The Catalan “Robin Hood”: In Conversation With Activist Enric Duran Giralt

Known as the “Catalan Robin Hood,” Enric Duran Giralt has for nearly two decades been at the center of promoting greater autonomy and self-organization in the newly ceded Catalan Republic. As a founding member of the Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC) and FairCoop, projects which aim to create greater consumer and labor autonomy away from corporate interests, Giralt has become an influential member of the Catalan underground anti-capitalist resistance largely through pioneering new, creative forms of civil disobedience.

In 2008, he publicly announced that he had swindled dozens of Spanish banks to the tune of nearly $500,000 as part of a political action to denounce what he called the “predatory capitalist system.”

Over a span of two years from 2006 to 2008, Giralt took out a total of 68 commercial and personal loans from 39 banks in Spain on everything from cars to mortgages, which Giralt used to fund several initiatives and grassroots projects, including a newspaper called Crisis, which deconstructed the economic and political conditions that led to the 2008 financial meltdown.

With no intention of ever paying the loans back, nor with any guarantees or physical property given to the banks as collateral, Giralt’s action mirrored the financial system that teetered on the brink of collapse in 2008, after it was revealed that large investment banks like Lehman Brothers possessed no ability to refinance themselves in short-term debt markets, resulting in the massive liquidity squeeze that Giralt saw well in advance of the global financial collapse.

The ensuing credit crunch required massive taxpayer-financed bailouts in countries like Spain, one of the countries hardest hit in the European Union during the 2008 financial crisis, which led to years of difficulty, ongoing austerity and an economic downturn that has been especially devastating for young people. (As of January 2018, the youth unemployment rate in Spain stands at a staggering 35.5 percent.) Anticipating the problem with severely relaxed credit, Giralt developed his public bank action as a way of drawing attention to how big banks were able to obtain loans without collateral, a key condition that led to the worldwide liquidity crisis.

Rather than appearing before a criminal tribunal to answer for his public bank action, Giralt fled the country. “I don’t see legitimacy in a judicial system based on its authority,” he said prior to going underground, where he remains today. In an exclusive interview with Truthout, Giralt discusses his busy life on the run, including a new cryptocurrency he’s launched together with a new cooperative network designed for cultural workers, artists and curators.

Dorian Batycka: I’d like to begin with your public bank action from 2008. Ten years on, can you explain if this action has realized some of its goals, or if it’s taken on new meaning

Enric Duran Giralt: Well, the action that I did was a public disobedience action to the financial system, the banking system mainly. It was in Catalonia because that’s where I was based. I think the topics that I presented were not so much related to either the Catalan or Spanish system individually, but as a response to something more global. It was about how money is created and the power of the banks to structure society through their sovereign ability to create money. It was in the context of the credit and financial bubble that I decided to perform the action, which was happening in many places around the world, not just within Spain and Catalonia. So, I performed this action so people could understand how easy it is to get credit.

Could you talk a little about what you have been working on since then?

Well, perhaps I should talk first about FairCoop. Created more than three years ago, FairCoop is meant to create a global alternative to the current financial system, supporting the transformation from below and alternative economies, and connecting different parts of the world by creating a more robust cooperative ecosystem. To these ends, we have been developing different specific economic tools such as Faircoin, which is a digital global cryptocurrency. At the same time, Faircoin is an alternative to Bitcoin, one that promotes the goals of FairCoop, which is a separate entity, albeit one that’s connected. Also, last September, we launched the Cultural Cooperative Network, an autonomous initiative from the cultural and artistic sectors. The Cultural Cooperative Network is meant to facilitate self-organization through using the economic tools that FairCoop and Faircoin are working to provide. These are all designed to facilitate independence from the market and from finance and from institutions so that artists and cultural workers can act more autonomously from them.

Why did you decide to target cultural workers — artists and those involved in creative industries?

It was actually artists and cultural workers who first came to us. They wanted to understand how to self-manage and self-fund their projects in order to be more independent. So, mainly what we have been doing is supporting them through our existing economic tools, facilitating autonomous collaboration between people.

Can you talk about the struggles of setting up FairCoop in its early stages? Was there an impulse to establish it with grassroots initiatives, while at the same time facilitating global alternative economic solutions?

In these kinds of initiatives, the most difficult part is always the beginning. Without any institutional or financial support, at the beginning, all of our work was voluntary. The first two years were quite slow in terms of the development of FairCoop, and later Faircoin, but in the past few months, local nodes have been appearing quickly. With respect to Faircoin, we have seen the value of the coin increase as adoption increases, making work within FairCoop more valuable in the process. With the experience I have developed in helping to organize these initiatives since 2010, I’m learning more everyday about the capacity of using them to work together to create alternative economic systems that people can use to act with greater self-autonomy.

A lot of people in the West tend to associate cryptocurrencies with libertarianism and anarchism, which in many respects, tends to be the opposite of the cooperative model, which is very grassroots, commons-based. Was it your intention to introduce Faircoin with FairCoop as a way of moving toward a new form of anarcho-syndicalism, one that is perhaps slightly different from mainstream models in the crypto space? 

Yes. I was following the developments of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies since 2013. Back then, I got the idea that these decentralized technologies could be very useful for building alternatives without the state. I also wanted to show that social libertarians could use it and be active on it because back in 2013, the main groups using cryptocurrencies were mostly anarcho-capitalists. I thought that by focusing Faircoin on communities, collectives and cooperatives — rather than the individual — we could use cryptocurrency as a means of reflecting community values around collective autonomy, collaboration and cooperation on many different levels.

Interesting. Can you explain how Faircoin and the Cultural Cooperative Network can be utilized together in specific ways? Whether by artists, curators or institutions? I’m interested in how they can be implemented, pragmatically speaking, by cultural works and in what ways.

The idea with respect to the Cultural Cooperative Network is that it will be a fund … that is going to be created in the coming months by a crowdfunding process and contribution of people invested in Faircoin. This fund will be mainly in Faircoin, which we intend to support by virtue of Faircoin’s growth relative to official fiat currencies and other cryptocurrencies. Faircoin, for example, has grown in value more than 15 times [in 2017]*  which is largely based on the growth that is also happening in the FairCoop community. As other communities join, they are supporting both Faircoin and FairCoop, so this fund will be able to support artists accessing the Cultural Cooperative Network as well. At the same time, it will be the funds that are saved for future use that can continue gaining value through their ability to get more capacity to fund more projects within the Cultural Cooperative Network, which is based on leveraging all of these things together.

Can you explain how nodes within the FairCoop ecosystem can be set up? And what are the requirements for groups and communities who wish to join FairCoop?

A local node is a local assembly that is connected to the global cooperative network ecosystem. We made setting up local nodes very simple and easy; you just need an assembly where at least three people decide together to create a local node. From a practical standpoint, this connects individual nodes to the global cooperative ecosystem through sharing information of local initiatives to the entire network. They can create a point of exchange or support local merchants in accepting Faircoin. Also, for example, at the level of the Cultural Cooperative Network, we have more or less instituted the same process — in this case, called “cultural nodes,” with the intent of connecting local cultural communities to the global cooperative ecosystem.

Beginning in the 1960s, a movement in the arts known as “institutional critique” emerged where artists started to use tools such as social research as a means of shedding light on unethical practices within galleries and museums. Would you consider your practice and your work within the vein of institutional critique? Do you consider yourself an artist?

I have never considered myself an artist. I have been an activist for close to 20 years. Lately, however, I have seen that others who consider themselves artists have taken on projects and initiatives very similar to what we are doing. My understanding is that this is happening as a result of different reasons, one of which is the commitment from the cultural sector to produce real social change, rather than symbolic change. I think this is happening because activism is not a profession, it’s a way of living. Being an artist is a profession that one uses to gain access to funding from sectors that support cultural action in social space. So, there has been a lot of cross-pollination in recent years between artists, the cultural sector and social movements, and here is where we find our task in facilitating greater integration between them. Using FairCoop, the Cultural Cooperative Network and Faircoin as a means of generating real social change, rather than symbolic.

So, would you characterize these efforts and other efforts you are undertaking as a response to neoliberalism, and to the increasing tendency of the state to privatize social, cultural and education programs?

I think that perhaps access to funding has become more difficult and the lack of stable work could be related to this also, especially since the global financial crisis of 2008. Perhaps there are more people trying to access different grants, and less of them available. This can be connected to the needs of the Cultural Cooperative Network also, by helping those who want to make a cultural impact whilst remaining independent, without depending on the interests of the state.

Finally, can you talk a little about your perspective on current developments within Catalonia today? And to what extent you expect things to change?

What is happening is very clear on a general level, thanks in large measure to coverage in the mainstream international news media. However, what I would like to point out is that what’s happening in terms of Catalan independence is not just between politicians. For years, this has been taking place at a very grassroots level. For years, this movement has been forcing politicians in Catalonia, step-by-step, to take a stronger stance toward independence. This is very important because this means it’s not possible to find a solution from above, either from the European Union or from Madrid. As evidenced by the repression of the police on October 1, and the resilience of the hundreds of thousands of Catalans who came out to vote for independence in spite of this, what we are witnessing is a move toward independence that will not simply go away. As it relates to history — in particular the history of resistance and self-organization — this is quite specific and important to the history of Catalonia moving forward as well as looking back. 

*Though according to World Coin Index, CoinGecko and CoinMarketCap, the value of Faircoin has been on a general decline since the beginning of 2018, as with most other cryptocurrencies.