Riots and Free Speech and Pablo Hasél, oh my!

February 20, 2021

Interesting week here in Barcelona.

As you might have heard, we’ve now had 4 nights of riots.

Four nights of burning barricades, confrontations with police, an acute lack of social distancing…

It’s criminal.

And it’s all over the arrest of a rapper named Pablo Hasél, who several days ago barricaded himself inside a building at the University of Lleida instead of voluntarily reporting to prison.

burning barricade pablo hasél riots barcelona
Burning dumpster. Photo by the author.

Why was he supposed to go to prison?

The rioters (or their handlers) claim he’s being prosecuted for some lyrics he wrote, and that it’s a free speech issue.

But apparently the story is much more complicated.

Okay, so who’s Pablo Hasél?

Good question.

Like 99,94% of people in Spain, I’d never heard his name until – approximately – last weekend.

But he’s a rapper.

And no offense – I don’t know the guy – but he also seems like a total buttwipe.

In fact, I’m checking out some of the things he says on Wikiquote, and I’m pretty sure I’m getting dumber by the second.

Here’s a little quote for ya…

En España ni un solo canal de TV de izquierdas, en Venezuela varios de ultraderecha. Adivina donde está la falta de libertad de expresión.

Pablo Hasél, Universal Genius.

So Venezuela is doing way better on protecting freedom of speech than Spain. Well, okay. If you say so.

Okay, how about this one?

De pequeño decías gu-gu-ga-ga, yo decía gu-gu-lag para bitches como Lady Gaga.

Pablo Hasél, Excellent Human Being.

What? Now he wants to send Lady Gaga to a gulag for some reason. Possibly because he’s such a strong believer in freedom of speech that he also believes in gulags as a tool for social change. Sounds about right.

And finally…

Cuando los que fueron hermanos me traicionen, sé que solo quedaré yo y mis insurgentes cojones.

Pablo Hasél, So Balls Deep in Freedom of Speech Even His Testicles are Revolutionary.

Full disclosure: I actually kind of like the line “insurgentes cojones”.

I mean, *like* is a strong word. But I find it amusing.

But once again…

Who is this guy and why is he in trouble?

Son of a wealthy businessman, Pablo Rivadulla Duró, alias Hasél, was born in 1988 in Lleida, Catalonia – a place which nobody has ever recommended I visit, so I haven’t.

His father was the president of the local football club, which he ran into the ground. When the club went bankrupt, dad was put on trial for putting it deep in debt. He was found not guilty.

Pablo’s grandfather was, in fact, a lieutenant in Franco’s army, known for fighting communist “guerillas” in the mountains of Northern Spain – which is a story for another time.

And Pablo, growing up on the mean streets of Lleida, started releasing raps back in 2005.

In 2011, he was arrested and bailed for the lyrics to his song Democracia Su Puta Madre, in which he praised a terrorist group called GRAPO.

Protest signs, years ago in Galicia.

After that, there have been a string of incidents that have gotten him arrested – including assaulting a journalist for TV3 in 2016 and threatening a witness in some other trial. Most of this is on Wikipedia.

Or you can stalk him on Instagram if you’d like. Prepare for a lot of hammers and sickles.

Mostly what gets him in trouble, though, are his lyrics, in which he often praises various terrorist groups, insults the Spanish monarchy – Love ya, Felipe! – and otherwise sticks it to the establishment.

Which brings us to the big issue of the day…

Free speech in Spain: what’s up with that?

Now, free speech is a complicated issue, and what’s legal varies from country to country.

Here in Spain, you can theoretically be prosecuted for insulting the King, or even the Virgin Mary.

Hasél’s first conviction was for glorifying terrorism – enaltecimiento del terrorismo – which is another thing that’s illegal here. He was given a suspended sentence.

In the US, of course, we let damn near anyone say damn near anything. And I think that’s pretty cool. Not because I agree with wackjob opinions, but because I think a society needs freedom of speech in order to progress culturally and socially.

Here in Spain things are a bit different.

Several years ago, for example, singer-songwriter Javier Krahe was put on trial for – get this – a home video in which he spread butter on a crucifix, and then baked it over a bed of potatoes and onions.

Religious sentiments were wounded. It was a whole thing. Eventually, all charges were dropped. But it took years of court cases.

And more recently, another rapper called Valtònyc fled to Belgium after being convicted of slander, insulting the monarchy, and – once again – glorifying terrorism.

In Hasél’s case, it’s a combination of the lyrics, the obstruction of justice and the assault on the journalist that are getting him sent to prison.

But to me, the interesting thing about the story is that the accounts in different media vary widely. Many articles don’t even mention the “other stuff” – just the freedom of expression bit.

I thought it was a free speech issue myself, actually, until some people – not Catalans – pointed out that it’s mostly not.

So before you start burning barricades…

pablo hasel riots barcelona 2021
Barcelona riots, February 2021. Photo by the author.

Let’s talk about these riots.

I actually went to see the riot the other day.

I’m calling it a riot because, in fact, I didn’t see any sort of protest as such.

Just some kids setting fires.

They had tactics: they were spraying lighter fluid into dumpsters, setting them alight, and then quickly moving along to the next corner before the police arrived.

And – this being still a pandemic – I should mention that they were all wearing masks while doing it.

Once again, they were mostly kids. By which I mean people in their 20s, I’d guess. Probably, they were the same kids as at the last riots, back in 2019.

And I can fully understand their being annoyed at the system at this point.

I am too.

But I’m kind of surprised that this mediocre rapper is what’s finally gotten people to take to the streets.

I don’t know. Maybe Hasél is a more popular than I thought. Or maybe people are just fed up.

A final note today…

Is rap music rotting your brain?

I’ve thought a lot about whether music actually influences people’s behaviour.

When I was a kid, it was considered common knowledge that kids who started listening to rap music quickly ended up joining gangs and participating in drive-by shootings.

This in a middle class suburb of Phoenix where – as far as I can tell – the Crips and Bloods don’t do much recruiting.

Anyway, it was common knowledge: rap music leads to criminality.

In fact, my parents were suspicious of rock music as well.

Basically anything heavier than The Beatles was bound to turn me into a sociopath if I listened to it, right?

Well, no. Wrong.

When I really think about it, I’ve spent most of my life listening to rock songs about drugs, violence and Satan worship.

And yet, I’ve still never become interested in, for example, doing heroin while sacrificing goats to the Dark Lord.

A bit later on, I started listening to rap. And I love Jay Z and Biggie. But none of it made me want to sell crack on streetcorners.

The thing is, I don’t take these things literally.

It’s entertainment, not an instruction manual.

Listen: you’ve probably seen The Godfather.

You probably enjoyed watching The Godfather. And you’ve probably also seen several other movies glamorizing organized crime.

Now… did you ever seriously consider joining the Mafia because of it?

I doubt it.

Just like you can watch Western films without being tempted to steal your neighbors’ cattle, or you can watch pro football without ever deciding to tackle the next person you see holding a ball.

So I’m sort of doubtful that this guy’s lyrics are actually affecting much of anything.

However, if you and your friends listen to songs about smashing the state all day, and then your friends suggest going out to burn some trashcans…

You might just end up rioting.

‘Cause I think it’s more the social group that impacts people’s actions – the sense of tribal belonging and having a cause.

It’s what I was trying – and probably failing – to express in my recent article about why people voted for Trump.

My theory: people don’t care as much about the issues as they care about holding the “correct” opinions in their social group. And if your social group is made up of Trump voters – or Bernie bros – guess what? Most of your opinions will probably follow the group norm.

So… that’s my take on the Pablo Hasél thing.

It’s not a mass movement. And it’s barely a free speech issue. Mostly, it’s some pissed off kids wanting to break curfew and maybe smash the state.

If only improving things was as easy as destroying them.

Anyway… thanks to the people who encouraged me to write this.

I’m gonna go get some coffee.

As always, a loyal subject of King Felipe VI,

Mr Chorizo.

P.S. I’ve said this before, but if you think that communism and sending people to gulags are good ideas, please do us all a favor and go read a damn history book. The Gulag Archipelago is a good one. And it got Solzhenitsyn a Nobel Prize. What have you done lately?

P.P.S. Update, June 2023: It’s been a couple of years since I wrote this, and I guess Pablo Hasél’s prison sentence is just about over. Recently, I’ve found an article from November 2022 about another trial for inciting riots – not these, but some previous ones. For more left-wing fun, check out my new article about okupas in Spain. Enjoy!

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About the Author Daniel

How did I end up in Spain? Why am I still here almost 20 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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  1. I like the article, to add some info to this glorified rapper by our beloved genZ, in some of his concerts he incited people/audience to kill guardia civil..
    i mean 😅… maybe they considered that a threat or just plain hate speech not freedom of expression.

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