22/09/2021

Barcelona, partying and public order

2 min
A group of young people participating in a Friday night botellón in Barcelona.

Barcelona's end-of-summer festival, La Mercè, appears as a new litmus test on the way out of the pandemic. As we have seen lately, there have been obstacles: uncontrolled outdoor parties, known as botellones, have proliferated as bars and clubs have remained closed. Restrictions on nightlife will be eased on Thursday for premises which have outdoor spaces, which are very few. Therefore, the possibility of mass botellones remains, with the resulting public order problems (noise, damage to furniture, dirt, homophobic violence...) and danger of contagion. In this final stretch of summer and the beginning of autumn, the sustained advance of vaccination (by the way, what a disaster that 70,000 doses have expired : on the one hand, there must have been some kind of lack of foresight, and on the other, irresponsibility among youngsters) has created a partly false feeling that the virus has been defeated. Covid is in retreat, but it is still there, even if it can't do as much damage. But we are a long way from no longer needing to worry.

La Mercè has traditionally been synonymous with crowds in the streets, long nights and unbridled joy. In pre-pandemic times, it was a time to enjoy the city in freedom. With covid still active, we can't afford it. Not yet, not this year. The alternative that the City Council has programmed is a festival with reservations: audiences will have to book tickets to concerts, there will be limited capacity and above all a lot more police at night to stop illegal parties. It would be a shame if the police became the protagonist of La Mercè. In any case, given the precedents, it is a necessary preventive measure. Preserving public order, protecting the street furniture, enforcing the rules and protecting the rest of the neighbours are not an option, but an obligation for the authorities.

Having said that, the reality of botellones and the unavoidable need to prevent them cannot lead us to criminalise young people in general. Not because of any kind of low guard or absurd condescension due to covid, nor because of any kind of woolly liberalism, but because ever since the world began, young people have felt the need to go beyond, to challenge established power, to passionately seek the joy of life and have fun, to experience their freedom. La Mercè, like any great urban festival, is a moment that brings together this partly uncontainable youthful energy year after year. The fact is that right now this can't be. So we have to find the middle ground in the clash between teenage yearning and the persistent danger of the pandemic, between festivity and civility, between order and freedom. The Mercè of 2021 must be a safe and contained festival. There is no other option. And we cannot rule out that some options are here to stay.