Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Salvador Puig Antich has been held as a saint and martyr by the Catalanist and the leftist movements within Spain ever since his execution in 1974. Puig Antich was a young, handsome Catalan boy from a good family who joined a tiny anarchist terrorist group in the last years of the Franco dictatorship. The group decided it would be a good idea to get some guns and rob some banks. Puig Antich, armed, got in a gunfight with a police officer and was badly wounded; the cop was killed. The Franco regime, extremely hostile to anarchist cop-killers, put Puig Antich up against a court-martial and sentenced him to death. After fruitless appeals, Puig Antich was garrotted. Garrotting was a particularly unpleasant form of execution in which the prisoner was seated with his back to a wooden post and an iron band placed around his neck. The executioner then violently twisted a handle behind the post, as if it were a wine press, tightening the iron band and killing the prisoner by a combination of cutting off the blood to the brain, strangulation, and a broken neck.

Let us stipulate several things. 1) We do not sympathize with the Franco dictatorship. 2) We consider garrotting to be an unacceptably cruel form of execution. 3) Puig Antich didn't get anything resembling a fair trial. 4) Had we been the judge, we would have granted mercy and imposed a life sentence figuring Puig Antich would be released in 20 or 30 years, since he was guilty of doing what he did and had to be punished, but he was also obviously a reclaimable project, a basically decent person who could be reformed and who was likely to seriously repent what he had done within a year or two. Puig Antich was no psychopath, he was a normal person like you or me who made the bad mistake of believing, of allowing himself to be persuaded, that ideology justifies violence. Even George Orwell once believed that. And Orwell was a lot smarter than Puig Antich showed any signs of having been. 5) He was, however, guilty as hell of murdering a police officer, a regular cop, not a Gestapo man; he also knew damn well when he picked up a gun that anarchists like him were garrotted if they killed cops and got caught. He made his own choice, fully aware of the risks it involved. 6) He received the support of the international Left in his appeals because of the ideological nature of his crime; many Spanish leftists would argue that Puig Antich was justified in shooting the cop, since he was an idealistic anarchist, after all, not a nasty Fascist. And he received the sympathy of the average Catalan man-on-the-street since he was one of them, a nice boy with TWO Catalan surnames who went to school by evening and worked in an office by day who had just happened to kill a man. 6) What happened to Puig Antich was his own fault, but it's hard not to blame, at bottom, the Santiago Carrillos and Pasionarias and Eduardo Haro Tecglens and Manuel Vázquez Montalbáns and Lluís Llachs and the whole bunch of Seventies progres whose Utopia, whose false Utopia, glorifying all forms of Leftist revolution, seduced impressionable and idealistic kids like him and led them into terrorist gangs that justified and practiced violence when it was used against the right people. Salvador Puig Antich and his tiny cell were, essentially, the equivalent of the SLA in the United States or the Baader-Meinhofs, the Red Army Faction, in West Germany. They had no popular support and no idea about how to be proper terrorists. They were rank amateurs playing revolutionaries, fired up by the Spanish left's incendiary rhetoric which they tragically took seriously. And they got people killed, including one of themselves.

Anyway, there has been a big stink over the last few days because the Camilo José Cela Museum had, on display, the garotte that was used to kill Puig Antich. The eccentric Nobel Prize-winner, who actually wrote a couple of books worth reading but whose general level of talent was sadly below that expected of a Nobel Lit winner, put the garrotte in the room dedicated to his novel The Family of Pascual Duarte. The novel's protagonist is, like Puig Antich, garrotted. When this hit the fan, there were protests everywhere, including several rather sad letters to the editor by Puig Antich's poor sisters, the real victims--along with the policeman and his family--in this story with no heroes. We think the protests were perfectly justified. Displaying a garrotte used to kill people is in pretty poor taste except in a museum seriously devoted to the history of crime and punishment, and can only add to the misery of Puig Antich's family. And Cela apparently obtained it illegally, anyway; he asked someone he knew in the Socialist government for it back in 1995 and it was just sort of given to him. Gotta love Spain.

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