When I came back to work here in Spain (well, to Barcelona) in early June 2007, to run another magazine company, a friend of a friend (I won’t give his/her name) invited me for dinner and said: ‘If you ever want to meet Prince Felipe, I can organise it.’ Back then, Felipe VI was still just the Prince of Asturias. I stared at the person and thought: ‘Why? Why would I ever want to meet Felipe?’ Before I could politely shrug it off and say, ‘Thanks, but I’m not sure I need to’ – the person, who’d already realised I wasn’t impressed, added: ‘He’s a great friend of mine’ – un íntimo amigo mio, they always say, don’t they? – although he/she then added, ‘but I admit he’s not a rocket scientist.’ So without me even saying anything, a name-dropping ‘intimate acquaintance’ of Felipe had already told me that the royal wasn’t exactly very intelligent. Bear with me, but let’s keep Felipe and that ‘rocket science’ stuff in mind …
I’ve written here before about some of the surreal things that can happen in a week of Spanish ‘politics’, and it’s been one of those weeks again. It started with a pop star, Marta Sánchez, singing some lyrics she’s written for the Spanish national anthem – a song that doesn’t have any lyrics. Her words included, ‘Great Spain, I thank God for being born here’ and ‘my beloved land … I can’t live without you’. Marta lives in Miami. There was also a report about her once having 15m pesetas stashed in a plastic shopping bag from ‘El Corte Inglés’ to avoid paying tax. After performing her song, many of Spain’s political right were over the moon. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted gushing praise for it, saying that an immense majority of Spanish people feel represented by the song. His PP party probably felt familiarity with the 15m stashed in a plastic shopping bag, too. Luckily a PSOE spokeswoman said that ‘our national anthem doesn’t have any words, and that’s that’.
What else happened? Oh, yeah, the king of Spain’s sister, Elena, won an award for her love of the bullfight. Accepting the award, she said: ‘To love the bulls is to love this Spain in which we all fit.’ What else? Spain’s Finance Minister, Luis de Guindos, will become vice president of the European Central Bank on 1st June, unless Europe can come to its senses beforehand. De Guindos was once an advisor for Lehman Brothers, until it collapsed and declared bankruptcy in 2008. In court, a man knicknamed ‘bigotes’, which means moustache (although he doesn’t have a moustache) implicated persons in a corruption scandal to Spain’s ruling PP party – but very little was reported about it in Spain’s pro-PP media.
Catalan politician Anna Gabriel decided to stay in Switzerland instead of attending a Supreme Court appointment in Madrid, as she said she wouldn’t have a fair trial. Actually, she probably wouldn’t even have a trial, let alone a fair one. After a video interview from Geneva, in which she spoke perfect French, some journalists focused superficially on her new hairstyle instead of analysing Spain’s ‘unjust’ justice system. It annoyed me – especially as one of the harshest critics was a veteran journalist called Pepe Oneto, who has a Hitler hairstyle. A national arrest warrant was issued for Gabriel, but not an international one. Apparently for an international arrest warrant you need some proof for why the person should be arrested. With so many people heading to Brussels, Geneva, Strasbourg, London, Paris, the UN and the European Court of Human Rights, it might make you wonder whether the real issue is with Spain’s ‘justice’ system after all … no?
Spanish police tried to arrest a TV comedian who was dressed like Carles Puigdemont whilst he was filming a sketch. Spain’s Civil Guard checked the private plane of Pep Guardiola’s family when it arrived at Barcelona’s El Prat airport, also in search of Carles Puigdemont. They also checked the vehicle in which Guardiola’s daughter was travelling. Amnesty International published its Human Rights report for 2017/18. In it, it accuses Spain of restricting freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and using excessive force against peaceful protests in Catalonia, and much more.
Marta Rovira and Marta Pascal, the heads of two Catalan pro-independence parties, as well as Artur Mas, the former president of Catalonia, all had to go in front of Spain’s Supreme Court, too (and others will surely follow). Pascal and Mas left court without any preemptive measures; Rovira was granted bail of €60,000. Spain’s National Court also summoned former Catalan police chief, Josep Lluís Trapero, adding a new crime of sedition related to the independence referendum. It basically means they’re trying to put him on trial for not wanting to hit anyone on 1st October, or for not ordering his police to prevent or attack citizens innocently trying to vote on that day.
Talking of hitting people, let’s get back to Felipe VI, rocket science, and also Barbra Streisand, yellow ribbons and Pep Guardiola. Confused? Don’t be …
Bear this news in mind during the same week: a Spanish judge embargoed the publication of a book called ‘Fariña’, all about Galician drug trafficking, at the request of a former mayor of ‘O Grove’ in Pontevedra. It immediately shot to the top of Amazon’s bestseller charts. A Majorcan rapper, ‘Valtònyc’, was sentenced to 3 years and 6 months in jail for a song in which he calls the Spanish royal family ‘thieves’. A hashtag of ‘#LosBorbonesSonUnosLadrones’, meaning ‘The Bourbons [Royal Household] are thieves’, quickly went viral – and the video of the song has now been seen by millions. A work of art, ‘Contemporary Spanish Political Prisoners’, by the artist Santiago Sierra, was ordered to be removed from ARCO in Madrid, the international arts fair, and which was to be inaugurated by Felipe VI a day later. The work also showed blurred images of others prosecuted in Spain under contentious circumstances in recent years, including two puppeteers. The news that the art was being removed provoked global media interest, from the BBC to the New York Times, was reproduced online for all to see – and the work immediately sold for some €80,000. Away from Spain, but linked to it, the Football Association has charged Pep Guardiola for wearing a yellow ribbon, which he wears in support of the political prisoners in Spain. I noticed many Manchester City supporters immediately voicing support for him online, and they were suggesting wearing something yellow for this afternoon’s Arsenal v Man City cup final. I collated a few of their posts and tweeted something about it, and it also seems to have gone a bit viral. At the time of writing this, the FA’s yellow ribbon ban looks like it might also have backfired. Good for Man City fans, that’s what I say …
There’s something called the ‘Streisand effect’ – named after Barbra Streisand, after she tried to suppress photos of her Malibu home. It is defined as ‘the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely’. Suppression of art and freedom of expression is counterproductive. Suppressing someone’s right to vote also has the same effect. When will the Spanish government (and Spain’s royal household) learn that banning freedom of expression always backfires?
I’ve written here before about Felipe VI’s diabolical broadcast speech on 3rd October, his lack of any apology for the injuries sustained by innocent Catalan voters on 1st October, and the missed opportunity to have possibly defused the Catalan issue overall. I have also written about him avoiding the Catalonia stand at FITUR. No need to repeat all that right here. It is, however, linked to why he has been made unwelcome (in the eyes of many) in Barcelona for the opening of the Mobile World Congress (MWC). At the time of writing this, I believe the mayor of Barcelona will not be attending his official royal reception tomorrow, nor will the speaker of the Catalan parliament, nor any dignitary from the Catalan government. They will, however, be attending an opening dinner this evening at the Palau de la Música, at which Felipe VI will also attend, in order to show their institutional support to the MWC organisation itself. It seems Felipe VI is clearly not welcome in Catalonia by a vast proportion of the population – and he’s brought that on himself.
There’s something seriously wrong in Spain and I’m now convinced that it starts at the very top. I was thinking about it yesterday, watching Anne, Princess Royal, greeting the Scotland and England rugby teams lined up before the match at Murrayfield (we won’t talk about the result), with the great sound of bagpipes, and then the National Anthem and Flower of Scotland sung loudly, very loudly. No boos, no jeers, no whistles. Just joy, really. From everyone. Apparently Nicola Sturgeon and Princess Anne were both drinking champagne out of the Calcutta Cup in the changing room afterwards. It would never happen in Spain – it’s too late.
If you ban a vote, more people will want to vote. Censor a book, more people will want to read it. Ban music, more people will want to listen to it. Ban art, it will sell more. Ban a yellow ribbon, everyone will ask why, and then they’ll probably also want to wear some yellow. Most importantly, if you are respectful to people, if you don’t suppress freedom of expression, if you don’t lock up people or put them on trial for whatever political views they may hold, then you will also earn respect in return. It’s really not rocket science.