As I type this, the far right are in the headlines and on the television, there is a 1000 strong crowd at the Valley of the Fallen, Franco’s giant cross in the mountains of Madrid. They are protesting the removal of his body from the controversial site, as proposed by the new socialist government.
They say they are there on a pilgrimage, they have been holding organised Nazi salutes for photos, are wearing the uniforms of Franco’s army and the flag that represented him. They sing in song together and chant things about a united Spain and that immigrants should go home.
It is unusual to see the far right on the news in Spain as it is one of the few European countries barely untouched by right-wing populism in recent years, like some supporters of Brexit in the UK and Trump. There has always been a small group of far right supporters, but they could barely organise themselves and would fight each other.
So why didn’t the Far right get anywhere in Spain?
Over the last few years many journalists gave examples of why the far right could not rise in Spain. They think the EU was great as it brought prosperity to the country and people are happy with its input financially and the benefits that go with it. There are some of the many reasons that the far right have been quiet in Spain.
Many Spaniards moved abroad following the 2008 economic crisis which left many Germans and Britons asking cold Spaniards ‘why would you leave the sunshine?’. Freedom of movement has played a big part in many Spaniards lives and the lives of many Brits and Germans that live and take holidays on Spain’s beautiful coasts. Spain owes much of its growth to the EU.
Immigration is another point that would normally draw people to the darkness of the far right, but not in Spain at the moment. Spain’s population of foreign-born nationals grew from 1 million in 1998 to 6 million in 2016. Immigration has fluctuated due to the crisis but immigration, especially in Barcelona, is seen as a good thing by some. Yet, I still get strange looks when riding on the trains in the suburbs of the city. Even in my communal pool, I’m known as the English boy.
Spain is moving forward not back
Spain was on a lock down for nearly 40 years. During Franco’s time, the only people allowed to practice religion were catholics, local languages were banned, divorce, homosexuality and unions were illegal. There was only one political party and voicing your views against the state could get you killed. Spain has progressed on from this. People who praise this time are frankly imbeciles.
My impression is that not only is Spain a divided country because of the Civil war and the dictatorship that followed, but it is also a country with a lot of catching up to do because of this.
Now bear with me… Upon moving here, I heard casual racism like it was from a bad 1960’s British sitcom. It’s not hidden. Things such as calling the shops ‘El Chino’ (I know the Chinese do it), looking down upon people from South American as they have come here to work and live, and looking at some people like they are from another planet not another country. Blackface at Christmas sums it up really.
There was also a stereotype of a macho man who seems to be softening. Spain has made a big effort for the rights of women. However it is being held back by its laws. La Manada case , the rape of a teenager by 5 men in Pamplona, is an example of how the courts and government are not keeping up with the will of the people.
Now I am pointing out Spain’s flaws, but I believe it is these flaws that stop the far right using it as a weapon. Racism is getting better in Spain and the country’s youth are awake to the rest of the world and they are not going back to the lives of their parents. The same is mirrored in sexism towards women, right of immigrants, matters on equality and freedom. The country is going forward whilst others in Europe are going back.
So where does this leave the far right and how can they rise against this? Nationalism.
In the past months the far right has started to show its red and yellow colours and they are getting brighter. They have always been there, the Falagalists, Franco’s followers, still have their Café Pepe, yearly gatherings at they Valley of the Fallen and some still vote for the Partido Popular (PP), as there are no major right wing parties. The PP had historic connections with Franco’s former government.
The PP have opposed all motions and moves to deal with the history of the Spanish Civil war. They have tried to stop persecutions of old war criminals and stopped funding all work on the unmarked mass graves from the Civil war. Amnesty International say Spain is the second country in the world with the most unmarked mass graves, the first is Cambodia.
Following the Catalan Crisis (see my view here) nationalism in Spain was at an all-time high. Red and yellow wrist bands on everyone and a national dislike for anyone who criticised Spain and suggested that any region could break off.
Vox, a far-right party, attended the Spanish National day, October 12th, in Barcelona in the mist of the 2017 Catalan independence crisis there. There were also small right groups meetings with Hitler memorabilia. Some of the Vox crowd got into scuffles with the local police, Mossos, and some anarchy groups. Maybe they forgot how strong the anarchy movement has always been in Barcelona. Despite this, Vox’s membership grew by 20% following the Catalan Independence Referendum.
So, if the far right is to rise in Spain it will not be like the UK, Italy or Germany. It will not be mainly against immigration or the EU, it will be against their fellow countrymen. It will play on a United Spain, something right-wing parties are already trying to do. Cuidudanos, a right wing party, would like to be Spain’s equivalent to France’s Macron. How I hope this does not work out.
If the acceptance of refugees, that have been rejected by Italy, continues I’m sure the right will find a way to weaponise this against the left. PSOE, Socialist party, must be very careful how they manage the government at this time.
Where do we stand
Many people already want elections as they feel PSOE are not a democratically elected party. Cuidudanos were recently riding high in the polls on the wave of nationalism and after the downfall of Rajoy the PP are looking to re-brand with a new leader.
On the left, Podemos are fluttering in the wind, feeling lost after being cast aside by Pedro Sanchez, the new PSOE Prime Minister, following a motion of no confidence to snatch power from the PP. Since taking office Pedro Sanchez has done well. Playing from the books of Canadians Prime minister Justin Trudeau, he has cleverly chosen a dynamic cabinet. A pro union Catalan interior minister, an astronaut as Science minister and over 50% of the cabinet are women.
Despite this well-played cabinet appointment and accepting 2 boats of refugees after Italy refused to accept them, Pedro Sanchez needs to be careful. The decision to remove Franco’s body from the Valley of the Fallen is welcomed by many- but it is seen as controversial by most.
Also they have just announced that they want to open a ‘truth investigation’ into the Civil War. They are planning to document the mass graves and to create a census of all victims from the war. They want to remove all street names that glorify this period and they will also look for the bodies of the people killed after the war, during the dictatorship. This work was started when they were last in government but the PP put a stop to it.
These things are likely to heat up debate in Spain, with the Catalan Independence and the history of the Civil war coming to the surface, anything could happen. I hope and believe Spain is strong enough and liberal enough to resist the poisoned fruits of the far right and reject the politics of yester year.
If Spanish politics has taught us anything over the past 5 years, it is that anything can happen. The rise and fall of Podemos, the Crash of the PP and the well-balanced PSOE- it could all change in a week.
Just because it has happened here before it doesn’t mean that it can not happen again- Look at Italy, Poland and Austria.