What should have been a mere anecdote, the whistling given to the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, during the opening of the Festa Major de Gràcia, has turned into a debate on the right of the people gathered there to heckle the Barcelona municipal leader. It is rather curious in a country and in a city where any political representative is a legitimate target for either applause or admonition by the public, from the king down, that it should be the mayor of the Catalan capital who talks about a sectarian attitude when she comments on what happened. Saturday's loud booing, which interrupted the speech she was just starting, with a Colau who was visibly upset and could not avoid tears, was initiated by some neighbourhood association representatives who are dissatisfied with her city management. And, of course, they have every right to express themselves, within the canons of any democratic society that protects its citizens' freedom of expression.
Accustomed as she is to evading criticism and having just passed the mid-point of her second term, it is normal for Colau, who herself lives in Gràcia, to have felt a mixture of bewilderment and irritation at the strength of the protest. Playing at home and obtaining a result like this is doubly painful. It is much easier to be on the side of those who protest and who gratuitously discredit others for a handful of votes. Former mayor Xavier Trias, if he had less bonhomie in his character than he does now at 75 years of age, could dedicate an entire chapter of his biography to how Colau's lies, for which she has never apologized, led to an electoral reversal in the Catalan capital in 2015.
What lies behind the political disapproval expressed in Gràcia is, perhaps, the harbinger of a change of cycle in municipal politics at the elections scheduled for May 2023. There is indeed a problem for Colau visible here, because in this district, Barcelona en Comú was the leading political force with 23.83% of the vote, not a marginal party. But disastrous management, which began with an anti-natural pact with former French prime minister Manuel Valls to prevent election winner Ernest Maragall from becoming mayor, has led to an accumulation of grime for which she does not want to be held responsible. Then there is the economic squandering - with the city having gone from an inherited surplus to a debt of 800 million euros at the end of 2020 - as well as conflicts with a number of the city's economic sectors and the physical neglect which is visible on many a street corner.
This is what should worry the mayor, and not the whistling she received, which to some extent is part of the job: in recent years there are few in government who at one time or another have not found themselves in a similar situation, and far from blowing up the issue even more, they have, intelligently, tended to minimise its importance. Because where would be if every time hecklers interrupted a speech we had to call them to account? No, no matter how hard they yell and how uncomfortable it is for people in power. Those are the rules of the game.