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Mon, 3 Feb 1997 13:06:27 +0100 (MET)

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Squatting South Of The Pyrenees: Repression And Resistance

As the traditional squatting movement wanes in Northern Europe, squatting strongholds in Germany and Holland being bought off by the carrot and stick treatment by the authorities (i.e. some squatted houses and centres are bought off, legalized so that they depend on or pay rent to the authorities, while many others are bludgeoned out of existence by brutal evictions, with the police making sure it is harder than ever to squat new places), in Southern Europe the squatting phenomenon has been steadily gathering strength.

In Italy, there are numerous squatted social centres, some huge and regularly putting on activities for thousands of people and capable of mobilizing tens of thousands for demos. Meanwhile in the "Spanish State" (it is called this because many Catalans, Basques and others reject Spanish Nationality, just as many Scots, Welsh and Irish [in the 6 Counties] do not consider themselves British) a younger squatting movement has been developing since the early '80s (fascist dictator Franco only died in 1975). Squatted centres have appeared in many of the bigger cities, with places like Madrid and Barcelona at times having four or five thriving squatted social centres each.

These squats are often called 'Centros Sociales Okupados Autogestionados' (CSOA) in Spanish speaking areas, 'Gaztextes' in the Basque Country, 'Kasals Populars' in Catalan speaking areas, and they provide space for people dissatisfied with the alienation from/by mainstream society, space to organize and participate fully in their own lives, to develop their own culture and expression without any mediation by State or local authority. And at the same time, the squatted centres are a base for organizing resistance to the system and by their very existence strike at the heart of private property and property speculation.

Perhaps a sign of their success is that the state has taken them seriously and deemed the squatted social centres enough of a nuisance to pass a a law against them (Article 245 of the New Penal Code makes unauthorized occupation of a building - i.e. squatting - a criminal offence). This new repression against squatting is not an isolated occurrence, but mirrors the criminalization of squatting in other European countries; no coincidence at all when you are aware that squatting appeared on a list of security threats headed by terrorism, drugs trafficking, and 'illegal' immigration (the list was compiled by the EU secret security cooperation body TREVI - Terrorism, Radicalism, Extremism and Violence International).

1996 saw a wave of evictions of squatted social centres, including some of the best known and most established ones, in a state-wide effort to knock the stuffing out of the squatting movement.

In Madrid, for example, the CSOA David Castilla, a former bakery which was squatted in November 1994 and was used as a space for autonomous collectives, concerts, music rehearsal rooms, and workshops, was evicted by riot police and the fire brigade (!) on behalf of property speculators 'Liber2000' on the 4th of October 1996. 40 squatters had barricaded themselves inside and welded doors together, and the fire brigade used radial saws to allow the riot police inside the building, and again to get up to the upper floors. A group of squatters resisting on the roof were brutally clubbed by police truncheons, as were four who had climbed up onto a scaffold on the roof. 20 people were hurt in the eviction. The very same night some revenge was taken, the cash machines and windows of four banks were trashed, as were the windows of a car showroom, and a burning barricade was put up.

On the 10th of October another squatted house in Lavapies, Madrid was evicted with 100 riot police and a helicopter dispersing 150 protesters before breaking into the building, only to find that the squatters had escaped across the rooftops. On the 12th October it was the the turn of La Casa Libertaria de Los Banos, in Cordoba, Andalucia, which had organised conferences involving different sections of the autonomous and anarchist movements; the eviction came without any legal order, and was carried out on the orders of Civil Governor.

By far the best known squatted social centre was the CS Cine Okupado in downtown Barcelona, a large abandoned cinema just a few hundred yards away from the notorious Via Laietana main police station. After lying empty for twenty years, the cinema was squatted on the 10th of March 1996 at the end of a demonstration. Very quickly it was renovated and the activities started: concerts, theatre, films, debates, and exhibitions. This squatted centre aroused unprecedented media interest, with national newspaper, radio and tv queueing up to do interviews, and neighbourhood groups and the like showing their support. Huge parties were organized to raise money fot the Zapatistas in Chiapas, for the legal resistance fund, and conferences about prison abolition were held. And then in July an eviction order was signed by a judge, and so began three months of demonstrations, solidarity festivals (with many famous musicians, artists, and left-wing intellectuals appearing in the cinema). The question of the eviction was even debated in the Catalan Parliament.

Finally the eviction came on the 28th of October at 5:45 am. 30 riot vans, 2 helicopters, and more than 200 heavily armed riot police assaulted the cinema, firing hundreds of rounds of rubber bullets, to which the 40-odd squatters who had barricaded themselves inside the cinema responded by throwing whatever they could get their hands on out of the windows. It took the police two hours to get inside the cinema, and once inside they had to break through walls (the doors were too well barricaded) to get to the squatters, whom they insulted, threatened, and beat as they arrested them one by one and took them to the police station were the beatings continued.

This brutal police attack was denounced by neighbourhood associations and demonstrators immediately congregated outside the police stationto to demand the release of the 48 arrested people. That evening a 2,000-strong demo proceeded down through the city centre, and a heavy shower of stones and other debris rained down on the Via Laietana police station, causing police officers to run for cover. Police cars were trashed, and as police reinforcements arrived burning barricades were erected and banks were attacked, with running battles going on into the early hours.

The eviction of the squatted cinema was followed by co-ordinated demostrations in a number of cities, but the repression continued with evictions of social centres in Terrassa, Banyoles, the long-standing Kasal Popular in Valencia, and the Gaztexte Kukutza in Bilbo in the Basque Country.

4 Barcelona squatters have received prison sentences totalling 8 years from this resistance.

For all the repression unleashed by the state (now governed by the right- wing People's Party, not that the Socialists were ever shy of using riot police to protect private property when they were in power), the squatting movement has not been crushed, and new squats have begun in Malaga and more are planned.

(from some comrades in the Spanish state)

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