|The Free Hugs Campaign|
|'Mossos' help out a tourist|
As far as demonstrators were concerned, the closest thing I could find to a demonstration were a few people from the 'Free Hugs Campaign' offering free hugs. This campaign was started by a man named Juan Mann, from Sydney, Australia, who decided to give free hugs after being given a spontaneous hug when he was depressed. Juan claimed that that hug had given him joy and hope and thus the campaign was started. It has gone worldwide since then.
As the demonstrators gathered, I noticed that many were elderly or well into middle age. Many were university students, and most seemed to be ordinary people. There were also large and well organized groups of various political influences; communists, socialists for Catalan independence, anarchists. At that point there was no air of tension; the crowd might have been gathering for a concert rather than for a demonstration.
It wasn't long, though, before there was a scuffle. There was shouting at the edge of the crowd, where the mossos were, and people started surging towards the police line. Journalists were snapping off photos, people were running, there was some yelling, a water jug was thrown at the police, a plain clothes policeman pulled out a telescopic truncheon and gestured threateningly. As the crowd surged, the riot police line moved forward; there were a few minutes of standoff, then the riot police line backed down and the crowd thinned as the demonstration got underway, marching off into the opposite direction. I later asked a journalist what had happened; one of the plain clothes policemen had been discovered in the crowd and some of the demonstrators had reacted in a less than peaceful manner.
As the demonstrators marched down Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, drums played and many groups chanted slogans. On several occasions there was jeering and whistling heard from one part of the crowd or another; usually at the plain clothed, masked and truculent 'secret police' who blocked off exits to contain the demonstration. At one point it seemed violence would flare up when a group of these plain clothes police retreated from the crowd, having been among the demonstrators.
They were quick to get out though, and no violence occurred.
At one point, as I stood on a curb, clicking away with my camera as the procession made its way peacefully down the Gran Via, a young lady handed me a small leaflet. I'd already been handed several that called one to the cause of this or that political group, but this leaflet was directed at me in particular. It was in Catalan, and said, in summary, that:
the demonstrators were tired of our photos; that lately because of cheap technology and mobile phones, demonstrations had become free rides for photo taking tourists who do nothing to contribute to the cause. Furhtermore,
I was a bit put out by this leaflet, and even offended; the presence of the 'secret police' on one side and so many gentle people expressing their discontent with a corrupt system on the other had me identifying with the demonstrators.
|A scuffle broke out when a 'secret' policeman was discovered in the crowd. The men dressed like thugs in the background? Policemen.|
|One of the 'secret' police pulls out his telescopic truncheon in the background|
When the demonstration passed a second floor home for the elderly, an old woman smiled and waved enthusiastically. Many in the demonstration smiled at this. I smiled too, and my heart was lifted. At that point I left the demonstration as it headed in the direction of Plaza Espanya.
|The riot squad moves back|
|In the background along the sidewalk, 'secret' police retreating to the tune of jeers and whistling|
|Journalists and demonstrators photograph the police while the police photograph us|
|What 99% of the demonstration was; festive, albeit discontented solidarity|
|Riot vans bring up the rear|
|Plain clothed, masked, policemen. These guys created tension rather than alleviating it.|
|The demonstration moves peacefully along Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes|