Taking the banks in Catalonia

Croire au monde, c’est aussi bien susciter des événements même petits qui échappent au contrôle, ou fait naitre de nouveaux espaces-temps, même de surface ou de volume réduits. … C’est au niveau de chaque tentative que se jugent la capacité de résistance ou au contraire la soumission à un contrôle. Il faut à la fois création et peuple.

Gilles Deleuze, Contrôle et Devenir

Okupation make take many forms and spaces. Land, factories, squares and streets, buildings, houses have all been ohupied in struggles against State-Capital … and now in Catalonia, banks. As the banks reap profits in times of fat speculation, they command evictions when austerity is imposed to secure profits. No more fitting target then, at least symbolically, for okupation than the creation of anti-capitalist social centres.

What follows is a translation of an article that appeared Directa and Periódico Diagonal, on the 11th and 12th of June respectively, followed then by the partial translation of the manifesto of one of the okupations discussed here below.

From banks to community centers

In February of this year there were eleven okupied social centres under threat of eviction in Catalonia. Of these liberated spaces three were involved in legal proceedings, five were conceded the space or temporarily succeeded in stopping legal proceedings, two have been evicted (La Otra Carbonería and, in a first moment, Can Vies), and one, the Ateneo Popular Eixample has received a firm order of eviction that should be executed during the month of June. As has so often been repeated over the last years, it appears to be yet another repressive crackdown against the okupation movement, deeply rooted in Catalonia, but without the desired results of the public authorities and the judicial power.

The frustrated eviction of historical self-managed social center Can Vies, in the neighbourhood of Sants of Barcelona, has again placed in the forefront of public debate the role of these centres as structuring of neighborhood movements and the fabric of associations and collectives in cities and neighbourhoods. Meanwhile, new projects continue to appear that reject the supervision of institutions and commit themselves to okupation as a tool to retrieve and construct alternative imaginaries to the capitalist system. The historical lack of spaces to develop self-managed projects, coupled with the difficulty to initiate and consolidate new okupations, are favoring the search for new strategies and objectives to continue questioning private property and giving life to properties abandoned by their owners.

In October of 2011, a group of neighbors in the neighborhood of Gràcia entered the old bank branch of Caixa Tarragona- today, Catalunya Caixa- located at number 181 of the Travessera de Gracia. With this action, they wanted a space “to accommodate the needs and initiatives of the neighbourhood and of the different collectives and associations”, and claim the okupation of a building belonging to a financial institution, arguing that they are the “ultimate expression of capitalism.” Thus, a new path opened, so far unexplored by the okupation movement: recovering disused spaces owned by banks to create self-managed social centers.

In a context of crisis, where much of the public perceives financial institutions as one of the main problems that exist in Spain – according to data from April barometer of the Center for Sociological Studies (CIS) – the legitimacy of the economic power represented by banks has been severely damaged. This, coupled with the large number of unused real estate they own, the result of the closure of many branches by the merger of savings banks and the restructuring of the banking sector, have led to an ideal breeding ground for the proliferation of okupations of these spaces .

The spark ignited by the “Banco Expropriado de la Vila de Gràcia” took over two years to light the fuse that, so far, has given birth to five new okupations former bank offices. In February of this year, people from different collectives and leftist neighbourhood projects of the neighborhoods of Eixample and Sant Antoni of Barcelona converged to okupy an old office of Caixa Penedès of No. 98 of Urgell Street. Since then, the Ateneu l’Entrebanc hosts various activities and the Courts have archived criminal proceedings against the okupation. Also in February of this year, during a demonstration in support of the Banco Expropriado – which currently awaits a trial date – the okupation of another Catalunya Caixa bank branch on the same street, Travessera de Gràcia, number 227, was announced. Since then, the Casal Popular Tres Lliris accommodates different youth groups. Meanwhile, the Courts initiated criminal proceedings that have already involved the charging of several young people and issued an injunction to voluntarily leave the space, under the threat of take precautionary measures for eviction. Beyond the inner city of Barcelona, the Assemblea de Joves del Congrés inaugurated the CSO La Vaina, at the end of April; a new okupied space owned by La Caixa, in the Congrés neighbourhood of the district of Sant Andreu. The okupiers of the old bank branch on the street Riera de Horta, number 53, have opened the space for the participation of collectives from nearby neighborhoods and are at ease thanks to the absence of legal threats.

Last weekend the okupation of other bank branches in the Barcelona neighbourhoods of Fort Pienc and Sant Antoni were announced. “El Rec” was the name chosen to christen the new Ateneo Popular Fort Pienc, a neighborhood that no longer had a liberated space after the eviction, last summer, of the Casal Popular la Resposta. During the weekend work began to rehabilitate and animate this unused Banka bank branch located at the intersection of Marc Ausiàs and Roger de Flor. Seventy-two hours later, in the same district of Eixample, the Ateneo la Pork was inaugurated, in reference to the animal icon of the patron of the neighborhood of Sant Antoni. It is located at the confluence of Mistral Avenue and Rocafort Street and and was a branch of Caja Madrid, now owned by Bankia, partially nationalized and recapitalized with public money.

This half dozen new okupied spaces are in addition to the many that exist in the city of Barcelona and throughout the country and prolong the tug of war between public and financial powers and grass root social and political movements, actors engaged in a struggle for different models of society.

From a manifesto of the Banco Expropriado de la Vila de Gràcia

The defense of the Expropriated Bank is defense of a common, collective, community good, permits the struggle against the ravages of capitalism. The Expropriated Bank is therefore not only a physical space, but a nevralgic centre of resistance to the city, a place to give and to receive the mutual aid and solidarity that we need to confront the attacks of capitalism and that construct alternatives possibilities to current state and capitalist society.

The defence of the Expropriated Bank is the defence of a collective space where isolation and loneliness imposed on us by capitalism and the state is broken, it is the meeting place for those who do not want to step on others to live with more money, for those who do not want to speculate or to take advantage of the miseries of others. The day to day of the Expropriated Bank, with relationships that occur, outline another way of living, more dignified, more courageous. It is where new hope is built, the hope of a diametrically opposed to the world we live in, a better world.

Every day that passes with the Expropriated Bank for the city is a better day.

What is needed are thousands of expropriated banks, in every neighborhood, in every city.



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