The Seville 2002 EU summit protests


A group of Irish anarchists travelled to the June 2002 demonstrations in Seville Spain against the European summit. This is an account of the demonstration and our journey there. Its based on reports sent to the Ainriail list during the demonstrations but a lot of new material has been added and some corrections made.

Organisation among Irish anarchists for the Seville protests took two forms. Most of us were of course not travelling to Seville so an Anarchist News on the protests was produced and 5,000 copies of this distributed in Ireland while the protests were on.

EU, Globalisation and the Seville Protests
How the EU is a motor for globalisation and how its decision effect Irish workers. Also looks at the so called 'inquiry' into the Gardai riot at the RTS street party.

Seville EU summit
PDF file of The EU, globalisation and Seville

Some of us travelled by car from Ireland with the rest meeting up with the others in Barcelona before travelling down through the Spanish State via Madrid. In Madrid we were able to meet with a member of the anarchist organisation 'Mutual Aid'. He brought us up to date with plans for Seville and gave us the meeting point for a libertarian march across Andalucia (The March of Social Resistance) which we would meet up with the following day.

In Barcelona we heard it reported that the Guarda Civil were already stopping cars on the outskirts of Seville. Despite this anarchists we talked to seemed certain that at least 100,000 people, mostly local, would attend the protest, an estimate that turned out to be accurate.

So on Wednesday night we joined up with the march across Andalucia. We met the other marchers in an anarchist bar/social centre in Malaga (on the right of a river as you come up from the coast, its up a lane way about 100m after you pass the police station). After a wait of couple of hours we joined their confused convoy through Malaga. Navigating a dozen or more cars or vans across a busy city is difficult, especially when only the front one knows the destination! Just outside Malaga we took part in the occupation of an abandoned army camp on the outskirts of the city.

The gate of the military base
Pic: At the gate of the military base

The army wants to sell this land off to private developers - no doubt to add another km to the hotels that line the entire coast. The local workers are demanding instead that it be made into a public park. There is very little 'non tourist' public space on the Costa del Sol. The occupation passed off without state interference, around 150 people took part in it with spirits being kept high by the huge bin of Sangria that had been prepared and storytelling around the fire. The next day the convoy would continue to the port to meet a delegation of Moroccans on their way to Seville, we however planned to head directly to Seville.

That Thursday a general strike was held all across the Spanish State. Posters, graffiti and banners advertised this all over Spain. Even on the tourist coast most of the shops and restaurants appear to be closed down. Large demonstrations of 100,000 and more took place in many Spanish cities. The demonstration in Seville attracted around 20,000 with a fairly sizeable red and black bloc. The local CNT had also organised a smaller demonstration of a few hundred, those who attended this reported it was surrounded by hundreds of cops. In Barcelona there were scuffles outside one department store that had not shut and some of the windows were smashed in.

General strike graffiti
Pic: General strike graffiti on the window of a car showroom

Some of the anarchists who arrived in Seville early joined a CGT group that went around at midnight closing down all the late night bars as the strike started. Many of the customers of each bar joined in this demonstration and moved on with it to the next bar. They also headed down to the bus station the next morning only to see the drivers marching out with clenched fists, many of them it turned out were also CGT members.

Seville was almost completely shut down that day; the few bars that had been allowed to remain open were full of strikers! Across the country transport and construction was completely shut down but even in the small towns people reported that most places were closed. The next day the papers published the conflicting claims for how many took part (see picture). The government claimed a ludicrously low figure around 17% while the unions estimated it at around 84%. From what we saw and heard this last figure was the more accurate of the two.

General strike estimates
Pic: Graph from newpaper showing Gov. (bottom) V union (top) estimates of participation in the general strike by sector

After the massive EU Summit demonstration in March in Barcelona (of 500,000) some had hoped that Seville would be at least as big. In fact it was always going to be a lot smaller simply because in Barcelona, one of the most radical cities in Europe, the mobilisation was 90% local. The same people were not going to spend 16 or more hours travelling down across Spain to Seville. Seville is a much smaller city without the radical history and current movement found in Barcelona. Most of the Spanish anarchists we met also said the proximity of the general strike to the demonstration meant that much of the energy that might have been used to organise for the demonstration had in fact gone into the general strike.

This summit planned to set up a Europe wide anti-immigrant police force - another stone in the wall of Fortress Europe that has already killed 10 times more then the Berlin wall. It was also concerned with finding ways to force the population of the republic of Ireland to deliver a yes vote to the Nice treaty the second time around. Finally it was continuing the project of building of Europe for the bosses where workers would be forced to compete in the 'race to the bottom'.

We entered Seville by taking the back roads across the mountains from the Costa del Sol. We hoped this might avoid the roadblocks around Seville but it didn't, and on the outskirts the Guarda Civil stopped us. The Guarda Civil is the Franco era police force and has a (deserved) vicious reputation. So getting stopped by them was not something we had looked forward to.

We were ordered out of the car and spent around ten minutes on the edge of the road as two cops went through our passports and bags while two more stood a bit back with machine guns. Thia hold up was no more then a demonstration that we were being watched as the search was pretty perfunctory and our passport details were hand written on a clip board. After a while we were allowed to move on with - rather oddly - the senior cop saluting us as we drove off! Perhaps he had decided that we were tourists after all!

From talking to others it appears most people were being stopped on arrival in a similar manner including those arriving by public transport. From what we heard, people were not being stopped entering Seville but people had been stopped entering Spain. Over 400 were refused entry on the Portuguese border alone. Once in Seville there were no Guarda Civil visible in the centre, here the National Police would play the role of harassing us as we walked around town.

The official protest campsite was on an island at the opposite end of the city from the hotel where the delegates are staying. On the first night there were probably around 100 tents there with two or three times that number arriving in the following days. It was well set up with showers and toilets. There was however some controversy about the commercial bar at the centre of the site complete with its 'Nestle' sun shades. Some felt we should stage a take over on the first night but fortunately cooler heads prevailed. There was a far-sized anarchist presence in the site so we spent a good bit of the first night meeting comrades and catching up on the news. .

On Friday morning we started off by going to have a look at the delegates hotel. As we had heard there was a fence erected around it but it was not very impressive, perhaps 2m of chain link wire sitting on top of concrete barriers. The police presence in the tourist section of city centre is fairly low key, as it was still full of tourists. However we were told that around 3,000 plain clothes police were in Seville and many people on the campsite had been stopped by these characters around town to have their passports inspected.

Exclusion fence in Seville
Pic: the fence around the delgates hotel

The low-key presence reflected the expectation that the protests will be fairly non-confrontational. Indeed the main demonstration was timed to take place after the summit had closed so there is no opportunity for it to try and blockade the summit. There was quite a bit of discussion about this - this return to the 'stage army' mobilisation was due in part to the fact that the protest is largely organised by the Socialist Party which is actually in government in Andalucia (but in opposition in Spain).

The working class quarter of the centre where the IMC centre and two anarchist squats are located was a different story though. Vanloads of National Police were located on almost all the narrow streets entering the area. Some events were organised here by a grouping of anarchists that included the CNT and various affinity groups but which had been set up in such a way so as to exclude the CGT.

It was almost impossible to enter or leave this area without being 'controlled' by the 'National Police'. Controlling meant that they would take your passport and note the details. It also meant that they searched you and confiscated items they disliked. By Friday this included bottles of water as well as gas masks, apparently they had decided that it was not permitted to carry more then one water bottle! This was obviously part of a campaign aimed at making life in the squats unbearable as the police knew they did not have running water. However on hearing this some of the neighbours started supplying water over the walls.

National Police at Seville protests
Pic: The National Police

Meetings took place in a square in the centre of this area. This was also to be the starting point for a Reclaim the Streets at 19.00. The police intimidation of militants entering and leaving the area would not have been that effective if the anarchists in the square had managed to maintain a calm situation. Unfortunately the reality is that there were a number of very pissed people who occasionally smashed bottles and generally staggered around.

The cops were obviously itching for a fight and that there were seldom more then 100 of us in the square at any one time. So when you arrived you felt you were sitting in the middle of a bulls-eye and that a police attack could be triggered at any moment if one of the drunks decided to lob a few bottles in the general direction of the cops.

After a few minutes of this atmosphere we retreated to a nearby bar where at the hour of the demonstration we saw groups of riot police and scooter cop squads (the cop on the back is armed with a plastic bullet gun) head up to the square. It turned out the organisers had take the sensible decision given the numbers present and postponed the demo. Later that night a small demonstration did take place that managed to get out of the square. The organisation of events in this area was very poor and reflected badly on the anarchists groups involved, although the huge police presence probably made any effective demonstration impossible.

There had been other events earlier in the day. We had briefly got to one on immigration outside a church in the centre. That demonstration took a 'street theatre' format with an 'auction' of immigrants and the assembly of a giant jigsaw of slogans. The problem was that this was 'preaching to the converted' as almost all the 500 people in the square were there for the demonstration.

Starting at 20.00, an hour after the RTS, the final demonstration of the day was odd, to say the least. Local students in opposition to the privatisation of the college had apparently called it but when we arrived we found a small demonstration of a few hundred that was dominated by the competing paper sellers of the various Leninist parties. Both sides of the demonstration were lined by more riot cops with every fifth cop armed with a rifle topped with what I think was a tear gas grenade launcher.

As the march moved off there was lots of pushing as the various Leninists tried to manoeuvre their banners, placards and flags to the front so they might appear on the front page of the papers the next. Several middle aged and pot bellied men from the British SWP bounced up and down with orange Globalise Resistance flags trying to look like youthful anti-capitalists. The whole thing felt very artificial so after a few minutes of this sort of nonsense we left.

Riot cops in Seville
Pic: Line of riot cops in Seville

We were all the more pissed off when we returned to the campsite and went to the CGT tent. There we discovered we had missed a couple of demonstrations that sounded a lot more useful including one against job insecurity.

The actual CGT tent itself (and the bar that accompanied it) cheered us up. It was a large 300 person marquee draped with anarchist flags and large red and black banners many in 8 or more languages opposing capitalism and war. Beside this was the bar area, which included a smaller tent full of anarchist literature and out the back was a large stage area.

This was the best of all. As we were sitting there large numbers of CGT members started to arrive and it became obvious they had carried out a big mobilisation for Seville. It was very positive to see whole families arrived wearing anarchist bandannas and hats - all the way from the kids to the grandparents. Best of all the CGT had organised a free Flamenco concert on a stage backed by a huge anti war and capitalism banner. The music was fantastic and we stayed up way into the night when the formal singing was replaced by informal singing around the bar.


Pic:Flamenco singing at the CGT tent

This was regretted the next morning, as at 9.00 we were to attend an international anarchist meeting of 'International Libertarian Solidarity' or by the Spanish acronym of SIL. This brings together libertarian groups from around the world including the biggest of the anarchist unions, the Spanish CGT with around 45,000 members and the Swedish SAC, which has about 10,000. Its aim is to help anarchists in the global south; projects over the last year have concentrated on Brazil. It took place in the CGT building in the city centre (26, Calle Alfonso XII) where we also were given a great lunch of paella and chorizo stew after the meeting had ended. Alongside ours meeting a sectoral meeting of union militants from across Europe had also been going on.

At the meeting we heard that the police had surrounded a nearby church that had been occupied by immigrants with no papers. In the evening many of the anarchists decided to gather there so we could create a zone into which they could emerge and then move with them up to the demonstration.

As soon as small groups of 15 of us started from the CGT offices towards the square with our anarchist flags a dozen or more police swooped on us and we were controlled yet again (the fourth time for me in two days, others had chalked up as many as ten controls). As we moved towards the square many of the local residents greeted us with enthusiasm, the best of all being a car bearing a bride and groom on the way to or from a wedding that beeped and waved as they passed. Later I discovered their wedding had been taking place at the same time as the occupation and when they emerged the militants in the square created a corridor through the crowd through which they reached their car with everyone cheering.

Square in Seville
Pic: Waiting for the immigrants to emerge

The square was packed with well over 1000 anarchists when we arrived and of course dozens of flags. It seemed that people from all the Spanish anarchist groups had put aside their differences for the event. We formed a cordon running from the church doors into which the immigrants emerged as everyone chanted no one is illegal. We then marched up to the head of the main march.

Once there we had to squeeze by the delegations that had already arrived. Near the front we found a large CGT delegation which we decided to join. As well as red and black anarchist flags many of the CGT members were wearing the red and black caps worn by the militias in the Spanish Civil War.

No one is illegal
Pic: No one is illegal

It was very, very hot so the crowd pleaded with the residents of the apartment above the road to throw water down on them. Huge numbers did this with one enthusiastic young man 100 m down repeatedly filling a huge bin and emptying this on the crowd from the 5th floor. This and the large number of local who turned out to support the march showed there was a lot of local support, indeed the vast majority of the 75,000 - 100,000 mobilisation was made up of local people. [Note: as always there were wide estimates of the numbers that took part with the lowest being the government at 20,000 and the highest the estimate of an SWP member of 250,000!. The police estimate was 50,000 and the organisers 100,000 so a figure between these seems reasonable].

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Pic: Two views of part of the CGT bloc

The CGT bloc was reported in the papers the next day as one of the largest on the march. There were perhaps 1500 to 2000 on it with dozens of banners including two that had helium balloons attached to the top so that they could be floated high above the march. Apparently there was a 1000 plus bloc a bit further back from the CNT and other smaller anarchist blocs (including a tiny black bloc of 100 or so) scattered along the length of the march.

Our bloc was great to march with as the chanting was both enthusiastic and spontaneous - there was no need for stewards equipped with megaphones to lead the chants as each section of the march constantly created new ones that passed through the crowd. 'Viva Anarchy' was popular along with 'no one is illegal', 'the people united will never be defeated', 'resistance', 'lets have a strike, strike, strike' or simply 'anti-capitalism'. Other ones called the Spanish president a 'cunt' and the 'son of a whore' while some were aimed at the police.

Banner floating abover the march
Pic: Banner suspended from ballons

Rather then walking along at a steady pace we would frequently stop, sit down, and then jog along which was difficult for the first few times as the contents of your pocket tried to jump out. At other times we walked backwards chanting 'EU look at my arse'.

At the end of the march we went down to the riverbank for a CGT rally which concentrated on the international anarchist presence and the need for social revolution. At the end of it everyone stood up and clenched their hands over their head as we sung 'A las barracadas'. A tourist boat passed and the sight of over 1,000 people doing this lit only by the searchlight from a circling police helicopter must have made a great photo.

Overall the Seville demonstrations were not terribly effective. Because the organisation of the protests had been dominated by the reformists there was virtually no space for direct action of any sorts. Delegates to the EU summit could have been unaware that protests were taking place unless they read the papers as they were mostly held a good distance from the summit and in the case of the main demonstration held after the summit had taken place.

The numbers who turned out were quite reasonable but the lack of action meant they were also invisible to people outside of Spain. The Irish media almost completely ignored the protests (the one exception being the 'naked protest'). The Prague demonstration of September 2000 against the World Bank which attracted less then 20% of the number of protesters in Seville received far, far more coverage and generated much more debate in Ireland and elsewhere.

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It is hard to avoid the conclusion that globalisation protests that avoid direct action will kill off the movement, or at least greatly reduce participation in it. The severity of state repression in Genoa succeeded in pushing a huge section of the movement onto the defensive, from the NGO's to the 'revolutionary' Trotskyist left. After Genoa these groups dedicated acres of newsprint to attacks on the 'direct action' groupings of protesters from the Black Bloc to the White Overalls. Brussels and Seville have demonstrated that their so-called 'alternative' of non-confrontational token protest is going nowhere.

But Genoa also demonstrated that both Black Bloc and White Overall tactics were no answer to the militarised violence of the state. The Black Bloc's isolation from the rest of the protesters in Genoa meant that in the aftermath many protesters fell for the slander that it was entirely a state creation intended to provide an excuse for the repression. This despite the fact that as the Italian police were to admit they had infiltrated every section of the demonstrators. The White Overalls were not and could not be equipped to withstand police vans being driven at speed into their ranks.

There is no tactical answer to a state willing to use a level of repression similar to that used in Genoa. Rather it's a question of winning much larger numbers away from the non-confrontational line of the reformists and the Trotskyist left. This means less secrecy rather then more - militants need to be engaging everyone in a debate over the need for direct action rather then seeking out and 'plotting' better tactics with other militants.

On a broader level it also means overcoming the isolation between 'the movement' and 'the people'. This requires using all our abilities to communicate our ideas, including a willingness to use the mainstream media to do so where opportunities arise. It means expanding our involvement in the local and day to day struggles in the places we work and live.

Greek anarchist banner at Seville
Pic: Capitalism must be destroyed

In 2004 the Euro Summit circus will come to Dublin. We need to start organising towards this now, not simply to get the numbers out on the day but also to build a mass self-organised anti capitalist movement. This process needs to be started now and not left to the months before the summit.

The vote against the Nice referendum demonstrates that Irish workers are increasingly sceptical about what the EU is now up to. People have drawn the connections themselves between bin charges, privatisation, pollution in the form of incinerators and the agenda of the EU bosses. But passive opposition at the ballot box cannot defeat this agenda as the repeat of the Nice referendum this autumn demonstrates.

The 2004 Dublin summits need to be a focus for organisation, organisation that will continue to expand long after the summit is over and so becomes part of a real anti-capitalist movement. One thing that needs to be on the agenda from an early stage is the form of protests that will be supported. We must argue against the 'one size fits all' (unity) model of the trotskyist left and reformists which will amount to no more that a bigger then usual march around O'Connell St. Instead as in Quebec and Prague there needs to be space created for a diversity of tactics with people being able to choose the area that meets their need.

As importantly our aim must be to mobilise tens of thousands of people living in Ireland not just for the protests but also to argue with those they live and work with. The nucleus of this already exists in struggles like that against the bin tax.

In the short term the second Nice referendum offers us a great opportunity to build a libertarian movement towards 2004. Last time out anarchists distributed 15,000 leaflets, this time we should be hoping to at least triple that figure and through that campaign bring many fellow workers into activism. This is only possible with your active participation, not simply in terms of helping to distribute material but also in making the arguments to your friends, neighbours and workmates.

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