Protests Across Catalunya, Spain

Plaça de Catalunya, June 7th

Barcelona, Spain. As a cultural and linguistic anthropologist interested in language and law, it is an intense and fascinating place to be. I am here to do some preliminary research untangling of relationships between law and statistics–however before I describe parts of my research, I want to try to provide an image of the political climate in the city, a sense of the extent of the kinds of social movements that are taking place in Catalunya and across Spain.

Spending cuts that have hit universities and public services hard, rising unemployment, Catalan president Artur Mas’ takeover of government contracts and spending (which even allows public hospitals to lease space to private companies), have formed the backdrop of waves of protests in Madrid, Barcelona, Lleida. Many of the protesters are young and have been jobless for long periods of time. Newspapers and digital media are full of the protesters’ stories, stories of the protesters and the impact the movements will have on national politics, often comparing them to the events of May 1968.

Beginning on May 15th, protesters of the organization Democracia Real Ya (DRY), assembled in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, calling for political and social change. The demonstration ended in confrontations with police and arrests, but a group of protesters stayed in the plaza that night, elected spokespersons the following day, and the movement M-15 was born. In a matter of days the number of protesters, despite being dislodged by police, had grown to several hundred. By the 20th of May, there were similar occupations of public squares in multiple cities across Spain and Europe. In Barcelona, the ‘indignados’, as the protesters are called in the press, (literally, the indignant) occupied the Plaza de Catalunya until yesterday, when the movement made the decision to continue the protests in other forums. Nevertheless, they will continue to meet in the plaza during the daytime, on specified days, and as I write there are still small tents covering the plaza.

The movements in each city have made decisions separately, including as to the length of time they plan to occupy those spaces. Declaring that politicians did not speak for them, and refusing to hold dialogue with them (although the acampados of Madrid have changed positions on this issue), the protesters worked hard to self-organize and clearly state positions on political problems. Every day the commissions, formed around specific social issues, make decisions about the political demands and proposals they want to put forward. These claims include new referendums, forms of direct democracy, equal access to health and social services, and many, many more (see Protesters, in Madrid, Seville, and other cities, plan to remain in the plazas through June 19th, when municipal governments vote on annual budgets.

The day after I arrived in Spain, Friday, May 27th, the protesters in the Plaça de Catalunya were removed by the Catalan police, under the orders of Department of the Interior representative Felip Puig. Although Puig argued that the plaza needed to be cleaned in order to make it safe and usable for celebrations following the Barça championship that evening, Puig’s actions were interpreted as a forced eviction. Clashes between protesters and police began in the early morning, and streets leading up to the plaza were closed. I watched footage of confrontations between protesters and police, events that are now being investigated by the Sindic de Grueges, a Catalan counterpart of the Defensor del Pueblo, or ombudsman, and the government. A woman, clinging to the protesters around her, pulled by police, had tears streaming down her face—not because she was physically hurt, although she was hit, but as I interpreted it, from the sheer horror and shock of occupying that position vis a vis a state and its some of its most powerful agents.

In the midst of the rain, the protests, and budgetary mayhem, I have been seeking, in contrast, forms of bureaucratic order and control. The preliminary research I have begun explores the relationships between law and statistics, and forms of gathering knowledge about particular social groups that utilize different kinds of assessment tools to predict particular risks or dangers that an individual or group poses to themselves and/or others. I have spoken with professors at the University of Barcelona who have been involved in the creation of some of these statistical instruments, and will meet with anthropological and juridical institutes involved with these kinds of projects later this week.

Posted by Johanna Lenkner – PhD Candidate in Sociocultural Anthropology at NYU

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