Interview with Ismael Rodrigo, president of the Spanish Naturist Federation
Hi Ismael! Could you please explain about the history of Spanish naturism? How did it all start?
FEN (Federación Española de Naturismo) was founded in 1981 through the amalgamation of the Catalan Naturist Club (CCN), a disbanded Mediterranean association, a Basque association (ANV), and a disbanded Andalusian Association.
When did Spain get its first nudist beach?
Up to 1988 there was the offense of “PUBLIC INDECENCY” in Spanish Criminal Law. However, since the end of Franco’s dictatorship there were already isolated beaches which had a nudist tradition. With the arrival of democracy these beaches were included on a list by the Department of Ministry of the Environment that classified them as nudist beaches.
The legal change that allowed the decriminalization of nudity came along after some problems on beaches in Galicia that led to a ruling by the Supreme Court condemning a nudist. The Spanish legislators realized that the problem was with the Law.
The ruling of the Supreme Court showed the need to amend the Spanish Criminal Law, abolishing the offense of public indecency. For this, the Act 122/000046 of March 17, 1987 deemed the concept of public indecency “completely incompatible with a democratic and pluralistic system”. As a consequence, public indecency was ruled out as unconstitutional.
The Spanish Parliament passed a law in 1988 specifically removing the element of public indecency and also amended the existing ‘Coastal Act’.
In the new Coastal Act the previous reference to competencies with moral content that the old Coastal Law of April 26, 1969 made in its article 17 attributed to it by the so-called “morality police” disappeared. Therefore, as early as 1988 and with the new Coastal Law, it was clear that the municipal competences on the beaches do not enable the Town Councils (or anyone) to act as “morality police”, since this function was found in the old Coastal Law and has been specifically suppressed in the current one . We are not therefore faced with a case of legal vacuum that can be left to the discretion of the Council, but a specific and desired suppression.
This resulted in the removal of the nudist classification on beaches made by the coastal website. From then on, all beaches were deemed for free use (naturist or textile) by all the citizens.
Is it true that it is totally legal to be naked everywhere on the Spanish coastline?
In a democratic state of law “everything that is not expressly prohibited by law, is allowed.” It is the so-called “principle of legality”. The security forces and bodies of the state and the courts cannot force anyone to act in a certain way based on their personal opinions, but only on the basis of the Law. This principle is incorporated in the European Charter of Human Rights and in all the Constitutions (in the Spanish in article 25). After the above it is clear that you cannot persecute anyone for bathing naked (after the abolition of article 577.1 on public indecency on beaches), but it is also clear that you cannot even criminalise nudity anywhere in the national territory, since the offense of general public indecency was also abolished (articles 431 and 432).
FEN only promotes nudity when clothing is clearly unnecessary and even harmful, that is, especially for bathing and sunbathing, but also defends the right of being naked on any other environment, for example on the street, should someone wishes to be naked.
For this reason we contact the city councils that try to issue bye-laws or any other type of dress code regulations and we explain to them that they are illegal. Generally, their legal advisors confirm that we are right and withdraw the prohibitions in draft phase. If they persist in continuing with the prohibitions, we submit our appeals, and if they reject them, we file a suit against the particular councils.
In recent years we have lost court cases in three important councils: Barcelona, Cádiz and Valladolid. The Supreme Court is composed almost entirely of very conservative judges (the speaker who was allocated the case is a recognised member of Opus Dei).
The Supreme realised that we were right to say that fundamental freedoms cannot be regulated by mere local bye-laws, since they are constitutionally allocated to Laws. However, the Supreme Court chose to declare that if any council wishes to regulate the nudity on its beaches, it may do so. For this purpose, the only argument they based it on was to state that Naturism is not an ideology, since if it were so, it could only be regulated by an Organic/Constitutional Law or Act.
It is evident that no Court can decide that an ideology ceases to be so, and this is the opinion of all the jurists who have pronounced themselves on this matter. Furthermore, Cádiz Council, for example, banned nudism on the beaches of the capital, but said nothing about the city, so there could be a situation where people could go naked from their houses to the beach and only there they would have to get dressed, and could only get undressed again after leaving the beach to go home.
The current situation and the actions taken by our Spanish Naturist Federation and Associations are as follows:
We have appealed to the Ombudsman, who has fully agreed with us. Same as all the consulted jurists, the Ombudsman keeps advocating that Naturism or Nudism is an ideology and therefore the Judgements of the Supreme are incorrect.
The FEN appealed to the Supreme Court, basing its arguments on “ideological freedom“, but during the process the case of Stephen Gough, based on “freedom of expression “, came to the European Court of Human Rights, which stated the following:
“The applicant has chosen to be naked public in order to give expression to his opinion as to the inoffensive nature of the human body …. The Court is therefore satisfied that the applicant’s public nudity can be seen as a form of expression which falls within the ambit of Article 10 of the Convention and that his arrest, prosecution, conviction and detention constituted repressive measures taken in reaction to that form of expression of his opinions by the applicant. There has therefore been an interference with his exercise of his right to freedom of expression.”
The European Court of Human Rights continues by noting that the only restriction to the Right to Freedom of Expression is the one established in the second section of Article 10, and that any restriction on freedom of expression must be established by Law:
“An interference with the right to freedom of expression can only be justified under Article 10 § 2 if it is prescribed by law “,
For this reason, the Spanish Naturist Federation uses before the city councils this ECHR ruling, which is above any European national Court.
The Federation works with the purpose of getting withdrawn such illegal bye-laws in the few town councils where they are in force. Thus, on March 26 2018, the new “Bye-law for the Protection of the Urban Environment” came into force in Valladolid, replacing the former “protection of citizen coexistence and prevention of antisocial actions”. The prohibition of nudism is removed and Valladolid recovers the normality enjoyed by the majority of town and city councils, where nobody would come to the idea that the clothes of citizens could be regulated by mere local bye-laws.
This constitutes a very important victory for Naturism, since Valladolid is a city without coastline, which makes the concepts even clearer. And of great importance to the Spanish Federation of Naturism, which has fought for years for this achievement.
Cádiz and Barcelona have committed to withdraw their Bye-laws too.
The Spanish Naturist Federation encourages the submission of motions in the autonomous parliaments. Thus, recently the Parliament of the Region of Murcia approved on 27th September 2017 a motion accepting the text that we proposed without modifications, and that we reproduce here for its importance and brevity:
The Regional Assembly urges the Governing Council to take the necessary measures in its area of competence to:
1º . Promote the elimination of regulatory obstacles that prevent the practice of nudism, encouraging the elimination of municipal bye-laws that might refer to the clothing of citizens, understood as the right to freedom of expression, since the exercise of this right is reserved to the law and can not be the direct object of regulation by municipal bye-law, and instead protect and / or promote the values of Naturism, as values of our society.
2º . Create in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, along with the eight municipalities with beaches of the Region and the Federation of Municipalities, a commission of study and evaluation for the declaration of “Naturist tradition zone”, in order to facilitate sports and recreational naturist practice in the Region of Murcia.
3º . Study the feasibility and possible exploitation of the growth potential of the naturist tourism, in order to make it a factor for the regional development of zones that preserve their natural environment, working with associations and entrepreneurs of the tourism sector to attract tourism that respects the environment, sustainability and respect for the human body.
4th. Signposting as “Beach of naturist tradition” those beaches where historically, some users do not use clothing for their use and enjoy them, and with information about “respect for values” with indication of the police, so that both those who wear clothes and those who do not wear they can denounce behaviors contemplated in the Spanish Criminal Law “.
How many naturist associations do you have in Spain? How many members have you got altogether? How many naturist resorts? How many nudist beaches?
The Spanish Naturist Federation is made up of 17 associations (http://naturismo.org/asociaciones-naturistas/ ) with about 3000 members with an annual ID card and stamp of the International Naturist Federation. On our website are reflected the holiday resorts that we have approved and which are about 12 (http://naturismo.org/vacaciones/). As for nudist beaches, in reality all beaches are clothing optional unless there is an illegal bye-law against which we would be working. On our website we point out quality beaches with established nudist tradition, which are close to 500 (http://naturismo.org/playas-nudistas/), all of them with their position in Google Map to make it very easy to reach.
Does naturism also happen in inland Spain?
Of course. ADN, Madrid Naturist Association, organises nudist excursions in the mountains. In the summer, ADN arranges with Madrid City Council the clothes-free use in some swimming pools some days: At least the “Naturist’s Day” (first Sunday in June) and the “Day without a Swimsuit” (third Sunday in July, Spanish initiative approved by the International Naturist Federation). The “Day without a Swimsuit” encourages people not to wear a swimsuit on any beach, river, lake or public pool, and there are concrete meetups in Madrid and other cities. The mixture of naked families with a majority of textile families does not cause any problems, and the media report on it naturally, pointing out that the use of a swimsuit should not be imposed in all bathing places as it happens with the top-less practice.
We also have inland naturist campsites such as “Las Grullas”.
Which are the most popular events the naturist associations organize in Spain? How many people can you reach out to?
The South European Family Meeting, held every year in “El Portus” (http://naturismo.org/actividad/vacaciones-naturistas-portus-2018/) with funding from the International Naturist Federation brings together more than 200 people from all over Europe, including Ireland. Another meeting that brings together many members is the one on Bank Holiday May in “The Temple of the Sun”, during which a race is held, also funded from this year onwards by INF (http://naturismo.org/actividad/30-aniversario -adn-aapnt-temple-of-the-sun /).
The awareness raising events as the aforementioned “Day without a Swimsuit” also bring together more than 200 “brave” people in the agreed public pools of Madrid. The naked bike rides of Madrid, Valencia, Valladolid… also appeal to many nudists, although this activity is not organised by our collective.
We can hear from time to time about court cases in relation to naturism in Spain. Tell us what that is all about.
The Spanish Naturist Federation is always alert (through Google alerts, press, partners, politicians…) of any attempt to criminalise nudity. Despite our continued presence in the media (see https://vimeo.com/naturismo), from time to time, a city council announces a bye-law with nudophobic contents. As soon as we have knowledge of it, we contact that council by phone and send them the legal documentation of the European Court of Human Rights, the Ombudsman etc. and we explain how other City and Town Councils have eliminated such regulations and have even decided to promote naturism in view of the tourism data we also provide. If they do not accept the evidence, we submit legal appeals against the City/Town Council decision and we put pressure on them with shame campaigns in the media. If they still go ahead with their bye-law, we have two months to go to the Regional Court. When we lose the court cases, we resort to the Supreme Court. All this costs money, so after having suffered some economic problems we now insist more on the phase of allegations and pressure via the media. We threaten with criminal demands, where they would face potential jail sentences, on impeachment grounds against the mayor and even councillors voting in favour, for once warned by means of allegations it is impossible to ignore that the intended bye-law is illegal. Criminal demands are free of charge and more frightening.
Can you explain the role of the Spanish naturist federation and associations in the development of naturism in Spain? Is there a ‘free scene’ too, informal groups of naturists?
FEN works with other NGOs that defend freedoms. For example, it has an agreement with the “International Human Rights Foundation”, which is the NGO with the most followers on Twitter (@ declaration, with 673,000 followers, ahead of Green Peace Spain). We encourage the creation of groups based around the defense of a natural environment or beach, putting them in contact with each other and encouraging them to form as an association and join the FEN. This year this work has led to the birth of a new association to protect Cantarriján Beach, and two other ongoing projects, in Racó del Conil and Mazarrón. The FEN has been working since 2005 with the Ministry of the Environment for the care of traditional beaches. The ministry considers us a reliable organisation when it comes to establishing which beaches have the most nudist tradition. We work with the regional parliaments: Our goal is to achieve this year the existence of Proposition no Law in all regions declaring that nudism cannot be prohibited and asking the city and town councils to collaborate with us to spread positive values towards the human body brought about by Naturism and the tourism potential that it can entail.
More than half of Spaniards have tried nudism at some stage, according to surveys. Only between 1% and 7% oppose free nudism on all beaches. Joining a naturist association would not appear too essential in this context. Therefore, we try to disseminate the message that if our Spanish Naturist Federation did not exist, nudism would already be banned from nearly all beaches, since through our work we have managed to remove over a hundred bye-laws in the draft phase and most likely several hundred councils have not considered following the same path because they avail of the information we have been spreading since at least the year 2000. This protection and promotion work of our ideology contributes to the growth again in Naturism -after a brief lapse of time with diminishing membership due to the global economic recession.
Activism, and not only recreational activities, is a key element for membership acquisition in our country.
Do you believe social acceptance towards naturism is increasing in Spain and internationally?
In general yes, with small ups and downs. We are concerned to note how American censorship of social networks is normalising the concealment and the pixilation of nudity. In Spain nudity had never been censored before in the context of beaches, naturist events, awareness raising actions (bike rides, nudist races, animalistic rallies, feminist movements…) and in general, all nudity not linked to sex. At any time they could appear naked on television. However, in recent times self-censorship has been taking place in some television channels -and I’m saying self-censorship because the laws have not changed. This censorship does not fit into our culture and is being introduced little by little, by infection of what is being exerted in American and Anglo-Saxon media.
Another worrying matter is the fact that nowadays everyone has a video camera in their pocket, that is, their mobile phone, with instant access to social media. Some people are afraid of enjoying naturism on the beach because of the possibility of being photographed and posted on some website. It is impossible to fight against this, hence the only solution is to normalise naked bathing so that eventually there is no social difference between a picture in your birthday suit or in swimming wear, and people do not mind if it ends up on the Internet, since you are not doing nothing wrong, but quite the opposite. Fighting from the naturist movement against the photography of natural nudes, of our nudes, is an impossible battle. Our efforts should therefore be directed towards education on two levels: it is not correct to photograph strangers on a beach (whether they are naked or not), and we should not obsess over if someone takes a naked picture of us, as it is a pride to belong to that minority that does not use clothes when it is not needed and only harms the human being, sexualising his body and depriving him of a freedom without any rational cause whatsoever.
Have you ever encountered problems, like confrontations with the Spanish police, opposition from local residents, etc.?
On very few occasions. Sometimes there is an uninformed policeman/woman, but the problem is over as soon as they are asked to call their headquarters and consult with their superiors (usually better informed).
That 1% of the population that opposes nudity does not usually go to the beaches because the mere sight of people with little clothes causes them mental problems. Their work against nudism is usually limited to trying to influence politicians from platforms organised via the Internet. The few fines that have been issued against some nudists could easily be withdrawn if the affected party has contacted our federation. It is easy for any lawyer to win cases, given the amount of legal material available to us, even if there is an illegal bye-law, as it has happened in Cádiz in which the council was ordered to pay the costs of the trial.
Ireland is struggling now to get its first nudist signage. Can you comment on it?
We note with satisfaction that developments in Ireland are not emerging alone, but due to the direct work of Irish Naturist Association. This proves once again how necessary it is to join naturist associations.
In manifold general meetings of the European Federations and the International Naturist Federation we have requested -without any success so far- the creation of a common fund so that the national federations are encouraged to face legally anti-nudist bye-laws. We are advocating the creation of a Legality Commission that can compile the diverse legal works, focusing in the advances in Spain, Holland, New Zealand, etc… and analysing the setbacks to learn of them. A commission that can explore advances at the level of the European institutions, that compile and elaborate material that defends nudity as a human right, one of the most basic ones. Irish Naturist Association, British Naturism, French Naturist Federation, Portuguese Naturist Federation, New Zealand Naturist Federation, Belgian Naturist Federation…, they all support this line, which we hope will end up by becoming a majority.
Regarding beach signage, we are not sure it is a good idea: when a beach is designated as “nudist”, people tend to interpret that it is prohibited in the rest of the beaches and they would say “go to your beach” if they see you on another one. And even if a beach is designated as a nudist area, dressed people will keep coming, for it is a public space and you cannot force anyone to undress.
The problem is that if it is not signposted, spaces of naturist tradition can be lost. The solution we have agreed upon in the Spanish Naturist Federation is to let each local association decide its policy according to the specific problems in their areas. When the non-existence of a nudist sign does not restrict naturist practice, it is best not to ask for it to be signposted. If, on the other side, there seems to be problems, it is good to put a sign that does not exclude other beaches. Usually it is requested to put a sign reading “Beach of Nudist Tradition”, and sometimes it is added: “respect our values”, and a police phone number in case somebody interprets that it is a place allowing for sexual acts in public, which it is prohibited in Spanish legislation if there are minors around.
Some city councils promote some beaches for nudism, but we always ask them to clarify in their promotional writing that you can be naked on all the beaches. You cannot force anyone to undress for the same reason that you cannot force anyone to get dressed.