Monday, December 8, 2008

Joan Tardà, Free Speech and Truth


During an event in memory of the anniversary of the Spanish Consitution on Saturday, one Joan Tardà of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya shouted ‘Death to the Bourbon’ (the King is of the Bourbon dynasty) at the end of his speech (more inflamed demagogy than speech but that is hardly surprising in the circumstances.) This phrase has brought him criticism. Not necessarily for the right reasons, it seems to me.

He is a member of the Spanish parliament and therefore should behave with decorum and a sense of responsibility. My British readers may find this a touch optimistic on my part but, as I have said before, if we don’t keep reminding them of who they really are and what they should do they will never do it. His cry, not a heckle but from the platform at a public meeting, cannot, I think, be treated as a death threat against the King. I do not believe he seeks or desires the King’s death, or wished to incite others to murder, nor is it likely to have that result. It was more of a battle cry. (He tried to defend it by claiming it was a populist cry from the 18th C referring to Philip V; there appears to be no basis for this; it has also been suggested that it was a metonymic reference to the monarchy he rejects; that is, at least, a possibility.)

But Spain has laws protecting the dignity of the Crown as Head of State, laws which have occasionally been used against people with no seditionist intent at all, comedians or youngsters making symbolic but harmless gestures (Spain’s democracy is strong and stable, but many people remember when that democracy was young and weak, and only thirty years ago it didn’t exist at all. There is still a sense that it needs defending). I doubt these laws will be used against Tardà, and personally I don’t think they should be.

There are always laws against ‘enaltecemiento del terrorismo’, mainly used against the spokemen for the terrorist group ETA when they try to whip up their supporters to murder, or they try to honour the murderers of innocent people in democratic fora. Quite rightly. They are sometimes used against old men for waving ‘pre-democratic’ flags in favour of the Falange or Franco. This does not seem so clearly justified, and the reason is this: Franco is dead, and Franquismo (almost) died with him. There is no danger whatsoever from those who still support the old regime- it’s not coming back and they don’t kill people. ETA do kill people, and the group, and the ideas, that Tardà represents are not dead and are very dangerous.

Esquerra Republicana is a Catalan nationalist party, which expressly opposes the Constitution and is led by Communists. The leader of the party, Carod-Rovira, is a clown obsessed with infantile policies based on hatred of those unlike him. Tardá had not come to my notice before, but he seems to be of the same type. Such people are dangerous because they have power; Carod-Rovira, while acting President of the Catalan government, had secret meetings with terrorist leaders. His party keeps the Socialists in power in Cataluña, and influenced the first cabinet of the Zapatero government. They have real power, which they exercise with no sense of responsibility.

Such ideas are not dead in Spain- the Mayor of Córdoba is a Communist, and many smaller towns are also controlled by them. They are, quite obviously, not dead in the world- they continue to deprive hundreds of millions of people around the world of any possibility of a decent life. And they are very much alive in the parliaments, universities, newspapers and pubs of the free world, proclaimed by people who don’t understand them or are comfortably certain of never having to suffer them.

In short, Tardà is dangerous not because he uttered a rather juvenile remark in a context in which simplicity and tribalism are natural, but because he and those he represents have power to do great damage, and they do not care how they use it. I hope that criticisms, reactions, judicial action, political consequences, and general comments on him and what he said will reflect the important points, and the wider truth, rather than the narrow political vision of those who make those remarks.

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