Back in February, 2019, I wrote the last political update because the trial began of the 12 pro-independence Catalan leaders who were responsible for the referendum on Catalan independence. I’m writing again now because the trial recently ended, sentences were dealt, and tensions have flared.

This is an opportunity for us to educate the students about what is happening and why, a reminder on how to stay safe and how this may affect their daily living for now.

FIRST, A QUICK RECAP

In October 2017, several Catalan politicians organized a referendum on Catalan independence that was deemed illegal according to the Spanish Constitution. Following the non-binding referendum, the Catalan Parliament declared independence but the Spanish government quickly stepped in, invoked Article 155 meaning that the Spanish Central Government would take over some functions of the Catalan government and the politicians in charge were put into preventative prison or in one case, one leader moved into self-exile in Brussels to avoid charges. It’s important to note that many of those responsible have been in this preventative prison for the last two years even before the case went to court, which is unprecedented in Spanish democratic history.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED AND WHY?

This past Monday, October 14th, the courts in Madrid handed down the final sentences for these politicians (either called “political prisoners” or “secessionists” depending on whose side you are on) and they were pretty severe – mostly ranging from 9 to 13 years in prison.

The probable reason for such a severe sentence is 1) to punish these leaders for doing something that is considered illegal but also 2) to try and dissuade anyone else from trying to do the same thing in the future.

WHAT HAS THE REACTION BEEN?

Almost immediately there were protests in the streets of Barcelona and in other major cities in Catalonia against the prison sentences. While most of the protests and protesters are overwhelming peaceful, there have been rising tensions and sporadic injuries to protestors, police and bystanders.

The President of the Generalitat (the Catalan government) named Quim Torra has called for an end to any violence saying that protests must remain peaceful and that any major trouble is coming from “infiltrators,” however, the Spanish government accuses him of fueling the tension and says that these seem like coordinated acts, not one-off infiltrators.

It is fair to say that many people I have talked to, even the ones who are not pro-independence, are against such a harsh sentence for these politicians and don’t believe that the process has been fair from the beginning so they may protest peacefully as well.

WHAT ARE THE VIBES ON THE STREETS OF BARCELONA?

I am out of the country right now but the Barcelona staff say that it is mostly life as normal with a few street closures and protests in specific areas of the city. Today, Friday October 18th, there is a general strike called which will limit public transportation and see many people skip work and be out on the streets.

Some major gatherings have been organized in specific parts of the city and thousands of people have marched 100km from different parts of Catalonia into the city to demonstrate their disagreement with the verdict.

WHAT ARE WE TELLING OUR STUDENTS?

Of course, our number 1 goal is to keep our students safe. Since Monday, our Health and Safety coordinator has been sending email updates to our students with the following goals in mind:

  1. Inform them how they can stay safe by avoiding the protests
  2. Educate them on why the situation has come about (this is a great opportunity for learning)
  3. Let them know how their day-to-day could be affected
  4. Remind them that our staff are here for them in any way they need help

Please see below for the latest emails sent to students. But before that…a disclaimer that this is information as we have at the time of this email and things may have changed by the time you read this. 


FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18TH AT 1:12PM BARCELONA TIME

Hola todos,

I hope you are all doing well, staying safe.

Today is the “general strike” as well as the biggest demonstration day yet this week.

The general strike will affect public transportation and other services. You might see a lot of shops and institutions closed.

Demonstrations will likely disrupt roadways leading into Barcelona from various towns throughout the region, including marches on major highways from Tarragona, Tarrega, Berga, Vic and Girona.

The planned marches will converge at Jardinets de Gracia from the avenues of Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, Avinguda Diagonal, and Avinguda Meridiana. Tens of thousands of people are likely to attend a major rally at Jardinets de Gracia from 5 pm on.

A large protest is also expected at 12 pm leading from Plaza Universidad to Plaza St. Jaume via Via Laietana.

Please see the Demonstrations in Spain webpage of the US Embassy for more information.

Even though the demonstrations are intended to be peaceful they can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid areas of demonstrations, especially in the evening, and exercise caution if in the vicinity.

If you are staying in Barcelona this weekend, today might be a good day to catch up on homework, projects or reading. Have a relaxed day and keep a low profile.

VERY IMPORTANT Safety actions to take:

  • Avoid the areas of demonstrations
  • Exercise caution if in the vicinity of large gatherings or protests
  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Keep a low profile
  • Notify friends and family of your safety

You should expect significant disruptions to transportation in and around the city of Barcelona. If you are travelling make sure to leave several hours ahead of time if you are going to the airport, bus or train station and check that your airline, bus, train is still planning to leave Barcelona.

Should your travels outside of Barcelona be cancelled, please fill out the weekend plans form again to let us know you are staying in Barcelona.

You can monitor English-language Spanish media here. Our offices are open till 5 pm today if you need any assistance, you can come by or call our office phone: +34 936 399 946.

Please remember that you have the emergency phone in case of an emergency.

Have a good day, be patient and be safe.

Annie

Annie Pujkiewicz
Health, Safety & Risk Management Team Leader | Barcelona Onsite Team
office: +34.936.399.946 | email: Annie@BarcelonaSAE.com
address: Calle Trafalgar, 14, Principal 1ª – 08010 | Barcelona, Spain


THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17TH AT 12:36PM BARCELONA TIME

Hola a todos,

I hope you are all doing well, staying safe and have kept far away from the disruptive protests that have been happening during the previous nights.

As mentioned in previous emails demonstrations and protests are planned to progress tonight and tomorrow. With tensions rising please make sure to follow the safety actions.

Safety actions to take:

  • Avoid the areas of demonstrations
  • Exercise caution if in the vicinity of large gatherings or protests
  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Keep a low profile
  • Notify friends and family of your safety

Please avoid the city center and surroundings, especially in the evening as of 20:00, we don’t want you to get caught up in a dangerous situation.

Friday 18th of October:  The government of Catalonia has announced there will be a “general strike” More about the strike here.

On top of protesters joining in from different parts of Catalunya in Barcelona on Friday, there is also a “general strike” planned. This means that there will be minimal service for public services during that day, which will impact public transportation, pharmacies, hospitals & clinics, and schools. All of these institutions will be functioning, but with a minimum of staff.

What will probably affect you most, is the minimal public transportation. During peak hours (from 6:30 to 9:30 and from 17:00 to 20:00) there will only be 50% of the usual metros, buses and FGC trains. The rest of the day there will be 25% less. Renfe (long distance) trains will reduce to 33% throughout the day. Transport to El Prat Airport will be at 50% of the usual.

Because of the major demonstration during the “general strike” happening tomorrow Friday the 18th of October, you might experience difficulties travelling out and into of Barcelona. Make sure to leave several hours ahead of time if you are going to the airport and check that your airline is still planning to fly out. If taking a bus or train, be patient, as protesters are blocking some streets, highways and train tracks. We are hoping it quiets down after the big demonstrations tomorrow but it’s difficult to predict. Try to avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity.

Are you wondering why protesters would block roads, train tracks, disturb traffic and make access to airport difficult? It is a tactic to get international media attention and coverage, regarding what is happening in Catalunya.

Should your travels get cancelled for the weekend and you end up staying in Barcelona, please fill out the weekend plans form a second time to let us know.

In case you missed the email: Day Trip to Cavas & Sitges this Friday October 18th has been cancelled. We want you to experience our trips with the highest quality. You will soon be informed of the date we moved the trip to.

You can monitor English-language Spanish media here. Please remember that you have the emergency phone in case of an emergency.

You are also always welcome to come by our office and talk to us in case you need more explanations, you want to talk to someone about how you feel or if you need help with anything.

Have a good day, be patient and be safe.

Annie

Annie Pujkiewicz
Health, Safety & Risk Management Team Leader | Barcelona Onsite Team
office: +34.936.399.946 | email: Annie@BarcelonaSAE.com
address: Calle Trafalgar, 14, Principal 1ª – 08010 | Barcelona, Spain