On the 4th of February 2017, the second anti-repression forum took place in Edinburgh. This event was organised by a collective, formed by people pushed into economic exile from the Spanish state. The objective of the group ‘Edinburgh in protest’ is to address the issue of institutional violence, which has been increasing in several European countries.
The conference began with the presentation of case 4F. This acronym refers to the date 4th of February 2006, when a police and judicial case began as a result of disturbances in Barcelona. One agent became quadriplegic and several people were arrested, tortured and imprisoned. The situation ended tragically with the suicide of one of the convicts, Patricia Heras, in 2011.
A shocking documentary about the case, Ciutat Morta, was screened and left the multicultural audience speechless. After the screening, David Fernández presented via Skype some of the facts surrounding this case in detail. Fernández is a member of the Catalan Committee for the Prevention and Report of Torture, and a former member of the Catalan Parliament with the Popular Unity Candidature (CUP-AE) — an independentist assembly organization with political representation in Catalonian Parliament.
Fernández presented his analysis on the increase of institutional violence in Europe and the difficulties of the mislabeled ‘immigration’ as a consequence of the neoliberal policies implemented since the 1980s and 1990s at the global level.
After his intervention, Mariana Huidobro, mother of Rodrigo Lanza (one of those affected by the case 4F), presented her book ‘Ciutat Morta: cronica del caso 4F’ to the audience. Her presentation sparked a lot of interest amongst the audience. Finally, Scotsman John Bennett reported on his experience in the camp The Jungle in the French city of Calais. He discussed the repression suffered by exiled people, either fleeing from war or for economic reasons, who were trying to reach United Kingdom but were trapped in what he called an illegal camp.
The Theory of the Punitive State
David Fernández explained that the progress of the penalizing state in “Western” Europe is a result of neoliberal policies and has been a common denominator in several states, outside of their national contexts. This idea was also a common denominator in the cases that were discussed in this forum.
In academic circles, this new type of state is analyzed using the theory of the punitive state. The key idea of this theory is based on the loss of the Social State, named by Pierre Bourdieu. It involves increasing the privatization of basic public services: health, work, education, housing, etc. This loss has given priority to reinforcing and establishing new strategies for disciplining those who remain outside the new neoliberal economic “order” (by “outside” he means the social movements that attack the interests of the “order”).
This theory has been widely studied in social sciences and it was shared by David Fernández. He explains it as a consequence of the neoliberal policies that triggered the construction of the model of a criminal state, which was directly exported from the United States. This type of unprotective state is ruled by the doctrine of “zero tolerance” (a term coined by Loic Wacquant), which implies harsh punishment of any crime regardless of its gravity. This doctrine was developed by the former mayor of New York in the 1990s, Rudolph Giuliani (currently a businessman close to Donald Trump), and police director William Bratton. The model was exported to the rest of the “Western” countries, leading to an alarming increase in prison populations, both in the United States, in “Western” Europe and in the Americas. This effect has been widely studied by sociologists.
(De)constructing so-called immigration
These forums are not an isolated activity but rather are the result of a whole series of activities conducted in Edinburgh by different groups of people in economic exile. Groups include Marea Granate, Círculo de Podemos of Edinburgh, Spanish Workers in Edinburgh and The Hysterical Women, as well as other groups that are not from Spain. In this way, the “immigrants” who participated in this event are seeking an explanation for the expansion of hardline policies in Europe. They are seeking to somehow reinvent themselves, as they try to reflect on and understand issues such as: why did Brexit arise, why are new anti-immigration laws passed or why is more population discipline needed. These groups and their members collectively question the socially constructed representations that define “immigration” as a problem, hiding a political model that places the economy above human lives.
This type of forum is necessary to promote reflection and open debate between “immigrant” people who are aware of the proliferation of these repressive policies throughout Europe.