The Case of Pablo Hasél
The following is an interview with an anonymous anarchist in Spain regarding the recent riots and general response to the prosecution of anti-fascist rapper Pablo Hasél. We hope this interview helps both to inspire others around the world with news of this uprising, but also to prepare for similar policies that are being implemented across the neo-liberal world; intent on repressing our movement’s voice.
With love and solidarity, we spit on the grave of Franco from Greece, welcome the passion of those in the streets of Spain attacking symbols of the state and capital, and present this conversation as part of a broader project of borderless solidarity in the struggle against fascism.
Who is Pablo Hasél ? And what is happening in Spain in regards to his case and the riots that followed?
Pablo Hasél is a 32 year old Catalan (1) rapper and anti-fascist. As a rapper his songs generally focus on left-wing causes, armed struggle, and are frequently critical of the Spanish monarchy. (2) The Spanish state has extremely retrograde laws regarding what may be thought of as ‘freedom of speech’. These include article 491 of the Spanish Penal code which calls for fines and prison sentences of up to two years for ‘Insults to the Crown’, and Article 578 which calls for similar punishment for ‘glorifying terrorism’. These laws are used disproportionately against people on the left and anarchists, while far-right individuals and neo-nazis are rarely if ever charged or sentenced to jail time.
Pablo Hasél has repeatedly run afoul of these laws. He has refused to censor his message and because of this he has been prosecuted for the content of his lyrics, especially his references to historical armed groups such as GRAPO(3), and criticism of the king and the Royal family. In 2018 he was found guilty violating Article 578 and 492 and was ordered to enter into prison two years later in February of 2021. Hasél refused to voluntarily turn himself in, instead issuing a public statement and barricading himself among supporters inside Leida University. Riot police fought their way into the university and took him into custody on February 16th. His arrest and the underlying anger felt among a large segment of mostly young people in Catalunya and throughout the Spanish state led to almost a week of rioting especially in Barcelona, but also in Madrid, Valencia, the Basque Country and smaller cities like Vic, Iruñea (Pamplona), Lleida and Granada.
The widespread nature and strength of the rioting surprised many among the Spanish status quo, however it is clear that a tension has been building for quite some time as the Spanish state continues to expose and even flaunt its authoritarian nature.
Has the law been enforced in the past? What is different about this situation, or why such a significant response of resistance in the streets now?
It is important to understand that Pablo Hasél’s jailing was only the spark that set off this conflagration. The last few years have shown that despite the election of a leftist coalition government (with left-wing Podemos party as the minority partner) Spain continues lurching to the right. The far right, misogynist, and xenophobic party Vox has made huge gains. With covid lockdown mandates primarily punishing working class people, the far-right have used the mandates to deceive and rally public support against the parliamentary-left central government. These ‘anti-government’ demonstrations flaunting the lockdown rules were permitted in right wing, wealthy areas in Madrid while in Vallecas, a traditionally left wing working class area of the city, residents were not allowed to leave their neighborhood except to go to work, and when they protested they were viciously attacked by the police.
In Catalunya, years of a failed attempt to push for the region’s independence have seen the central government send thousands of national police to support Catalunya’s own notoriously brutal ‘Mossos D’ Esquadra’ police force to violently smash all peaceful attempts at a referendum on separation from the Spanish state. As protests turned to riots and many leaders of the independence movement were jailed or forced into exile, local rage spread beyond the issue of independence to a wider attack on the authoritarian central government and police, both local and national. Many demonstrators have been injured and scores have lost an eye from being shot in the face with ‘less than lethal’ projectiles by the police. A new generation has been brought up in the streets and the lessons they have learned the past few years were put into action in almost a week of intense street fighting this February.
Early in February of this year there were a pair of events, right before Hasél’s incarceration that helped build tension throughout the Spanish state, highlighting the violence of the police and the government’s hypocrisy when dealing with so called ‘extremist threats’ and ‘free speech’.
On February 12th, 2021 a pair of off-duty National Police were filmed beating a man and assaulting his 14 year old daughter outside a bar in the city of Linares in Jaen (in southern Spain), the police, who were visibly drunk, can be seen in videos recorded at the scene mocking those who came to the man’s aid. As the videos of this brutality spread across social media the policemen were arrested and that night hundreds of locals poured into the streets of Linares, marching on police stations, throwing rocks, and setting fires. The police shot rubber bullets at the crowd and even pulled people out of passing cars to beat them. In one instance they used live ammunition on demonstrators, seriously injuring one man in the leg. The video of the initial brutality and the riots went viral, unnerving many as it put a spotlight on the violent behavior and feelings of impunity of the police.
The next day, on February 13th, in Madrid a militant Neo-Nazi demonstration was allowed to go forward by the local government. The march was in honor of Spanish soldiers who fought with the Nazis in World War II. (4) The demonstration, made up of some three hundred fascists, went ahead unopposed by anti-fascists and had zero police presence.
Coverage of the event went viral after the press, including foreign press, filmed the spectacle of hundreds of nazis giving anti-Semitic speeches and raising their arm in the roman salute in the nation’s capitol. A few days later, the image of Pablo Hasél being led into prison for his statements juxtaposed with sieg-heiling neo-nazis freely inciting anti-Semitic violence in public, was a stark reminder of the fascist and authoritarian core of the Spanish state; as well as the ideological foundation and true intentions of the anti-free speech laws that led to Pablo’s imprisonment.
Another repressive law, commonly known as the Ley Mordaza or ‘Gag Law’ has been in effect for years. It hearkens back to Franco-era repression, making certain criticisms of the police and institutions punishable offenses. Even publishing photos or videos of the police can lead to heavy fines. Hope that the Socialist/ Podemos coalition would rescind this law has so far been in vain. During the pandemic it is reported that the police issued over 600,000 citations for ‘disobedience’ or ‘resisting authority’ based on this law alone.
For many, especially young people, who feel sold out by older radicals who have entered into parliamentary politics, and often lacking the presence of an older generation of anarchists (because of this movement being weakened by repression and internal strife), there seems to be a deep malaise, a seething anger at the state of things. With this background, and the events of the past months and years, it is clear that Pablo Hasél’s case is just another symptom of the latent fascism in Spanish society and politics, the explosion of rage is an expression of discontent and the tension continues to build. A prominent banner displayed in the last days of the riots in Barcelona echoed the sentiment that many young people there feel, proclaiming: ‘You have shown us that being peaceful is useless’(5).
Do you think this law is a reflection of a broader political tendency among European governments?
This notion of the politically sane right-leaning yet polite and moderate position that claims any radical challenge to society as a form of extremism. Facebook for example has been asserting this tendency by absurdly grouping together fascists or anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists with anarchists and anti-fascists. This tendency seems to be the growing trend across European and North American governments.
All over the world governments are attempting to ward off their own demise. It seems quite telling that despite anti-authoritarians and the ‘radical left’ being quite weak in many places, especially Europe, right now, they continue to be targeted by these repressive laws. This shows that those in power continue to fear us as a potential threat to their grip on power. We can see this in France where Macron’s attempts to further criminalize dissent with his ‘Global Security Law’ which were bravely met with heavy resistance in the streets.
The current Covid crisis has also become a way for any critique of their authoritarian tendencies to be portrayed as ‘negationist’, paranoid conspiracies, or against the public interest. The press in Spain has followed suit, some even trying to -ridiculously- claim that the riots are the work of ‘right wing anarchist extremists’, Covid negationists’, and so on. It is an attempt to further confuse the general public and to try and stop the spread of the real anger that is becoming more and more generalized.
It is clear that we are entering a new era of conflict and that the lockdown measures and failures to control this crisis are leading to a new crisis of governance.
The George Floyd rebellion, as well as the spontaneous explosions of anger throughout the world serve as a warning to those who govern to be wary of their fragile position. This is why those in power and the press that toe their line attempt to muddy the waters – they hope that this diffuse rage will not coalesce and build into something that becomes directed at them.
What types of groups and demographics participated and/or are participating in the riots?
There are many different kinds of people who participated in these riots, in many areas of the Spanish state including Barcelona, Bilbo (Bilbao), Iruñea (Pamplona) y Lleida, Valencia, Madrid, and even Granada. The riots were mostly made up of young people, teens to early 20s. In Catalunya many people who participated in the protests are veterans from the riots around what was called the ‘Democratic Tsunami’(6) in the fall of 2019, when separatist leaders were given lengthy jail sentences. Barcelona continues to have a relatively vibrant anarchist movement and quite a few anarchists participated in the street fighting and other ground level support during these riots.
In Madrid the demonstrations were called by anti-fascist and militant communist groups, there was a call put out by local anarchists to support the demonstration as well, and participation from anarchist and anti-fascists in the unrest that night. These dynamics seem similar (youth, anarchists, communists, antifascists) in Valencia, and the Basque Country (where a long tradition of local radicalism helped fuel wild protests).
What type of institutions were targeted primarily by the riots? Is the damage targeted, and if so why these targets?
The main target of these riots were the police themselves. In Vic (Catalunya) a police precinct had almost all of its windows smashed and part of its interior trashed. In Barcelona a local newspaper had its windows broken, and many banks were attacked. Windows were also broken at the stock exchange and high end retail shops were looted in the last days of rioting.
Despite the targeted destruction of capitalist entities that continue to profit as people remain in lockdown and are forced to travel in packed trains to work service jobs, the focus remained primarily on the police. In Madrid video surfaced of rioters cornering a group of riot police and using everything from outdoor seating area umbrellas to electric rental scooters to beat them. The rage against the police was palpable these days and is due in no small measure to their brutality, their ideological role in supporting the most reactionary elements of Spanish society, and their violence in enforcing lockdown measures.
Are previously apolitical people joining in the streets? Is there a broader tension being exposed in this moment unifying people who typically wouldn’t come together as such a political force?
It’s hard to say if this has brought out previously apolitical people though it seems that way to an extent. In Madrid a left wing newspaper interviewed a group of previously apolitical youth who were beaten by police at the protest. (7) They all had become radicalized by seeing first hand the rabid brutality of the police. In Barcelona, as well, it seems that a large segment of the population was mobilized by Hasél’s incarceration and their anger against the monarchy and the Spanish state in general. As I said before this is definitely linked to a larger tension, one that comes from before the Covid crisis and has been exacerbated by it: the state’s authoritarian drift in the past 5 years, the royal family’s blatant corruption, the resurgence of fascism in Spanish society, and the disillusionment with the parliamentary left and police brutality. It remains to see if these riots and these reactions to repression will build into a larger struggle capable of seriously confronting the Spanish state.
1) Catalunya is a semi autonomous region in the Northeast of the Iberian peninsula. For years there have been wide spread efforts among a large sector (right wing to left wing, bourgeois and working class) to secede from Spain.
2) Spain was ruled from 1939 to 1975 by a fascistic national catholic dictatorship, only ending with the natural death of its leader Francisco Franco. As opposed to places like Germany, and Italy this dictatorship remained in place after the second world war and was never defeated, instead Spain entered into what is called the ‘Transition’ a period of democratization of the Spanish state where the old regimen’s crimes went unpunished and many of its structures and laws were left intact. In the last years before his death Franco brought in Juan Carlos I, the grandson of the last Spanish king, grooming him to return as the official heir to the throne of Spain. Two days after Franco’s death Juan Carlos I officially became king. The corrupt monarchy and new democracy that came relatively seamlessly out of the Franco dictatorship left Spain with many fascist era cultural, political and social issues that continue to fester within the society.
3) GRAPO was a Marxist-Leninist armed struggle group heavily active during the last years of Franco and during the early 1980s.
4) The Blue Division (Division Azul) was a volunteer unit of Spanish soldiers who were sent by Franco to fight alongside the Nazis on the Eastern Front during the Second World War. There are still monuments to them, and streets named after them in parts of Spain.
5) [ES] “Nos habéis enseñado que ser pacíficos es inútil”
6) These protests quickly became very large and aggressive and were met with extreme police brutality. The protests spread and led to large scale rioting across broad sectors including radical independence activists, anarchists, and youth breaking out of the narrow framework of the mainstream separatist movement.
Please consult the following websites for updates on the situation in Spain: