Barcelona Anti-EU protests 2002

Mar 19, 2002

Spain assumes the presidency of the EU – and hosts a summit in a hotbed of radicalism

The protests at the European Union Summit in Barcelona on 14-16 March this year were incredibly significant. The anti-capitalist march was uncountable. This despite the 220 coaches blocked at the French/Spanish border and the closure of the Italian/French border to coaches and trains of protesters.
Like all previous large scale anti-capitalist protests, Barcelona was made up of a very local crowd. It seemed like the whole of Catalonia was there. For the first time on such protests in Europe, the anti-capitalist demo was bigger than the Trade Union one, by four or five times.

Thursday

The trade union demo, lively, multinational and colourful. Large blocks from Spain, France, Italy and elsewhere. It was strongly anti-privatisation and (to a larger extent than Brussels) anti-war. Estimates of the attendance were 100,000 to 120,000.

Friday

Diverse actions across the city. They included a Lobby Hunt in the morning, over a thousand toured the city stopping at various venues for talks and street theatre about the lobbying activities and crimes of multinational corporations. A Transgenics Food demo rallied four or five thousand against GM food in a brilliantly colourful and creative protest. A Zapatista mural was painted, Sardines and vegetarian food distributed for protesters by CGT union activists. A circus against Global Imperialism went off at the MACBA, a gathering on the Ramblas proclaimed “Capitalism cannot be Transformed, Only Destroyed”. Film showings at the Contemporary Cultural Centre and a vigil for the memory of Carlo Giuliani, protester murdered by Carabineri in Genoa last July. Meetings and discussion seemed to be happening across the city, and a steady influx of protesters throughout the day.

Police attacked the 700-800 on the Ramblas (Mars Attacks) protest and a small fracas ensued, but nothing on the scale of Genoa.

The atmosphere on the streets was incredible, exciting and empowering. News of the police attacks on the Ramblas against the Mars attacks protest spread, but for those not on the direct receiving end of the police batons, not a feeling of fear, rather disgust and determination. Meetings went on into the late evening and the spokescouncil described the days events and plans for tomorrow.

Saturday

Began with a huge counter-conference. Workshops on issues such as education, privatisation, and the War attracted thousands of people (the GR speakers found an excellent reception for their thoughts). The plenary session of the conference had to be relayed out into the court yard of the CCCB with a total in excess of 3000 people hearing the talks.

It was at this time we started contemplating the size of the demo for later that day. A difficult task, however, as you normally get an impression of the mobilisation by the amount of transport booked and running. Barcelona, however, saw most people arrive with their local bus and tube passes. No one we spoke to even mentioned a figure close to a quarter of a million, let alone 500,000.

 

We got to our starting place in the protest, just on the corner of Placa Catalunya, and waited, and waited and waited. Why aren’t we moving? Oh, probably so many people makes it slow. Word got through that there were 50,000 – very impressive. A few minutes later we discovered that figure was for our block of the demo. Eventually we moved, half an hour after hearing the front of the demo had passed the final destination and was on it’s way up to MontJuic for the Manu Chao gig.

No shops had closed for the protests, the pavements were full of applauding and sympathetic people. People gathered on their balconies and climbed on to scaffolding to witness the gigantic procession. Shouts against the war and for people not profit (in Catalan, of course) echoed through the city. People of every age were there, and significantly around 30,000 trade unionists with banners and flags attended. There was massively broad support for the demo, the issues of a proposed Dam in the area, the threats of privatisation hanging over many services in Barcelona and throughtout Spain had strengthened support for the day. But most of all, the feeling of opposition to Azner, the Spanish Prime Minister and third part of the Blair-Berlusconi-Azner axis of evil in Europe.

The numbers? Safely over 300,000, maybe 500,000 who can tell? Only a arial photograph could solve this mystery. Suffice to say it FELT big, gigantic.

The violence? Le Journal Du Dimanche, a French Sunday we picked up on the way home had it about right. Headlined “The 300,000 of Barcelona” It listed the issues and the groups participating and said (forgive my translation) “A peaceful and festive protest, it was marred by a few isolated incidents by unruly elements, said the law authorities”. The police could not attack such a crowd full on, they waited until much later when the likes of us were finishing the march, they attacked indiscriminately with rubber bullets and tear gas, but Genoa it was not.

The movement has stamped its authority again. The axis of evil must be quaking – in Rome this Saturday a million are expected to march against Berlusconi. Here in the UK 51% oppose the threatened war on Iraq (the first time a war could start with majority opposition) and unrest is bubbling up. In Spain? they couldn’t escape it. The Interior Minister thought he’d escaped the whole protest by going to watch Barcelona play a game of football with real Madrid, only to witness the game get interrupted by anti-capitalist protesters handcuffing themselves to the goal posts with slogans painted on their backs.

You can’t escape us, we are everywhere, we’re not going away.

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