People of Poblenou: A short ethnographic story about a squatting in Barcelona

//José Mansilla

//José Mansilla

Los editores del blog BRONISLAW me pidieron un texto para su primer número que luego no publicaron. Lo dejo aquí.

People of Poblenou: A short ethnographic story about a squatting in Barcelona

The appointment was at 11.30 h.- at the door of the Civic Center “La Farinera del Clot”. When I reached the place (11.38 h.-) there were there, more or less, 15 people spread over the esplanade in front of the building. Some of them were sat on the floor and others were standing in small groups of 3-4 people. Most of them were boys and girls members of the organizations ARRAN[1] and La Toma[2]. Some elder people and young women with their babies also were presents. It was plenty of yellow t-shirts of the Social Assembly of Poblenou[3] and of the Ateneu la Flor de Maig. The youth people of ARRAN were carrying yellow flags over wooden masts. The pieces of cloth had coarsely silkscreened one symbol, something like a flower crossed by an arrow. More people were coming after few minutes.

Shortly after, a couple of journalists from a local TV company asked about the lawyer who was defending to the Ateneu Flor de Maig’s squatters in court. They were waiting for him not for a long time.

At 11.55 h.-, approximately, the group started walking. They crossed Diagonal Avenue to the HUB Disseny Center, nowadays Disseny Museum of Barcelona. All of us came into the building and downed the mechanic stairs. More people joined to the initial group and, at the end, we’d be about 25 people. We deployed a great banner with the motto “El Franquisme la va expropiar, el Poblenou la recoopera[4]. The banner was hold by two guys from the Social Assembly of Poblenou who were situated just in front of a big obelisk which welcome to the visitors to the center. The obelisk literally said “Welcome to the ‘Best Design of the year’ Exhibition[5]”.

Once everybody was behind the banner, one girl in her thirties dressing a security company uniform, requested to the group that they had to leave the building: “This is a public building and you cannot do that here!”. Nobody seemed to hear her indications. However, suddenly after that, the security girl went to make a call and a couple of minutes later a strong male workmate of her appeared.

One girl member of ARRAN started a short intervention using a speaker. She explained the reasons of the action. Everybody was very nervous and, after this first proclamation, the lawyer took the speaker and read a manifest which ended like that,

“La Flor de Maig is and will be of our neighborhood as it was when it was born 123 years ago. These days, after one year of the squatting, the owners take us to the court. Our crime is just to get back the building to their legitimate owners, the people of Poblenou

After that, at 12.20 h.-, I left the building.

This is just an example of one of the actions in which I was involved throughout my filed work about the Ateneu la Flor de Maig. What I was witnessing it was just another symbolic representation of a group of people who was using the collective memory as a social tool. On the one hand, they were denunciating the transformation of Barcelona in a global city, competing with others around the world for the attraction of capitals and symbolized, in this case, for the squatting of the HUB. And, on the other hand, they were introducing themselves as the legitimate inheritors of an important part of the XIX century’s cooperative movement and reclaiming for them and the neighborhood the using of a emblematic place like the old building of the Flor de Maig.

At the end, all the demonstrations around the Ateneu have a happy end. After one year, the City Hall of Barcelona bought the building to their owners and gave it to the squatters for a period of 5 years. But that’s not the end of the story. New questions like possible future process of institutionalization are presents. Maybe for questions like that, anthropologists are more necessary than ever.

[1] Youth organization of the Catalan independence left.

[2] Youth organization interested in cultural, social and political issues.

[3] One of the several assemblies created in the neighbors of Barcelona after May 15, 2011 (15M).

[4] Originally in catalan, “The Franco dictatorship expropriated it, Poblenou is getting it back”. In catalan is possible to play with the words recuperar (to get it back) and cooperar (to cooperate). The motto, in fact, melted both of them in “recooperar”

[5] In English originally.

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