I read in the New York Times (Feb. 23) that a young Spaniard was sentenced to a year in jail for writing tweets in which she threatened government officials and called to arms inactive terrorist groups internal to Spain. The prosecution described her posts as “mensajes de contenido ideológico de elevado carácter radical y violento” which “enaltecían la actividad terrorista” (El País, Feb 3, Web). Her 6,700 tweets had 7,500 followers (El País, Feb 3, Web). In a plea bargain in which the twenty-one year old female plead guilty, she will not serve time in jail.
The New York Times article made allusions to Franco’s dictatorship, far-left separatist groups, and the March 11, 2004 train bombings to provide context for human rights abuses in Spain. The country’s history is more complex than a list of human rights abusers with very distinct ideological agendas. A long history of ideological division inside Spain has played a role in the silencing or voicing of the multiple ideologies that define this country.
Spaniards had no freedom of speech from 1939 to 1975 under the Franco dictatorship, however society under this regime was shaped by a totalitarian ideological propaganda machine. After 1977, under the Law of Amnesty, Francoists were not prosecuted nor were commissions formed to investigate the dictatorship’s state crimes in the name of Spain. Under King Juan Carlos’ transition government to democracy, some Francoists continued in government roles. No house cleaning was done.
Meanwhile, the losing side in Spain’s Civil War had not had a voice since 1939, when Franco side won and established its totalitarian political system denying freedom of speech. After 1975, the losing side still had no voice because the Law of Amnesty shut down any recourse for justice. This silencing effect was not officially broken until the passing of the Law of Historical Memory in 2007. Since then, historical discovery and recovery, including the excavation of mass graves, have been underway.
The rise of Falangism and Spain’s Civil War were rooted in an ideological conflict that dated back to the Carlist Wars of the nineteenth century (the original Carlists wished to dethrone Isabel II and place her uncle, Carlos V, on the throne because she was a woman for progress). There were two distinct visions for Spain’s future, one for no change and the other for change. The groups for no change defended the economic status quo, namely absolutism, oligarchy and semi-feudalism. This early chronic polarization inside Spain is visible today in the opposing ideas regarding what to do about Spain’s economy (think Rajoy vs. 15M). Economically driven today and in the past, different views about Spain’s future intensify divisions. Extreme views can breed radicalism (separatism is an economically-driven movement, in part).
The young Spaniard in the news for extremist tweets was prosecuted as a terrorist. In reality, she is probably angry at Spain’s economic situation in which 50% of citizens her age faces unemployment. As a social work student, maybe her vision for Spain is based on equality and justice. Despite her frustrations with Spain today – acute joblessness, not to mention the financial corruption which led to the economic meltdown in the first place, and a central government which seems powerless to change this fact – clearly she went about expressing herself in the most unconstructive way via extremism.