With Spain being an exception in the face of rising nationalism across the continent, police brutality and Madrid’s response during the Catalan referendum, delivered in the name of legality, reveal the nation’s right-wing heritage.
Spain and Portugal are considered to be some of the few European states which have not experienced any serious awakening of far-right political movements during the last years. While both Salazar and Franco’s regimes are still strongly remembered and felt within Iberia’s historical memory, reasons for the lack of nationalist reawakening vary. Amongst these reasons is the presence of strong progressive forces such as ‘Podemos’ in Spain; the open-minded nature of these societies; and the low support for extremist groups given the recent history of these countries, marked by the agony of fascist rule.
The Spanish case, however, hides a tricky reality when it comes to seeing itself as a progressive nation. If it this reality was difficult to spot before, what happened on the 1st of October during Catalonia’s independence referendum made it clearer than ever. Leaving aside any dialectical provocations between Spain’s premier Rajoy and Catalan leader Puigdemont, Spain’s brutal response by the authorities in stopping the Catalans from voting says everything we need to know. The insults and demonstrations of hate coming from the Spanish are not from any extremist groups, but ordinary families and individuals. Hundreds of thousands of Spanish flags hanging on balconies and irrational Facebook posts might not be enough to tag a society as ‘very conservative’, but Spain’s past reveals an important clue.
The nation’s present conservative government, ‘Partido Popular’, has come a long way since inheriting Francoist status-quo back in 1976. Today, it comfortably sits in the European Parliament as a centre-right Europeanist force, backed by Spain’s upper-class conservative groups of citizens and businesses. The absence of support for nationalist parties such as ‘Vox’ or ‘España2000’ and their violent ramifications does not keep Spain safe from returning to its past. In fact, this past is proving to be the quickest route back to violent nationalism for this advanced, modern democracy.
The actual Spanish conservative elite, government and royal structure embody the very essence of Franco’s right-wing heritage. It has been doing this since 1975, shaping Spain in a very different way from how many Spaniards feel. Even if the Republican form of government was removed by the Spanish dictator towards the end of the 1939 civil war, Spanish nationals were never allowed to cast their vote on whether they prefer the monarchy appointed by a dictatorial regime or a republic after regaining democracy.
The recent violence could be an indication of the price Spain is paying in exchange for democratisation, economic growth and integration: a rigid system characterised by political shifts and privileges for its military and political elites. It is now very clear that the absence of a renewed right-wing momentum with alternative discourse (as for instance ‘Front National’ or ‘AfD’ in Germany) is down to Spain’s ability to always suppress any opposition with maximum force.
Millions of young protesters have taken the streets of Barcelona and other major cities to criticise Madrid’s brutal performance that injured nearly 900 people and ended up dividing Catalonia even more. These events have shown how, compared to other nations, Spain’s advanced and tolerant society has the willingness to show proper resistance in front of potential challengers to its power structure.
On the other hand, millions of people struggling to see a bit further than Spain’s flag and traditions, make the gap bigger and bigger, by allowing one of the most corrupt parties in Europe to keep forming governments despite an unprecedented rise from the left. Many citizens are stuck in the extremely dangerous phenomenon of fake news and click bait, circulating across the west. In cases like the Catalan situation, the opinion of many British or foreign social media users, probably including some conservatives, literally makes it sound as though the situation were comparable to Jeremy Corbyn addressing the Spanish version of the conservatives.
Thousands of Spaniards of all ages have filled squares and streets across the whole country defending ‘the unity of Spain’, but few have given logical arguments against self-governance for one of Spain’s diverse and autonomous regions. It all concluded with multiple fascist salutes and the Francoist anthem ‘Cara al sol’. They may not hate the EU. They may not be very interested in showing their opposition or support towards migrants. But when the internal ‘enemies of Spain’, as dictator Franco once put it, are portrayed as a threat, these groups reveal some very worrying tendencies of the Spanish society and the full meaning of its home values.
Some hours ago Podemos’ boss Pablo Iglesias updated his Facebook cover photo, showing a picture full of charm straight out of the streets of Barcelona. Two lovers kissing, one of them with Spain’s flag and the other with the Catalan one. Yes, politicians from both sides prefer to avoid dialogue in the name of their own interests, but that is not what Spaniards want.
Europe and the whole international community should know that Madrid has not been able to change its most basic political instinct in four decades of democracy: employing total repression against those desiring to escape Spain’s status-quo.
Anyone still wondering why new right-wing forces fail to appeal to Spain’s nationalists?