Freedom of Speech, Barça, and Modern Spain

[This article was written with Cristel M. Jusino Díaz]

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it. -Voltaire

A football fan being charged with “violence, racism, xenophobia, and intolerance in sport” is hardly something new. That it would occur in Spain is equally unsurprising. Xenophobia, after all, is well documented in the highest echelons of the domestic league, sitting in boardrooms right next to racism. This time, though, there’s an added twist in this article. A quick recap of it in the next paragraph:

Sergi Massó is a 25 year old Barça fan who, like many others, traveled to Madrid for the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao. After he’d gone through the Vicente Calderón gates with his friends, Massó was singled out by police because the scarf he was wearing contained the phrase “United for Freedom” in both Euskera (Basque) and Catalan; the two autonomous regions’ flags, the Ikurrina and Senyera, respectively; and an ancient Celtic symbol sometimes associated with radical Basque separatist movements, the lauburu. Sergi’s scarf was confiscated by police and a complaint was filed with the Madrid City Council* after the match. Today, El País, reports that Sergi has been fined €3001 for the display of these pro Catalan and Basque independence symbols, which the Council claims is a grave offense, citing the perpetration of “violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sport.” On top of the fine (which is more than 4 and a half months worth of the Spanish minimum salary), Massó is also banned from any sporting facility in Spain for the next 6 months. The paper, El País, points out that Sergi is a known member of Solidaritat per la Independencia (SI), a pro Catalan independence group founded, coincidentally, in 2010 by ex FC Barcelona president, Joan Laporta.

Some context, perhaps: The conservative Partido Popular (PP), headed by Mariano Rajoy, recently won the Spanish elections, returning to power after 12 years of Socialist rule. Spain is facing one of the biggest economic crises in its history, including a massive youth protest movement known as 15-M. These protests, which were national, were sometimes, perhaps often, met with violent police repression. Given this context, tensions were running high in the days leading up to the 2012 Copa del Rey final. Into this scene ran Esperanza Aguirre, the Madrid Community President and a member of PP, stating that if the anthem were booed, the match should immediately be suspended and then played behind closed doors. When questioned about the harshness of these statements, Aguirre reminded the press that freedom of speech allowed her to state her opinion that the anthem should be respected at all costs.

In the end, on the same day of the Copa del Rey final in Madrid, the local authorities authorized a “National Unity” march organized by Falange Española, the modern incarnation of the radical right wing party that supported Francisco Franco’s dictatorship from the 1930s onward. In the same way that pro-independence movements have their symbols, the Falangists display Francoist Spanish flags, while one can also hear people singing the Francoist anthem, “Cara al sol”. These demonstrations are, apparently, unrelated to “violence, racism, xenophobia, and intolerance in sport” and are thus protected under freedom of speech.

This may seem only vaguely connected with Barça, but as FCB becomes a larger global brand, it has run across the differences between being a regional player and a marketing powerhouse. It has also reached a point where it is using its own history to expand itself into places where that history does not have the same depth of feeling for fans. For those who grew up in Catalunya during the dictatorship, there is often an obvious connection between the Barça that allowed Catalan in its stands when the language was otherwise banned and their own feelings towards it. This is probably not true of many foreign fans (both authors are in that category), but Sergi Massó proves that younger fans can still identify with catalanisme.

Barça should—must—stand for the right of its fans to sport a variety of politics when they attend matches. It is not a question of aligning with the SI, the PP, or any other political party or viewpoint, but rather that freedom of speech does not apply simply to one set of fans or political affiliation. It is for everyone and Barça should defend the right of its fans to exercise it. That obviously does not include inciting violence, being racist, xenophobic, or otherwise intolerant, but it does mean defending our own rights through defending the rights of others. Massó may not be your political cup of tea (or Esperanza Aguirre for that matter), but that does not make them worthy of being silenced. Furthermore, Barça is a Catalan institution and Catalans should have the right to expect that Barça, purporting to represent them as mes que un club or som la gent blaugrana/Tant se val d’on venim will publicly defend their rights. Esperanza Aguirre is right about one thing, that’s for sure: freedom of speech is massively important.

Let’s hope Barça can step up and help one of its own.


*In Spanish, Delegacion del Gobierno de Madrid (read about it here), which has only rough analogs to the American system of governance. Esperanza Aguirre is the head of what amounts to the state government, there being a difference between the community of Madrid and the city of Madrid much as Barcelona and Catalunya are different.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. Huckleberry
    July 19, 2012

    I’m sure this judgment will be annuled by a higher court when appealed. At least at the European court for human rights.

  2. nzm
    July 19, 2012

    I agree that it’s all rather two-faced.

    However, in this instance, the RFEF has rules in place that prohibit any display of flags/banners/clothing etc, at football matches, which promote political or nationalistic messages.

    This means that Basques can display the Ikurriña and Catalunyans can display La Senyera because they are recognised regional symbols.

    However, Catalunyans are not allowed to display La Estelada because it’s a protest flag.

    Legally, they were in their rights to do what they did, but on the scale of what else was happening, it was petty.

    I would have liked to have seen the Catalunyans and Basques apply for a licence to hold a solidarity march through Madrid on the day of the match. That would have tested Aguirre’s “freedom of speech” reasoning and made her look like a bigger clown if they had turned it down. 😀

  3. providence
    July 19, 2012

    Mascherano: “I’m very happy here,
    I feel valued and I want to
    continue for many more years.”

    Mascherano: “When I decided to
    take a pay cut to join Barcelona, I
    didn’t do that thinking they would
    return me the favor later.” #fcblive

    Mascherano: “It was a sporting
    decision and it was the best
    decision I made in my life. Without
    it, I wouldn’t have achieved all I

    Mascherano: “At this club, I feel
    more comfortable at centre back.
    But I’m available to play wherever
    the coach wants me to play.”

    Mascherano: “There won’t change
    a lot now that Tito is head coach,
    because Pep and Tito agreed on
    the things they did before.”

    Mascherano: “The Ballon d’Or is
    an individual trophy. I’d give it to
    Messi. Then Xavi and Iniesta. Messi
    scored 80+ goals, that’s madness.”

    Mascherano: “Cristiano attacking
    Messi during Euro? I’m not there
    to judge, everyone is responsible
    for his own acts and words.”

    Mascherano: “Retiring at Barça? I
    am not thinking about that. The
    renewal would be until 2016, when
    I’ll be 32. We’ll see then.” #fcblive

    Mascherano: “Without the tactical
    concepts Pep explained me and
    without Gerard by my side, it’d
    have been impossible to play at
    centre back”

    Mascherano: “We still feel bad
    about the CL elimination. I think
    we were the beter team over 180
    minutes, but we couldn’t make it

    Mascherano: “Villa is doing great.
    The important thing for him now is
    to get his confidence back. We
    missed his goals last season.”

    Mascherano: “Mourinho pardoned
    for eye-gouge? Tito closed the
    discussion the other day. As he
    said, the biggest punishment are
    the images.”

  4. July 19, 2012

    Great article, Cristel. Thanks!

    Here’s a profile of Esperanza Aguirre in English. A good read. She is from a noble background, pro-privatization and free-market, but extremely conservative on social issues and wants to centralize everything and reduce regional autonomy. All sound good on paper, except until you see that she is closely aligned with many former Franco’s cabinet members :/

    Iberosphere is a pretty good English source for all Iberian news.

  5. Messiah10
    July 19, 2012

    Thanks for the article Isiah. Just an FYI. The Voltaire quote you used is attributed to him, but historians cannot find any instance of him using it. I only know this because of a recent fascination with Voltaire. Yes. I’m a nerd! Here’s a brief summary of the quote in context to when it was first introduced as Voltaire’s words:
    “The most oft-cited Voltaire quotation is apocryphal. He is incorrectly credited with writing, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” These were not his words, but rather those of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, written under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre in her 1906 biographical book The Friends of Voltaire. Hall intended to summarize in her own words Voltaire’s attitude towards Claude Adrien Helvétius and his controversial book De l’esprit, but her first-person expression was mistaken for an actual quotation from Voltaire. Her interpretation does capture the spirit of Voltaire’s attitude towards Helvetius; it had been said Hall’s summary was inspired by a quotation found in a 1770 Voltaire letter to an Abbot le Roche, in which he was reported to have said, “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”[23] Nevertheless, scholars believe there must have again been misinterpretation, as the letter does not seem to contain any such quote.[24]

    • July 20, 2012

      Funny, I almost put it as “Voltaire” but then was like whatever, it’s supposedly his. I didn’t know the full extent of the research into it, but I did know that it wasn’t really his or at least there was no proof he’d ever said it. If he didn’t say, though, he should have…

  6. Dani_el
    July 19, 2012

    Thanks for the article, though I agree with almost everything you’ve written, there’s a wrong fact in there. PP (right-wing Partido Popular) returned to power after 8 years, not 12. In 2004 election, because of Al-Qaeda terrorist attack in Madrid, PP’s Jose María Aznar lost the elections to PSOE’s Jose Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. We have to keep in mind that Spain has a parlamentary system, very close to the Westminster System that rules England and most countries in the Commonwelth of Nation. This means that the Presidente de Gobierno, is not the head of state, is the head of government. The role of head of state is attached to the king.

  7. providence
    July 19, 2012

    Please which EPL ( English) team is playing in the Champions league qualifying round Like Malaga is expected to play.

    • nzm
      July 19, 2012

      There are no English teams in the play-offs – Chelsea, Man City, Man U and Arsenal are all in the group play.

      4th placed EPL club, Tottenham, was relegated to the Europa League because of Chelsea’s CL win.

      You can see the complete picture here: 2012-13 UEFA Champions League

  8. barca96
    July 19, 2012

    Did y’all see Henry’s goal for the Red Bulls? Wow.

    And there were 2 other soccer related stuffs on Espn’s Top 10.

  9. barca96
    July 19, 2012

    Ibra’s pizza boy agent with his usual nonsense:

    “Now I think the people in Paris have something else to see besides the Mona Lisa. “

  10. barca96
    July 19, 2012

    Ibra’s pizza boy agent with his usual nonsense:
    “Now I think the people in Paris have something
    else to see besides the Mona Lisa. “

    He was once asked to suggest three words to
    describe himself. He chose “I”, “Am” and

    (When he got engaged)
    Reporter; So what did you buy your girlfriend for
    the engagement?
    ‘What did she get? She got Zlatan.’

    Had a good laugh. They are a match made in heaven.

  11. July 19, 2012

    I’ve official spammed this post. Sorry, but here’s one more 😀

    Japan’s male Olympics soccer team (a.k.a U-23) flew to Paris on business class, their women’s team (the one that won gold at the World Cup last year) got placed in the economy. The FA explanation: the men are “professionals” while their female counterparts are not. WTF!!!

  12. providence
    July 19, 2012

    Tw Pique (to Cesc): “You already
    started training? Those touches at
    the pool, doing scissor kicks, don’t
    count…” [ @3gerardpique ]

    Tw Cesc (to Pique): “Just got back
    from a run with my dad and I’m
    tired. At least I’m doing something,
    not kissing orcas like you… Haha”

    Tw Pique: “Hahaha! He looked like
    you! I’m doing all kind of things!!
    Running, riding bike, tennis!! Full

    Tw Cesc (to Pique): “Sure, sure. As
    if we don’t know how false you
    are. The whole Twitter world sees
    through you. It won’t woooooork!”
    View details ·

  13. Gogah
    July 20, 2012

    if y’all haven’t watched it already, i suggest you drop everything else and watch this absolute belter of a documentary on Ayrton Senna

    • Messiah10
      July 20, 2012

      Thanks Gogah! I finished watching it a couple of hours ago and have spent the rest of the time looking up other videos. Managed to find Senna test driving some rally cars in ’86. B.A.! No one can compete with him being the greatest F1 driver ever! The manual transmission and poor handling of the cars when he was driving make his skillz so much more impressive than Schumacher. My 2 favorite parts of the movie are when he drove the last 6 laps with only a 6th gear and won his only Sao Paulo race. His emotions at the race gave me chills. I also loved the New Years celebration in Brazil! Hilarious. T.V. announcer’s costume is classic.

  14. Completely unrelaed news:

    Star Sports would be telecasting La Liga in India this season. Have fun. Those idiots will always give preference to EPL ahead of La Liga. Even though Ten Sport’s pre-match show was a horror, they used to show the Barca and Real madrid matches. But now with Star Sports you will be at the mercy of Barclays Premier League.

    • nzm
      July 20, 2012

      This guy does excellently edited videos. Check out his YouTube page. The Guardiola System one is also very good. The hurt on the faces of our guys at the end of the Chelsea Camp Nou match is tear-inducing stuff.

    • mom4
      July 20, 2012

      Excellent vid.

      Most amazing fact ever about Messi?
      He’s ours!
      Sometimes we take that fact for granted, but dang are we fortunate!

      • July 20, 2012

        Been scoffing about it in the Twitterverse, but it’s easy to see record profits when you sell the shirt and don’t have to pay performance bonuses because you didn’t win Liga or Champions League, it’s pretty easy to see record profits.

        Had the club not taken the Qatar Foundation step, we still would have seen a healthy profit of almost 19m. I like that revenues are going up. That’s a very good sign that the brand is healthy. But again, it’s worth noting that the board had eff all to do with that, rather, it was our magic-making sprites.

        I wore an FCB shirt to the Pitchfork Music Fest this weekend, and the comments, thumbs-up gestures, etc, were overwhelming. That wasn’t the case even two years ago, as a testimony to how much the profile of the club has increased, if a microcosm can be said to be representative of anything larger.

  15. mom4
    July 20, 2012

    Our two new B team signings, Ie and Ca,— can someone enlighten me as to how their names are pronounced?

    • July 20, 2012

      Just guessing, but based on the language of their native lands:

      EE, and ssa.

      • mom4
        July 20, 2012

        Thanks! I have this habit of subvocalizing when I read and not being able to pronounce the names was driving me crazy. I know I’m weird.

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