Madrid, September 24 2012
[This article and the following will be mirrored on my new blog postvirtual.wordpress.com, where you will also find links and more]
Yesterday evening a handful of comrades from the Marches to Brussels and Athens had already arrived in Puerta del Sol. They say the rest of the hard core will be here today. The call to besiege the Spanish parliament as from September 25 is the most revolutionary thing happening in Europe at the moment. That’s why we’re here.
The latest news from Madrid has been the surprise eviction of the Casablanca social centre last week. It has convinced many people who were still doubtful about the #25S to participate. What makes the eviction especially painful is the fact that Casablanca houses the 4000 volume library of Acampada Sol, plus archives, banners and art works. After the eviction the building has been sealed off. I don’t know if all the historic records are still inside.
One of the first things I did upon arrival was take a look around parliament. Compared to last time, police have now started to use Barricades 2.0, twice as high as the old ones. For the moment they haven’t yet switched to barbed wired and anti-tank barriers like the police in Brussels. According to rumours there will be 1400 officers operational tomorrow. Access to Congress will be blocked in a circle of 500 meters. So in practice there’s nothing we need to do, authorities have surrounded parliament all by themselves.
Among the people I met in Puerta del Sol were comrades Getafe and Laurentina, our former vanguard in Athens. We don’t speak about Greece any more. Greece is finished, at least as far as we are concerned. Instead we talk about what has been happening in Portugal and Catalonia lately.
Last week about one million Portuguese citizens took the streets in forty towns and villages to demonstrate against additional austerity measures. The government took note of it for a change, and they cut the proposal to decrease wages by seven percent. It’s only one of the measures, but it’s a first step backwards. I heard an unconfirmed rumour that the Portuguese army had announced they won’t comply if ordered to repress the protests. This could explain the government’s willingness to lend its ear to the crowds in the streets. If people want more, they have to advance and push on.
Catalonia is a completely different story. The immense demonstration for independence two weeks ago has sent a very strong signal to politicians to start a process of devolution.
Now, I don’t know if Catalan exceptionalism is part of an inferiority complex or a superiority complex, but hell it’s complex, that’s for sure. Comrade Getafe tried to explain the context of the current conflict.
After the so-called transition to democracy following Franco’s death in 1975, the Spanish regions were all granted autonomy. This was done to appease separatists in the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia. But for the Catalans it wasn’t enough. For them, Catalonia can’t have the same status as Murcia or Extremadura… Catalonia is special!
A few years ago the situation came to a head. A new status was proposed which stopped short of complete independence, but granted most competences to the local government. It caused a backlash among Spanish nationalists. They hit the Catalans where it hurt most: in their wallet. A Spanish boycott of products from Catalonia had a devastating effect on the local economy. On top of it, the new autonomous status was rejected by the constitutional court of Spain.
They probably don’t amount to an absolute majority, but by now a lot of Catalans don’t want any form of autonomy any more, only full independence. It’s a cultural thing, sure, but it’s mainly an economic thing. The Catalans don’t want to pay for the poor Andalusians just like in Europe the Finns don’t want to pay for the Greeks.
Within the 15M movement, Catalan independence is not an issue. The 15M isn’t about what divides people, but about what unites them. Democratic regeneration. Human instead of economic values.
In the evening there’s the General Assembly of Sol. I remember when it used to attract up to 8000 people. Now there were maybe two dozen of them, three at most, in majority women, average age 40+. They were hiding in the subway because of the rain and the wind.
Sol doesn’t support the Siege of Congress. Initially because of doubts about who exactly launched the call. Since then, the organisers have ceded the initiative to the 15M, but Sol continues to keep its distance. As I understand, the current official reason is because some people have announced they are not pacifists. Authorities should take note of this. A few tweets menacing violence is enough to dissuade many people from participating. The organisation has repeated that the call to besiege congress does not allow for violence, machismo, xenofobia, homofobia and fascism. To no avail.
Me, I still think the General Assembly of Sol is subject to its own kind of exceptionalism, and that the real reason why Sol doesn’t support the call is because the initiative doesn’t come from Sol itself.
Around the small assembly yesterday evening, some people were distributing the September edition of 15M Madrid, the official newspaper of the popular assemblies in and around the capital. You have to know that people have been talking about the #25S for about three months now. Media coverage hasn’t been extensive, but most papers in Spain made a mention of it, except for those with a special interest. On the social media some people complained that the upcoming siege of parliament has made it to the pages of USA Today, while it has been ignored completely by Spanish right wing newspaper La Razón.
There’s another newspaper that doesn’t speak a single word about the #25S. Want to guess?
It’s 15M Madrid. No kidding. The newspaper looks sleek, very professional. Makes me wonder who finances it. It’s no better than any other media outlet as (dis)information goes, but if you are looking for some top quality toilet paper, I can definitely recommend it.
People from all over Spain will be arriving today. Some of them have already been here for days. In three months of preparations, nothing has been done to house these people, or to create a space where they can camp. Some social centres have opened their doors, but their capacity is minimal. All others will have to arrange themselves. Fortunately, there are always sympathisers who open their doors.
It’s clear to me that the signs on the wall leave room for lots of doubts. I hope to bring you more positive news as from tomorrow, when it all starts.