Last month, when the Spanish government finally removed the one statue of Francisco Franco that remained in Madrid, some 700 people showed up. But they weren't there to cheer the fall of a tribute to the man who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975. Facing a portrait of the dictator hastily hung from the empty pedestal in Saint John of the Cross Square, they stretched out their right arms, extending to the abandoned space the fascist salute - a vivid reminder that the extreme right in Spain is alive and well.
Although Spain lacks a national far-right political party like the French Front National or the Italian Forza Italia, it does host a bewildering array of smaller extremist groups. Their numbers appear to be expanding as old-style fascists and Franco-supporters are joined by young neonazis, skinheads, and the "ultras," or politically extremist hooligans, who congregate at soccer games. Most of these groups espouse racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic ideas; many promote "white pride." All embrace violence.
Esteban Ibarra, president of the Movement against Intolerance, a watchdog organization based in Madrid, says that he was not surprised by the Franco statue protest. "There are a lot of young people here who idealize Franco," he says. "But there are many others who are neonazis and who also use the Hitler salute."
Spain has long had its own brand of fascism. In 1933, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera founded the Falange, an organization inspired by Benito Mussolini's Fascist Party in Italy. Once Franco took power, he harnessed the Falange to his regime.
Today, members of the Brotherhood of the Old Guard - a Falange offshoot - still congregate regularly in what was once Primo de Rivera's Madrid office to uphold the ideals of the Falange. At a meeting on March 30, Brotherhood member José Luis Jerez Riesco lambasted homosexuals, "Moors," Freemasons, and "Judaizers," as well as the Socialist government. He told the 40 or so mostly elderly men and women gathered there that "bullets are worth more than words." The audience greeted Jerez's words with enthusiastic applause. But they are not the ones who worry Esteban Ibarra the most.
Indeed, the majority of people who protested the removal of the Franco statue in Madrid, and another in Guadalajara days later, were young. "Pockets of intolerance and xenophobia are developing among young people like a subsoil beneath democratic society in Spain," says Ibarra.
Evidence of that subsoil is not hard to find. Soccer matches here have become a breeding ground for violent groups that combine fanaticism with racist discourse and fascist symbols. In November, a match between a Spanish team and an English one in Madrid's Bernabeu stadium provoked international outrage when some Spanish "ultra" fans yelled monkey sounds at the opposing team's black players.
As it has in the United States and Britain, the Internet has played a significant role in promulgating neo- nazism here. According to the Movement against Intolerance, there are nearly 100 neonazi websites based in Spain. One site, NuevOrden, states: "As White Men, we must defend the historic continuity of Our Race."
That kind of rhetoric appears to be having an effect. Although national police will not release statistics on hate crimes, the Movement against Intolerance asserts that neonazi and ultraright groups have killed at least 60 people in recent years. On April 7, the civil guard in Castellón arrested a disc jockey who was disseminating racist songs via the Internet.
Xavier Casals, a history professor at Barcelona's Ramon Llull University, who has published several books on the far right, sees these acts of violence as evidence that xenophobic ideas are spreading to new arenas. "The ideas of the extreme right," she says, "are penetrating a variety of environments," including working class neighborhoods, soccer stadiums, and among sectors of urban youth culture.
So far, that kind of xenophobia has not translated into a successful political party like Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National in France. In the most recent Spanish elections, none of the far-right parties won a single seat in parliament.
But with immigration growing fast, some observers say that the threat of xenophobic politics is real. A new, National Front-like party probably won't take root in Spain, says Carmen González, who teaches politics at the National University for Education at a Distance. "What is more likely," she says, "is that the already established parties will adopt xenophobia. We are going to see a hardening of the general climate."