The most radical sectors of the movement that was born across all of Spain on May 15 crossed the democratic Rubicon in Barcelona on Wednesday. After putting the Ciutadella park - where the Catalonia regional parliament is located - under siege on Tuesday evening, groups of demonstrators tried to stop deputies from accessing the chamber in order to debate the 2011 budget, the most significant law that a government passes each year. The Catalan legislative chamber faced its most tense moments since the return of democracy to Spain. A session had never before been held in such circumstances.
The aim of the assembled crowd was to try and coerce democratically elected representatives and to try and put obstacles in the way of them fulfilling their parliamentary duties. To top it all off, the head of the regional government, Artur Mas, and several of his colleagues were forced to use helicopters to be able to gain access to the building.
The more radical members of the crowd did not hesitate in resorting to insults and pure aggression. Some of the politicians were pushed around, many of them were insulted and a few had paint thrown at them. The way in which some of the parliamentarians were forced to break through the blockade was truly shameful. On Wednesday, we saw the line between legitimate civil disobedience and reprehensible violent acts being crossed. Most of the demonstrators had seen this coming, given that in the assembly held in Barcelona in the afternoon the majority of the attendees openly criticized those who took part in violent acts and set out to reinforce the non-violent character of the 15-M movement. The same thing happened in Madrid.
There is a bit of everything among the "indignant." As is the case among the politicians: there are those who have been charged in legal cases, there are corrupt members of the political class, and, for the most part, those who do their job in an honest manner. But the protestors should take note of that, and not make the same mistake with a repeat showing of the attitudes we saw on Wednesday, which undermine their credibility and set out a clearly undemocratic path for the movement.
It is true that as the days wear on, anti-system groups have imposed their dynamic on the movement. As such, even though the majority voted at an assembly to move the camp on from the Plaza de Catalunya, this hardcore group has carried on with its activity. Representative democracy could be improved, and some of the things the protestors are calling for would help to make such improvements. But to impede the working of its institutions, which legitimately represent the majority, is to start down a dangerous and uncivil path.
The way that the Catalan interior chief, Felip Puig, dealt with the situation deserves a separate mention. Having reacted to protests with an excessive police charge on May 27 in the Plaza de Catalunya, he was unable on Wednesday to come up with the right solution to clear the entrance to the parliament. He did what he shouldn't have done the first time around, and this time he failed to do what was needed to ensure that the parliament worked properly without any kind of coercion.