In this short article about the recent (May 2014) riots in Barcelona in the neighborhood of Sants in response to the attempt to close down and demolish a popular cultural center known as “Can Vies”, the author argues that the “arrogant” and “irresponsible” attitude and behavior of the City Government forced the “citizens” to resort to violence as a sort of last resort to defend their “social conquests”.
Can Vies: Violent Protest as the Only Answer – Antonio Maestre
The Barcelona City Government announced yesterday that it is ordering a halt to the demolition of what remains of Can Vies and “it will continue to seek a solution that is acceptable to and satisfactory for all”. The Can Vies Assembly, however, has no intention to negotiate with the City Government and on Saturday it convoked a “reconstruction conference” to discuss rebuilding the center.
Can Vies was occupied for 17 years by a collective that was devoted to cultural promotion. The occupation of this property, owned by the City Government and therefore by the people of Barcelona, never provoked any riots in the city. Its literary workshop never caused anyone to set fire to any dumpsters. Its movie programs never served as the detonator that caused anyone to throw any stones at bank windows.
The riots of the last four days that left in their wake such devastating images of some of the neighborhoods in the Catalonian capital, occurred after and in response to the eviction of a social center, which had operated for 17 years without incident and peacefully coexisted with its neighbors, whom it provided with a cultural option that the City Government had refused to give the neighborhood.
The outbreak of social violence was preceded by a display of the structural violence of the City Government of Barcelona, which, with a despotic and authoritarian attitude, entirely ignored the interests of the residents of the neighborhood. Xavier Trías, the mayor of Barcelona, scorned or ignored the citizens whom he is supposed to serve and instead acted in an arrogant, intransigent and irresponsible manner that provoked a violent reaction because he denied the local residents any other channel of expression or negotiation.
The responsibility for the violence that has taken place during the last few days in the neighborhood of Sants not only lies with the man who ordered it, but this same person is also responsible for the violence due to the fact that, in the exercise of his governmental position he ignored all the factors of risk and acted imprudently. To evaluate the dangers and the consequences of a political decision is one of the aspects the responsibility of leadership.
When the Community of Madrid wanted to install a giant video screen on the Puerta del Sol so the fans of Real Madrid and Atlético could watch the Champion’s League final, it was acting in a clearly negligent manner. If the fans were to have concentrated in such a small area and if there were violent incidents between the fans of the two teams, all of us would agree that the persons who were responsible would have been those who made the decision to gather together the fans of the two rival teams in a single square. Violence must not only be repressed; the conditions from which it arises must also be prevented.
Not only do we have to assess the political responsibility for four consecutive days of violent actions and police repression, but we must also evaluate the undeniable effectiveness of the protest, including its violent manifestations, when the time came to defend social positions against abuses of power and authoritarian forms. Because the perception of violence is a subjective act.
There are those who consider the eviction by force of a social center, with the exercise of violence, is a legal and legitimate act, because it has the backing of the law, which is an undeniable part of the social contract. This perception is based on the monopoly of violence on the part of the state. An element that does not take into consideration the morality of the act, is acceptable merely by virtue of the simple fact that it is the element that exercises the violence. It is legal ergo it is acceptable.
This appreciation of violence is often accompanied by the absolute refusal to countenance its exercise by anyone who does not belong to the special units and squads of the State security forces. Thus, burning a dumpster, entailing little harm, is utterly wrong; without even considering the motives of those who carried out the action, regardless of the objectives the protest may be intended to further, it is unacceptable because of the status of the people who engage in it.
The moral appreciation of violence, however, is not subject to these laws. Something that is morally acceptable might be illegal, and vice-versa. To violently evict a family from an apartment owned by a financial corporation, which seizes it to keep it vacant, is completely legal, but morally unacceptable. Building barricades and burning garbage cans to protest the demolition of a social center that promoted culture in a neighborhood is illegal, but morally acceptable. At least for this author.
Violence is a dangerous way, and only a psychopath would think that it is the best way to solve any particular social problem. No one wants violence to be the way to maintain the social conquests and the self-managed spaces that the citizens have provided themselves. But the violence of the social protests, as well as that of the long history of the workers struggle, is reactive.
If they do not want violence in the streets then they should not demolish Can Vies. If they do not want violence in the mining districts then they should not curtail the rights or endanger the safety of the miners. If they do not want violence in the shipyards then they should make sure to give jobs to the thousands of families whose livelihoods depend upon employment in them. If they do not want radical citizens, then they must allow them to live with dignity and the public powers should act on their behalf.
The violent protests in Sants have succeeded in halting the total destruction of the social center. It was another victory scored by violent protests, similar to what took place in the neighborhood of Gamonal in Burgos. This violence never would have happened if the status quo of the cultural center had been maintained, and if the City Government had listened to the neighborhood residents. Violent protest has become the only means of expression that remains to the citizens, and a thousand declarations condemning violence with an imploring tone will not change the fact that when the popular classes are subjected to sustained pressure, when they are prevented from exercising their rights and their peaceful demands are not heeded, then they end up engaging in violence.
Translated in May 2014 from the text on the website of Rebelión: http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=185390.