Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lessons In Free Speech

Our good friend Valtonyc keeps popping up. If he isn't quite your good friend and you need reminding of his existence, he is the Sa Pobla rapper Josep Miquel Arenas Beltran, who has found himself in hot water with the courts over what boils down to a question of freedom of expression.

Since being condemned, pending appeal, to three and a half years for, inter alia, wishing harm to the old king, appearing to support terrorism and wishing death on certain individuals, Valtonyc has been constantly to the fore. His latest appearance, in non-rapping style (one guesses), was at the secondary school in Santa Margalida.

There has apparently been a "wave" of reaction against his having "given lessons" to pupils at the school. These lessons weren't lessons as such. According to the school's director, he was invited to a first year class for communication and language. The pupils, it would seem, needed someone of some media standing with whom they could do an interview. As Valtonyc has a relative at the school, it was easy enough to get in touch with him and ask him along.

If it was necessary for there to have been someone with media prominence, then there must have been others who could have been invited. Take the current mayor of Santa Margalida, for example. Joan Monjo is rarely out of the media and was rarely out of it during all the years prior to his having become mayor. One feels sure he could have found a window in his busy schedule to answer questions about putting up chiringuitos on unspoiled beaches in the municipality. Or possibly about his desire to name a street after that old rogue of the municipality, Joan March.

If not the mayor, then maybe his predecessor (one removed) would have sufficed and have been more of the left, to boot. The pupils could have enquired whether Toni Reus of Més still wishes tourist tax revenue to be spent on old folks' homes (that was his idea).

Well, they could have asked either of them, but neither, let's face it, would have held as much appeal as a young rapper and one with a prison sentence hanging over his head. I'm guessing that Valtonyc didn't start whipping up anti-monarchist and pro-terrorist fervour during his "lesson", though one suspects that freedom of expression may well have cropped up as a theme for discussion. In the context of a class on communication and language, that seems a relevant topic.

Very much more unlikely than Monjo or Reus as alternatives would have been Ignacio Arsuaga. And who is he? The president of Hazte Oír, the right-wing organisation that has been driving an orange bus around (or attempting to) for the past few weeks. This bus, dubbed The Bus of Freedom or The Free Speech Bus, has been attacking what Arsuaga says are laws of sexual indoctrination that exist in certain regions of Spain. Basically, he and Hazte Oír are against gays and lesbians and in particular transsexuals.

The bus has been immobilised by police in both Madrid and Barcelona. Bizarrely enough, it has now turned up in New York, where it has been vandalised. The bus and Hazte Oír had gone along for an event organised by Family Watch International, a body founded in 1999 which opposes homosexuality amongst other things.

In a current climate of movement towards the right it might be said that Hazte Oír has found its moment, though I would question whether it has. Spain, unlike elsewhere in Europe, does not have a prominent rabid right. It is the left which has adopted the alt mantle, a quite different take on the populist political fallout from economic crisis and austerity which consumed Europe. Is this so surprising? I would suggest not. Despite the struggles of the conventional left, as in PSOE, socially liberal policies that it advanced under Zapatero have not been undermined. It took Spain a long time to adopt them and it doesn't seem inclined to let them go.

Within this context and general social climate, therefore, one has the support shown for Valtonyc, mainly by the left but not completely. It isn't total support for what he rapped but it is support for his right to have done so.

Is such support misguided? The courts would suggest that it is, hence the prison sentence. There are limits to what can be said. Freedom of expression does not give anyone carte blanche, especially when there are laws preventing this. As a general principle, I'm inclined to agree, pushed to such a conclusion by the apparent impunity which individuals (and organisations) feel they have to state and espouse whatever the hell they want to. The internet takes a great deal of blame for this. There are limits, whether views are of the far right or left.

In Santa Margalida, was a lesson in communication learned?

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