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Squatting a new future in Barcelona: Can Vies & El Banc Expropiat de Gràcia

Squatting a new future in Barcelona: Can Vies
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The Can Vies social centre in Barcelona recently made headlines across the world when it was half demolished by the state in a botched eviction that led to five consecutive nights of rioting. Also, new forms of occupation are emerging in Barcelona as a response to Spain’s austerity crisis.

Since we wrote our article one month ago, 
the #RebuildCanVies (#RefemCanVies) campaign has gone from strength to strength. Using Verkami, the squatters launched a crowdfunding request for 70,000 euros and received almost 90,000 euros! The plan for the original amount was for 40,000 to be used for rebuilding and for 30,000 to provide funds for two groups (Rereguarda en Moviment and Alerta Solidària) which are making the legal defence for the 67 people arrested during the week of protests following the eviction. 
Although social unrest has predictably grown during the crisis, nobody could have predicted that Can Vies’ eviction would unleash such strong protests.

Riots in Barcelona May 2014 – Sparked by the botched eviction

In a way, this case could be compared to Gezi park in Turkey, or the self-immolation in Tunisia that started the Arab Spring, or the small rise in the price of bus tickets in Brazil. It is the case of a relatively insignificant event (in terms of the global geopolitical situation) suddenly channelling the rage of the people. But the Can Vies case differs from the others, because 17 years of accumulated squatting experience allowed for a much more articulated and constructive response.

Simultaneously, the massive anti-eviction movement (Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca,referred to as PAH) has contributed to change the collective imaginary about squatting. The PAH has managed both to channel generalised support from the population and to build up active solidarity between citizens who cannot pay their mortgage and activists who protest for housing rights. The PAH is not the same as the squatters’ movement, these are social movements that are differentiated in their goals and identities, but at the same time they share some strategies and learn from each other. It could be said that the PAH first tries to negotiate before squatting, whilst the squatters’ movement usually squats first and thinks about finding a solution afterwards. Although some social centres have been created by the PAH, they have not been focusing their attention – yet – on this aspect.

Many thousands of people protested against the destruction and eviction of Can Vies. Photo Credit: Potomovimiento

As the flyer shows social centres like Can Vies are a self-managed, collective answer to state repression, making it a struggle which reaches across borders. This is one seed amongst many others which is providing the roots for a new society to grow. In Barcelona, several squatted spaces (and non-squatted also, of course) have created real alternatives to the hegemonic capitalist system. Non-commercial relations have been created in spaces where different generations, social classes, cultures and genders live together in relative harmony. Almost everywhere where the crisis hit, popular reactions have come about, usually with splendid results
. However, at this point, most emblematic squats are currently under the threat of eviction.

Whilst Barcelona’s squat scene has several times been in such a situation before, the crisis has upped the stakes for those who do not abide by the law. El Banc Expropiat de Gràcia, one of the squats under the threat of eviction, is making it clear that no eviction will happen without the usual disturbances. A web page has been set up to gather all actions in solidarity with the squat, to keep a visual record of the popular reaction to the eviction. Twice, El Banc was on trial and the owner CaixaCatalunya, the fourth largest savings bank in Spain, was not able to evict them. Now, the offices where El Banc is located were sold to a known speculator, who finally managed to get the courts to evict this social centre.

Since 2014, 6 new bank offices have been squatted, most in the Eixample neighborhood, the middle class residential neighbourhood of Barcelona. It occupies most of the territorial space in Barcelona and was previously never a place where people squatted to create social centres. This gives us an average of one new squat per month, all of them of a new kind (there have been other kinds of new squatting actions as well but we do not have space to describe them here). First, l’Entrebanc came about in April. Then, came La Vaina, La Porka, La Industria, El Rec, and others. Counted together with El Banc Expropiat and the Casal Tres Lliris (squatted as part of the campaign to stop El Banc’s eviction), there are now eight squatted banking offices in Barcelona, as well as another one in Girona.

These projects are, as the squatting movement as always been, quite diverse. Still, the awareness of bringing about a new model of squats has been acknowledged and discussed collectively. El Banc Expropriat has shown that the strategy of inclusiveness can be reconciled with radicality, as it is a place where basic libertarian values are promoted by a very heterogeneous mix of people. Other groups found banking offices located in prime locations, and are having a similar success with the neighbours, as well as with social movements in general. The eviction of the first squatted bank of this kind, El Banc, will happen between mid-September and October, in what could be another flashpoint in a conflictive year.

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Galvão Delle Rodrigues & E.T.C. Dee
Galvão Delle Rodrigues is involved in the Squatting Europe Kollective (SqEK), an activist-academic research collective focused on squatters’ movements in Europe and beyond. SqEK recently published The Squatters’ Movement in Europe: Commons and Autonomy as Alternatives to Capitalism (Pluto Press). E.T.C. Dee is involved in the Squatting Europe Kollective (SqEK), an activist-academic research collective focused on squatters’ movements in Europe and beyond. SqEK recently published The Squatters’ Movement in Europe: Commons and Autonomy as Alternatives to Capitalism (Pluto Press).