Barcelona's La Mercè, in small gatherings and with more police than ever before
The city puts the spotlight on 13 venues where there will be preventive deployment of riot police to avoid street drinking parties
BarcelonaFrom tomorrow, Barcelona is getting ready to experience a Festes de la Mercè that will bring it a little closer to recovering the spirit of a town festivity. The parades and the fire festival, which could not be held last year, will be back, and this time the format is expected to be even more pandemic: with a static audience and restricted seating capacity. It will be a perimetrical Mercè because all the stages of the festival will be closed and only those people who have booked tickets in advance will be able to enter, a maximum of 3,000 in the most crowded areas. The City Council, in fact, with the aim of avoiding the feared crowds as much as possible, is asking everyone without a reservation not to try to get near the stages because they will be so far away that they will not be able to enjoy the show. Parks around the stages and vehicle access to nearby areas will also be closed. And there is concern about what might happen in the areas that are not part of the festival, which will remain free of fences and open, therefore, to street drinking parties like any other weekend, but with a foreseeable increase in the number of people on the street and with the reopening -still very limited- of nightlife, which will only be able to use the outdoor areas.
To try to cope with the night crowds, this year the city mobilises more police agents than ever before during night shifts - 467 agents of the Guardia Urbana alone, 25% more than there were in the last pre-pandemic Mercè - and agents of the riot police of the Mossos d'Esquadra and the now called reinforcement unit of emergency and proximity (UREP) of the Guardia Urbana will be deployed preventively. There will be 30% more police presence than on a summer weekend, when the operations were already reinforced against street drinking. In total, the Guardia Urbana will mobilise 1,005 agents during the four days the festivities will last.
The plan is to protect 13 of the 22 venues at the festival, which are the ones where the riot police will be deployed due to their configuration and the number of people who will be attending. These are spaces such as the Moll de la Fusta, the Fòrum platform and the Vall d'Hebron football pitch, which is one of the venues making its debut this year in the new decentralised Mercè model. The list also includes central locations, such as Sant Jaume square, which will be closed on Thursday for the opening ceremony, which will take place just after the reading of the proclamation.
This year only 600 people will be able to access the square, all seated in chairs, which has generated criticism from groups like JxCat, who accuses the mayor of looking for ways to protect themselves from possible booing. The criticism has outraged the deputy mayor of Culture, Jordi Martí, who sees the statements as "irresponsible".
The plan detailed today by the deputy mayor for Safety, Albert Batlle, and the chief intendant of the Guardia Urbana, Pedro Velázquez, will also place special emphasis on inspections to prevent shops from selling alcohol after hours and to prevent alcohol street vendors. In other words, to prevent street drinking parties. "We will act very intensively with those behaviours related to the supply of alcohol", warned Velázquez, who also warned that they will act in a "reactive" way with complaints regarding those who consume alcohol in the street, which is prohibited.
Fight against absenteeism
The police forecast of La Mercè also provides a specific treatment for those areas that are farther away from public transport, with an extra deployment of agents to prevent possible sexist or LGTBIphobic aggressions on the routes or, at least, to ensure a response as fast as possible. These specific actions are planned in the area of the Olympic Stadium of Montjuïc and in the beach area.
Beyond the battle against street drinking, the other front of this second pandemic Mercè will be to avoid a repeat of last year's absenteeism at the shows, when an average of 33% of the people who had booked tickets did not show up. The City Council insists on the call for co-responsibility because, taking into account that there are only 100,000 tickets to participate in La Mercè, those who do not want to attend a show should cancel their ticket. To make it easier, the ticket-cancelling process has been made more visible on the web a reservation system for time slots - and no longer for specific shows - has been provided.