Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Terrorising The Tourist Bus

Imagine that you are a tourist taking a trip on the sightseeing bus in Palma or even one (of seemingly several) in Alcudia. You are enjoying the sights. Here is the Cathedral. Or there, in Alcudia, is the site of the old Roman town of Pollentia. While you are enjoying this ride, you are suddenly shocked. More than just shocked. You are scared witless. Four terrorists wearing hoods have leapt onto the bus.

On Thursday last week, tourists in Barcelona were presented with just this scenario. They thought the attackers were terrorists. They weren't. They were four members of Arran, the revolutionary youth movement. A Dutch tourist, with his children, certainly thought they were terrorists. He told a radio station that he had believed they were.

The sightseeing bus had its tyres slashed. Graffiti was daubed on it. The principal message was that tourism kills the neighbourhoods, i.e. the local residential areas which are meant to be for the people of Barcelona. They have been invaded by tourists. By holiday rentals. By Airbnb.

The incident occurred by the Camp Nou football stadium. News of it only emerged almost three days later. The town hall, the police had given no notification of its occurrence. It was, however, noted on social media, not least by Arran themselves. Tourism, the group averred, damages the working classes. And in case anyone wasn't getting the message or thought the bus invasion hadn't taken place, they supplied video evidence.

Arran is linked to a political party known as Candidatura d'Unitat Popular (CUP). Of the extreme left, the CUP advocates anti-capitalist Republicanism, bank nationalisation, Catalonian independence and Spain's exit from the European Union and NATO. The CUP has ten seats (out of 135) in Catalonia's parliament. Either directly or via Arran, it has associations with Valencia and the Balearics, where another link is via Endavant, the socialist organisation for national liberation.

Both Arran and Endavant were involved with the latest display of anti-tourist sentiment in Palma last week. As such, therefore, one can't wholly rule out there being a repetition in Palma of what took place in Barcelona with the sightseeing bus. The two cities are, where anti-tourist protest is concerned, pretty much joined at the hip. But Barcelona is where this protest has been much stronger. There was a previous incident involving the sightseeing bus (blocking its way so that it was stuck for a considerable time). There was a protest against Harmony of the Seas when the giant cruise ship sailed for the first time from Barcelona's port. There have been occupations of apartments and anti-Airbnb banners shown. In May this year, several hotels were "attacked".

In their social media statements, Arran stated that the bus attack was not "tourismphobia". Rather, it was a defence against "barriocidio", which can be translated as something like a form of neighbourhood genocide. The working class is condemned to "misery" because of mass tourism. Arran therefore is fighting against a "predatory and murdering" tourism model. This model creates jobs that are only insecure and temporary. It gentrifies cities. It benefits only a few. There is the need for an alternative and sustainable tourism model.

When one considers all of this, some of it could have been said by Balearic politicians, certainly those of Més or Podemos. In Barcelona, the town hall is headed by Ada Colau. Her grouping, Barcelona en Comú, is a coming-together of her own movement against evictions and political entities of the left. It isn't Podemos but it has some similarities.

One of the councillors with Colau's grouping is Agustí Colom. He is responsible for employment, business and tourism. Faced with what happened with the bus - the town hall having not even previously acknowledged the incident - he has said that the town hall is looking to see if there is any basis for legal action. The impression given is that the town hall is in no desperate hurry to establish the facts and therefore the need for such action. It is being suggested that the town hall will brush it all off in the same way it did with the "attacks" on the hotels, which were more or less categorised as having been a bit of fun.

The bus incident wasn't terrorism in that no one was targeted and no one was hurt. But it was terrorism insofar as tourists were terrorised. To even hint that it was only some youthful revolutionary high-jinks would be utterly irresponsible. But are administrations, such as Barcelona's and perhaps also Palma's, creating the environment for this type of terrorising? Why was Barcelona town hall so apparently reticent in recognising what took place? For fear of damaging the city's tourism image? And where, one might ask, could it lead?

Palma should take note. Some of its councillors should be very careful with what they say.

* Since writing this (on Monday), the town hall and the Catalonian government have said that they will take action against the bus attack. They have also denounced another incident involving Arran: tyres on bikes for rental to tourists in Barcelona were slashed. Jaume Collboni, the second deputy mayor, says that the incidents of "tourismphobia" are expressions of xenophobia that are to be condemned. Barcelona is a "democratic and open city" and there will be "zero tolerance" if similar incidents occur.

On 20 July, Arran were also behind an attack on a restaurant in Palma's Moll Vell. Confetti was thrown over clients and their food and flares were let off.

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