Spain's Guardia Civil police entered the museum of Lleida, in western Catalonia, in the middle of the night this Monday in order to remove the disputed Sixena artworks. Some ten police vans with officers and art specialists arrived at around 4am, along with a moving van. Around 50 people were outside the museum in order to protest about the police operation.
Tensions rise between protesters and police
As the hours go by, more people are gathering in the spot, although a fence separates them from the museum and the police vehicles, and also despite the rain. Indeed, the tension between protesters and police officers is mounting. After several hours, the officials who entered the cultural building at 4am have not removed the works of art yet.
Last week, a judge in Aragon ruled that the art pieces could be removed from this Monday at midnight. This move came only few days after the Spanish Culture minister, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, ordered the pieces to be moved from Catalonia to Aragon while the Spanish government directly controls the Catalan administration. This is the latest chapter of a long legal dispute over the works between both administrations. Catalonia is in a more difficult position now, since it is directly ruled by Madrid and its ministers were deposed on October 27.
The works of art are part of a larger collection of more than a hundred items removed from the Sixena monastery during the Civil War and taken to Catalonia. They were taken during the early days of the conflict -when monasteries and other Catholic buildings were being destroyed-, in order to be protected. In the 90s, the Catalan government formally bought them. After years of complaints, Spanish judges last year ordered that the works of art be returned, declaring the sale void. While the Catalan authorities returned some smaller pieces, they decided that the remaining 44 artworks must stay in Lleida due to their fragility.
Sixena artwork now in Madrid not reclaimed, says Catalan official
An official from the Catalan government department, Àngels Solé, expressed her "condemnation" over the events outside the Museum of Lleida on early Monday morning. "This is proper plundering," she added. "They have the brute force, there are a lot of police officers, the people are afraid." According to Solé, "these works were legally bought" and the move is being done without the consent of the Catalan culture minister. "He is in exile," argued Solé. In an interview with Catalan public TV, she also said that "it is very surprising that the altarpiece fragment showing the Nativity now in Museo del Prado (Madrid) is not being reclaimed, and it is also from the Sixena monastery."