The dream for many thieves in Eastern Europe is to come to Barcelona for their master’s degree
By Quim Monzó
Translated from the Spanish by Nicki Easy
Barcelona is not just a harbor for foreigners, the very embodiment of civility, the great enchantress, a city of trade fairs and conventions and a Gaudí emporium for the enjoyment of tourists but has also become a great academy for learning how to steal. There are groups of Romanians who recruit novice pickpockets in their country, bring them to Barcelona and here, through a judicious combination of theory and practice, work to improve their skills day after day. Just as the dream of many Biology majors is to pursue a master’s degree at a prestigious American university, the dream of many Eastern European thieves is to pursue a master’s degree in Barcelona. Classes are taught mainly on metro lines L1 and L3 (between Passeig de Gràcia and Poble Sec), and demand is such that they have expanded their territory in search of new classrooms and increasingly give class on line L5, especially in the Sagrada Família station which is heavily frequented by tourists. Both basic and sophisticated techniques are taught in the classes. The first basic technique is to crowd the entrance to the train car while simultaneously keeping an eye out to make sure no police are around. Since they are thieves but not fools they prefer to rob foreigners over locals because foreigners are passing through and it is unlikely that they will make an appearance in court, meaning they will immediately walk free. Avui newspaper spoke of the success of these classes on Monday: “The pickpockets communicate by phone, travel separately and are well acquainted with all of the undercover police officers. (…) In one of the groups, the Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan autonomous police) identified a Romanian man who had recently arrived from Italy to ‘work’ in the Barcelona metro. (…) They are hierarchical gangs, composed largely of citizens of Romanian origin with a knack for taking advantage of victims when they aren’t paying attention. The police have identified a considerable number of these thieves, most of them repeat offenders, but the scope of the criminal act (which is often considered a misdemeanor because the amount stolen does not exceed 400 euros) prevents them from receiving a custodial sentence. The existing Spanish Penal Code does not provide means for judges to impose stiffer penalties for criminal recidivism.”
It could be nothing but a source of pride for us that even in this field of specialization Barcelona has proven to be open-minded and at the forefront. We must thank the Romanian pickpockets who have chosen our city over so many other prestigious European cities to give their courses, not only because this is such a compliment but also because given that their primary target is tourists there will soon be no corner of the world that does not know Barcelona as a city where crime triumphs and the tourist is an easier victim by the day. Let us rejoice.
Source: La Vanguardia newspaper, Thursday 31 March 2011