portada de BMM


From the Agony of Francoism
to Post-Olympic Barcelona

This issue of the magazine you are holding in your hands, the last in the year 2000, includes the final three chapters of the series on Barcelona, Memory of a Century, which we have published uninterruptedly since February 1999. The review of the period 1970-1999 begins with the last death sentences handed down under Franco, the dictator's death and the arrival of natural gas in the city; it continues during the eighties with the decentralisation of the Council, the recovery of the beaches by the first democratically elected city council, the inauguration of the new Rambla and the Moll de la Fusta; and finishes in the nineties with the Olympic Games, the discovery of widespread problems to do with the poor quality cement used in the working class districts built in the sixties, the success of the shopping areas, the convening of the Universal Forum of Cultures and the changes planned for the city by 2004.

Two lustrums rather than a decade
The nineteen seventies are not a homogeneous decade. They show such a clear-cut cesura in their middle part that it is more appropriate to speak of two separate lustrums. The first one, which comprises the last years of Franco's regime, was marked by a series of movements forwards and alternating steps backwards. The second one was a frantic race ahead, a hurried flight from the nightmare of the previous thirty-six years which people yearned to forget as soon as possible. Those were years when surprises were part of everyday life. Those were times of emotionally charged activity, collective participation in political affairs, occupation of the city's streets and recovered freedom in the air. Five autumnal years followed by five years of magnificent spring. But it would not take long for another, though different, autumnal era to dawn, a period of growing disenchantment that would take us to the turn of the century.

A regime that kept killing even in its death throes
Francoism was a regime that used its licence to kill until the very end. It was a self-conferred licence which the government did not intend to ever relinquish. Thus Franco's dictatorship kept on killing up until it died, so that nobody could claim that they had been deceived about its true nature.

Legal murder was carried out until the dictator's death and nobody could do anything to stop it. Even in the final stage of Francoism, when the government seemed to be at a loss to maintain some kind of coherence and its ministers had become a laughingstock, Franco exercised his right to the so-called "enterrado", i.e. official approval for a condemned person's execution by garrotting or a firing squad. (...)

The memory of Picasso and Miró
Just as, in Barcelona, the nineteen sixties were Picasso's decade, the seventies can be considered Joan Miró's decade. On the first of September 1970, Barcelona Airport hosted the inauguration of the large ceramic mural the artist had made in collaboration with ceramist Josep Llorens Artigas. On the 30th of December 1976, there was another inauguration: that of the "Pla de la Boqueria" paved area which bids welcome to the visitors who enter the city through the "Rambla", after disembarking at the harbour station. On the 16th of April 1983, the phallic sculpture called "Dona i Ocell" (Woman and Bird) was erected in the Parc de l'Escorxador, where it greets those who arrive by road from the South. These works, strategically displayed in the open air, have a special meaning. Mirò wanted Barcelona to have three of his works standing as tokens of welcome to all visitors to the city, whether they arrived by air, sea or road. This is the order he followed to create those three large-scale works, allowing for an interval of six years between their respective completions. (...)

A service that came with a train of deaths
The appearance of public services in Barcelona constituted a series of marking moments which no historian could forget: the Montcada water supply system, the first street gaslights, etc... But there is one of them - the installation of a natural-gas system - that will go down not only in history but also in the city residents' memory as an event forever associated with a macabre train of deadly accidents. The first tanks that would supply the city with that new source of energy were inaugurated the day before Saint John's day in 1970. (...)

More than a dance hall
The "Price" dance hall remained open to the public for 39 years, between 1934 and 1973. Even though it was essentially a ballroom, it also occasionally served as a boxing hall, a lenten conference hall - the first such conferences were held under the Republican government, by the way, even though their fame grew under Franco's regime -, eventually hosting political meetings - of which some faded, yellowy photographs still bear witness - as well as, in the years preceding its closure, some avant-garde music concerts. Nowadays, its name is a mere memory, even though the new building that has been erected on the site on which the "Price" used to stand houses a shop that has been named after the old dance hall. (...)

The 18 noes
At the end of the year 1974, there was an atmosphere of increasing social tension brought on by a series of events which - once again - evidenced the fact that political persecution of the Catalan language had not really ceased. At the beginning of the month of October, the press published the news that "a certain Mr. Bidegain" - an E.G.B. school inspector - had ordered the suspension of the classes in Catalan which had started two years earlier in two schools in Prat de Llobregat. This caused a roar of heated and opposing reactions that resounded through the news media. At the beginning of November, the Cornellà City Council refused to subsidize the teaching of Catalan in local schools, as it had been petitioned in a letter signed by some 50 organizations. (...)


The first decade of restored municipal democracy
On April 3rd, 1979, Barcelona was again granted a Mayor who had been elected by universal suffrage, something which the city had not witnessed for more than forty years. Socialist Narcís Serra won the election. The task that was awaiting him was very complex indeed. There were so many deficiencies in the sytem ! Fortunately, as a starting point, he was able to take advantage of the fine job done over the previous two years by Josep Maria Socías, appointed Mayor of Barcelona during the so-called "transition period", who was wise enough to take advice from an excellent town-planner, government representative Joan Antoni Solans, and buy as much available land as possible. (...) Making good use of such territorial assets, Narcís Serra, at the head of the new democratic City Council, was able to carry out his monumental task centred on the creation of public parcs, facilities and services. A process that would more especially gain momentum when, in October 1986, Barcelona was chosen to be host of the 1992 Olympic Games.

In 1976, the first year of the so-called "transition period", town-planner Jordi Borja's estimate was that the neighbours' associations then active in the city of Barcelona, - most of them created between 1969 and 1975, even though some had been set up earlier (Maresma, Sarrià) and others would appear in later years - numbered 120. Such a notable expansion was due to two fundamental facts: the existence of a politicized minority that proved capable of setting up the necessary mechanisms of civic participation - first, the clandestine district committees and, later, the legally established neighbours' associations -, and the low living standards that prevailed in many districts of Barcelona. The most surprising occurence was the active participation of "ordinary" people who would never have joined either a political party or a union, but who nevertheless considered that it was right and logical for them to fight for the creation of a highschool (Poblenou) or a park (Sants), to contest the construction of a ring road that would cause damage to the surrounding area (Nou Barris), or to defend the preservation of a Modernist building of architectural interest (Sant Antoni). (...)

The recovery of the city's beaches
On that 28th of July, 1981, the day before Saint Peter's festivities, it was awfully hot on the recently restored Mar Bella beach, even when you stood next to the sea. Enormous paellas were being cooked in the open air, so that everyone might have their share. Mayor Narcís Serra was making one of his first public appearances surrounded by a revelling crowd and deputy mayor Miquel Abad, a quiet and usually circumspect man, could not help exclaiming: "Things like that are worth fighting for!". Santi Arisa was in charge of the music and general Pixum's daughters - two old ladies who were very popular figures in the neighbourhood and who still used to sell their crocheted works in the streets when the weather permitted it - had a good time dancing while people cheered them on. (...)

The fashion for ramblas
In Barcelona, until 1985, there were only three boulevards of the "rambla" type: the "Rambla" - which some also called "Ramblas" as it is is fact subdivided into stretches that bear different names -, the "Rambla de Catalunya" and the "Rambla de Poblenou". The ramblas were places where people could take a walk along the central pedestrianized area while cars drove by on either side, or sit in a café drinking an "horchata" on hot summer's days. And it seemed as if that was good enough... However, all of a sudden, town-planners took a whim into their head to build new "ramblas". Bless them this time ! Would that all their whims were of that kind ! Following the "hard squares" epidemic and other instances of dehumanized urbanism, the city was recovering a more human aspect thanks to the creation of spaces where people could take a stroll and have a friendly chat, and where children could play at leisure. (...)

Banca Catalana
On June 11th, 1982, a news agency spread the rumour that Banca Catalana was about to file for suspension of payments. This sparked off a crisis which kept the whole country in suspense for many months, more particularly because the president of the Catalan "Generalitat" autonomous government, Jordi Pujol, had always appeared as the man at the top in the management of that financial institution. (...)


After the Olympic Games
For the city of Barcelona, the nineteen nineties were not strictly speaking the decade of the Olympic Games, even though the event took place in 1992. The Games really had a deeper impact on the eighties. The city experienced deeper pre-olympic tension before its actual nomination in 1986, as people were already aware of the extent of the urbanistic transformation they were about to witness. That explains why, miraculously, the interest aroused by a major sports event such as the Olympic Games among Barcelona residents has less to do with its sporting aspects proper than with the physical changes it was bound to bring to the city, or even with the showy build-up to the event, focused on details that ranged from the overcoat Mayor Pasqual Maragall was wearing on the day he announced the Good News to the people of Barcelona gathered at the foot of the Montjuïc fountains, to the gaping strollers' reaction to the skyscrapers erected at the Vila Olímpica. (...)

A decade of newspapers' appearances and disappearances
As the turn of the century neared, Barcelona's news media scene experienced important changes. After several years of relative calm - the decade of the nineteen eighties - which had followed a period of journalistic effervescent activity related to the change of political regime, the nineties proved to be stormy times for print as well as audiovisual journalism as there was a rather rapid succession of news media's births, deaths and resurrections. (...)

As many as eight newspapers appeared and disappeared between 1986 and 1997, which is quite a considerable number. However, all things considered, the situation would end up being pretty much the same as it was at the beginning. Much ado about nothing ! Fortunately, audiovisual media showed greater staying power: the appearance of new radio stations - more particularly "COM Ràdio", "Ona Catalana" and "RAC1" - and the creation of a local TV channel - "Barcelona Televisió" - were positive contributions of the nineties to the improvement of the news media scene in Barcelona.

The aluminosis plague
November 10th, 1990, is a day that will unfortunately go down in the history of the buiding industry in Barcelona. On that day, a roof collapsed in a block of flats in the Turó de la Peira district, a building that had been erected in the nineteen sixties, the boom years of urban construction in Spain, when public institutions and private companies were rivalling in efficiency in their attempts to offer the smallest and most sloppily built flats to the increasingly large numbers of immigrants who were flowing into Catalonia, attracted by the economic expansion that followed the 1959 "Pla d'Estabilització" (Stabilization Plan). (...)

Public transport vs private transport
In recent years, the most important battle lost by the defenders of a more habitable, people-friendly city has undoubtedly been the one centred on urban transport. In Catalonia, Francoist city councils had traditionally given absolute priority to private transport and people hoped that the advent of democracy would bring about a significant change of policy in that field. However, old bad habits die hard and the city's residents were already accustomed to make indiscrimate use of their private vehicles. Furthermore, the need not to hinder car sales - and, consequently, the productive activity of an essential industry - by imposing limitations on the use of private vehicles, and the extremely high costs involved in the construction and maintenance of an efficient public transport network, have been contributory factors in the continuation of such deep-seated bad habits. Despite some efforts to rationalize and improve the city's bus services and the completion of the "Linea II" underground line - on which works had remained paralized for the past twenty years -, public funding has clearly prioritized road infrastructures, among which the new Ring Roads ranked as particularly important. (...)

The boom in shopping centres' popularity
Shopping has actually become a major leisure activity for many Barcelona residents. In this aspect, they are not very different from the inhabitants of other cities around the world. The generalized consumerist trend has stifled those utopian voices that, in the seventies, clamoured for the creation of urban spaces in which residents would have the possibility to carry out more enriching activities than scanning an array of packed shelves while pushing a heavy shopping trolley with no other destination than the cash desk. Today's reality is that cultural, leisure and sports organizations are still functioning as usual, but they have not experienced any spectacular increase in membership, whereas huge crowds of people flock into any new shopping centre right from the first day it opens. So that, nowadays, the trend is towards doing things on a larger and larger scale. The greater number of shops, snack bars and cinemas in one area, the better ! (...)