As a 24-hour strike against austerity measures all but closed down transport and other services in Spain today, the situation in Barcelona tonight was a microcosm of the overall tense situation in the country, writes Brian Byrne.
Shops and restaurants closed in the city centre, and hotels locked their doors against possible intrusion following incidents last night. A protest parade through the city this afternoon left groups of people wandering, most in curiosity but a number with some kind of intent, or at least expectation, after some nasty incidents included smashing into shops, a little looting by masked people, and windows broken in banks, offices, and a department store on Playa de Catalunya. In the end, it didn't come to much more except some burned out large rubbish bins, a lot of smoke, and probably a good deal of police overtime.
Up the road from my hotel, into and from which we can go only when the concierge unlocks the door, smoke billowed from the burning trash, and the twilight outside our windows echoed to bangs from what I suspect were fireworks being used by protestors.
Things were actually quite peaceful in most of the streets around here, though there was a definite sense that when darkness fell the dynamic could change. There were groups of police everywhere, lines of what we call in Ireland Paddywagons filled with riot-ready officers, and I saw some of them leaving their wagons with cases that likely did not contain musical instruments.
Earlier this evening I had watched groups of police with riot shields entering the buildings of the city's government, apparently in preparation for what could be confrontations.
What was a pending situation lasted until some time after dark, and the police with riot shields blocked off what must have been target areas for those who had set the fires earlier.
It looked like, and sounded like—thankfully—nothing like we see much in Ireland. This is a rich country that has much more financial troubles than we have, on a proportional level. With something like a quarter of the workforce unemployed, and a substantially higher percentage of them young people, it could be a bigger volcano waiting to blow and disrupt the European project even further.
In the end it was mostly noise and movement, guttering fires and a smell of smoke drifting through the onlookers, whose clothes will be more than iffy in the morning. It's interesting to observe, and prompted thoughts that at home in Ireland, it makes us seem a very quiet people indeed.
By 11pm everything was back to normal. That's the time Barcelona goes out to party, and anything else would disrupt the partying.
UPDATE: A quick tour around the block before I left the next morning revealed some of the relatively minor damage being patched up. I was aware of more serious incidents elsewhere, but didn't have time to go and record them.
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