Only in Barcelona do middle-class kids enjoying alternative lifestyles at the expense of tax-paying property owners get mollycoddled by the municipal authorities.
A protest march against the eviction of squatters from an emblematic modernist mansion in the hills overlooking Barcelona turned violent over the weekend, with youths throwing bricks through the windows of municipal buildings. A police officer was injured, and arrests were made.
Some 1,500 squatter activists gathered in the Cathedral square in Barcelona’s picturesque Gothic Quarter for manifesto reading and slogan chanting before heading down Via Layetana towards City Hall behind banners saying “It’s not evictions, it’s a war against the poor,” and “We will stop all evictions”.
Once in front of City Hall in Plaza Sant Jaume they started throwing stones and breaking windows, culminating eventually in some scrimmage with the local riot police. These radical kids, who all looked quite expensively dressed, covered the doors and windows of shops and restaurants with graffiti as they went.
“We want to be clear [with the authorities]: the eviction will not be the end of the Casa Buenos Aires. The defence will be more alive than ever, because the Casa Buenos Aires already belongs to the people,” they tweeted, with a picture to show off the view from the property.
Businesses in Barcelona’s Old Town / Gothic Quarter have been hammered by Covid-19, so I assume the last thing they need is stone-throwing kids from uptown homes driving away what few customers they have. Some 30% to 40% of business in the area have already closed, according to press reports. By the end of the crisis, I expect well over 50% of shops and restaurants in Barcelona’s Old Town will have closed down.
The kids were protesting the eviction of squatters from the Casa Buenos Aires mansion in Vallvidrera, an emblematic modernist building that was originally built as a hotel. It has changed use over the years, and ended up an old age home belonging to a religious order, before the pensioners moved out and the squatters moved in.
It has also changed hands. The new owners reportedly want to renovate it back into a hotel, which sets them on a collision course with the town hall, but helps explain why the squatters have finally been evicted.
The squatters were evicted by judicial order despite enjoying support from the hard left politicians in control of Barcelona City Hall, led by Mayoress Ada Colau. According to the local press, her next move will be to expropriate the building with public funds, and convert it into a municipal facility and affordable housing for “youths”. It’s reasonable to suspect the squatters will get to stay, like they have in a building in the Gracia district.
Having now had a chance to inspect the building, the owners claim it is in a terrible state of repair, as nobody has made any effort to maintain it. The kind of louche squatter groups who take over property for the personal enjoyment of alternative lifestyles are not known for investing in property maintenance.
In this battle between owners and squatters, Barcelona City Hall under Ada Colau is firmly behind the squatters, even if they then march on City Hall and pelt it with stones before rioting in the neighbourhood.