Archive for the ‘Barcelona’ Category

“The Sherwood Syndrome”

In #GlobalRevolution, Barcelona on 26 May 2013 at 15:20
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 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 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

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

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

In #GlobalRevolution, Barcelona on 17 May 2013 at 15:16

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

In Barcelona on 15 May 2013 at 19:04
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.

130515 02

Anniversary Parade

In Barcelona on 13 May 2013 at 14:50
Barcelona, May 12. "Yes We Can."

Barcelona, May 12. “Yes We Can.”

Barcelona, May 13

Dear people,

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’.

The 'Reflectantes' and the bankers.

The ‘Reflectantes’ and the bankers.

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.

The Euro Nazi's

The Euro Nazi’s

Activists’ Fair

In Barcelona on 12 May 2013 at 13:13

130512 02

Barcelona, May 12

Dear people,

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.

130512 04

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.

130512 05

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.

130512 01

Ad Oriente!

In #GlobalRevolution, Barcelona on 8 January 2012 at 17:37

At sea, January 8


Dear people,


I left Madrid late at night, I spent two days in Barcelona, and now here I am, at sea. On the starboard side you can see the hazy outlines of Corsica, on the port side you can barely distinguish the coastal range of the Ligurian riviera.

The reason I left is because the revolution in Spain is hibernating. It will flourish again, but I’m not going to wait for it. I want to be where things are happening. And the next stop will be Rome. Yesterday evening the March to Athens arrived there, and on the 15th of January a demonstration is called for. It’s going to be a ‘Carnival of the System’. People are not only going to protest, they intend to show that the emperor wears no clothes.


Two days in Barcelona was just enough to enjoy some of the city’s strokes of beauty. It must be a fabulous place to live, and indeed, the place is inhabitated by people from all over the world. As for the state of the 15M movement, I haven’t noticed anything personally. All I know is what I heard from people I met before.

Catalonia is probably the most advanced region of Spain. It enjoys far reaching autonomy over internal matters. Last June the Catalan parliament was besieged by protesters when heavy austerity measures were voted. Health care spending was hit hardest of all.

As a result of this, numerous community health centres are being closed. According to the newspapers at least two people have died who couldn’t be assisted in time because of the cuts. The first victims of the crisis. It’s outrageous. With all the billions of dollars being used to save banks, there are people left to die for lack of medical personel. And we’re not talking about the third world here, we’re talking about one of the richest regions in Western Europe.

The actions of the 15M in Catalonia focussed a lot on the cutbacks in health care, and have being going on at local level for months. I haven’t got any details. The organisational structure of the movement is based on the neighbourhood assemblies. As I heard, there doesn’t exist a General Assembly in Plaça Catalunya any more.


Now the lights of Barcelona have faded away in the distance for some time already, a bright winter sun has risen over the sea. I love it. The ferryboat is definitely my favourite way of travelling. Nothing compares to these glorious floating hotels.

I sit on the deck and I wonder. About Aeneas and Dido, about Odysseus and Circe. Far far away I see the foggy silhouet of the shore. If I had gone east a month ago, which I was seriously planning to do, I would have gone over land. Nothing wrong with that. Everything has a fourth dimension, and I would have told you about Hannibal’s army marching along the shore from Cartagena and crossing the Alps into Italy with 20.000 soldiers and 39 elephants. Or I would have told you about Napoleon’s legendary first Italian campaign in 1796-97, when the 27 year old general took control of the delapidated Armata d’Italia on the Côte d’Azur, and went on to set the stage for his grand Homeric adventure.

But here on the boat, there’s another story that comes to mind. It started in Genoa, years ago. I was there for a few days and I teamed up with an American student from Yale, to discover the traces of flemish master Peter-Paul Rubens. For me it was just fun, but for my companion it was a very serious task. He got to travel all over the Mediterranean to write a paper about a famous American journalist. It’s one of the advantages of an Ivy League education.

“Who was this journalist?” I asked.

“Mark Twain. Do you know him?”

I did, actually. But I didn’t know anything about his memorable trip to Europe.

From the top of my head it must have been the late 1850s, just before the American Civil War, and in the first stages of the final conquest of the West. A newspaper from New York had organised a voyage by steamer to the Holy Land, calling at all of the major ports of the European shore of the Mediterranean. The American jetset of the day would all be there. They were modern pilgrims searching for their roots, and the young Mark Twain was sent along to document the trip.

His account was published under the title The Innocents Abroad. I laid my hands on a copy, and I was glad that I did. Not only is it one of the most enjoyable travel stories I have ever read, it’s also a priceless description of the time.

Just one example. In Venice, during most of the Venetian Republic, the jews were not allowed to live outside of their ghetto. For everyone to fit in the few guarded blocks of the Canaregio islands, the buildings of the jewish quarter were relatively high, reaching up to seven or eight floors. When Twain passes through the ghetto, he is impressed. Nowhere in America had he ever witnessed such ‘skyscrapers’.


Twain paints his fellow travellers with irony, and makes them look more like modern barbarians than pilgrims. They are so used to look towards the open space and the future that they have difficulty to comprehend and appreciate the past. In a certain sense they are the archetype of the contemporary American tourists who come to do ‘Europe in a week’.

As the pilgrim voyagers peal through history from the Rennaisance and the Middle Ages through Roman and Greek Antiquity, down to the Holy Land, the account of Twain tells you as much about the new world as it does about the old.


We have past Corsica. On the port side you can see the lights of Elba. There is a great story here to be told, but not today. In a few hours I will arrive at Civitavecchia near Rome. From there on, I might go looking for revolution further East.