Archives for category: catalonia referendum

La Modelo was a prison located in the central Eixample neighborhood of Barcelona, and was home to many political prisoners during the Franco dictatorship, and also the site of many executions, among them the killing of anarchist Salvador Puig Antich in 1974.

I used to live just across the street and it was always an imposing structure, though usually strangely quiet, except for the occasional karaoke nights that would echo out from over the walls, which occupied an entire city block.

The prison shut down definitively in 2017, after 113 years in operation. It is now an open space, and is used for tours, civic events, and most notably its walls now serve as canvases for urban art. Below you’ll find a selection from a recent trip I made to the area, which is located here.

 

Barcelona-based Italian artist TVBoy has struck again, this time in three different locations in the center of Barcelona, for his paste-up series entitled “The Monsters of Politics”. The three “monsters” include three of the biggest names in Spanish politics: President and leader of the PSOE (socialist) party Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Ciudadanos (Citizen’s) party Albert Rivera, and leader of the Partido Popular (People’s Party) Pablo Casado. All three are relatively young, charming, and eager to lead Spain out of the current constitutional conflict with Catalonia. All three are also plagued with their own problems, which are depicted in TVBoy’s portraits.

Pedro Sanchez, who became president after a no-confidence vote ousted previous president Mariano Rajoy due to rampant corruption within his Partido Popular, is depicted as a superman, who has the flag of the Second Spanish Republic, rather than the normal “S” for superman. It seems to suggest that while Sanchez is ostensibly a strong figure, he also represents the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), which is traditionally anti-monarchist. Sanchez, however, much to the chagrin of many party fundamentalists, and many Catalans, seems to be quite comfortable with the current status quo of the constitutional monarchy. He’s also a superhero whose strength depends on some very tenuous coalitions, especially those with Catalan parties in favor of self-determination, a red line that if crossed would be political suicide.

Albert Rivera is the leader of the C’s party, which is the youngest of the three political formations. The C’s party started in Barcelona around 2006-7 and seemed to me as a newcomer to be an answer to the rising tide of self-determination sentiments among the population of Catalonia. The party represents itself neither left nor right, and is a member of the neo-liberal ALDE alliance. So, on the surface, they would most likely be considered center-right. However, they are also one of the parties who have come out strongest against the idea of Catalan independence, and as a result have attracted many followers who could best be compared with the alt-right ideology in the US. They have organized several pro-unity rallies in Barcelona, and while the majority of attendees are peaceful, there is almost always a notable presence of alt-right and pro-Franco groups, complete with flags from the Franco dictatorship. Cs have also encouraged followers to “clean” the public space of symbols such as the yellow ribbon, which has become the emblem for freedom for the Catalan leaders who remain in prison without a trial for having organized last October’s independence referendum. Many of the clean up squads have been prone toward violence and confrontation, hence the portrayal of Rivera with the aviator jacket and black boots which is common apparel for the far-right in Spain and other places.

The other character is Pablo Casado, who was recently elected the leader of the People’s Party, which is the establishment center-right party which has formed a part of the two-party system with the socialists since the restoration of democracy after the death of Franco. Casado has inherited a party in crisis, which has been plagued by corruption scandals and is often seen by many as having been too soft on Catalonia during the aforementioned crisis. Casado rose to power by taking a much harder line against Catalonia, a contrast to the softer tone of his predecessor, the ousted Rajoy. However, Casado has two big problems: the PP holds only four seats in the Catalan Parliament, which is not enough to even form their own group, and looks set to lose even more, as conservative voters flee to the “clean” Cs party. The other problem is that Casado has been embroiled in a wider scandal which saw a major Spanish public university “gifting” Master’s degrees to various politicians, and others (including current president Pedro Sanchez) inflating their CVs with weekend seminars which turned into Phds. Casado seems to be in the clear for the moment, but the stain on his image remains, hence TVBoy’s having dressed him in the cap and gown. The fistful of cash would be a nod to the millions in dark money the party is rumored to have paid leaders under the table over the last forty years.

No one really knows how the current crisis will play out, but with the trials of the imprisoned leaders set to start early next year, tensions promise to escalate once again. My personal opinion is that the EU should get involved and mediate a solution, however I doubt that will happen unless things come to a critical boiling point, which is still pretty far off.

It’s unlikely that the paste-ups will last too long. In fact, someone had already attempted to remove the image of Albert Rivera, only hours after being pasted up. But just in case you’re curious:

Pedro Sanchez as Superman is at the intersection of Gran Via and Passeig de Gràcia.

Pablo Casado is on a doorway at Carrer d’en Perot lo Lladre.

Albert Rivera (most likely gone) is on Carrer Canuda.

 

 

Tomorrow, the 21st of December is the day that Catalans go to the polls in one of the tensest, most polarized election cycles since Spain’s return to democracy in the late 70’s. There are various parties involved, but really there are only two blocs: the independence bloc, and the so-called constitutionalist bloc, which consists of parties who in one way or another supported the Madrid central government’s seizing control of the Catalan regional government, dissolving the parliament, and calling snap elections. The idea behind the elections would be for non-independence forces to win and form pacts in order to, as Spanish president Rajoy put it, “restore normalcy”. Polls seem neck in neck, and debates have been tense, and no one really seems sure of what will happen, from the paid experts to the man (or woman) on the street.

Italian artist TVBoy has risen to the challenge and during the night slapped up some work which portrays the politicians from the pro-union parties engaged in passionate embraces, which would symbolize the post-election pact magic they would need in order to restore that holy grail of Madrid-style “normalcy”. I rushed downtown as soon as I heard about them, as such political art would likely become victim of the city cleaning squads, or angry citizens who feel their political idols are being mocked.

Added bonus: a rare selfie of your favorite blogger!

 

The last few months have been turbulent ones here in Catalonia, and it’s been nearly impossible not to get caught up in the action, hence the lack of publications during this time.

While the independence issue has been at the forefront for the last 7 years or so, since the Spanish government moved to decimate the “estatut” agreement which gave the Catalans more autonomy, and recognition of their cultural identity, it’s only this summer that things really began to heat up.

The president of Catalonia since 2015, Carles Puigdemont is a lifelong believer in the independence movement, in contrast to his predecessor Artur Mas, who was a fairly recent convert. In June, Puigdemont and the independence-minded majority of the Parliament decided to fulfill their election promise and call a binding referendum on the declaration of an independent Catalan Republic. There had been a vote in November of 2014, but it was largely symbolic, and mostly ignored by Madrid. This time, however, Madrid started using every weapon in its arsenal to prevent the referendum, which was slated for the 1st of October.

Over the summer, there was much back-and-forth between Madrid and Barcelona, which culminated in Spanish Civil Guard (paramilitary police, which evoke images for the Franco dictatorship for many) forcing their way into various Catalan government offices, in search of referendum-related materials. This was accompanied by the takedown (and re-birth) of referendum websites, the prohibition of referendum advertising on Catalan public media. There was also police intervention in public meetings to discuss the referendum. Needless to say, none of this sat well with the Catalan people, and massive street demonstrations, beginning on the 20th of September resulted in the imprisonment, without bail or trial, of two leading independence activists known as the “Jordis” for their share first name, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez.

Adding more fuel to the fire, the Spanish government decided to deploy 18,000 National riot police officers and Civil Guard, who were put up in cruise ships near the port.

The days leading up to the referendum were about as tense as I can remember having experienced since coming to live here, with all manner of threats being lobbed from Madrid toward Catalan leaders, citizens and media. The evening before the vote, people occupied the schools where the voting was to take place, organizing games, classes, workshops, and other activities to pass the time, and protect their polling places. The morning of the 1st was a rainy one, but people began to gather outside polling stations before sunrise, waiting to cast their votes, under the constant threat that the police moored at the port could appear at any time. The police did appear at some polling places, and exercised the restraint one would expect from a saber-rattling Madrid–some reports cite nearly 1000 injured, while others claim numbers in the single digits. The photo and video evidence which is abundant online seems to support the former numbers.

During these last few months, the citizen mobilization in the streets has been an impressive exercise in democracy which, whatever one’s feelings might be on the independence issue, has been unique for its lack of violence. A big part of those mobilizations has been the amount of postering and wheatpasting that has been done all over the city. As a street art blog, I felt it necessary to document some of it for you.