ANALYSIS: Enough of the potty protests, Madrid’s trial of Catalan leaders will be a civilised matter

Catalan separatists may have resorted to using human waste to protest against the upcoming trial of their leaders in Madrid, but Spanish authorities are determined to ensure the contentious and emotive court proceedings pass off in a civilized manner.

ANALYSIS: Enough of the potty protests, Madrid's trial of Catalan leaders will be a civilised matter
Protestors dump muck outside a court in Catalonia. Photo: CDR/ Twitter
At the end of the recent Netflix documentary on 2017's Catalan separatist crisis, in which his party and he himself had been given most of the screen time to advance their preferred narrative, and after being given one of the famous little defecating nativity figures, a caganer, of himself, as a gift, a chuckling Carles Puigdemont remarked that Catalan humour was very scatalogical.

Yesterday, the radical separatist protest groups known as the CDR boasted on their Twitter and Telegram channels that they had smeared the steps of several courts in Catalonia with another type of offering, actual excrement and rubbish, in protest at the imminent trial of their leaders for rebellion and the misuse of public funds at the Supreme Court in Madrid.

In case someone had missed the metaphor, the slogan for their peculiar return to jungle-level public affairs was “justice is shit”. One graffiti sprayed on the wall of the court building in Cervera, near Lérida, read “Spanish justice stinks of fascist shit”.

The courts in Catalonia were not impressed with the lack of subtlety and issued a statement “firmly and energetically” condemning the disgusting mess and regretting the indignity occasioned to citizens using the facilities.

This is not the first time separatists have marked their territory with turds—it happened during the “war of the yellow ribbons” last summer—but just as the pointless hunger strike before Christmas achieved nothing, these new piles of steaming stools will have no effect on the trial about to take place 600km away in the Spanish capital.

From even further away, in Belgium, Mr. Puigdemont gave an interview to the Associated Press and insisted that he would be supporting his former colleagues during the process “because they are suffering a terribly unjust and humiliating situation” and that the trial “will not be an act of justice but rather one of vengeance”.

On February 1st, the Supreme Court issued its long list of people who have been accepted or rejected as witnesses for the trial, including over 100 police officers. The former Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, the former chief of the Catalan Police, Major Trapero, and the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, are all in.

The King, political activist/philosopher Noam Chomsky and Hispanophile historian Paul Preston are all out, His Majesty because Spanish law forbids it and Messrs. Chomsky and Preston because their work as intellectual heavyweights is of no use in determining what happened during the events in question.

And despite his role at the time, Mr. Puigdemont will not be allowed to testify from Belgium: he should be on trial himself, ruled the court.

“During a criminal trial, the witness is examined on the facts he has direct or referential knowledge of; the expert judges subject matter for which scientific, technical or artistic notions are required. In our system, there is no procedural figure that allows for the identification of the witness invited to trial to offer his personal opinions on the facts.”

The court has also ruled that international observers, requested by the defence teams, are unnecessary: all of the sessions will be streamed live on TV and the Internet, without interruption. “The immediate consequence is that every citizen who wishes to become a national or international observer of the trial process may do so. And not in the limited number of five suggested by the defence”.

Even a cursory reading of the rest of the 145-page evidence ruling shows the judges are accepting witnesses and documents that can attest to what happened directly and rejecting witnesses, however well-educated or informed, who cannot do so directly.

This is the job of courts the world over and this one is a multi-judge bench from the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Spain, so onlookers may be reassured by the very high level of legal guarantees available.

Fortunately for Spaniards, the magistrates are taking the whole affair very seriously indeed, far from both the cowardly rhetoric of Mr. Puigdemont in Belgium and the infantile and angry potty protests that have dirtied court buildings in Catalonia this week.

A black ribbon is pictured on the European Union flag and a banner reading “Self determination is a right, not a crime” hangs from the balcony of EU offices in Barcelona during a protest in February 1st.. Photo: AFP

The accused would perhaps protest they are taking it all too seriously, given the 30-year maximum sentences contained in the Spanish Criminal Code for leaders convicted of rebellion, which includes declaring the independence of a part of the nation.

There was a declaration of independence on October 27th, 2017—Mr. Puigdemont told the AP it was still valid—which, had the courts and police not intervened, would have led to a fifth of Spanish GDP and 6 percent of the surface area of Spain, as well as everyone and everything in it, whether they agreed or not, being lopped off the map of the nation to create a new state, an independent republic.

The Constitution did not, and does not, allow that to happen, and both the October referendum and the regional laws passed to justify it in September were therefore quickly declared unconstitutional.

Beyond the international rhetoric and media-friendly annual demonstrations, and despite Mariano Rajoy's unimaginative response for most of the period, Catalan separatists' continued contempt for the rule of law is what has brought Spain to this point over the past six and a half years.

The prosecution alleges some of the actions by some of those people reached the level of criminal behaviour on those specific occasions and should therefore be duly punished, and the defence teams will now attempt to prove otherwise. Whatever the outcome, it will be a civilised matter, because that is what the law does to public affairs.

Matthew Bennett is the creator of The Spain Report. You can read more of his writing on Patreon, and follow him on Twitter. Don't miss his podcast series with weekly in-depth analysis on Spain.


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14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Barcelona is a popular city for foreign residents in Spain thanks to its coastal location, many international companies and great lifestyle. However, navigating life here can take some getting used to, so here are our top Barcelona life hacks to help make things easier for you.

14 Barcelona life hacks that will make you feel like a local
Barcelona life hacks. Image: Michal Jarmoluk / Pixabay

Invest in a good water filter

Barcelona tap water doesn’t taste the best, particularly in the areas around the Old Town such as El Born, the Gothic Quarter, Barceloneta and Raval. The water is also very hard, meaning that it leaves limescale on appliances such as your kettle.

Using a good water filter can improve the taste and make sure that limescale doesn’t build up. It’s also much more economical and healthier than buying bottled water every time you want a drink.

Use the Rodalies trains to get across the city faster

Many people when they first move to Barcelona just use the metro and don’t bother using the Rodalies trains. While it’s not always necessary, for certain journeys it can make getting across the city much faster.

For example, if you need to get from Sant Andreu or Clot to Sants to connect to one of the intercity trains, it’s only two or three stops on the Rodalies, as opposed to more than 10 on the metro, as well as changing to different lines.

Don’t try and get anything important done in August

This is probably true of most of Spain, but if you need to get anything important done, whether official paperwork or renovations on your apartment, don’t try and get them done in August.

The whole city goes on holiday for the month of August, including office personnel, builders and handypeople. If you need to get any of this done, it’s best to get it done before the holidays or to wait until September.  

Don’t buy drinks from sellers on the beach or in the park

You’ll find many people selling drinks on the city’s beaches and in the main Ciutadella Park. While it can be tempting to buy these, especially when it’s so hot, you need to be aware that these cans of drinks are often stored inside drains or under manhole covers, meaning that they’re not the cleanest.

A few years ago, El País took the mojitos sold by hawkers on the beaches to a local lab. The results came back a few days later to show that they contained high levels of fecal matter and bacteria in them.

Barcelona’s Chinese supermarkets are a great source of ingredients

Although you can now find many more foreign ingredients in local supermarkets than you could just a few years ago, there are still many that you may miss from back home, particularly South East Asian and Indian ingredients.

Barcelona has several excellent Chinese supermarkets, where you can find a range of ingredients, everything from sesame oil and Thai curry paste to Indian spices and affordable peanut butter.

Don’t take valuables out with you to certain areas, particularly at night

Unfortunately, bag snatchings and pickpockets are still commonplace in Barcelona. While the thieves mainly target tourists, foreign residents often find that they are targets too.

The trick is to blend in like a local, look like you know where you’re going and don’t take valuables with you to areas such as the Gothic Quarter, Raval or the Rambla, especially at night. Bag snatchings in El Born have also increased in recent years, so keep your wits about you around there too. 

Find your favourite beach outside of the city

Barcelona’s beaches may have been one of your prime reasons for moving here, but you’ll find that you actually prefer the beaches outside of the city.

Overcrowded, dangerous and a lot dirtier than other beaches in the area, the beaches in Barcelona are unfortunately not all that they’re cracked up to be. You’ll often find that after you’ve been for a swim, your valuables will not still be on the sand where you left them. Head just 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city however and you’ll find the beaches are far nicer and safer.

Find a beach outside of the city centre to go to. Photo: makunin /Pixabay

Try to join several different clubs or groups

Barcelona is a very transient city, meaning that people are moving here and leaving all the time. As a result, you’ll often find that most of the friends you made when first moving here have now moved away and you’ll constantly need to make more. If you join several clubs and groups, you’ll find that making new friends all the time is a lot easier. 

Don’t buy a single transport ticket

It’s never really worth buying a single transport ticket in Barcelona, because you’ll end up spending much more money per journey than you would if you bought the T-Casual (10 journeys) or the monthly T-Usual metro card instead.

You can also buy 10-journey bono tickets for the Rodalies trains, which will also save a lot of money if you’re making regular journeys out of the city. 

Try and avoid shopping at Port del Angel on Saturdays

Port del Angel is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised shopping street. While it’s great and has all the high-street fashion shops you want, it can be a nightmare shopping here on Saturdays.

If you do need to shop on a Saturday, try Rambla Catalunya or one of the shopping malls instead, which won’t be so crowded.

Be prepared for festivals and events

Barcelona holds so many festivals and events that it can be hard to keep up. In normal (non-Covid) years, there is one every other week.

Because of this tickets sell out quickly and there are many fun cultural events that you might miss out on. Keep your calendar up to date, so you know what’s going on, and make sure to book tickets for anything you want to see, well in advance. 

Tipping isn’t necessary at all bars and restaurants

Tipping isn’t all that common in Barcelona, unless perhaps if it’s a particularly nice restaurant or if there’s a large group of you that the waiter has had to look after.

You’ll find that it’s not expected either, except maybe at some of the city’s very touristy restaurants.  

READ ALSO: Why do Catalans have a reputation for being stingy?

Do lots of research before renting an apartment and if it sounds too good to be true, then it is

Unfortunately, there are lots of property scams in Barcelona, so try and do as much research as you can beforehand. Never pay money upfront before you’ve seen the property and received the keys.

Also, be aware that many landlords will not return your deposit at the end of your stay.

Many people get around this by not paying the last month’s rent, but this can also make things difficult for the good landlords who may genuinely need to deduct something for damages, so speak with your estate agency on the best thing to do in this situation.

READ ALSO: What you should know about renting an apartment in Barcelona

Hire a gestor or lawyer to help with immigration and tax issues

You’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle with immigration and tax issues if you hire a professional to help you in Barcelona, where getting a cita previa (appointment) for official matters can often be difficult, in part because these law firms often bulk book them.

However, there are certain processes that you won’t need an immigration lawyer for such as getting a residency certificate if you’re from an EU country or exchanging your green residency certificate for a TIE if you are British and moved here before the end of 2020.

READ ALSO: BREXIT: How to apply for a TIE residency card in Spain