I arrived here in Barcelona in late October, just after a weekend of massive demonstrations, including three nights of violence and destruction.
Really large peaceful protests (350,000 – 500,00) like the one above got a lot of attention, and not so peaceful, “anarchist-driven” riots at night had the city on edge.
What’s going on here? Spain is made up of semi-autonomous regions and Barcelona is the capital of the Catalan region. It has its own language, customs, culture, history, and economy, and frequently chafes against national control from Madrid. Sounds kind of like Texas.
In 2017, an “independence referendum” was held here, despite the national government declaring in advance that it was illegal. The result was 93% for independence but with only 43% of voters participating. The other result was that a bunch of local Catalan officials and independence leaders were arrested. They were tried for “sedition”, with the Supreme Court handing down final sentences of 12-15 years in October, touching off these massive protests.
Some of the worst protests were just a few blocks from my apartment here and you can still see the scorched pavement where fires were set. As I rode in from the airport in a taxi, I could see smashed and boarded-up store windows. The level of violence, injuries to police and civilians, and damage to local businesses gave everyone pause. The press reported “professional anarchists” were causing much of the violence (my view: probably funded by Putin 😊 ). An emphasis on peaceful demonstrations has since emerged. The national government has held firm, though, and the ardor of the protestors has abated somewhat. The pro-independence strategy now seems to be to hold daily, small protests that block a major road or occupy a major tourist site for 30 minutes.
The protest shown above just popped up during my morning stroll today. They’re in the middle of a traffic circle and the police were very cool about it, immediately directing traffic to go around them on the sides, and making no arrests that I saw. With regard to planned demonstrations, the American Embassy very kindly posts the schedule, so they can be avoided.
Polls indicate that the local population is evenly split on the question of independence. I’m glad to have missed the violence and hope some solutions can be found. I take heart from the existence of this store: