One of my most vivid memories in Barcelona was a violent and destructive one.
Since I landed in Spain, I frequently heard about “the crisis,” as it was referred to. Constant news updates about the latest protests, backlash over the failing economy and rising unemployment rate, and then – the call for una huelga general, a general strike, all throughout Spain on March 29th. A general strike basically meant that the whole country was taking a day off — stores closed, public transportation ran only at 25% of its normal frequency, and flights were canceled right before the Semana Santa week-long holiday. Our classes also were canceled because the main protest would occur quite close to the Eixample campus in Barcelona. We were told to stay inside, to stay safe.
Of course, I had to see the action up close. Looking back, it was a VERY dumb thing to do and I could have been seriously injured, but I can’t say it wasn’t thrilling.
I pulled this directly from my Tumblr, with a few edits:
The general strike here in Barcelona was crazy and a bit dangerous. I watched some of the news, and it seems like there were the most problems here.
I walked in toward the [city] center and at first while I was walking, it felt like it could have been a Sunday, with many shops closed and not many cars around (contrasting greatly with some streets with heavy traffic). Then as I drew closer, I saw some smashed windows and the burning remains of recycling bins from the street. Finally I arrived at Passeig de Gracia, where the main protest had started at 6pm. It was absolutely packed. I’d arrived right in the middle and it was difficult to walk anywhere because there were so many people. The protest overall wasn’t one big march but many small groups holding signs, wearing shirts, shouting through megaphones, the usual. I walked to where Pg. de Gracia meets with Plaza Cataluña because I knew there would be a big crowd there. I passed many walls graffitied with anarchy logos, and the front of the Borsa de Barcelona (the stock exchange market) was completely trashed.
When I arrived at the plaza, I quickly progressed from being excited about seeing something happen (I had seen a recycling bin burn from the beginning, and the fire department rushed in to extinguish what was left of it) to being terrified. I’d noticed another cloud of dark smoke and went to investigate. I heard popping sounds but I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t see anything up ahead but then the people around me started clapping and cheering, I could see small pieces of something flying, and the sound continued on and on. Then everyone started to duck down, lowering to the ground and finding cover, and finally I was able to see — the riot police had drawn their weapons less than 100ft away. I don’t think I’d ever felt so afraid of real possible danger. I could see that they were firing but I wasn’t sure if they were firing at people, or just to scare the crowd. I only knew I had to leave immediately but it was difficult to move through the sea of people, with so many others trying to back away as well. I felt angry with myself for allowing myself to be so curious and get too close.
When I’d managed to get back to the edge of the plaza, more police officers were arriving, and many people in the crowd started to raise their hands as if surrendering (giving the middle finger while doing it, of course). I didn’t know if they were going to start arresting people or what, but I noticed one officer with a gas mask on and I left as quickly as I could. I tried watching from the opposite side of the plaza but then people started running towards my direction, and then I really fled. I didn’t know where I was going, only that I had to get away from the central plaza and streets, to any street where there were cars passing which meant that it hadn’t been blockaded. When I’d reached a point where everything was normal again, my numb body still couldn’t catch up with my head which knew that I was out of imminent danger.
I don’t know what to end this with except that I’m really glad I made it out without any injuries. It’s amazing that a whole country can be united in such a way, but events like these show the negative aspects of a a huge crowd and mob mentality…
I searched the news that night to find out what had happened. There were reports that teargas and rubber bullets were indeed used, which confirmed that I’d left the scene just in the nick of time.
Some photos of the damage and violence:
I haven’t kept up with much news of Spain since coming back, although I know the situation has worsened, especially in terms of education funds. I expect there will be still more protests and strikes to come…