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Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

Summer Picknick

In #GlobalRevolution, Istanbul, Madrid, Occupy Gezi, Spain, Turkey on 30 May 2013 at 19:56
Police tear gassing people at Gezi Park Istanbul, via @_ElifYilmaz_

Police tear gassing people at Gezi Park Istanbul, via @_ElifYilmaz_

The Monsanto March added a touch of global that had been missing in this #GlobalMay. On Facebook, an appointment was already launched for 2014, but for many people it wasn’t soon enough. A new march has now been planned for as early as October. In Istanbul protesters gathered near Taksim Square yesterday to demonstrate against the shoppingmallization of the city and in particular the idea to plant a mall in a nearby park.

People occupied the park and camped. This morning they were brutally dispersed by police. Tents were burned, teargas was employed. In the afternoon people have returned to claim the park by the thousands. (LIVE)

Next June starts will start on a high note. The Citizen Wave keeps growing. The latest wave of indignation is the purple one which unites the increasing amount of Spanish emigrados. Next June 1, the waves will march united against the Troika, in Spain and in dozens of other cities in Europe.

Also in Spain, a first timid attempt at mortgage strike was launched for June. The call is to delay mortgage payments a few days up to three months. Just to scare the banks.

I’m sceptic about it’s effectiveness for a few reasons. One, it wasn’t thoroughly prepared. People don’t know the initiative. Two, it seems you have to pay 66 eurocents for every day you postpone your payments. So the bank would even end up making money from this action. A serious mortgage strike could be done, but you need time to publicise and coordinate the action. You need neighbourhood solidarity, and a lot of determined people.

In America, determination is on the rise again. On June 1 an event called ‘Occupy Homecoming’ is planned in New York. The objective: Zuccotti Park.

So tune in to Global Revolution. We will be live.

“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 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

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)

May 23 Memo

In Madrid, Spain on 23 May 2013 at 21:18
Demo for Press Freedom, May23, "We are not afraid."

Demo for Press Freedom, May23, “We are not afraid.”

Yesterday two photographers who regularly cover demonstrations in Madrid, were arrested at home, accused of defamation via social networks. Earlier today they were released with charges and this evening there was a solidarity protest outside the office of the Delegate of the Government in Madrid. Citizen press brandished their cameras and smartphones shouting ‘these are our weapons’ and ‘freedom of information’.

I also met comrades from the marches, with whom I have a bond that was forged over hundreds, even thousands of kilometres on the road. I have been a bit  out of contact with most, so I was shocked to hear the news. Comrade Abdelatif, battlename Abdullah, has died three weeks ago. He was a veteran and an icon of the Acampada Logroño, of the Northern Column and of the March to Brussels. He was over sixty years old when he marched all the way from Madrid to the heart of Europe, and apparently he was already sick.

Abdelatif’s past was shrouded in stories of a thousand and one night. Nobody really know who he was, where he came from. What we do know is that his family had him buried in Algeria. Some people say Abdelatif was as old as Methusalem. They say he is still alive, just like Elvis, just like Andreotti. Maybe they’re right, I don’t know. Otherwise, may he rest in peace. It was an honour and a pleasure to march with him.

Comrade Abdullah

Comrade Abdullah, augustus 2011.

Twilight of the Bricks

In #GlobalRevolution, Madrid, Spain on 20 May 2013 at 00:50
The stage

The stage

Madrid, May 19

Dear people,

The Belgian uprising against the Dutch started in a theatre in 1830. Three decades later, the Italians were roused by Verdi’s operas to throw off the yoke of the Austrians. Today, after an amazing performance, it was once again from a theatrical stage that people were invited to rise up.

It took months of preparation. The scenes, the costumes, the music, the songs. Over 150 people took part in the production. The premiere was tonight in the grand hall of Tabacalera Social Centre, a 15M operetta in one act, 45 minutes, accompanied by the Solfonica orchestra. ‘El Crepuscolo del Ladrillo‘, or: ‘The Twilight of the Bricks’.

I was lucky I got in with the press, because the line of people waiting outside went all around the block. There were two shows planned initially, but to satisfy the popular demand, a third show was performed late in the evening. It was a triumph. I couldn’t have hoped for a more stylish return to Madrid.

Basically, the operetta is a very concise history of Spain over the last few decades, culminating in economic crisis and revolt. The libretto was written by José Manuel Naredo, with clear foresight, over twenty years ago. It was adapted and performed in a scenery that represented Acampada Sol.

The Solfonica during the repetitions.

The Solfonica during the repetitions.

For me, who had the privilege to have been there in those days, it was a wonderful déja vu. Not just to see stage pieces painted with the clock tower of Puerta del Sol and the crowded square, but also the cardboard reproductions of the most symbolic slogans and banners. Most famously, the enormous image of Heinrich Himmler with Mickey Mouse ears and a euro logo on his forehead, which dominated the occupied square for weeks. Art was evanescent in the Acampada Sol, and to find it reproduced was a testimony to its value.

The Solfonica starts to play and the stage is filled with happy people. Definitely I’m not the only one with goosebumps. The scene is bucolic, full of love and peace. And backwardness, poverty, or so it seems. But the government officials have the answer. Speculation, privatisation, cement, cement, cement. With the benediction of the church, because frugality is sinful, and investment is good, be it in gold or cement or indulgences.

People flock to the cities, to the factories, the days of old come to an end, and nobody cares for as long as money keeps flowing. Then crisis strikes. People are depressed, the government doesn’t know what to do, so an expert is hired to come up with a solution. This includes a lot of lofty phrases, and comes down to new technologies, communication sciences, services, networks, etc. Eurocrats and economists start to implement the measures. Efficiency is the key. But when the economy collapses once more, the only solution is austerity, discipline, control.

At that point it’s the dream fairy who inspires people to wake up, to recuperate their freedom, their music, their happiness, their love for life. And to overthrow their government, to take the stage, all together, for the grand finale.

During the thunderous applause that followed, a banner was raised by the actors, with a simple message. ‘Rebellion’.

The performance of the Twilight of the Bricks was one night only. But you might be lucky. According to rumours the show will go on tour. If you don’t catch it, you can find the stream of the live broadcast here…

http://www.livestream.com/spanishrevolutionsol/video?clipId=pla_99ed1bc9-aa44-4684-8aa3-4b7d28f9e41a

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Debriefing

In #GlobalRevolution on 9 May 2013 at 12:06
Statue in Sofia

Statue in Sofia

Sofia, May 9

Dear people,

I have terminated my spring campaign in the Balkans.

Looking back on these two months I can discern three primary objectives. One was secret, accomplished, you will hear from it in due time. Two was to visit my brother Memed in Istanbul. Which I did, with great joy&respect. And three was… well, to do a ‘revolutionary temperature check’ in eastern Europe.

I did that too, more or less. Of course I don’t pretend to know these countries, not even a bit, but it’s pretty obvious that nothing is going to change for the better here in the foreseeable future.

Why? Because there is too much ‘oldthink’ in these places. In the countries that haven’t experienced communism – Turkey and Greece – the self-proclaimed revolutionaries still define themselves through this heavily outdated philosophy. They would be adorable if they weren’t, a. utterly ridiculous, and b. an obstacle to any social change rather than a facilitator of it.

In countries that do have experienced communism – Hungary, Bulgaria and to a lesser extent Serbia – everyone is well aware that a system that forces people to be mediocre doesn’t work. Anything that smells like left wing or socialism or that has the word ‘common’ in it, is heavily suspect. Life is bad in these places, but it has been even worse. So people shrug their shoulders, bow their heads, and try to get by. At the very least, capitalism doesn’t force them to be mediocre, it merely stimulates them to be that way.

Instead of 19th century political philosophies about workers and factories we need new ways of thinking, tailored to the information age. We have the web, which allows us to ‘cut out the middle man’, both in politics and in the economy. We can rule ourselves, we can decide ourselves what we consume and what we produce, we can rationalise the distribution of our goods and our space. Without authority, without coercion.

If anywhere, Spain will be a laboratory for this kind of ‘newthink’, call it anarchism if you like.

It’s fascinating, the popular indignation and the shape it is taking. There are many sides to it. One is about words, another is about taking conscience. In a society dominated by advertising, words don’t mean shit. It’s all about eye-catching images and pure nonsense. Not very different from the iconography and the slogans of the former communist block.

What we are doing is, we are going beyond the bullshit. For two years running we let words flow free in countless assemblies. This has changed the discourse. All public grievances are out in the open. Now we are trying to restore meaning to those words that define our political constitution. One is ‘popular sovereignty’.

If we the people are sovereign, we must be conscient of it, and we must exercise that sovereignty, or someone else will do it for us. To exercise it, we must decide what we want. During the Acampada in Sol it was impossible for people to agree on a few issues – the ‘consenso de minimos‘ – but these have taken shape themselves. A few basic things to start with, that a great majority of the population will agree on. Free health care, free education, public water, all of high quality. And a stop to foreclosures. If this is not possible in the current economic system, then the economic system must change, and with it the political structures that uphold it.

Spain is moving. Over a million people have signed for public water as a human right. And this week, from May 5 to 10, signatures for public health care are being collected all throughout the capital region of Madrid in preparation for a popular bill.

Another popular bill that was presented by the Platform against Mortgage Foreclosures, backed up by 1.5 million signatures, was mutilated by the governing Popular Party before they had it voted last month by their own majority. There is hardly a trace of the original demands of the Platform in the bill, like the extinction of debt with the return of the keys to the house.

So, for as long as the government keeps ignoring the will of the people, the struggle will continue in the streets, under the windows of the the ruling class, inside parliament, and inside the banks. Today it was Bankia’s turn, the nationalized bank that keeps foreclosing on its owners, the citizens. At this moment, all over Spain, people are flocking to Bankia franchises to shut them down in every legal way, by closing and opening accounts, by requesting every possible information, by depositing heaps of loose coins etc. etc. Many of the bank’s franchises closed on forehand.

That’s today. I haven’t even talked about the simultaneous demonstrations for public education in all the big cities. And there is much more. This thing is ongoing. As from tomorrow evening – inshallah­ – I will be back in Barcelona to continue my direct coverage of the Spanish Revolution.

Stay tuned.

Barcelona, "Bankia's turn". To the franchise with a guillotine. Photo via @15mBcn_int

Barcelona, “Bankia’s turn”. To the franchise with a guillotine. Photo via @15mBcn_int

The Next Level

In #GlobalRevolution, Italy on 17 April 2013 at 11:19

LogoMareaCiudadana

Dear people,

Though I am lost in the backwaters of Europe, I keep following the events in Spain wherever I can. There is no way I can report on all things happening, because it’s simply too much. Sufficeth to say that evictions are being prevented every day, and demonstrations are being held at least every week. Recently there was a big demo in Madrid against the scandal-ridden monarchy, in favour of a third republic.

I hope to return to Spain soon, but before I do, I will inform you about how the movement is attempting to take the struggle to the next level.

Out of the primordial indignant chaos of the 15-M, various issue-centered waves have evolved, each adopting its own colour. The most prominent are the Green Wave (public education), the White Wave (public health care) and the Blue Wave (public water). There are many more waves concentrating on minor issues, and then there is the PAH, Plataforma Afectados por la Hipoteca, which coordinates the struggle against foreclosures and has a very strong presence all over Spain. Finally, there are the hundreds of popular assemblies in cities, villages and neighbourhoods that were born out of the occupations in 2011.

These local and thematic groups have united into a movement called Marea Ciudadana, or “Citizens’ Wave”. They have been pressurizing government with frequent marches on parliament, but since a couple of months they have also adopted a more confrontational tactic called ‘escrache’. Escraches, instead of targeting faceless institutions, are actions that target specific people (or parties) directly and personally.

You are a politician who has been taking bribes? Right, we won’t lament ourselves outside parliament, but we’ll come to your house. We’ll make noise under your windows, we will let all your neighbours know that you are scum. It’s a tactic that was first used in Argentina in the early 2000s to denounce politicians that had been responsible for atrocities committed by the military regime. It has been used in Uruguay, Peru and other Latin American countries, and since this spring it has been adopted by the PAH to denounce those politicians who represent the interests of the banks rather than those of the citizens.

In a certain sense, escrache is the enactment of a famous meme that was adopted by the movement in the early days of the revolution: ‘If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep.’

The great leap forward of the movement is supposed to happen this spring. From June 23 to June 30 the “United Citizens’ Waves” intend to exercise popular sovereignty through plebiscite. The premise is the following. According to the Spanish Constitution “National sovereignty is vested in the Spanish people, from whom all State powers emanate” (Article 1), and “Citizens have the right to participate in public affairs directly or through representatives freely elected in periodic elections by universal suffrage.” (Article 23).

Over the last 35 years people have tried to participate through representatives, but in the end it didn’t work out to their advantage. So now has come the time for citizens to participate in public affairs directly. They will drum up enough support to block privatizations, to end foreclosures by law, to reform the banking sector and to bring corrupt politicians to justice.

How this will work out in practice remains to be seen. But it’s going to be damn interesting to observe.

Of course, the skeptics will say that it can never work, direct democracy on this kind of scale. But you cannot know that until you try. And Spain is not the only place where direct democracy is being experimented. Another example is Italy.

Over the last few weeks, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement has been under heavy attack from the establishment and the press for his failure to cooperate with the gerontocracy that has been ruling Italy – in various disguises – since the age of dinosaurs. They want him to support a government of the so-called Democratic Party, but since he continues to refuse, they blame him for the current political stalemate.

On top of all this, a new president of the republic has to be elected by parliament. Usually this doesn’t happen in parliament, but in the corridors. The major parties try to find a compromise on some colourless ex-politician that will not cause them trouble in the seven years to come.

The Five Star Movement refuses to take part in these shady practices. They think the citizens ought to have a say in the election of their head of state and so they organized primaries online, open to all the members of the movement. They could propose any Italian citizen of more than fifty years of age (as the constitution requires). The winner, elected over two rounds, will be the official candidate that M5S members will propose and vote. Yesterday, the results came in. No politician, no Nobel prize winner, but an investigative journalist will be the people’s candidate for the presidency: Milena Gabanelli.

You have to know that journalism in Italy is of an embarrasingly low standard. I was reminded by that lately, when I returned to read Italian newspapers. Generally, Italian journalists seem to think that news reporting consists of quoting politicians. For example, something is going on, say a demonstration, then your average journalist won’t give you an account of what happened and why, but he or she will stuff the microphone in the face of some second-rate politicians from the left to the right and publish their sound bites. The facts don’t matter. All you get is talking heads, always the same, ad nauseam. If not, you have your intellectualoid balloons, who preach about the dire state of the nation in such hollow terms that they cannot possibly be accused of having a real opinion on the matter. In any case, a true journalist is very hard to find in Italy.

Milena Gabanelli is an exception. For fifteen years she has been digging deeply into all the dirt related to corruption, speculation, squander, inefficiency, bribery and all-out organized crime. Now, the usual tactic of the establishment to silence journalists who actually do their job in Italy, is to denounce them for diffamation. They hardly ever win, but it serves to scare the great majority into becoming faithful mercenaries of the system. Not so Milena Gabanelli. She is a courageous woman, with a profound knowledge of all of Italy’s problems. For this, justly, the members of the Five Star Movement have nominated her to become the country’s head of state.

We are entering an age in which direct participation of all the people in public affairs is becoming possible. We don’t need representatives any more. Let the skeptics say that it can’t be done, that’s it’s going to be a mess. We will try anyway. The mess can hardly be worse than the one that our so-called representatives have caused.