Police riot in Barcelona

On Friday, Mossos d’Escuadra, as the Catalan autonomous regional police are called, broke up a demonstration in Barcelona’s beautiful Plaza Catalunya. The action has led to calls for the resignation of the center-right government of Catalonia, and has gained the vocal solidarity of demonstrators in the rest of Spain and beyond.

The May 15 Movement has been carrying out sit-ins in the Plaza del Sol in Madrid and in dozens of other major and minor cities in Spain. The mostly youthful protestors, who coordinate their activities through Twitter and other social media and thus have been able to approach the massive turnouts which led to the fall of the governments of Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, are protesting austerity measures being imposed by the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Spain, the country’s social democrats) as a response to demands from the European Central Bank, the European Union and Spain’s own ruling class.

In the case of Catalonia, which under the Spanish constitution has a great deal of autonomy, the protests got the goat of the right wing government of Catalan President Artur Mas and Catalan Interior Minister Felip Puig, both of the center-right Convergencia i Union Party, and other officials.

On Friday, the Mossos d’Escuadra were sent to clear out the Plaza Catalunya where demonstrators had vowed to continue their sit-in encampment against the austerity measures, with the pretext that the space had to be cleaned up for other activities. However, it is clear from video footage of what ensued that the police came expecting a fight, and, finding none, charged into the mostly youthful, and entirely peaceful crowd with batons and rubber bullets.

Rather than picking up rocks and going after the police, the young people tried to appeal to them and clearly showed the peaceful nature of their protest through actions and gestures. Nevertheless, over 120 protesters were injured, though fortunately nobody was killed. 

The sight of the riot-gear clad police poking and striking peaceful young demonstrators with their clubs has enraged millions in Catalonia and throughout Spain. More demonstrations are taking place in Barcelona, (where at writing the Plaza Catalunya has been re-occupied by demonstrators) and a huge rally was carried out Friday afternoon in the Puerta del Sol in Madrid.

Unions (including the one that represents the Mossos d’Escuadra) have denounced the attack on the demonstrators, as have organizations of the political left in Catalonia and all of Spain. In a press statement, the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia (Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya-Viu) stated that “the PSU-Viu demands the immediate dismissal of Interior Minister Felip Piug” and called for increased demonstrations.. The Party of Catalan Communists accused the Mossos d’Escuadra of acting with “disproportionate violence” and called for the Catalan and Spanish people to continue their peaceful demonstrations. “We must stop the policy of austerity and budget cuts, as well as the subordination of the public powers to the financial markets’.

Photo: A demonstrator shows his hands covered with blood of a fellow protester as police officers try to remove them during clashes in Barcelona, May 27. Truncheon-wielding police beat protesters at a makeshift camp, one of dozens erected in Spain to protest high unemployment and other economic woes. Emilio Morenatti/AP




Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.