On Oct 09, 2021 we were in Valencia Spain with plans for a walking tour of the old Gothic city. Starting at the Serranos Tower, which is the largest Gothic city gates in all Europe, we strolled toward the cathedral and into the beginning of mass demonstrations around the city.
Located in Catalonia, Spain, Valencia along with its sister Barcelona to the east, are the front lines in the free Catalonia movement. There has long been a feeling among Catalans that while they pay a majority of the taxes to Madrid, they get way too little in return. Things started spiraling out of control when on 27 October 2017 the Catalan Parliament voted in a secret ballot to approve a resolution declaring independence from Spain by a vote of 70–10. While the vote was considered illegal by the Spanish government for violating a decision of the Spanish Constitutional Court it demonstrated how strong the Catalan people felt about Madrid. As the Spanish central government cracked down by sending in national police and arresting Catalan political leaders, support for the Catalan independence movement grew.
The day we arrived in Valencia the U.S. Consulate General in Barcelona had issued a warning to Americans concerning the possibility of violent riots in Barcelona and Valencia.They warned that the verdict in the trial of pro-independence Catalan leaders is expected to be announced soon. Significant demonstration activity may take place throughout Catalonia after the verdict is made public and should be avoided because of a high likelihood of violence.
Not being aware of the call for demonstrations or the warnings we entered through the gates of the Serranos Tower heading into the Gothic city walking toward the cathedral. Within a couple of blocks we were surprised by the number of well equipped police out and when we reached the square at the cathedral we found police armored cars three and four deep up several alleys, maybe a hundred police, many in riot gear, also where circling the square. In the center of the square were maybe a hundred or two demonstrators mostly wearing firemen’s gear or printed tee-shirts talking through bull-horns and passing out papers. Asking some locals what was going on we were told that Madrid had cut funding to the city and the city, in response, was laying off a number of first responders thus the protest. If the firemen were going to cause trouble they were going to have a hard time getting through the large police lines.
As we walked on toward the central city the police presence kept growing with police helicopters starting to hover overhead. More armored cars sitting on side streets and mounted police in parks. The crowds were growing a lot larger with the Catalan flag everywhere and often draped over peoples shoulders. Attempts to take pictures of the police got immediate reactions convincing me that it wasn’t something I should do. Paying attention to the patches on police uniforms and insignia on armored vehicles it seemed the local police were way outnumbered by the Spanish Civil Guard and National Police Corps. Both of those being para-military arms of the central government.
On leaving the area after a number of hours our impression was that the crowds and demonstrators were actually very orderly and well behaved and the police presence was a huge over reation. Our Spanish isn’t that good but what we heard and later read was a lot of talk and discussion about left wing groups, extreme right wingers, antifascist, fascists and much praise for the progressive political and social majority of Valencians.
If anyone has a decent understanding of current Spanish politics and the Catalan independence movement we’d love to hear about it.