Translation: On Punishing the Disobedient

This is a translation of a piece by Isaac Rosa published in eldiario.es, 14th November, on the crackdown on democratic protest in Spain. On a related matter, you may also be interested in this fine article by the Provisional University on Spain’s anti-eviction movement.

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This is a translation of a piece by Isaac Rosa published in eldiario.es, today, on the crackdown on democratic protest in Spain. On a related matter, you may also be interested in this fine article by the Provisional University on Spain’s anti-eviction movement.

Punishing the disobedient

Patricia, who is from my neighbourhood (Hortaleza, in Madrid), went along to a gathering a couple of years ago to stop the eviction of a family by the Municipal Housing Executive. Several dozen neighbours tried unsuccesfully to prevent the eviction: following the intervention of the Municipal Police, the five members of the family (mother, grandmother, three children) wound up in the street. The neighbours confined themselves to passive resistance, sitting outside the entrance, and were dragged away by the police, as can be seen in this video or this one.

The gathering dissolved, and Patricia returned home, frustrated at not having prevented the eviction, but with no further consequences. But that same afternoon, she was arrested at her home and brought to the police station, where she spent the night. To her surprise, they accused her of attacking authority, of having caused serious injuries to an officer (a broken arm). An investigation full of irregularities began, with neither witnesses nor evidence of the supposed attack. Until today: two years later, Patricia is awaiting a date for her trial. The prosecution service is seeking three years of prison, the judge has set a bail of €8,900, and she only has our solidarity to rely upon.

Patricia’s case is yet more evidence of the harshness the authorities use to punish those who disobey, by seeking an exemplary sanction that will serve to dissuade those who take part in these gatherings. We could also mention Alberto, whose activism in another historic neighbourhood struggle in Madrid, against parking meters, has landed him with a sentence of a year in prison and an insistence that he serve the sentence, despite his state of health [he has a pulmonary embolism – R]. Or the five teachers in Guadalajara for whom four years in prison is being sought following a protest in defence of public education. Or the madness of considering pies thrown at the president of a regional government as an attack on authority that can cost up to nine years in prison. Or that of the incessant persecution of the leaders of the Andalucian Workers’ Union (SAT).

Without the threat of prison, but subject to economic sanctions, one finds hundreds of citizens who in recent years have taken part in demonstrations, acampadas, escraches, surrounding and stopping evictions. They were identified by the Police, and weeks later found a fine or a summons in their letterbox. Disturbance of public order, resistance to authority, unauthorised demonstration: these are terms with which we have already become familiar.

The strategy is obvious, and undisguised: to repress dissidence, however peaceful it might be, and to do so with gratuitous harshness. Whether through a twisting of the Penal Code, or bureau-repression: that form of soft repression that replaces the baton with the pen; instead of splitting your head open, they open up a file for your punishment. That doesn’t mean that beatings disappear though: so you can win a double prize: a blow to the head and a fine.

We might think that repression of dissidence is becoming harsher, but that isn’t entirely true: rather it is extending, widening. Power has always treated those who challenge it with a great deal of harshness. Just ask anti-military activists, those who refused military service, squatters, environmental protesters or the various Basque social collectives classified as terrorists through the theory of the ‘milieu of the milieu’. Since the Transition, whoever breaks with the consensus forms of protest pays dearly.

Today, repression of dissidents, rather than toughening, is spreading. The challenge to power is no longer at the margins, but at the centre of the square. And it has to be cut down by whatever means, laying down thick firewalls before the fire spreads. Since fines and threats of prison are not sufficient, and in many cases the magistrates end up filing away or cancelling the sanctions, the response is to toughen the Penal Code and punish the new forms of protest.

The punishment for disobedience is not just scandalous because it is gratuitous. What is more, it makes the impunity that others enjoy even more evident.

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