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Exciting times in Spain

semi-overcast 14 °C

Hi again everyone! Hope that all is well with you, it has been an exciting week here in Barcelona, so buckle up!

The situation here is a little confusing, so let me recap really fast. There are two main issues on the minds of Barcelonins right now, and both are extremely important. First, people are very unhappy about the austerity measures that have been placed on them by their government to climb out of this crisis. The majority of people feel that they are being punished for something that they didn't have a hand in causing. In many respects I understand their plight. The other important event that people are dealing with is the succession issue. There is an election this coming Sunday in which Catalonia will decide the party they want to lead them. So there have been two protests recently here: the first, on September 11 was a Catalonian demonstration for succession. The one this week was a protest against the austerity measures, so the people of Catalonia were very much standing with the rest of Spain and also people in Portugal, Italy, France and even some in Germany. I will talk first about Catalonian succession and the political situation here.

The election hullabaloo has settled down in the US at this point, but it is only heating up in Barcelona. (Bear with me a bit here, I am only now understanding all of the nuances of the US election process, and the Catalonian one is completely different, so I'll do it as much justice as I can). This doesn't, however, mean mudslinging runs rampant on television. In fact, along with the ability to purchase billboards, parties are given public space around the city on... wait for it... cardboard constructs around lampposts. Kid you not. The following poster shows the incumbent with the slogan: 'Make it possible'


As was the original plan (these elections were moved up to take advantage of the groundswell of support for independence talks), succession leads the issues for people here. Which in reality is a problem, since there are many other issues at stake as well. We will see what happens. Let me take a stab at describing politics here. In Spain, there are many more than 2 parties. I think there are about 6 major parties, ranging in philosophy all over the spectrum. With so many options, however, the system is such that you don't vote for a particular person; instead, you vote for the party with the ideals most closely aligned with yours. It takes out the whole idea of a candidates 'likeability' from the equation, which I think is an important distinction with American politics. Here is a billboard that I see on my way to work promoting a different party. The slogan here is 'Catalonia yes, Spain too'.


I will update the results of the election when we learn more, I'm sure that it will be the most talked-about topic at work this week!

OK, so now let's talk about the most recent strike. On the 14th of November there was a 'general strike' in Spain, which was called by the over-arching union in response to the austerity measures. The austerity measures are universal cuts coming down from the government to try to ease the debt crisis. Some of the things cut seem expendable, however cuts in education and harsher mortgage rules have really done bad things to the general feelings here. A measure was passed toward the end of this week to try to avoid the increasingly common theme of people committing suicide as their home is repossessed. Incredibly sad.

As such, as a part of the strike all businesses were supposed to be closed, and in the center of the city they were for the most part. Some restaurants and supermarkets remained open, but were taking a risk, since mobs roaming the city were more than willing to cause damage to your store if you dared to defy the strike. In the days leading up to the strike, I talked to my office mates about public transport (the metro was only running from 6:30-9:30 am and 4:30-8:30 pm anyway) and I got a range of answers from "nah you'll be fine" to "there will be a mob outside the metro station preventing you from entering". I had a couple of really important things to do at work, so I decided to try it and didn't have a single issue.

That evening, one of my coworkers was going with her boyfriend to the center of the city to take part in the demonstration march. I haven't yet heard a number, but one of the largest streets in the city was absolutely overflowing with people. I got to test my (miserable) election vocabulary in trying to figure out the political situation here. The demonstration march was peaceful, with music and clever signs. Here is one that got my attention:


Obviously the media that you saw probably forgot to mention that there were peaceful demonstrations here last Wednesday. They were correct about non-peaceful ones too, though. Starting just at the end of the protest I attended, another protest began just a few blocks away. My roommate is an aspiring photographer who recently got his press affiliation certified. This means that he has an orange vest and armband and can get into all sorts of messy situations and expect immunity from the police. So he was at this other protest and caught some pretty wild photos of the violence between police and rioters. His website is www.tiagoreis.net. Have a look at all of the photos, but the ones labeled Barcelona General strike 2 were this week. The last general strike in May, I believe, was even more destructive and he got some great photos there too.

My night wasn't just over after my demonstration. Turns out that I locked myself out of my flat, and had to wait for my roommate to get home. I decided to walk around a little bit, and as I walked along Las Ramblas, I caught the following photo:


I didn't realize at the time that the man was asleep with the fire raging behind him, but as soon as I lowered the camera a woman came and helped the elderly man out of the way of the fire. Police and fire units responded quickly to the scene and the fire was extinguished shortly.

Fascinating times here in Europe and in Spain and Catalonia in particular, so I will continue to update as interesting things happen. As always, I hope that everyone back home is doing well and have a great Thanksgiving! Eat lots of turkey for me!

Hasta Luego!

Posted by dclift 19:30 Archived in Spain

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