Delivery of the gold Order of Merit medals to security bodies and emergency services
18 September 2017
Central government representative
Representatives of the police and emergency services
and above all, friends,
Many thanks for being here on such an important day for Barcelona City Council and for the city of Barcelona.
Thank you Gemma Nierga for being with us at this ceremony. It wasn’t easy to be here with us for an event as emotive as this. A few days after an attack as horrific as the one suffered by Barcelona, with the collective grief that we have expressed both privately and in the streets. But a few days after, meeting everyone again, looking each other in the eye after being in a situation that was intense and painful, but also of response, it wasn't easy to break the ice and put it into words. So many thanks to Gemma, because, as always she has done so with sensitivity and intelligence.
As Mayor of this city, it is a great honour, one of the most honourable and emotive moments, to present these gold Order of Merit medals. An act of public recognition of our police forces, our emergency services and all the public servants who were on La Rambla on that awful afternoon in August.
It was the worst terrorist attack our city has suffered in the last thirty years. The images, the emotions and the grief for the loss of human life will always remain in our memory and nothing can ever wipe them out. Just as nothing can ever make us forget the exemplary response of our city to one of the worst moments in our recent history. The response from the general public and especially from all of you, who once again demonstrated your professionalism, your vocation for public service and, above all, your humanity.
By presenting these medals, the city of Barcelona wishes to recognise and thank the Guàrdia Urbana [city police], the Emergency Centre, the Fire Prevention Extinction and Rescue Service, the Mossos d’Esquadra [Catalan police] and the Medical Emergencies Services for your response immediately after the attack. We would like to thank you for being there, at the most difficult time, in the most difficult place, on our beloved Ramblas, at such a terrible moment in time. Thank you, on behalf of the city.
You were the ones who cared for the injured people. You were the ones who took part in the tasks of classifying and helping the victims. You were the ones who made it possible to manage such a difficult and dramatic situation for Barcelona. And why was it you? Because you are the ones who are always there, the ones who always respond when you are needed in the most difficult situations. You are an essential part of this city.
As all the municipal groups stated at the Full Council Meeting this morning, you are receiving a medal today, which is the least the city can offer you in recognition. Not only because of your professionalism, which is what is expected of you, because you have been trained to operate in difficult, emergency situations. You were more than professional. At the most critical time, in a terrible terrorist attack, the horrible scene of so many people lying on the ground, you risked your lives. You were not just professional. For more than an hour, no one knew what might happen. You thought that your lives were literally in danger, and you did not hesitate. You didn't run away or think about your own safety. You only thought about the people who needed you most. For over an hour.
That’s why you deserve this Order of Merit, because you did more than can be asked of anyone. On the afternoon of 17 August, we experienced the very worst and the best of the human condition. As Gemma Nierga so rightly said at the start, we are devastated as a society, and we must ask ourselves what we did wrong. We must not be complacent. Why did a young, 22-year-old man kill 14 people and run over dozens more? We must ask ourselves what we did wrong to make him hate us with such force. And we should ask ourselves, as a society, what our responses should be, so that this never happens again. But thanks to your response, we should also feel proud.
The Guardia Urbana officers were the first on the scene. You risked your lives to save many others. While people were fleeing the scene, you were running in the opposite direction. Before the other emergency services arrived, you were already helping the victims. You went to the chemist’s to ask for a defibrillator, bandages and medical supplies. You embraced and comforted the victims. As Mayor, I am honoured and proud to be the head of your service.
I would also like to thank the SEM ambulance service, the CUESB emergency centre and the Barcelona Fire Brigade for your responses. You work in complex emergency situations every day: fires, evictions, accidents... but what we experienced that Thursday afternoon went far beyond any emergency situations we had experienced before. And of course the Mossos d’Esquadra, for their rapid deployment, their coordination work and the resolution of that dramatic situation. And also for the subsequent investigation. Many thanks to all of you.
The general public, and also we politicians, who are also citizens, often forget that inside every uniform there is not only a professional, but also a person of flesh and blood, who feels, who weeps, who embraces others and feels emotion. You are great professionals who know how to do your jobs under conditions that would be too much for most of us. But you are also great people, and that is why I want to remember and highlight the human side of your profession today. This is shown by the image of an officer holding a child victim in his arms. Today, we recognise the work on the ground carried out by these five public services by presenting a medal, but it is only fair to recognise and extend our thanks to all those services that were involved in the city's response to the attack: Civil Protection, the Catalan Red Cross, the Spanish police forces, the Policía Nacional and Guardia Civil, the Catalan Institute of Forensic Medicine, all our city hospitals, all our municipal services, our social and civic organisations, the taxi drivers, hotel staff, local residents and shops on La Rambla who opened their doors to shelter people who were fleeing death and who helped the injured.
And to the general public as a whole, who expressed their rejection of war, violence and terror with the slogan "I am not afraid". Barcelona is a city of peace that is proud of its diversity. The terrorists have harmed us. They have hurt us badly. But they have utterly failed in their aim of dividing us and making us afraid. Today, we feel more united than ever, and under no circumstances will we allow our grief to be used for any purpose other than defending peace, dialogue and coexistence in diversity. Now, the most difficult days and moments have passed, but our work does not end here. We must work with renewed energy to strengthen and preserve cohesion and coexistence, we must make a greater effort than ever to ensure that the values which define our city continue to guide us. We all have a great responsibility, and just as we knew how to behave during the emergency, we now have to preserve and strengthen the values that we saw in action on La Rambla after the attack.
And lastly, let me also extend this recognition to your families. Because while you were heroes on La Rambla, thinking for over an hour that your lives were in danger, but without doubting for one second that you had to stay and care for the people who were suffering the most... your families also knew this, all too well. And so, they suffer in silence. I'm sure they were really suffering at home. So, as Mayor of Barcelona I also offer my sincere thanks to your families. Please know that the city of Barcelona recognises you and is in your debt, for your efforts and commitment.
I also remember what many of you said to me in the days after the attack: "We suffered, we were afraid, it was hard." But none of you would have wanted to be anywhere else; and if it happened again, you would want to be there. For all that, this city feels stronger and braver than ever. So, with all my heart, many thanks, on my behalf, on behalf of Barcelona City Council and on behalf of the city as a whole.
Thank you very much.