Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Ancien Regime 7

Spain the Savage State – A Trip into the Dark Side

Spain 1812 - Goya's vision of violence
Spain 2012 - Protester badly beaten by police


We are savages first, Spaniards second, because our Spanishness must take shape from the savagery that animates it… Our social life, apparently civilized, is in fact savage.
Eloy Luís André, Spanish philosopher (1876-1935)

1. Garrote Vil - A trip not very far back in history

The roots of violence in Spanish culture are the same as anywhere else, and in the Middle Ages the level of brutality was no doubt much the same wherever you went in the world. What makes Spain different is that violence and cruelty have become central to the culture, and acts of atrocious savagery have come to define Spanish society itself. In the 21st century to renounce cruelty would be in some sense to stop being Spanish. The effects of that identification of barbarity with the essence of the culture are really felt in the way that casual violence has today become a characteristic of the Spanish state. 

Let's take the garrote vil. A method of execution used in Spain and across the Spanish Empire from the end of the eighteenth century, it was in essence a primitive strangling machine. The condemned person was placed in a chair with a loop of cord or leather around the neck. This noose passed through a post behind the victim where it could be tightened by a screw. 

A public strangling was a common enough sight during the nineteenth century, but how long did it last? In fact the last people executed by this method were Salvador Puig Antich (a Catalan anarchist terrorist who had murdered a Guardia Civil officer) and common criminal Michael Werzel (aka Heinz Chez, a German national) on 2 March 1974. The death penalty and the garrote vil were outlawed in Spain in 1983. The execution of Puig Antich is recreated here in a scene from the movie Salvador, which portrays the violent anarchist as a kind of Catalan hero. 

Camilo José Cela, the Francoist author who had a hand in the authorship of the 1978 Spanish Constitution, had a special fondness for the garrote. He demanded from the legal authorities the one that was used to execute Puig Antich, and got it free of charge in 1995. To his great delight, he used to show visitors to his home this sinister instrument and enjoyed describing in detail the gruesome end of the anarchist. Cela, a central figure in the Transition years, is a perfect example of the savagery which underlies traditional Spanish culture. 

His proudest attribute, beyond receiving the Nobel prize for Literature and being ennobled as Marquis de Iria Flavia by the King, was of an unusual nature. "The special ability I have is to be able to suck a litre and a half of water up my anus in one go. Not many people can do that. Get me a hosepipe and I'll show you," he boasted in one TV interview. Alas, the presenter declined to take him up on it, so we were unable to watch the great literary figure's unarguably impressive feat. 

2. Great White Hunters

Hunting animals for food is an ancient human activity; hunting for sport first appears when there are rulers and ruled. It is an activity exclusive to the ruling class, and therefore a symbol of belonging to that class. Nowhere so more than in Spain where the boss dude of all, King Juan Carlos I, is also King of the hunters. 

You might imagine that a man who, at the tender age of sixteen, had put a bullet from a 6mm automatic pistol through his fourteen-year-old brother's brain would in later life have an aversion to guns. Not so our King Juanca (pronounced "hwuanka"). He simply loves shooting things. 

From his young days, when he was happily knocking up debutantes and shooting cheetahs, to his old age, when he unfortunately slipped and broke his hip while shooting elephants in Botswana, the King has been an avid huntsman, though he prefers that his subjects know as little of this as possible.  

Don't look at this image - it's illegal and you'll be fined
Perhaps the most shameful episode of this came on a royal hunting trip to Russia as guest of Vladimir Putin in 2006. A domesticated bear called Mitrofan, favourite of the local kids, was selected as prey for the King. The bear was made drunk by a meal of honey mixed with vodka, then made to stagger out in view of the monarch, who promptly blasted it. Those who satirised this episode with a series of photomontages or cartoons were promptly taken to court for the crime of "injurias contra la corona" (insult to the crown) and fined many thousands of euros.

As these things tend to run in families it was not exactly a surprise this year when it transcended that the king's grandson, 13-year-old Froilán, had been taken out to hunt with his drug-addled father, the aristocratic socialite Jaime de Marichalar, and had shot himself in the foot. 

Since the King sets an example to those who aspire to greatness in Spain, it's no wonder that his behaviour has sparked imitations among today's new ruling classes, the (literal) top guns of the right-wing Partido Popular. PP conseller (regional minister) for tourism in the Balearic Islands Carlos Delgado was happy to pose with a slaughtered deer's testicles balanced on his head. Now that takes balls, though not necessarily your own. 

3. "Mummy, what happened to the cartoons?" - The National Cultural Treasure

La corrida
is classified officially by the PP government of Madrid as a "national cultural treasure". 

I can't see it myself. I mean, I literally can't see it, watching it makes me feel violently ill. 

In 2006 the then-Socialist government took bullfights off the air. But in 2012 the new PP administration of the Spanish public TV corporation RTVE decided to put it back on public screens. 

The law on broadcasting content in Spain requires that in "children's protected time", specified as 5pm to 8pm, no images may be shown of violence in a "realistic and detailed way".  Bullfights are always held in the afternoon-early evening and so live TV coverage necessarily is broadcast during the "children's protected time". The PP gets around that easily - it simply states that the violence seen in TV coverage of the bullfights is not detailed or realistic. Since they run both the TV station, the regulators and the government, that's all she wrote. Bloodbath for teatime.

Are the images shown during the early evening, at a time which is theoretically protected against the display of extreme violence, really detailed and realistic? Could they possibly be traumatic and horrific for young children? I leave that for you to decide, but I'm 47 years old and they sure scare the bejeesus out of me.

4. Party Time! - animal torture as local culture

Whether it's chucking goats out of churchtowers, pulling the heads off live chickens from horseback, setting fire to bulls, throwing hundreds of darts into their hides, or hacking geese to death while blindfold, Spaniards of all ages and classes know how to celebrate local traditions.

Hey, British people used to hunt foxes for fun (though not any more) and people all over the world hold deathmatches of fighting birds and dogs (clandestinely and illegally, however, and not in the village square as a festival for all the family).
Who the hell are we to judge?

5. Savage Spain on the Streets - The cops get on with it

What's the result of all this officially-sanctioned brutality in Spain? Let's check a few images from the last few weeks and see what we can see...

For connoisseurs of police brutality, there's nobody quite like Catalonia's own stormtroopers, the Mossos d'Esquadra. In just a few short years they've built themselves a fearsome reputation as the police who will whack, and whack hard, where other cops fear to tread. They give the lie to the concept that the Catalonia is somehow not as brutal as the rest of Spain. They are Catalonia's jackbooted shame. They're bastards, but we're supposed to console ourselves with the thought that they are our bastards.

Check out how they beat up the young boy (13 years) who was an innocent bystander. When the young woman recriminates them, they give her one, two, and for good measure, three hearty whacks. She collapses crying against the wall then tries to get up, but can't. 

This is where we are. The most brutal, savage, barbaric, unthinking, cruel society in Europe.

Love it or leave it. 



Animal fun

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