Censorship in Spain
When we think of musical censorship in these modern times, it is usually totalitarian governments that come to mind as the instigators. Censorship of music and film rarely occurs in modern day Europe, right? Wrong. It is alive and well in Spain. Not since the days of the Franco dictatorship have Basque musicians, filmmakers and media been subjected to such censorship.
Censorship of Basque musicians has occurred infrequently over the past ten years or so. One well-known case was against the rock group Negu Gorriak, who performed a song called “Ustelkeria” (Corruption). This song was about the accusation of the then chief of police of San Sebastian being involved with drug smuggling. The band members were prosecuted for this song and made to pay 15 million pesetas. The chief of police was subsequently found to be guilty of the drug charges. 8 years later, Negu Gorriak was declared innocent of their previous charges.
Over the past two years, censorship of Basque musicians in Spain has steadily increased. Groups such as Association for the Victims of Terrorism, a human rights group that receives grants from various ministries of the Spanish government, and the ultra-right wing group Espana2000 campaign relentlessly to cancel concerts. These groups use lawsuits and threats of uncontrollable demonstrations to forcefully pressure venue operators to cancel shows. Local government officials of Spain’s Popular Party have jumped into the fray, taking it upon themselves to call for concert cancellations in their own towns.
The reasons given for censorship by the AVT are that “many of these words humiliate the victims”. The AVT also takes issue with the bands using the term “political prisoner” in their songs, saying, “the only thing we are trying to point out is that freedom of expression has a limit”. Some of the lines that the AVT takes offense with are:
The most recent bands to have their concerts cancelled due pressure by AVT, Espana2000 and the Spanish government’s Popular Party are Su Ta Gar, Sociedad Alcoholico, Fermin Muguruza and Manu Chao, Berri Txarrak and Leihotikan.
Fermin has even been taken to court by AVT who claim that one of his most well known songs, “Sarri, Sarri” is pro-ETA and therefore illegal. This song has been performed for nineteen years, and tells about one of the Basque Country’s most famous poets, Joseba Sarrionandia. Sarrionandia was in prison, accused of being a member of ETA, when he and a fellow prisoner escaped in the large speakers of a group who had just given a concert at the prison.
Berri Txarrak and Leihotikans latest concerts were cancelled in Madrid and Valencia, with the Madrid venue’s proprietor stating:
“Due to the rarified situation created by the recent campaign of right extremist groups and various mass media against the Berri Txarrak and Leihotikan concert planned for January 10, 2004 in Madrid, and due to their arguments that the public, the artists and the organizers may be in physical danger, the people in charge of the Caracol Room have decided to cancel this musical concert. The group laments the situation that has been created, and hopes to offer its music soon to the Madrid public.”
It is not just musicians being censored. Two of the directors of EITB, the Basque regional television station, are being charged as accessories to terrorism. The station aired a videotaped interview of two ETA members making a statement. There are also the cases of Basque language newspapers and radio stations being shut down, charged with aiding terrorists, then years later the cases being dropped. Too late for these media outlets; they are closed.
There was also the case of the documentary, The Basque Ball, Skin Against Stone. This documentary was created by one of Spain’s most famous directors, Julio Medem, who is originally from the Basque Region. This documentary attempts to show the problems of the Basque conflict from all points of view and tries to find ways of reaching a middle ground. It debuted at the San Sebastian Film Festival amid much anticipation, and also howls of protest from the government of Spain and AVT. The Minister of Culture, Pilar Del Castillo, suggested that the film festival drop the documentary. This did not happen and the film opened to wide acclaim. Soon after, the documentary appeared at the London Film Festival. Representatives from the Spanish Embassy asked that the film be dropped from the festival. When the organizers refused, the Spanish government withdrew their traditional stipend that is given for the expenses of Spanish festival participants.
This is a dangerous road being traveled down in Europe. Whether or not one agrees with the message, in a democracy, all are supposed to have the right to be heard without the threat of violence and censorship. This is part of the duties of a democratic government.