Franco-fascism on the march in Spain: Is the government doing enough?

Critics say Spain's fascist threat comes not from small groups like those set to march in Barcelona Saturday, but from the radical fringe that is part of Spain's governing Popular Party.

Extreme, neo-fascist groups in Spain are preparing for a show of force during this weekend’s nationalist holiday, and Spanish authorities are keeping a close eye on the situation.

But experts worry that the real fascist concern in Spain is not from small extremist groups, but rather from growing public displays of fascist sympathies by a small part of the conservative government's constituency – and even among elected officials.

“Spain has not been ‘de-Francoized,’ as Germany has been de-Hitlerized,” explains Félix Ortega, a sociology professor and expert in public opinion in the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. “There are still Franco symbols even in my university!”

An alliance of radical right groups – including violent neo-Nazi ones – have mobilized to travel from around the country to Barcelona to protest Catalonian nationalism on the October 12 "Día de la Hispanidad," or "Hispanic Day," holiday. Authorities said Thursday they plan to prevent violent groups from entering Catalonia.

The holiday march is held annually, and is normally small and peaceful. But the nationalist undertones of Hispanic Day – which originally commemorated Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the American continent until was renamed in 1958 by the fascist regime of General Francisco Franco – make it a flashpoint.

Five groups – including violent neo-Nazi cells and a political party that the Supreme Court is considering banning – in July formed a common platform called "Spain on the March." Its leaders have warned they will resort to violent acts if required to preserve Spain’s territorial unity, which they feel threatened especially by regional independence aspirations.

National and regional officials and security services have since increased security ahead of Saturday's march. Barcelona authorities this week denied access to part of the route the marchers had requested in order to reduce the risk of violence and clashes with pro-independence marches.

And in Catalonia’s parliament on Friday, the chamber passed a motion to characterize fascism, Franco, and Nazis as ideologies “inciting violence and hate” – which would have given authorities more power to prosecute them. Although members of the Popular Party, which governs Spain but is a minority in the Catalonian parliament, walked out on the motion, it ultimately passed with the support of other parties.

The weekend march is not an isolated incident. As Catalonian plans to hold a referendum on independence move forward, the extreme right has re-energized, even if it remains small compared to the resurgent movements in Greece, France, and elsewhere.

Last month, a dozen radicals forced their way into a library where Catalonians were commemorating their own national day, injuring several people and tearing down Catalonian symbols. Police arrested them in the aftermath.

The real concern

Police estimate there are about 10,000 members involved in violent extreme right groups. They lost political representation in parliament in 1982, seven years after Franco died. But they didn’t disappear. They melded into the now governing PP.

The concern is not so much over the very small group of violent groups, which authorities constantly monitor. These are mostly contained, experts agree. The real problem is in from those within the government's ruling party that sympathize ideologically – even if they condemn the use of violence.

“I’m more concerned about complacency and permissive attitudes in the PP than I am about these reactionary  groups,” Dr. Ortega says. “The PP has many faces. Is it an extreme right party? No. But the extreme right is part of the PP. And they now they have to tender complex electoral messages to different constituencies, including the extreme right.”

Catalonian secessionist plans have united the traditionally fragmented nationalist forces and radical fascist groups. And the extreme right is part of the constituency of the conservative PP, with some experts estimating as much as 10 percent of the party sympathizes with radical ideology, although it’s impossible to contrast.

The political heirs of Franco merged with the PP, which is ideologically a center-right party. And amid the eurocrisis, they could gain more political clout that could be significantly more dangerous than the violent groups, experts warn.

The government has been criticized by the opposition, regional governments, and human rights groups for condoning fascist public support among its own followers – which even if small in number, were unheard of until recently – even if violent groups are suppressed.

Such criticism arose again on Thursday, when PP legislators voted down a motion like that in the Catalonian parliament to criminalize public support for fascism, Franco, and the Nazis. The PP said the move was unnecessary, because such a ban is already implicit in the law.

“They publicly condemn it, but they clearly tolerate it,” Ortega says.

Franco nostalgia

The crisis has brought an unprecedented public display of Franco nostalgia, with some public officials and members of the PP openly making the Nazi salute, displaying the former regime’s flag and other memorabilia, and posting pro-Franco messages on social media sites.

Municipal, regional, and even country legislators have reminisced about Franco’s era, mostly subtly, though some have openly said those killed by Franco’s forces deserved it.

On Thursday, the PP mayor of a Madrid suburb tweeted that he would send some "skinheads" to target the Socialist Party as part of a broader public debate. He later said he was just joking.

The mayor of a small town in Galicia showcased the picture of the dictator in his office and played the fascist anthem – that is, until a small bomb partially damaged the municipal building early Monday. Although no one has claimed responsibility, anarchist groups are suspected.

And earlier this month, a small town governed by the PP near Madrid allowed a fascist group to put up a stand in a public school exhibiting Franco-era and Nazi memorabilia. Officials later apologized and said that they weren’t aware of the stand.

The government and the PP leadership so far have limited their reaction to condemning violence and pro-fascist displays within its ranks. No officials have been reprimanded. “The problems are not majors or councilmen. It’s that high-ranking legislators and ministers condone this,” says Ortega.

Additionally, the PP is trying to revise history to paint a rosy picture of the Franco dictatorship, while blaming the deposed and democratically elected left-wing government for the brutal Spanish Civil War that ended in 1938.

The PP-controlled parliament last month voted down proposals from opposition parties that would have penalized pro-Franco propaganda and banned pro-Franco political parties.

“It’s true that this is not Greece or France, where the extreme right has become a political power,” Ortega says. “But you never know, especially if it seems that the PP tolerates it.”

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