New is, for example, this scene, observed in the night from Wednesday to Thursday: In front of a burning container on the Gran Vía in Barcelona make a few young men Selfies in victory pose. Earlier, on the six-lane road, for about two hours, around 1,000 demonstrators and a few dozen riot police faced the Spanish and Catalan police. There are paving stones flown, glass bottles, firecrackers, even parts of scaffolding. The police fired back with rubber bullets and then retreated.
Riots have been raging in Barcelona and other Catalan cities for four days. Barricades burn, demonstrators deliver street battles with the police. There are almost exclusively young people, between 17 and early 20, who are on the road that night. Most have a cloth tied around their faces, many wearing motorcycle or mountaineering helmets. Some have followed the calls of the CDR, the so-called Committees for the Defense of the Republic, others have come along with friends. The protests of the Catalan separatists against the high prison sentences for nine politicians and activists have reached a new quality.
"We want to see our anger burn"
" Som gent de pau ", Catalan for: "We are peaceful people": Until recently this was one of the slogans of the independence movement in northeastern Spain. In fact, during the mass demonstrations of the past few years, to which sometimes hundreds of thousands of people came, there were hardly any incidents, the protest was mainly staged with candles, vigils and fervently performed songs from the anti-Fransquist resistance.
But since the Supreme Court of Spain on Monday imposed high prison sentences of 9 to 13 years against nine Catalan politicians and activists, the mood on the Catalan roads has sharpened significantly. Each evening, both sides post new photos and films to show the protests: In Barcelona, a clothing store is plundered, a bank branch destroyed. In Tarragona, the Catalan police drive demonstrators to investigate. Protesters hurl Molotov cocktails and acid-filled bottles at the police.
"So far, burning barricades and street fighting in Barcelona have been known mainly in the context of general strikes or student mobilisations," says social scientist Jordi Mir Garcia from Pompeu Fabra University. On Friday, such a general strike will take place in Catalonia. At Barcelona airport, the automaker Seat and many other companies in the country, people are putting off work. The last general strike was in early February this year. At that time, the call was hardly followed, it remained largely calm. After the verdict, the mood is much tense. Because of the riots even the meeting of FC Barcelona with his rivals Real Madrid has been canceled this weekend in Barcelona.
Social scientists I am talking about deep-seated frustration among the some two million supporters of independence and their realization that it takes huge images to attract attention to the Catalan cause in international media. The protests in Barcelona are neither purposeful nor strategically planned, but serve the need for attention. "We want to see our anger burn": This is how it is formulated on Wednesday evening by one of the masked demonstrators.
Catalan police against Catalan protesters
At a street corner in Barcelona, a local resident steps out of the entrance the next morning and uses his own fire extinguisher to extinguish the remains of a burning container. Does he worry that his neighborhood will turn into a battlefield every night? The man, in his early fifties, looks blank. It was not the riots but the high prison sentences for the Catalan politicians and activists for organizing an illegal independence referendum that infuriated him. "They've organized peaceful mobilizations and are being convicted of rioting: then you can do rabbets right away," he replies. "If I were 25 years younger, I would be there too".
Quite differently, a resident sees a street corner. "They are still plotting a civil war here," she scolds. "That's what happens when you politically indoctrinate the adolescents for years." She is Catalan, she adds, "with eight Catalan ancestors." But what is happening right now in the city is no longer acceptable. The regional government must resign immediately.
But the separatist regional president Quim Torra condemned the violence only on the third day of the riots. Previously, he had repeatedly asserted his understanding of the demonstrators, even called for protests - while sending the Catalan regional police Mossos against the demonstrators. He recognizes the contradiction, but as long as Catalonia is not a state in its own right, he must comply with state security regulations, he said at a press conference convened exclusively for the international press. Some journalists reacted with irritated shaking of their heads.