First of the Summer Swine

This piece, by Pablo Iglesias Turrión, in response to the Spanish police reaction to ¡Democracia Real YA! appeared in Público yesterday. I’ve translated it here because it bristles with a certain amount of relevance to the reactionary authoritarianism I have witnessed on display this afternoon, directed at people who, in the midst of a surreal lockdown in Dublin, have decided, for their own reasons, to protest against the queen’s visit.

I see in Facebook how some students from my faculty are congratulating themselves about the success of today’s demonstration and also how they are counting up the bruises and contusions from the blows that the police have dished out. The video posted by Público leaves no doubt as to the provenance of the violence; several robocops kick a defenceless young man on the ground.

The image is not new; it can barely be distinguished from those we saw in the demonstrations for decent accommodation in 2007, in the protests against the war in 2003, or in so many other mobilisations. And the result will not be new either: impunity for the agents (several with balaclavas and all without a visible professional number visible in their uniform), detentions, accusations of public disorder, of resisting authority (and who knows what else) and, probably, various sentences with the declarations of police officers as the only evidence.

Yesterday I saw once again, after many years, Night of the Pencils, by Héctor Olivera, a film based on real events which gives an account of how a group of high school students were detained, tortured and kidnapped, during the Argentine military dictatorship, for their militancy in the student movement. Some might say one cannot compare dictatorships with democracies. On the contrary, it makes sense to compare precisely those things that are different; it would be absurd to compare, let’s say, between an blue Bic pen and a blue Bic pen.

The first element shared by dictatorships and democracies, like any modern political regime, is that policing tasks are assigned to a professional body of functionaries. Whoever processes a report of a crime is a functionary, whoever investigates a robbery is a functionary, whoever kicks the head of a young person on the ground is a functionary, whoever applies torture as a procedural device -as Eduardo Galeano has already said- is only a functionary. What is the difference between them? There are those who might speak of convictions and conscience and would surely tell us that police in dictatorships are different from those of democracies. Let us concede that perhaps they are, even though the Spanish historical experience tells us the opposite and the studies of Bauman (Modernity and the Holocaust) and Arendt (Eichmann in Jerusalem) show that the difference between a functionary in a democracy and one in dictatorship is found in the authority that gives the orders. As we know, “dutiful obedience” has been the universal alibi of all functionaries who through the paradoxes of destiny have ended up in the dock (from Nuremberg to The Hague via Buenos Aires).

The second characteristic shared by dictatorships and democracies is a certain social consensus and fetishistic veneration of authority. The rhetoric of the ‘fight against subversion and communism’ enabled a group of Argentinians to look the other way as its government cast 30,000 compatriots into the sea. And so, those who criminalise the protests of the young, and are scandalised when they see a rubbish bin tipped over in the street or a scrawl on a bank whilst youth unemployment reaches historic highs, at the same time saying nothing when they see police brutality (whenever they don’t justify it openly), represent the same type of social material upon which dictatorships and their crimes are built.

Whenever the police of the government of the day responds with violence against young people in this country who have taken seriously the matter of Democracy, we democrats must, at the least, be outraged. Ulrike Meinhof is supposed to have said that police officers were not human beings but pigs. If it is indeed true that the prematurely deceased founder of the RAF said this, she was wrong. It is difficult to find an institution more universal than the police when it comes to representing all the expressions of the rational modernity of the human species (virtues and monstrosities included).

However, when it comes to those who take the decisions to repress, as well as those who look the other way, or who celebrate the decisions, we should call them by their name: pigs!

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May 2011

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