A Spanish court has sentenced Pedro Varela, a Barcelona book dealer, to five years imprisonment for “incitement to racial hatred” and for “denying or justifying genocide.”
The sentence, handed down on November 16, 1998, is Spain's first conviction for “Holocaust denial.” It is based on the country's 1995 anti-genocide and anti-discrimination law, which effectively creates an ambiguous new class of “criminal” books, and thereby threatens freedom of speech and expression for all Spaniards.
The case began on December 12, 1996, when police raided Varela's “Libreria Europa” bookstore in central Barcelona while his sister was working in the shop and her young daughter was playing in the back yard. The police seized some 20,000 books, along with numerous periodicals, posters, and audio and video cassettes. Varela was later arrested at his family home.
Among the prominent individuals who publicly condemned the police raid was Fernando Savater, professor of philosophy at the University of Madrid. Writing in the major Madrid daily El Pais, he commented critically on the spate of European laws that threaten free speech, and voiced concern that some regard the bookstore's closure as a “victory for progress.”
During the trial, which took place in Barcelona criminal court on October 16 and 17, 1998, the public prosecutor cited 30 books sold in Varela's bookstore that praise Third Reich Germany and approve its policies, or which present revisionist arguments on the Holocaust issue. Joining with the prosecution in the case was the Jewish community organization of Barcelona (ATID) and a group called “SOS Racism.”
Varela's two attorneys called on the tribunal to acquit the defendant, and to declare that the law under which he had been charged is unconstitutional.
The case took nearly two years to come to trial in part because many of the seized books were in English, German and French, and the prosecution insisted on painstakingly translating many of them into Spanish to determine precisely what portions of which books violated the law.
Varela emphatically rejected the charges against him. “I have never provoked racial hatred,” he told the court. As a historian, he explained, he has “the moral duty to tell the truth,” just as a physician has the duty to heal. “As a historian, I must keep researching the past, and when doubt is not permitted, it arises inevitably.” He also declared:
In my opinion it is necessary to review history because it is an open issue and everything is subject to revision … Every historian must be skeptical of everything and must also review what has been said thus far. Revisionists question the scope and degree of the alleged persecutions of National Socialist Germany.
Not just history, Varela said, but even the meanings of words such as “fascist” and “revisionist” are polemically manipulated by the media and by social-political interests unconcered with justice or truth. The term “racist,” he went on, has virtually come to mean “murderer.”
Regarding the items sold in his store, Varela explained that he does not and cannot know the contents of every book he sells; even if that were possible, he said, it's not the duty of a book dealer. He pointed out that he also sold Karl Marx' Capital and the Anne Frank Diary, along with 232 titles not related to the Second World War and thus irrelevant to this case.
Varela acknowledged authorship of a leaflet about Anne Frank that stated, accurately, that the famous Jewish teenager had died of typhus, and that her body was not used to manufacture soap. This is no reason not to regret her death, he added.
In his concluding statement to the court, Varela said:
It is my turn to be the scapegoat of a “social alarm” [to use a phrase of the prosecutor] created on purpose … I fight, condemn and attack any form of “genocide.” I am not guilty of genocide, and have never killed anyone. I have never called for genocide against anyone, or for mass murder of any kind of minority.
On November 16, 1998, the court declared Varela guilty of inciting racial hatred and of denying or justifying genocide, and sentenced him to five years imprisonment and a fine of 720,000 pesetas (about $5,000). The 20,000 books seized by the police were ordered to be burned (!), even though the court found that only 30 titles, out of some 200 altogether, violated the law.
The case received extensive nationwide media coverage, provoking commentary both sympathetic and hostile to the defendant. A “Comite por la Libertad de Expresion” actively defended Varela. Many writers and journalists expressed disagreement with the verdict, concerned that it threatens freedom of speech. In letters to newspapers and over the radio, many private citizens also protested the court's ruling.
In October a coalition of Jewish, gypsy, leftist and homosexual groups staged a public demonstration against Varela, carrying cardboard coffins memorializing Holocaust victims. Predictably, the usual professional anti-racists, Marxists, and other self-proclaimed defenders of democracy expressed satisfaction with the court's verdict and sentence.
On December 10, 1998, Varela's attorneys appealed the court's sentence and verdict. He is free pending the ruling of the appeals court.
Pedro Varela, 41 years old, is quick-witted, dedicated and articulate. He is also a unapologetic admirer of Hitler and National Socialism who has paid a price for his heretical views.
While attending university, he earned praise as an outstanding student of history, completing a five-year course with high marks and in half the usual time. Also at the university, he endured physical attacks from leftists. For a time he headed the “Spanish Circle of Friends of Europe” (CEDADE), a group noted for its frank sympathy for Germany's Third Reich and its National Socialist ideology. In March 1991 Varela spoke (in German) at the “Leuchter Kongress” in Munich, an open-air revisionist meeting organized by Ernst Zündel.
When a major Spanish newspaper, La Vanguardia, once referred to him as a “terrorist,” he brought a lawsuit against the Barcelona daily. Although the judge agreed that the paper had lied in making the claim, he held that Varela's demand for a retraction was “disproportionate.”
In 1992 he was arrested in Austria on a charge of “reactivating” National Socialism because, during an earlier visit to the country, he had delivered a speech in which he praised Hitler. After being held nearly three months in prison, he was finally brought to trial in mid-December 1992 before a court in Steyr that, amazingly, acquitted him.
(Varela can be reached by mail at: Libreria Europa, Aptdo. de Correos 9169, Barcelona 08080, Spain, and by e-mail at: [email protected].)
Until 1995 Spain was an oasis of freedom in a continent where several countries had curtailed freedom of expression in the name of fighting “hate” and “Holocaust denial.”
This changed on May 11, 1995, when the Spanish parliament, approved a revision of the country's criminal code that made it a crime to justify genocide or to promote racial hatred. Duly signed into law by Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and King Juan Carlos, it begins with a preamble that declares:
The proliferation in several European countries of incidents of racist and anti-Semitic violence, carried out under the flags and symbols of Nazi ideology, obliges the democratic states to take decisive action to fight against this …
This statement is remarkable considering that Spain owes much of its stability and prosperity to the legacy of Francisco Franco, whose authoritarian regime ruled the country for more than 30 years after leading the nationalists to victory in a bloody civil war (1936-1939) with significant military aid from Third Reich Germany and fascist Italy. Ironically, the 1995 law was proposed not by the country's Socialist party, which had been in power for 13 years, but by the country's main conservative party, the Partido Popular, which had the backing of supporters of the Franco regime.
Specifically, Spain's awkwardly worded “anti-genocide” law makes it a crime to express “ideas or doctrines that promote the crime [of genocide], [or] exalt its author,” or to “deny, trivialize, or justify” genocidal actions. It goes on to make it a crime to “attempt to rehabilitate or establish a regime or institution that aids practices that generate the crime of genocide.”
In the section aimed at “racial incitement,” the law declares:
Whoever provokes or incites, directly or by defense or justification (mediante la apolog'a), through communication media or by any other means of publicity, discrimination against persons or groups on the basis of their racial, ethnic or national origin, or their ideology, religion or beliefs, will be punished with a minor or medium prison sentence and a fine of 100,000 to 1,000,000 pesetas.
Spaniards have expressed concern about the law's slippery imprecision. One book seller, who now wonders if he should act as a censor, said:
Under the new law, the role of the book dealer is unclear. Which books are forbidden? What should I do when my distributor ships me copies of Mein Kampf? Should I denounce him to the authorities, tell him to keep the books, or should I sell them?
At the least, the law is ambiguous because it is difficult to define “genocide” with exactitude. Is it “genocide” if five percent of a group is killed, or must it be 50 or 70 percent?
Pointing up the politically motivated nature of the law is the fact that it has been invoked only against those who (allegedly) “deny, trivialize, or justify” the Second World War treatment of Europe's Jews. It is not invoked against those who “deny, trivialize, or justify” genocidal acts of any other regime.
Arguably the law could be invoked against those who “deny, trivialize, or justify” the numerous acts of genocide committed by the ancient Hebrews against the native peoples of Palestine, as recorded, for example, in the Old Testament books of Joshua and Deuteronomy. The law's “racial incitement” section could be invoked against those who defend Israel or justify its policies, which have institutionally discriminated against non-Jews in Israel/Palestine for more than 30 years.
Laws against “hate” and “Holocaust denial,” such as the one in Spain under which Varela was convicted, are hardly spontaneous expressions of righteous indignation. They are, instead, the result of a well-organized, protracted and self-serving Jewish-Zionist campaign. Seventeen years ago, the Institute for Jewish Affairs in London, an agency of the World Jewish Congress, announced that it was launching a worldwide campaign to persuade and pressure governments to outlaw “Holocaust denial” (Jewish Chronicle [London], April 23, 1982). The anti-revisionist “thought crime” laws that were subsequently introduced in several European countries reflect the success of this initiative.
The organized nature of this campaign was recently underscored by the demand of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists in June 1998 for new and more severe laws against Holocaust revisionism. (See: “Jewish Group Demands More Anti-revisionist Laws,” July-August 1998 Journal, p. 22)