MADRID—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.
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.