Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Category: The Ugly - The Catalan Referendum

in 5 Questions

First off, let me state this is neither a pro independence or a pro Spanish state article, but a pro reason and democracy argument. Both sides in this sorry mess that is the conflict between the Spanish government and Catalan separatists, have brought the country to the brink of political mayhem. 

I have 5 questions to ask to try and explain this situation:

1. Why this unyielding moving ahead with the Catalan referendum, on part of the regional authorities?

The right-wing Partido Popular government is weakened after the last election, and 
the Catalan government could bide their time and work the backchannels of those parties willing to negotiate, mainly on the left, PSOE and Podemos. The second right-wing party Ciudadanos talk a lot about dialogue, but have taken no initiatives towards this and keep insisting on invoking “article 155” in the constitution, meaning that the Spanish government takes full control of the region. Not exactly a move that would inspire dialogue. 

In stead of blowing all the bridges to smithereens with insisting on the referendum and the following declaration of independence, the Catalan leaders could have worked to strengthen ties with the forces in national politics that are just as eager for a change on a national scale as well as being open to a change on a regional scale, i.e. increased autonomy. 

Patience is a double virtue when dealing with the most incompetent and corrupt government (with officials currently under investigation for: money laundering, bribery, tax evasion and slush funds) in western Europe, and the Catalan president, Puigdemont and his cohorts are understandably “reluctant” to show such virtue. Furthermore, the draconian attitudes of the Spanish government is the best “secessionist recruitment tool” they could have!

2. Why does the Catalan authorities insist that they have the mandate to declare independence?

Many Catalans feel “held hostage” by the independence movement and those opposed didn’t voice their opinion in the referendum, in part due to the incredibly ham-fisted intervention of the Spanish government. Nevertheless, it is a divisive move on part of the secessionists to use the “90%” pro independence vote as a carte blanche to move for independence. 43% of the voting population in Catalonia voted and under conditions that were far from ideal.

Puigdemont could have said; look more than 2 million Catalans voted despite the Spanish government's clumsy and violent intervention. We recognize that a 43% turn-out and the conditions for the referendum are not a basis for declaring and independent state, but this sends a clear message that the Catalan people should get the opportunity to vote. The reason is that did not is that he is himself "a hostage" - a hostage of the left-wing "Candidatura d'Unit Popular" (CUP) party that he depends on to hold parliamentary power in the region. As with their right-wing antagonists, Partido Popular, democracy takes a back-seat to political (and personal) gains and aims.

3. Why is the Spanish government so hesitant to negotiate increased autonomy for Catalonia?

The ruling party, the Partido Popular has a long history of imperialist nationalistic thinking and ignoring the rights and demands of the “autonomous” regions. The party springs out of the fascist Franco state, founded by a Franco-regime minister, Manuel Fraga. If you think bringing up Franco and fascism is harsh and unnecessary, and that the party has moved along since then, take a look at this:

This is the party’s vice secretary of communications, Pablo Casado stating that the Catalan president Puigdemont might end up like the previous Catalan leader who proclaimed independence, Lluis Companys, 83 years earlier. He was jailed, tortured, then executed. Naturally, Casado claims he was just talking about Company’s politics. This is a clear, albeit, pathetic attempt at dog-whistling, loud enough for their nationalist base to applaud, but also loud enough for anyone else to get what he is really saying. It is hard to imagine anyone not getting the message coming from a party spokesperson.

4. Why didn’t the Spanish government allow the referendum to be held, and then declare it void?

This seems like a gigantic tactical error, if the government had maintained the position that the vote was illegal but not intervened, you’d most likely have scenario 1. The secessionists would have lost. Should you have an unlikely scenario 2. A win for the Catalan independent movement, the government could simply refuse to acknowledge the legality of this, with the support of the EU.

Sending in the paramilitary Guardia Civil who used the same tactics as when they were Franco’s henchmen: the baton and the boot didn’t do their cause any favor. It made their EU partners uneasy, it made Spain look bad in the eyes of the whole world and it made the secessionists cause easier, people who were on the fence or against independence now fell on the “YES” side.

Again, the Spanish government shows that “realpolitik” is just not their thing, they’d much rather go for symbolic decisions and declarations that appease their nationalist base than look for solutions and compromises that would benefit the whole country.

5. Why no negotiations?

Both sides are way too entrenched in their positions, and the outside pressure on the Spanish government too feeble.

Getting new solutions with old politicians rarely works, so unfortunately this looks like a long arduous road of more chaos and mayhem, political posturing and flag waving. 

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Category the Ugly: Renting an Apartment in Barcelona - 3 common pitfalls.

renting apartment Barcelona
Don’t rent an apartment in Barcelona before reading this article! In fact, you’re better off not renting an apartment in Barcelona at all.

Why? Basically, because there’s so many ways to get screwed. Let us introduce you to the three most common pitfalls that will get your blood boiling:

#1 Agencies.

So, if you’re using any of the rental portals (“Habitaclia”, “Idealista” etc.), 99.9% of the listings will be by agencies. And, why is that a bad thing? Well, because you, the customer has to pay for their “services”! In what other line of business does the customer has to pay for the privilege to buy a service or product?! 

It’s like if you had to pay an entrance fee to get into a shoe shop to buy new sneakers. Renting via an agency, you end up paying 10-15% of the yearly rental sum + taxes, or a flat fee, which is really wonderful if you are looking for a short term solution as it ads 60-100% to the total rental price. How to avoid? Take your time, eventually you’ll find an owner who doesn’t deal with these leeches.

#2 Fake ads

In danger of stating the obvious, never send money to anyone without personally assuring the legitimacy of the offer! Secondly, if an offer looks to good to be true, it is just that - guaranteed! No one rents out a “palace” in Barcelona for 550 euros a month. Period.

So, how to spot the fakes? Fortunately, this is easy. First of all, the above argument - the quality-price ration should be realistic. Secondly, normally people don’t share their life story via e-mail when replying to a request, so if you get this, the alarm bells should go off. In particular, if this life story involves the owner “being abroad”.

Thirdly, is you get an e-mail fromReverend Someone”; this is a tell-tale sign. For some reason, these geniuses seem to think that signing off with “Reverend” actually makes their scam look more believable. They could just as well sign it “Sir Swindle”.

#3 Additional costs

When renting from an owner there are costs that is only fair that are covered by the tenant; gas, electricity, WiFi etc. However, there are several taxes and costs that are directed to the owner and should never end up in your bill pile. Otherwise, beware of “gastos de comunidad”- these cover monthly maintenance of the building, which is fine if, well, if there actually is maintenance being done, cleaning of the stairs and other common areas, for example.

Happy hunting!

Agencies to avoid: Oh-Barcelona, Barcelona-Home, SH Barcelona, Friendly Rentals.  These are just a few that charge a ridiculous monthly rent with an outrageous fee on top.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Category The Ugly: Anti-Tourism in Barcelona

Barcelona anti-tourism
 Barcelona is, like a few other Spanish regions, in the throes of a real zealous anti-tourism movement theses days. One constantly runs into “Tourist Go Home” posters and graffiti around town. Rising prices on rental apartments, congestion in popular spaces and noise level all contribute, and are reasonable concerns. However, the level of xenophobia and political laziness that shine through in the discourse make it hard to sympathize.

There’s a genuine concern regarding housing prices being pressured from many angles, but that is just the point, many angles! In fact, new research from the consultancy agency InAtlas shows that vacation rentals has no - ZERO impact on rental prices in Barcelona! The recurring argument contra the tourism industry in Barcelona is this, vacation rentals drive up prices and drive out the locals.

Personally, I’m all for regulating tourist licenses etc. in pressure neighborhoods, taking steps to preserve authenticity and ensure a vibrant city center makes perfect sense. A “Disneyfication” of this city benefits no one (except the usual global brands). However, one will not achieve a sustainable politics on tourism based on the wrong facts or on promoting regressive measures like stopping advertising or introducing (more) taxes on tourists visiting the city.

So, what’s the real issue then for the anti-tourism movement; xenophobia, misplaced ideology or ignorance? All of the above I suppose. When you read “No guiris” on walls, that’s the rearing of the ugly head of Xenophobia clear as daylight. “Guiri” is a derogatory term for Europeans, especially from Northern Europe. No doubt “incidents” (mainly) featuring drunken tourists don’t help, but really there’s no excuse for the use of derogatory terms.

Ideology, then? I confess to being a lefty myself, but the blind resistance to any type of gentrification, normally on the political left, seems completely reactionary to me. Large parts of the center of Barcelona has been in dire need of improved infrastructure and general standard of housing. It’s a complex political and fiscal process to do this well; to respect the architectural and demographical history of an area while renewing. However, a by default resistance to the process in itself is a knee-jerk opposition to progress.

Ignorance is bliss, or in this case, breeds contempt. Much of the arguments by the anti-tourism movement is based on ignorance. This, in part, because it serves certain politicians. If you can blame tourism for all housing issues it’s great tactic for diverting attention from failed politics in other socio-economic areas.

“Tourist go home. Refugees welcome.” is another slogan winner, although it’s hard to see what negative effect tourism might have on the ability to receive refugees. In fact, tourism contributes to 15% of the gross national product of Spain. I wonder how much zeal there would be to receive refugees if you cut the GNP with 15%?

Lately, things have taken a turn for the worse, including violent attacks on tourist buses, bikes etc. led by the Arran organization whose mix of (Catalan) nationalism and use of violence has some historic predecessors that give any democratic minded individuals the chills.

It’s pretty amazing that the number one concern for Barcelona inhabitants in 2017 isn’t unemployment, nor littering, pollution or lack of security, but tourism! Admittedly, the congestion represents a real problem, certain areas have serious issues with noise and crowds and would benefit greatly from a sensible plan to regulate the influx of tourists.

A well-structured plan to keep tourism in check, by all means, but please stop this “Tourist go home” nonsense, you’re embarrassing yourself, the region and the amazing city that is home to people from all walks of life from across the globe!

Friday, 19 August 2016

Category The Bad: Barcelona in August

10 Reasons to hate Barcelona in August

Landed in Barcelona for your August getaway? 
One piece of advice, get out!

Why? Let me count the (10) ways I hate Barcelona in August;

  1. Heat and humidity, and what it does to people. August is the hottest month of the year, so most sensible people will leave the city and head for some coastal resort with a soothing sea breeze. Those staying behind, do so at their own peril.
  2. Clerks and waiters in heat. People tend to get irate in the heat, and none less so than those bitter and resentful for being made to work in August. You will meet plenty of these poor souls when trying to order a beer or when doing some necessary shopping.
  3. Joggers in the streets. What are you thinking you masochistic lunatic?!
  4. Closed for vacation. Trying to find anything slightly out of the ordinary in August, and you’ll spend half-a-day running from closed signs to closed signs
  5. Corte Inglés. In desperation you end up in Corte Inglés trying to find that slightly out of the ordinary thing, which they eventually will not have, and you waste another hour going up and down escalators becoming increasingly agitated because people in Barcelona are oblivious to the concept “walk on the left, stand on the right”!
  6. People who are oblivious to the concept of “walk on the left, stand on the right”!
  7. Overfilled subway, bus, tram, beach, whatever! Barcelona fills up like a rush-hour subway car in Tokyo in August, and any kind of public transport can quickly turn into some kind of 21st century version of a Medieval torture chamber. The beach. I won’t even go there… No, seriously, don’t go there!
  8. Tourists. Let me get one thing straight, I am not among those locals (mainly because I am not one of them) who immediately puts on a sour face and loudly complains that the street is filled with individuals who are not 11th generation Catalan, when the summer hoards arrive. Yet I can’t help grumble each time I’m trying to find a seat at my favourite hang-outs, and they're either closed, so as not to deal with tourists, or they are filled with coconut smelling individuals who really should be somewhere else listening to Keisha.  Or, when a gang of half-naked Italians are sweating over the seats designated for the elderly and the handicapped on the bus.
  9. “Tourists go home” signs. Yes, it is a nuisance with too many tourists at once and not all of them being on their best behavior, but running around posting those signs just make you look like a Xenophobic a-hole.
  10.  Parties everywhere. Go home! It’s getting late. I am old.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Category The Bad: The closing of BarcelonaReykjavik

Barcelona Reykjavik, bakery Barcelona

Sometimes things are just too good to last. The closing of eco-bakery BarcelonaReykjavik is a recent example, leaving Barcelona less rich in fiber and variation.

Before BarcelonaReykjavik, the city was a desert of white, bland bread. Personally, I was in excellent shape, back then, running for miles through the city trying to find a bread that was a slightly darker shade of white.

When BarcelonaReykjavik opened their first bakery in El Raval my aimless bread hunts through the city stopped and my relationship with ecologic “turgidum” and “dicoccum” began. Through the years I’ve always dropped in to get a potent dosis of carbs and rich tasting baked goods.

Their downfall? Prices, I guess. Bread heavy in content, fermentation time and weight (as you normally pay bread by the gram) tends to be costly and Catalans are (in)famously stingy and not always willing to accept that quality and manual labor have a cost.

Today, the bread “apartheid” of “white only” is a thing of the past, and most neighborhoods have the darker variety, but it is truly sad to lose the original!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Category: Society - The Bad: Working in Barcelona

Working in Barcelona still has a ring of the good life about it for foreigners, and company’s promote the beachside lifestyle for all that it is worth. The ads don’t tell you the real story; that for most people working in Barcelona means a pay check so thin you can use it to slice open the can of soup you’ll have for dinner five days a week, you’ll encounter 19th century style management and a monotonous work situation with no real prospects.
So, how did it come to this?

It is about the money

It is rather sad that Barcelona is a place where you come to leave your (professional) dreams behind, not to fulfill them. I recall talking to an American friend as she was leaving Barcelona to go back to the States. She had left an executive job with a comfortable salary to live for substantially less in Barcelona, but being here to enjoy the lifestyle that the city offers more than compensated for the pay cut. Now, however, it had become too hard to hold on as expenses kept accelerating and income stalled or even slipped down. 

This was about five-six years ago, and the situation has hardly improved since then.
Unemployment is skyrocketing and It doesn't help the country that they are under the rule of the most incompetent and corrupt government in the democratic history of Spain, whose only response to the crisis is to cut pensions,  unemployment compensation and wages and raise costs for education etc. while ensuring it is business as usual for the corrupt politicians and bankers.

It is not all about the money

For people in the Northern part of Europe the impression is that the Spanish work life is all about the siesta, conveniently overlooking that the amount of hours put in are not any fewer than in Scandinavia or Germany. I would argue that systemic inefficiency and lack of incentives are key issues. Old-fashioned hierarchies dominate here. The management level in Spain receives a markedly higher percentage of salary payments of the European Union average.


In many companies in Spain there exists a mouldy, old-fashioned hierarchy with a clearly marked demarcations between employees and management levels. Often these hierarchies are rigged such that the person at the level above always takes the credit.

Many managers (high and low level) seem to confuse fear with respect whereas the two could not be further apart! I actually know of one company where the support department is run after the fashion that when the service is up to scratch, middle management lets someone go to show their superiors how efficient they run the shop. Way to keep the staff inspired!

Fear is a lock on creativity and efficiency whereas respect is a door opener for loyalty, dedication and consistency. 

The less distance between levels, the faster ideas travel and they arrive at a higher momentum, and easy just to implement with a "nudge." Levelling out the corporate structure and getting rid of middle management, that in many cases only function is to act as bottlenecks for creativity and productiveness, would be an excellent start.

The “shrugged shoulder policy”

What the failure of management leads to is a “shrugged shoulder policy”: why do a decent job if there are no incentives to? This is why calling any kind of support, dealing with plumbers, the postal service etc. is always such a hassle. So, your Wifi doesn’t work, your toilet is overflowing, the DVDs ordered never arrived. What are you met with? The shrugged shoulder. Furthermore, if taking a decision is more risky than not to, much better to shift the responsibility to the co-worker, your superior or to the customer.

I have no doubt about the ingenuity and the willingness to excel among the Barcelonins, but a government that is destroying social structures, and outdated attitudes towards leadership and organization will spur on an exodus of young talent with higher ambitions for their work-life, and quell the influx of young talent from abroad. Then, the managers of these outdated institutions can close shop and head for the beach.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Category: The Ugly - Cyclists

Look, I am as much a fan of bicycles as the next guy. In fact, I think we should have a lot less cars and a lot more of stuff with pedals and two wheels.. Mother Nature would appreciate it and we could all live happier, healthier more fulfilled lives. Cyclists, on the other hand....Something happens with these spandex dressed bundles of carbon dioxide guzzling health fetichists flock together. They seem to feel more sense of entitlement than a Tea Party zealot with a great great great grandfather who arrived on the Mayflower and has Manifest Destiny as a religious belief.

I used to think Spanish drivers were the most aggressive representatives of road rage and ignorance in Spain, but that was before taking a short drive from Sant Celoni to Montseny, where two different groups of cyclists managed to halt all traffic through the city main street, jumping pedestrian crossings, holding back traffic on the main road, and causing dangerous situations up the narrow mountain road when other drivers decided to overtake the group at any suitable and non-suitable spot.

It is true that cycling raises the pulse and makes the blood run faster - at those in the car behind stuck watching the backsides of a group of pedalling maniacs oblivious to te world, for miles!