Two things I like about the Spaniards are their anti-authoritarianism and their live-and-let-live tolerance. I sincerely believe that these two marked traits that most Spaniards have are at least partly the reaction to forty years of not so much brutal but just plain boring Francoism. After the reprisals from the Civil War were over in the early forties, there wasn't too much killing done under Franco. There was, however, a lot of repression. Franco's ideal Spanish society was fairly military and strongly old-style Catholic, suspicious of foreign influence, paternalistic, traditional, and orderly and disciplined. Originality and creativity were not exactly officially discouraged, but they weren't presented as ideals in themselves as they are today.
If you'd lived through forty years of that, you'd be suspicious of authority and tolerant of individual difference, too, maybe even excessively so at times.
This leads to several problems we have today in Spain. The first is the lack of respect people have for the police. The police were seen in the Franco days as agents of the regime, whether fairly or not, and were widely regarded as corrupt and incompetent. (Franco did have a secret police, the so-called Political-Social Brigade, but they were small potatoes and not so much feared as disliked.) Well, today, now that we have a pretty professional, and democratic, police and security service--they've done a hell of a good job against ETA and Al Qaeda, and they've fought organized crime--the cops don't get enough respect.
Second is an excess of tolerance towards public demonstrations. The right to demonstrate was one of the shibboleths of the left during the late Seventies transition period. Well, I totally agree, when we're talking about a case of the people going out and peacefully making their opinions known. An example would be 2003's antiwar demonstration in Barcelona, which, much as I disagreed with it, was generally orderly and was conducted in a legal fashion, with municipal permission and police protection and all that. Spaniards love to go out and demonstrate now. Every chance they get, for whatever reason, they'll call a demo. Fair enough, if done according to the law. The problem is that this spirit of tolerance toward public demos makes society much too permissive toward blatantly illegal actions committed by demonstrators.
A third problem is a combination of a Marxist perspective on education--that society is capable of educating its citizens in the direction that whoever's in charge of society wants them and it to go--and a reaction to the horrors both of the Republican and then Francoist prisons. What this means is that the Spanish judicial system is much too permissive and has an idealistic emphasis on rehabilitation.
Keep all that in mind as we present the Iberian Notes roundup of news from around here.
One other problem we've got is that of skinheads and squatters. The skinhead phenomenon is common all over Europe. They're scum. I hate them. They're violent raving racist Nazi thugs, tattoo-faced football hooligan freaks. I can't decide whether they're stupider or uglier. Squatters operate all over Europe, too, but they've done especially well in Barcelona. They're scum. I hate them. They're violent raving left-wing anarchist morons, safety pins through their eyebrows and no bath for a month. I can't decide whether they're uglier or stupider.
So they had a skinhead-squatter gang fight in the street during the Gracia Fiesta Mayor back in August and some skinhead thug stabbed some squatter punk. The punk went into a coma. They arrested the skinhead who did it and then let him out on bail, of all things, instead of say locking him up on charges of aggravated assault and battery, illegal use of a weapon, conspiracy to commit an act of violence, belonging to a gang, and anything else they could throw at him. The punk just died after four months in a coma. Now they went out and slammed the skinhead in jail on charges of second-degree murder, which seems like the appropriate thing to do, for once.
So the squatters all got together and organized a protest demo march from plaza Urquinaona to plaza Sant Jaume on December 23. They trashed everything in their path, including bank branch offices, the McDonalds, and the city's official Christmas creche. They left trails of graffiti over every wall along their route, burned the trash containers, and pulled up a traffic light by the roots, as it were. Then they took on the cops in the plaza Sant Jaume, where the City Hall and the Generalitat building are. Three municipal and eight regional police oficers were injured. Four rioters were arrested. 200,000 euros of property damage was done.
The cops damn well knew something like this was going to happen. What I'd have done is, once they all get into the plaza Sant Jaume, which is a limited place, simply cut off all the exits, read the riot act, tell the crowd to calm down, and arrest anybody who doesn't. A few hundred cops ought to be able to handle that, and then we could throw the lot of them in jail for attacking the cops. That won't fly around here, though, I'm afraid. The squatters are claiming thirty of them were injured by the police. Good.
Meanwhile, the local cause celebre is some idiot fourteen-year-old kid sent out a bunch of anonymous e-mails signed the "Army of the Phoenix" to several supermarket chains, demanding that they label all their products in Catalan. If they didn't, he threatened them with computer harassment. He sent them images including that of a Spanish flag burning. Naturally, this was taken seriously. The cops hunted the perpetrator down and it turned out he was fourteen. They charged him with terroristic threats. The Cataloonies have come out en masse promising solidarity with the brave youth who was only expressing his freedom of speech. Uh, if you make anonymous threats if your ultimatum is not complied with, that's called extortion where I come from, no matter whether you're fourteen or not. I say he goes to Juvie for a year.
Meanwhile, the street crime rate in Barcelona is through the roof. If you're a lone woman tourist at night in a dodgy area, like say the Ramblas or the Raval or the Barrio Gótico, you're almost certainly going to be the victim of a mugging. If you're drunk or trying to buy drugs, that probability rises to 100%. I would advise anybody to be damned careful, no matter who you are. Keep an eye on what's happening around you and you should be all right, but use enough common sense not to get yourself into trouble. This is a disgrace, I am afraid, and I do not enjoy having to point it out. The cops know exactly who the street criminals, basically junkies and Arab street kids, are, and every single one of them ought to be behind bars.
Also, right now, there is a serious trial going on. It seems that two dirtbags by the names of Brito and Picatoste broke out of prison in March 2001. Those morons gave Picatoste a prison furlough, of all ridiculous things. He disappeared, of course, got six of his dirtbag friends together, and they made a plan. Brito threw himself down a stairway in the prison and got himself into the hospital, from which Picatoste and company broke Brito out while seriously injuring the two cops guarding him. One was left paralyzed. The two took off on the run and a couple of weeks later they came upon a couple parked out in the middle of the woods. They killed him, tied her to a tree, and Brito raped her. They were then arrested, and they've been charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, illegal weapons possession, car theft, assault and battery, and rape.
Can we just hang these sicko criminals, please? No, I'm afraid. The prosecutor is asking 83 years for Brito and 72 years for Picatoste. The problem is no matter if they get ninety-three thousand consecutive life sentences they get out in thirty years no matter what. That's the law in Spain.