants. Unfortunately I couldn’t participate in the mayhem, but it sure brought back some sweet memories of the summer gone by.

In South America, farmers have paralysed Colombia since last month until last week to protest against American and European agrobusiness dumping their produce at such low prices that they are unable to compete. Five people died in the protest.

In Mexico, there has been an enormous encampment of teachers in front of the cathedral in Mexico City. They are protesting against the Mexican president’s education reform, which would force all teachers to be reevaluated. There are simultaneous protests going on against the proposed sell-out of the national oil company Pemex to foreign investors.

Romania has seen two weeks of protests almost every day against what would become the biggest mining project in Europe at Rosia Montana. In a situation very similar to that of Skouries in Greece, the state plans to sell off mining rights for gold, silver and other valuables to a Canadian company in exchange for only a minimal part of the revenues. The principal reason for people to protest is the project’s tremendous environmental impact, caused not in the least by the use of cyanide.

It’s kind of a déjà-vu for the Romanians. Nineteen hundred years ago the territory was called Dacia and would become the last major conquest of the Roman empire. The Romans left their name and their language, and they took all the gold they could dig up. The empire thrived, but over time the precious metals would be flushed away to the east over the Silk Route in exchange for luxury products from far away China. Once the gold was gone, the economy of the empire collapsed and never recovered.

In Greece, the government doesn’t hesistate to send heavily armoured riot police to the Skouries site to attack demonstrators whenever there’s a protest, but in Romania, after one more big demo last weekend in Bucharest, the government is seriously considering to give in.

Today, in Poland, it was the beginning of the ‘Days of Protest’, organized by trade unions and anarchists, under the motto “Enough of neglecting society.” For more on this, check here.

Finally, in Spain, hundreds of thousands of Catalans formed a human chain all through Catalonia to demonstrate for independence. They were inspired by the ‘Baltic Way’, a human chain of two million people that connected the three Baltic Soviet republics in August 1989.

The immediate objective of the Catalans is to draw international attention to their cause. Because only very few people outside of Spain are aware of the brutal repression and persecution that the Catalan people – and their language and their culture – have to endure at the hand of the Spanish dictatorship. Palestine, Kurdistan, Tibet, Kosovo. All of those unfortunate nations have been mentioned to describe the inhuman suffering of Catalonia. But they all fall short of the tragedy that is taking place right here along the Costa Brava. The cry of the Catalan people cannot be ignored. The time has come for the international community to stand by Catalonia in its longing to be free…

Don’t bomb Syria. Bomb Spain.


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.”


“The Sherwood Syndrome”

Robin Hood Festival, foto by Jose Manuel Vargas

Robin Hood Festival, foto by Jose Manuel Vargas

Madrid, May 26

Dear people,

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.

Bust of Caesar. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Bust of Caesar. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

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 Sherwood Syndrome

Part 1

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.

Riots in Greece 2010, via worldnomads.com

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).

Rudy Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani

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.

Part 2

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.

Operation Desert Storm, February 1991

Operation Desert Storm, February 1991

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.

Hannibal's destruction of the Roman army at Cannae, 215 BC

Hannibal’s destruction of the Roman army at Cannae, 215 BC

“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.

2WTC hit by plane, September 2001

South tower of WTC hit by plane.

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.

Surrender of Vercingetorix after the battle of Alesia

Surrender of Vercingetorix after the Battle of Alesia, 52 BC.

Part 3

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.

Phase 1

“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.”

Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder

Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder

Phase 2

“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.

Phase 3

“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.

Phase 4

“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.

Phase 5

“Keep control of the situation.”

Use prior described tactics if necessary.

Darth Vader, copyright Disney

Darth Vader, copyright Disney

**

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.

Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood (1922)

Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood (1922)


BCN International

Acampada BCN

Barcelona, May 17

Dear people,

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


Counter Offensive

Demo in support of Cam Piella. Passeig de Grácia, May 15.

Demo in support of Can Piella. Passeig de Grácia, May 15.

Barcelona, May 15

Dear people,

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.

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