We interview Robert Ferran about his experience in the Pablo Hasel movement. Robert from Barcelona and 22 years old, he has been a left activist for the last 4 years but not in any party.
First thing to ask what happened to you
I was at a demonstration against the jailing of Pablo Hasel. Basically the demonstration turned into a little riot and the police started shooting. I had no intention to be in the middle of any trouble, but when i saw what the police were doing I was very very angry and that meant i was more exposed than i would have liked. After a few seconds I heard a huge bang by my knee and released I was hit by something. At first I thought it was a rock and then it was obvious it was a rubber bullet. Ironically I was trying just to help people to move to safety. I think the police saw that and thought I was some kind of important organizer so they shot me.
How bad were your injuries?
I got a fracture in my femur near my knee, I am lucky, it’s not too serious and after rehabilitation for a month I should be ok. But it could easily have been worse, slightly lower it could have knocked my knee out.
There have been a lot of people injured, many more than they say on TV. They just mention the worst cases. There was a girl that lost her eye, and I myself saw people bleeding from their heads. You don’t hear about all the cases so I think there are a lot of people injured.
So what is going on now with the Pablo Hasel movement?
Following the first day of demonstrations, which turned violent because of police interventions, the people were very angry so the protests expanded for more than a week – not only in Barcelona but across Catalunya but also in the rest of the Spanish. You could see the repression of the police in Madrid, Valencia and all around the state. So the protest lasted for at least 9 days of hard protests… but protests continue but on a lower level. longer than 2 years ago (the Tsunami Democratic demos), which is interesting.
So what are the similarities and differences between this movement and the Tsunami Democratic movement. (The protest movement from the autumn of 2019, when the leaders of the independence movement where jailed some up to 10 years for organising the 2017 referendum)?
The Hasel protests were more ideologically spread – anarchists, communists, well all kinds of left groups. I was surprised because I saw people who I always thought were more center or moderate. The demonstrations have attracted mostly youth, from all cultures and languages. I heard Italian, Arabic, Catalan, French….
The protests 2 years ago were much much bigger but ideologically were more about independence. There were others but it was mostly independentist people.
Does the question of the repression of the independence movement and that of repression of an artist have their similarities?
There is the sensation here in Catalunya of continuous repression. It just keeps recurring. Not only against freedom of expression but all kinds of political activism and political work and even freedom of thought. When you see the State is always going after the same people, independentists, communists or anarchists, but then it doesn’t go after fascists or neo-nazis, then people become aware the state is not at all for the common people. So the sensation is the state makes that repression very hard. It doesn’t care that people see that repression and that people get angry. It doesnt care, it has the media, which is expert at manipulating the discourse. Like with Hazel, they said he was a terrorist, he wanted ETA to come back, that he was a violent person and had many convictions. They always tell half truths so they can create a message that allows the oppression to be digested more smoothly by the population. Fortunately, the Pablo Hasel campaign has been able to debunk many of these myths. They have done very well, but they are only small so it’s not enough because the mainstream media is so prevalent.
The Pablo Hasel campaign tried to link the repression to the wider problem of the society. This broadening out of the campaign to other issues did not happen. Why do you think that is the case?
I think there are a number of reasons, the first is that people go out into struggle and get exhausted after some time. One night was already exhausting but to keep going for over a week is hard. It’s not viable to continue for more than a week in this way. In fact, it surprised me that it lasted for so long. I don’t think it’s a problem that it slowed down, it’s understandable. But we need to use that anger and the revolt to develop into something more political. I think one thing that was lacking was for the protest to convert the anger around the Hasel case into a whole set of demands about the police, the use of riot police, the gag law, the wider system. It needed to unite with other repression cases and that would have been easier with a broader programme.
In Catalonia it also coincided with the elections… So political parties were very quiet and were just trying to facilitate negotiations, which I understand, but the left parties should have said more. There is now talk in the Spanish state of wanting to reform the law to allow insults to the monarchy, but it’s all words and not action. So, yeah, although the movement naturally got tired we didn’t manage to get over a clear package of measures to wider society. I also think the Covid pandemic was an important obstacle, at least in the lack of assemblies.
What was good was the Hasel movement connected with the independence movement So there was an alliance for basic rights. Pablo himself comes from one type of communist tradition and was on TV a lot and managed to get his message of this alliance of people against repression across.
I would have done more though. It was a youth movement, But i think it would have been good, for example, if we had had demonstrations on a Sunday morning in order to gather older people and people that are more passive so as to broaden out the fight. This way, the media were able to show the movement as one of riots and like it or not this is limited. I think something like “Sunday morning” demos would have reached out to a wider layer. Also, I think a common manifesto of leftist parties would have strengthened the movement.
I saw that CUP put some stuff out on social media, Podem [Podemos in Spanish] eventually reacted but not enough. You mentioned that this movement happened at same time as elections. How would you be critical of CUP and Podem?
Podem always use the figure of Joan Marcenze, who is like an expert on law, and he always does the same. He tweets about the justice system and says he will do something but the action ends there. Podem are in the state government but they are not saying anything to the justice minister… so with Podem I am deeply disappointed. I think they could have done way, way more.
CUP were more explicit in their support, but I think they are failing to connect with the youth of Catalonia and uniting the working class of Catalonia
Why do you think CUP is failing to make these connections?
Well it’s complicated to say, I am not an expert. A lot of their activists come from university and academia and although this is not a bad thing I think they are over represented from this area. Sometimes, their discourse is too focused on themselves, aimed at people already convinced, people who are already anti-capitalist. I think they should focus more on the message of anti-capitalism and develop practical programs to fight the crises aimed at the workers and youth. They were very discrete in this protest movement, because they were undertaking negotiations, and maybe they argue for good things, like ending evictions, but they do it at the top and maybe nothing changes. They try but they lose the focus on the struggle on the ground.
So you are critical of both main left groups. What would you say they should do?
I think the Pablo Hasel movement was anti-capitalist in spirit, due to the issue and the organisers, but the majority of the people in demonstrations were not. Well, I think many of them could be convinced but they were there fighting for fundamental rights. I think that’s a thing we should know.
CUP has a lot of youth organisations like Arran, la forja,etc but I never saw them on the demonstrations in an organised form. Not even a flag. Supposedly they are the vanguard of the youth of the anti-capitalist movement. I did not see them and they didn’t seem to be organizing anything. Angry demonstrations like the Pablo Hasel ones are easily trapped and provoked by the police. The Podem youth were not there as they are not so anti-system. But CUP should be more mature and know what these demonstrations are. They need to be preparing the people to defend the working class, the youth on the demonstrations, organising lines of people to defend the demonstrations. They should have been organizing the defence of the demonstrations. There was a need for organised stewarding and communication, and I didn’t see any of that.
Who do you think was actually organising the demonstrations?
I don’t know, I just saw the publicity and went. From what I could see it was not the organised left but small local associations. On one demonstration some people turned up with a banner and a very small group of about 5 people, and people started to follow them…. And I did the same. So we were following but nobody knew who. I suppose in a movement against the repression of one person this is understandable, but the problem is they do not have the organised force to defend the demonstration. This is why I think groups like Arran should have done it, as they are better known and have more resources.
So what you are saying is that there was a lack of leadership on the left
Yes it was very decentralised, which is some aspects can be good, but this also really limits the movement.
Also, when the repression is so hard, the organization can really suffer the consequences of its political activism so the decentralisation allows to keep the movement alive without leaders who get cut off.
However, we have strong left parties and organisations and they have a good system of defence therefore they should be able to organise these things
Since the start of Covid, there have been some health strikes and protests but not as yet huge. There were some education strikes that also were not so big. So this was one of the first significant struggles during Covid. How do you see things evolving in the near future?
What I saw from this movement is that people really wanted to go out and demonstrate…and really want to fight. Maybe they are not ready to become fully politically active but people are aware that we need to do something and we have to go to the streets. The thing is this does not happen if there is not a very important motive. In this latest case, the motive was Pablo Hasel. The question will be if there will be more important motives in the future that are strong enough to group all kinds of people from different sectors. I think that could happen if they start privatising the health sector or start to cut general budgets. Or, for example, if the far right wins an election. So we need an important motive because when there is no leadership this is the way people will enter into a big struggle as it’s the only thing that can group people together. So we don’t know what or when, but I think they will appear somehow and somewhere, and that will move the people into action.
So what do you think of the danger of the far right at the moment? Now that Vox are in the Catalan parliament not with one representative but with 9, what is the level of danger they represent?
Well of course we have had the far right for a long time. Vox is the most easily identifiable but we have to be aware it is not recent, the far right problem has always existed.
Anyway, the rise of Vox is very concerning. Actually in recent Elections they had at least two election activists at all the polling stations. This is different historically from other right parties like PP or Cs, who only have the media. Vox has militant activists and that is very worrying. Also, they are able to convince a lot of young people, which is embarrassing for the left. They also have people from every background. It’s not only rich people or the middle classes, but it’s also working class people. They have people of different ages but they have more in their 20s and 30s than they do of people over 65. The over 65s normally vote PSOE-PP. I am afraid of this because it means the younger people can be radicalised in the reactionary sense.
So what you’re saying is this is not just a few right wing loonies, that they are gaining a wider base in society and some people’s radicalisation is looking towards Vox.
Yes, there is an important sector of youth and society that rejects especially feminism and they are not passive but actively countering the feminist movement, which has been massive in the last years.
So do you think if the left dont fill this radical space there is a bigger danger
Yes, the problem is that Podem has become institutionalized, and it’s not as attractive as it was 5 years ago. CUP is not as institutionalized as it’s not in any government but, as I said, it’s too academic and it doesn’t connect with the youth well enough. So that gives Vox some road to the working class youth. Vox, of course, has many contradictions but the people that vote for them don’t care too much about that. They are also very opportunist, so they could grow more in the coming years. There is also the danger, I think, that PP and Vox could sooner or later govern in Spain and we will have our version of Bolsonaro or Trump. So we need to be rigorous and strong in debunking the myths of Vox because if we don’t, there will be consequences.
So we need to build organisations that can counter the lies of the right, the state, and put forward a clear alternative. What do you think about what is sometimes called the anti-party mood, the 15M – which Podem were later born from – had this as a strong feature and now the Pablo Hasel movement has some similar features…
I think there is some weariness in the movements. People are tired of political incompetence. The morals of the parties have fallen. People don’t vote anymore in traditional ways. There is no consensus of politics that was there before, it has been erased. This makes the situation much more volatile. So they can vote Podem but then they can also vote Vox. I think people are frustrated and just want a solution. This is not just in Spain, I think you can see this in other countries, like the UK, where traditional Labour towns vote differently. All it’s more volatile and people are open to try new things.
What would be your message to the radical left and anti-capitalist movement?
Hmmm, this is like the most complicated thing. I would say that we don’t need the same radical left that just repeats mantras. I think we need a lot of rigorousness, seriousness and maturity in our attitude and our actions, because that is the way we can earn the respect and the confidence of the people, most of whom still don’t trust us, this is what I think… As a lot of people just say we should just unite and, yes but I wanted to say a different thing. It would seem at the moment we are not ready to unite….maybe its not the right word but we are still too immature to be self aware. My option now would be to create a discourse that counters the right and lets see which organization is capable of growing and connecting with the working people then that could be some basis for unity.