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Punishable offense

The phrase "I love my country" is invariably grandiloquent, opportunistic and fallacious, and uttered to please a jingoistic element

It has always surprised me when intelligent people, as well as idiots, come out and say "I love my country," as the writer Stephen King did recently in this newspaper. The phrase is invariably grandiloquent, opportunistic and fallacious, and often demagogic, uttered to please a jingoistic element. More honest, and more truthful, was the training sergeant in Juan Benet's novel who told the recruits: "I'll tell you what patriotism is. When you see a Frenchman it makes you want to throw up, right? Well, that's patriotism."

Likewise it is impossible to "offend" a country, not even by way of its symbols - anthem, flag, national dish, etc. Except in the eyes of Interior Minister Fernández Díaz and his boss Rajoy, who gives the orders. These two individuals have raised the impossible act to the category of "grave infraction," liable to a fine of 30,000 euros. This nonsense note was struck in the Citizens Safety Law, when Fernández - who is a member of the religious-right order Opus Dei - said that fines will be imposed for "offenses or outrages to Spain," and also "regional or local entities or their institutions, symbols, hymns or emblems, effectuated by any means." We shall have to see how they define "offenses" and "outrages," but, given Fernández's inability to understand freedom of expression and even democracy, we have to expect the worst, and as he has been careful to leave nothing out - I suppose "local entities" even include ghost towns - no doubt it will soon be punishable to say: "What a shithole this town is," or: "What a dreadful city," or: "This country gives me the creeps." Up to 30,000 euros, if a local cop hears you say it, or a nightclub security guard, who will soon be given powers by the government to arrest us.

This adept of Opus Dei wondered aloud in his appearance before parliament, "And what is an offense to Spain?" And since there is no answer, since the thing in itself cannot be said to exist, he answered himself tautologically ("Well, an offense to Spain is an offense to Spain," he said, as if that cleared anything up). "For example, a demonstration in which there are slogans and placards that are clearly vexatious to Spain or to one of its regions, or its symbols and institutions, or the flag of Spain - this will be considered a grave infraction."

Don't be surprised if Rajoy soon brings out a press law that will make the Venezuelan one look liberal

It is as if the dictionary, instead of defining each word, resolved the question like this. "Water: water," or: "Pride: pride." Very useful. But one thing was clear enough: if you come to a demonstration with a placard reading: "The parliament is full of crooks," you can be hit with a fine of 30,000 euros, for insulting an institution. The same goes if you say "Madrid is a whorehouse," or: "The mayor is a jerk." Not to mention if you call members of government "fascists," although you may believe you are offering a mere objective description based on real resemblances, rather than insulting anyone.

But, as usual, the scariest thing is in the small print that you don't notice: infractions will be those "effectuated by any means." This necessarily has to include radio, TV and the written press. Our government is advancing apace along a "Bolivarian," not to say neo-fascist, path toward total control. Don't be surprised if our pious Fernández and his boss Rajoy soon bring out a new press law that will make the Venezuelan one look liberal by comparison.

The finance minister, Cristóbal Montoro, has shown which way the wind is blowing with his purge in the Tax Office against inspectors and officials, who, even if appointed by his party, were too honest.

On the day when an article like this one can be seen as a "punishable offense," it will be time to start talking about dictatorial practices, after 30 or so years of democracy. So watch it - we are only a few steps away.