The Hasél case

Time for the 'nobodies'

The Hasél protests bring together political mistrust and frustration at the lack of prospects for young people

3 min
Manifestants vandalizing a branch in the center of Barcelona. Manolo Garcia

BarcelonaThere have now been four nights of protests against the imprisonment of Pablo Hasél, a rapper only known in minority circles until the Public Prosecutor's Office accused him of glorifying terrorism and his name was associated with freedom of expression. The demonstrations were called through Telegram channels and other social networks, which gives a clue that the attendees are mostly young people. "Very young", insist sources from the Mossos d'Esquadra, who explain that there are some who were already under surveillance and others who are new to these scenarios.

That they are so young is nothing new in recent social movements, because already in the protests after the sentence of the Catalan independence bid, in October 2019, "the rejuvenation" of those who mobilized was noted with the appearance of a good number of post-adolescents, says Jordi Mir Garcia, professor of humanism at the UPF.

Jofre Padullés is a member of the Observatory for the Anthropology of Urban Conflict and co-coordinator of La danza de los Nadie (Bellaterra) (translated as 'The dance of the Nobodies'), an analysis of the demonstrations. The title refers to a song from song from the late 1990s by the Vallecas band Hechos contra el Decoro, and the addition of 'Nobodies' refers to those who join social movements, aware of the value of the power of the street. These days on the streets there is a group of individuals ranging from the pro-independence left to simply anti-fascists, for whom "the Hasél effect" is yet another example of "a repressive state", Mir affirms. The group has felt encouraged by "the resistance" of the singer in the sense of neither "giving himself up nor going into exile", unlike other repressed people, and now "they don't want to leave him alone". And then there are the young people who are new to politics and those who have been disappointed by the expectations created by the Catalan independence bid.

However, with a convulsed society and an ongoing pandemic, the motivations of the demonstrators are also diverse. Mir Garcia points out some of them: "Discomfort, frustration, anger, lack of expectations" that especially the younger generations have in the face of a political, social and economic crisis of gigantic proportions. To all this cocktail one must add the effects of the restrictions against the pandemic and the weariness of having closed almost all the traditional spaces of socialization.

"Those in their 20s have always heard the word 'crisis'", he explains, and believes that the rapper's case is acting as a "trigger", in the same way that the condemnation of the Catalan Government was before it, exposing a generalised dissatisfaction. The malaise is there, it's buried, and "when people take to the streets it's too late", says the anthropologist.

No leadership

It is true that there are no political organisations behind the protests that are officially calling for them, but this does not detract from a certain degree of politicisation, the experts say. "It would be a mistake to consider that they are only a few of them", says Padullés, for whom the demonstrations are the response to a "social spasm" that makes individuals who did not know each other take to the streets and act "with a social reason". And, in this sense, he points out that even the episodes of violence are selective: they act against targets that "represent capitalism", the very ones who, they say, are blocking their way to a future with a dignified life. "The fact that they remove the motorbikes of private individuals before setting up a barricade or attacking bank branches are messages, an example that behind the actions there is a slogan", the anthropologist maintains.

On this point, Professor Mir points out that the use of violence "is not usually inclusive" and sometimes it "even alienates those who share the demand". In the 15-M demonstrations of a decade ago - which marked a new political and social mobilization stage - in the assemblies, for example, it was decided to go for peaceful disobedience, as the PAH does. All in all, the anthropologist and the humanist agree that to reduce the mobilisations - past and present - to enumerations of acts of violence is to miss the point. For their part, the analysis made by the Mossos is that the lack of leadership and visible organisers forces the demonstrators to improvise and makes police actions more complicated.

The perception of police violence has indeed changed. "1-O meant a change of narrative and many people became aware that the police can harm when they want to", says Padullés, and this paradigm has caught on in the layers and references in the media.