Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Royal Flush

Yet more costume drama involving the Spanish royal family following the persecution of the magazine El Jueves. Another attention seeking judge, Fernando Marlaska Grande, has activated a case against a different satirical magazine for a piece they printed on a bizarre trip by King Juan Carlos to Russia a few months ago. This trip, which was not part of an official visit to the country, is the origin of a very strange tale about the king hunting a bear that, to put it mildly, was not in full possession of all its faculties at the time of its death. In short, it was said to have been drunk (the bear, not the king). Whether true or not, the story is hardly grounds for threatening people with court action, and was widely published by all sorts of media at the time. It may not portray the king in the most flattering of lights, but why should anyone be obliged to do so?

The consequences of the decision to pursue the case against El Jueves continue. I am no fan of the conservative Basque nationalist party, the PNV, but I think the article written by one of their veteran politicians last week on his blog hits the nail right on the head. The Basques have a reputation for straight talking, and Iñaki Anasagasti doesn't mince words in his forthright piece. People have subsequently been very hard on Anasagasti, who did nothing more than express his personal opinions on his own blog. You could legitimately ask why it is not illegal to call the royals a bunch of idle wasters on a blog, yet it is apparently illegal to do a satirical cartoon of them. Bad, unnecessary laws applied in a selective way always throw up such inconsistencies.

Meanwhile, it's amusing to see the gymnastics being performed by some of those who saw the freedom of expression issue with such apparent clarity in the case of the caricatures of Mohammed. One example was a piece by Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa in El País at the weekend, where he indulged in a pompous attack on those responsible for the offending cartoon. Vargas Llosa is living proof that being an excellent writer of fiction does not mean that you will write sensibly on anything connected to reality. Much of those who rush to defend the royals against what are hardly deadly attacks always turn to the king’s supposed role in “saving” democracy during the failed coup attempt in 1981. The fact that, after thinking it over for quite a few hours, he decided to come down on the side of democracy doesn't seem to me to be something that deserves special praise. How do we know he didn't just toss a coin to decide the issue? Perhaps he did it on the best of three to make it more interesting. I'm afraid that a head of state that doesn't have it absolutely clear where he stands on the values which he has been appointed to uphold should not be in that position in the first place. The Bourbons don’t come high on any list I have ever seen of strugglers for freedom and liberty.

Some people might get offended by such opinions, but that is no justification for us to have judges crawling over every word that gets written on the subject. Seeing the opening of new cases in this way simply suggests that the judges involved have nothing better to do with their time; that's unlikely to be the case. Republican sentiments may be in a minority in Spain, but it is still a significant minority and no amount of judicial intimidation of critical voices changes that. So there, it’s hot as hell in Madrid and I’ll say no more.

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