No foreword is needed today: with burning rubbish skips, barricades (even if they are small), fences and motorbikes being knocked down, we all stand to lose a lot.
A burning fire in a demonstration is a visual expression of violence, even if the actual damage is modest and material. It doesn’t matter if last night’s fires in Barcelona’s Passeig de Gràcia were much smaller than the ones we often see on tv when there is a protest in some European capital.
Scenes like those carry textbook consequences: we’ve given them the footage they were hoping for and Casado and Rivera have already asked PM Pedro Sánchez to invoke Spain’s National Security Act and have Spain’s Interior Ministry take over the Catalan police force.
But the most serious political consequence of any damage or street fire —or any casualties— is that it presents the issue exactly as those who reject a negotiated solution to the Catalan conflict would like to frame it: not as a political issue, but as a law enforcement problem. It allows them to stop talking about the prisoners, the prison terms, the necessary politics and, instead, focus on the Spanish police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, the injured and bruised. You may keep going on about how the State has been overly zealous with such long prison sentences, but today’s political discussion panels are all about how Catalan president Quim Torra has allowed things to get out of hand. We can’t allow that: we mustn’t let them turn a political issue into a law enforcement problem. I’ve spent years telling them that Spain cannot send judges and police to deal with Catalonia, but protests like last night’s provide Spain with the perfect alibi to do precisely that. Too many people in Spain are saying this morning that they “already knew that hatred and mayhem lurked behind the smiling revolution”.
However, this analysis would be incomplete if we didn’t mention that:
—It is wrong to blow things out of proportion. Last night’s flames are the most serious incident we have seen in the streets of Catalonia in a decade of impressive demonstrations. Even if shocking, what happened last night is a far cry from the violence we have witnessed in other places. So, if that’s the end of it, there’s no point in overstating the fact. But if things are going to go that way from now on, we will lose the little power that the Generalitat has and we will all stand to lose as a society.
—The State’s apparatus spreads as many lies as it can about what is going on. Last night Spain’s public tv network, TVE, tweeted a photo of some burning trees near Montjuïc’s Palau Nacional to illustrate what was happening in the city of Barcelona. Only a few hours later they issued a statement saying that “colleagues forwarded the picture to us as coming from reliable police sources. We apologise for this mistake”. It turns out the photo which the police circulated was taken in 2010 during a street celebration of Spain’s victory in the World Cup.
—There is more: street protests are entirely justified these days because nine peaceful people have received prison sentences —of the length you’d expect in a murder case— for crimes they did not commit.
—It is precisely the political and social leaders that are locked up in a prison cell who would have the greatest authority to curb any budding violence: Cuixart and Sànchez are in jail for their political activities. And Major Trapero [the former chief of the Catalan police], who had managed to infuse a culture of street-level response more centered around conflict resolution than baton charges, has been dismissed and indicted. Catalonia had passed a law banning rubber bullets, but on Monday they turned up again and a protestor lost an eye when he was hit by one.
—So, let us ask the question: who is responsible for the street fires in Barcelona? Clearly, people hadn’t behaved that way until now.
Well, yesterday we interviewed Jordi Sànchez by phone. He was speaking from Lledoners prison and when we asked him about Monday’s demonstrations he replied that “it is essential to stay mobilised, but in a non-violent manner. Protests on Monday were mostly impeccable and non-violent, but the police used excessive force. Firing rubber bullets again shows that there are two law enforcement models. Our strength stems from non-violence and it renders the state defenceless when it would like to see us resort to violence and accuse us of terrorism”.
And today it was Joaquim Forn, Catalonia’s former interior minister, who posted this on Twitter:
“No violence can represent us”
Let’s bear this in mind ahead of the marches that are headed for Barcelona city and Friday’s general strike: we mustn’t allow a political issue to become a law enforcement problem.
Free the political prisoners, the indicted, the exiles. And have a nice day, everyone.