Barcelona: El Banc Expropiat de Gràcia resists!

After the botched eviction of Can Vies in late May, squatters have been preparing for the new offensive of the Catalan state. The riots that now taking place show how the new forms of occupation that are emerging in Barcelona in response to the austerity crisis have managed to gather massive popular support.

As we have previously written, here and here the #RebuildCanVies (#RefemCanVies) campaign that followed the eviction of Can Vies has gone from strength to strength. Using Verkami, the squatters launched a crowdfunding request for 70,000 euros and received almost 90,000 euros. The plan for the original amount was for 40,000 to be used for rebuilding and for 30,000 to provide funds for two groups (Rereguarda en Moviment and Alerta Solidària) which are making the legal defence for the 67 people arrested during the week of protests following the eviction.

Those riots lasted a week, during which the police used an diverse repertory of action ranging from blunt force, torture, intimidation, helicopters with strong lights over the city, etc. These measures included the surrounding around 200 protesters after Saturday’s march, who were deprived of the protection of lawyers and the presumption of innocence: no cameras or lawyers were allowed inside the siege, where protesters were obliged to dress up as trouble-makers. Allegedly, this was done to allow the police to make a visual identification of trouble-makers. But then, there was no reason to keep journalists and lawyers out of this massive operation.

Although social unrest has predictably grown during the crisis, nobody could have predicted that Can Vies’ eviction would unleash such strong protests. Still, after these events the local authorities were more than aware that they were threatening projects backed by significant popular support. Social centres like Can Vies or El Banc are a self-managed, collective answer to state repression. This is one seed amongst many others which is providing the roots for a new society to grow. In Barcelona, several squatted spaces (and non-squatted also, of course) have created real alternatives to the hegemonic capitalist system. Non-commercial relations have been created in spaces where different generations, social classes, cultures and genders live together in relative harmony. Almost everywhere where the crisis hit, popular reactions have come about, usually with splendid results.
El Banc: the forerunner of a new wave of squats

Since 2014, 6 new bank offices have been squatted, most in the Eixample neighbourhood, the middle class residential neighbourhood of Barcelona. It occupies most of the territorial space in Barcelona and was previously never a place where people squatted to create social centres. This gives us an average of one new squat per month, all of them of a new kind (there have been other kinds of new squatting actions as well but we do not have space to describe them here). First, l’Entrebanc came about in April. Then, came La Vaina, La Porka, La Industria, El Rec, and others. Counted together with El Banc Expropiat and the Casal Tres Lliris (squatted as part of the campaign to stop El Banc’s eviction), there are now eight squatted banking offices in Barcelona, as well as another one in Girona and Blanes.

These projects are, as the squatting movement as always been, quite diverse. Still, the awareness of bringing about a new model of squats has been acknowledged and discussed collectively. El Banc Expropriat has shown that the strategy of inclusiveness can be reconciled with radicality, as it is a place where basic libertarian values are promoted by a very heterogeneous mix of people. Other groups found banking offices located in prime locations, and are having similar success with the neighbours, as well as with social movements in general. The planned eviction of the first squatted bank of this kind, El Banc, shows how far the state is committed to demolish popular self-managed projects.
The eviction of El Banc Expropiat and the new “gag law”

Since El Banc Expropiat de Gràcia, has been under the threat of eviction, it has been made crystal clear that no eviction will happen without the usual disturbances. A web page has been set up to gather all actions in solidarity with the squat, to keep a visual record of the popular reaction to the eviction. Twice already, El Banc was in court and the owner CaixaCatalunya, the fourth largest savings bank in Spain, was not able to evict them. Now, the offices where El Banc is located were sold to a known speculator, who finally managed to get the courts to rule in favour of the eviction. Since October, the assembly has been guarding the building day and night, in a selfless effort to preserve this collective space.

At this point, most emblematic squats are currently under the threat of eviction. Whilst Barcelona’s squat scene has several times been in such a situation before, the crisis has upped the stakes for those who do not abide by the law. On December 11, the “gag law” severely restricting civil liberties was passed.

NGOs, associations and social movements have joined in opposition to these draconian measures. This bill include many new offences that could carry fines of up to €600,000. Even the sole fact of physically being in a squat could lead to a fine. The eviction of El Banc, shortly after the approval of this national law, gives the opportunity to the Catalan ruling class to show that they are truly committed to the nation’s public and political order. While Catalan politicians have been waving flags of independence and freedom, when one comes down to facts the differences between the two main political parties PP (People’s Party) and CiU (Convergence and Union) become blurry. The apparent division between different national ruling classes dissolves intoa renewed unity when they oppose popular movements.

Early in the morning, on December 16, the ‘Spanish “Audiencia Nacional” has started a so-called “anti-terrorist” operation in the context of which 12 people have been arrested so far. Seven of them have not been released and will be kept in jail until further notice. The Kasa de la Muntanya, one of the oldest and most emblematic squats of Barcelona, was raided by the police. The police knocked the door down using great force, a technique that had also been used against Can Vies back in February. As they had no eviction order, the squat remains in place, but the police now have precious information on the building and on the political activity of the CSO. Several agents of the Information Brigade were on the spot, they took computers and phones.

Several “Ateneus” (the traditional Catalan popular social centres) were also searched in order to find proof of “anarchist terrorism”. The notorious “Pandora Operation” is producing moral demons to frighten the population and legitimize the “gag law”.

Protests are occurring throughout the state to protest against the arrest of activists and the implementation of the new law. This is a clear case of how elites join efforts against their common enemy. When the people organise and confront the unjust state of affairs, the conflict between Catalonia and Spain fades out. Catalan authorities had to authorize the Mossos and actually carried out the orders of the “Audiencia Nacional” during the “Pandora Operation”. In other words, most Catalan politicians often spout off about not following orders from the capital Madrid, but this discourse is clearly selective and only applies when the interests of the Catalan elite get in sync with the popular movement for self-determination…

Meanwhile the streets continue to burn.