Brett Hetherington

Banner photos: Cornelia Kraft

A bigger hassle

 

[Pic: JOSEP LOSADA: Protesters in Barcelona]

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, March 2020.]

 


Riots, disturbances, protests, brutal human rights violations, night-time shenanigans or “police-community liaison?”

 

The events that began immediately after the election here in Lleida, Barcelona and Girona (as well as Valencia and Madrid) can be called whatever you like.

But anyone who thinks that it’s all about something as abstract as freedom of expression is fooling themself.

Young and not so young people are marching, chanting, smashing shop windows, looting and doing the now routine burning of rubbish hoppers for much wider-ranging reasons than just the imprisonment of yet another rapper. That was merely a trigger.


Quite appropriately the other day, I was standing, for a change, not sitting, in my lounge room when I watched a young Catalan on Euronews TV intelligently selected by the editors possibly to give a more comprehensive explanation for why he and his friends ventured out into the cold and put themselves at risk of arrest or worse. (At the time of writing, another citizen had lost an eye from a rubber bullet.) 


The young man in a black face mask with both his eyes still good enough to show on camera, made a point that is entirely absent from most media reports and commentary. While all the action was going on behind him, he was intent on saying that Spain is the worst in Europe for youth unemployment, currently still over 40%. He could also have commented on under-employment as a chronic symptom here since the 2009 economic “crisis.” 


It’s no coincidence that some demonstrators focused their aggression and frustration on banks, destroying furniture and equipment after breaking in. As a symbol of capitalism’s failure for the average person there is no better target of what to smash up.


The pandemic has not created record cases of house evictions or already low salaries unchanged for more than a decade. It has simply made the system we live under more punishingly extreme.


One of the most relevant facts also in the background to the latest episode of “hit the streets and get hit” now applies to at least two generations of people.


Those who are my son's age (late teens, up to early 30s and my generation in our 50s) who are available to be “gainfully employed” simply are not put to good or fair use. This too breeds frustration. 


In my own case, for the last 9 months or so of the pandemic, the best that hyper-capitalism is offering to someone like me with two university degrees and two decades of experience in classrooms with adults and teenagers is that all we can hope for is a patchy timetable teaching little kids in China. Online for 10 euros or less an hour. 


In other words, anyone in a job is supposed to consider themselves lucky and be thankful for getting paid peanuts. Especially if you live in Barcelona, peanuts simply don’t pay the rent or the mortgage. That is also why huge numbers of adults under 30 continue to live in the family home.


Equally, there’s one other crucial element that has hardly been reported. The jailed rapper in question (whose name may as well be spelt hassle, not Hasel) has also criticised [alleged] previous torture and death of demonstrators and migrants, aside from his lyrics about the corruption of those higher up our economic and social food chain.


Plenty of local people know that. It motivates them. 


So why is this not being stated in media outlets who can get away with exercising freedom of expression?