A familiar smell

A rancid, familiar, far-right smell is wafting across the political landscape. We might see it as a reactionary pendulum swing similar to what is occurring across much of Europe and the United States. However, Spain’s history forces us to ask what is different about the new far-right movements and what they have inherited from a dictatorship which came to a close forty years ago, following a civil war which ended 80 years ago this 1 April.

Our parents and grandparents lived through a war and a dictatorship which shaped the democratic period we currently inhabit, one which is based on collective amnesia. The democratic system was constructed using conciliation as a building block, conditioned -perhaps in a positive sense- by fear and the memory of barbarity in the recent past. It wasn't begun with reparations for the victims or collective forgiveness, but with a set of taboos which were silently accepted by most. There are no official figures of those who were killed, there is no officially accepted history of the repression during the Franco era. The disappeared number in the thousands, as do the unmarked graves which remain by the roadside throughout Spain. There is no definitive history, no collective memory of the concentration camps. And so many families remain silent or ignorant of the suffering, hunger, repression and humiliation endured by the victims. And ignorant of the true causes of the Spanish Civil War. A blanket of silence remains in place and collective amnesia has prevented it from cleaning away the symbols that remain and stop us from turning over a new leaf. Everything should be bleached clean. Franco’s final resting place and the fate of the Valle de los Caídos is not a minor issue [Madrid’s Valley of the Fallen, which houses Franco’s mausoleum, was built with forced labour after the war].

Following the shock election result which gave Vox access to the Andalusian government, the far-right party declared on 2 December 2018 "The Reconquest has started in Andalusian lands and will spread throughout the rest of Spain". The tweet is not a reference to the Franco regime, but instead to the Reconquista [the period of some 780 years between the Muslim conquest of Hispania in 711 and the fall of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada to the expanding Christian kingdoms in 1491], and doubtless to some of the far-right’s obsessions, with their yearning for a return to imperial Spain which has a long history, rooted not only in politics, but in the economic history of recent centuries.

Spanish democracy is built on a foundation of secular intolerance and a Francoist inheritance where the current far-right poison ivy has its roots. The European and American winds fill the sails of a ship without a captain, aside from the PP’s José María Aznar, the ideological icon of the Spanish right who appeals to both Casado [the PP’s current leader] and Vox, while flirting with Rivera [the leader of Ciudadanos]. Nowadays, the far-right is at ease in a landscape unsettled by the pace of change, economic inequality and media manipulation at home and the world as a whole. It thus manages to fill part of public discourse with provocative pronouncements, to the delight of certain sections of the media, coupled with a savvy social media campaign targeted according to age and voter sympathies.

One truly cannot speak of structural Francoism: over half of Spaniards were born after 1975 and there is no doubt that Spain is a democracy. However, one can certainly point to eccentricities and standards, both institutionally and in terms of the quality of the public debate which limit any progress and which seem to keep us stuck in a history loop.

The Spanish public appear increasingly less concerned by slogans which directly appeal to the values of the Franco era, while the political centre is edging slowly towards the right. The situation is worrying, since we live in anti-political times, in which there is much mistrust of intellectuals, the freedom of expression is violated, and there is a permanent reaction against diversity, coupled with the defence of our most traditional values and uniformity, whether it be ideological, linguistic or in terms of one’s roots. We are witnessing the defence of homogeneity, of una grande y libre [in reference to the Franco-era motto which expressed the nationalist concept of Spain as being indivisible, imperial, and free from outside influences], which will never make its people free, and the struggle between this dark Spain and the timid forces of change will come to a head in the general election on 28 April.

Spain is a democracy, but the inability of her institutions to manage the Catalan question -which has reduced the state's response to the use of force-, of political parties meddling in the justice system, the cipotuda [virulent, flamboyant] media (as Íñigo F. Lomana and Francesc Serés call it) in the service of the state, electoral and judicial bodies capable of violating the freedom of expression and press freedom and the gains made by the far-right, whose influence is making them part of the public debate, do not allow us to speak of a healthy democracy. Reality does not permit us to pretend that the Franco regime disappeared without a trace, since some of its evils continue to present a challenge which must be overcome.