An article written in January 2015 on the occasion of the TV broadcast of a documentary film entitled "Ciutat Morta" (Dead City), about a spectacular case of police brutality and judicial malfeasance in Barcelona, discussing the “new repressive foundations of capitalist society” being laid in the “modern urban agglomerations” that are being turned into “enormous malls and theme parks” and “museums for tourists”, where a militarized urban police force is enforcing an authoritarian campaign of “zero tolerance” social cleansing against picketing strikers, immigrants, squatters, panhandlers and all “recalcitrant elements whose presence constitutes an annoyance for … shoppers and tourists”.
4F: Something Smells Rotten in Barcelona1 - Revista Argelaga
On January 17, 2015 Catalonian television broadcast, censored and after a year’s delay, the documentary film, “Ciutat Morta” [Dead City], which, despite the fact that it was shown on one of the less popular channels, nonetheless reached a large audience. The “citizenry” stopped looking the other way for a moment and beheld the Calvary endured by five innocent youths at the hands of lawless thugs and an arbitrary judicial system. The frame-up of 4F is not the only incident that has revealed the collusion between complicit politicians, police torturers and corrupt judges. Just think of 9F, the Raval case, the rubber bullet that destroyed Esther Quintana’s eye, the deaths of the actor Alfonso Bayard and the Romanian citizen Lucian Paduranu, the beating of the three Greek youths, or the recent Operation Pandora, only to mention the most sensational incidents. Nor is it the only incident in which the police have engaged in violence with total impunity, filed false reports and perjured themselves in court; and everyone knows, furthermore, that these cops are rewarded with pardons, promotions and other forms of compensation for the performance of such services.
Something smells rotten in Barcelona, but no one should be too shocked by this. The real scandal is not the false accusations, the gratuitous humiliations inflicted on the prisoners, or the criminal sadism of the “operational protocols” of the uniformed executioners; much less is it the complicity and cover-ups of the politicians, the coercion of witnesses, the disregard for evidence, or the kangaroo courts. What is really outrageous is that fact that this Kafkaesque universe is a normal part of civil life. Today, such conduct is normal, it is legitimized, because, for those responsible for these outrages, it is the only way to effectively assure the preservation of the established order on a citywide scale.
Revolts occur when the rulers lose all credibility and their authority inspires no respect among those whom they rule. It’s that simple. In such a situation, even if people obey out of habit, the “System” knows that it is fragile; it is not enough for it to possess a solid political and judicial institutional apparatus with which it can snuff out the least trace of independent life, for it also needs a domesticated public space where the wandering violinist, the autonomous party (which was not exactly the case at the “Anarco Peña Cultural”), the ineffable derive, and above all public freedom—that enthusiasm for talking, discussing, breathing and acting—are neither seen nor heard. The leaders perceive their unruly subjects as a threat, that is, as an “enemy” capable of infiltrating even the smallest unguarded breach in their defenses. The nature of this enemy is easy to discern merely by taking a look at the victims of police zeal: homeless people, immigrants, “squatter culture” youth, demonstrators, picketing strikers, and, generally, anyone who gets in the way of the mercenaries of “civic” order.
These figures of the public enemy have replaced those of the “malcontent”, the “atheist”, the “communist” or the “anarchist” that were used by Franco’s dictatorship to exorcize its opponents and justify an implacable repression. The particratic regime born from the mutually-agreed reconversion of the dictatorship did not change in the least the hostile relation between rulers and ruled; it neither abolished the punitive legislation of the Franco regime, nor did it purge its police and judicial apparatus. The “social threat” that it attributed to the “enemy”, was embodied in turn by the “terrorist”, the “drug trafficker”, the “repeat offender” and, finally, by those who are “anti-system”, thus legitimizing a regressive trend in legislation that abolished civil rights and allowed police harassment in the name of “democratic values” and “civil security”. Similarly, the dictatorship did the same thing in the name of “peace”, “religion” and “public order”. The partiocracy has not developed institutions that are capable of integrating social protest, nor has it created a situation in which the dissident collectives will allow themselves to be coopted or corrupted, which is why the social question—the human condition under a capitalist system that is undergoing constant restructuring—was contemplated from the perspective of the leaders as a question of order.
As always, police abuses preceded legislation, and the latter was drafted accordingly. And with astonishing ease, the partiocracy has gutted the liberal constitutionalist corpse in order to reproduce political-social conditions typical of authoritarian regimes. It has too many vulnerable points, and that is why it has to protect itself against a constantly reemerging enemy, so that when the latter does arise it does so in a terminally ill condition, like someone who is stricken with Hepatitis C. Indiscriminate police violence is actually the first step in a war against the subject population, in which any sign of dissent turns one into a “suspect”. And, as in any war, force is employed to annihilate the opponent, not to convince him of the inappropriateness of his behavior. In this field the State is always right: innocent victims are guilty of having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The paradigm of the new repressive foundations of capitalist society is found in the modern urban agglomerations, which today serve to impress a way of life that is obedient to the imperatives of the economy and politics. Within them, there is no public space that could function as an agora; the domain of decision-making is sequestered in the hallways and offices of the powerful, outside of which “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must” (Thucydides). An elite composed of politicians, cultural promoters, bankers, construction firms, hotel owners and speculators, administers the conurbations as if they were businesses, setting in motion processes of “urban sprawl”, gentrification and the transformation of urban spaces into museums for tourists. The goal is none other than to transform them into exploitable spaces, like so many enormous malls and theme parks. Such a transformation requires not only major disruptions of neighborhoods with scarce resources, but the total control of the street and the expulsion, by all possible means, of those recalcitrant elements whose presence constitutes an annoyance for the new users of these areas, that is, the commercial artists, the shoppers and the tourists.
In this context of urban reorganization, the urban guard plays a hygienic role similar to that of the armed police of the Franco regime: it has to cleanse these places of an undesirable, impoverished and out-of-control population, applying without any concern for civil rights the zero tolerance policies that are being imposed by restrictive municipal ordinances. In this way, rather minor phenomena like panhandlers, squatted buildings that host parties, and undocumented immigrants, by existing where they are not supposed to exist, become urban problems of the first magnitude. This is sufficient to explain the existence of police units of dubious legality such as the UPAS unit of the Urban Guard of Barcelona—composed of two hundred goons whose specialty is hunting down vagrants and young people who look like “punks” or “goths”, as well as violently dispersing unauthorized gatherings and parties. As a result, they obviously enjoy the unconditional support of the mayors and municipal councilmen, as well as the benevolent understanding of judges and prosecutors, which gives them a carte blanche for the commission of every kind of outrage.
This combination of police brutality, judicial connivance and political pandering, is nothing but the “system” which, originating in Catalonia, has been promoted as the “Barcelona model”, a pioneer in its field, whose rigor has provoked the admiration of all the urban elites of the Peninsula. The original model has given rise to imitators, but Barcelona is still the European capital of intolerance and abuse, a fact concerning which its politicians, its judges and its henchmen will undoubtedly feel proud.
The frame-up of 4F was not an exception, but rather one more aspect of the “System’s” modus operandi. That is why the attempt to revisit the affair, as carried out in the documentary film, “Ciutat Morta”, based on the sensationalistic media exploitation of the suffering of the victims and the existence of a “real” culprit, seems mistaken to us. Everyone knows who the culprit is: it is the “System” itself. It is the “System” that is the torturer, the frame-up artist, the corrupt judge. To ask it to admit its guilt, to offer some kind of moral compensation, or even to purge its institutions, would only serve to soothe the citizen’s bad conscience of the spectator, horrified by the everyday practices with which the guardians of the status quo guarantee the stability of his submissive way of life. Participating in the game of the communications media by asking for justice and truth from those who are by their very nature unjust and false will only benefit the System, which only needs to round up a few scapegoats to consolidate its legitimacy in the eyes of its acolytes and voters. That is not the way. Anyone who wants to find the way, only if he really wants to find it, only needs to look at everything that the frame-up sought to destroy.
January 27, 2015
Translated in January-February 2015 from the original Spanish language text provided by the authors.
Original Spanish language text available online at: https://argelaga.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/4f-algo-huele-a-podrido-en-barcelona/.
- 1 4F: Refers to the date, February 4, 2006, when, as police were engaged in surveillance of a party in a squatted theater in Barcelona (the “Anarco Peña Cultural”), a police officer was hit in the head by a thrown or falling object (apparently a flower pot), suffering severe head trauma and paralysis as a result. Five young people were arrested in an apparent frame-up, after which they were imprisoned, abused and humiliated. One of them subsequently committed suicide. A brief account of the affair in English is available online at: http://freedomnews.org.uk/the-uncovering-of-the-barcelona-4-f-case/ [Translator’s note].