Mon, Oct 28, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Spain extreme right leverages crisis, break-up fears

AFP, MADRID

With a piercing blue gaze, Spain’s National Alliance president Pedro Pablo Pena openly declares himself a fascist and neo-Nazi, part of a marginal movement that is trying to gain ground at a time of economic pain and national uncertainty.

Pena, watched by young party followers, outlines his ideology candidly: “Nation, race and socialism,” words that are painted on the walls of his small Madrid headquarters next to the party’s emblem, which has clear Nazi connotations.

It is still a marginal ideology in Spain with barely 0.3 percent of the vote going to the extreme right in the 2011 elections and a dozen councilors sprinkled in the city and town halls of the Madrid, Valencia and Catalonia regions.

Yet they are trying to take a stronger role as Spaniards suffer in a double-dip recession, corruption scandals batter the main parties and doubts emerge over the country’s unity, with many Catalans campaigning for their region’s independence.

However, unlike France and Greece, analysts largely rule out the dawn of a significant extreme right movement in Spain, where General Francisco Franco’s long dictatorship remains a painful memory, and immigration is widely accepted.

“I don’t see movements or parties in Spain like those we are seeing in Europe that really have the capacity to destabilize the political system,” Autonomous University of Madrid political science professor Fernando Vallespin said.

In Spain, the ruling, right-leaning Popular Party, in power since scoring a landslide election win in 2011 over the country’s other main political force, the Socialist Party, usually picks up such votes.

The Popular Party, a successor to the Popular Alliance founded in 1976 by former Franco minister Manuel Fraga, “has been able to incorporate social sectors that would have joined these movements,” Vallespin said.

Such voters manage to feel comfortable with some of the Popular Party’s ideology, he said.

Critics say the Popular Party has shown a lax attitude in the past months to Francoism, which it has never condemned.

On Oct. 10, the Popular Party used its parliamentary majority to block a motion seeking to criminalize “defense or praise for Francoism, fascism, totalitarianism or Nazism.”

The Popular Party said there was no need for such a law because a new criminal code being debated in parliament already punished hate speech or Holocaust denial.

Over the summer, various photographs were published of leading young members of the Popular Party with fascist symbols.

The recent use of a public school in the Popular Party-controlled Madrid district of Quijorna to host a market selling Franco-era memorabilia also sparked widespread consternation.

“Where we see smoke, we imagine fire,” said left-wing Izquierda Unida party lawmaker Gaspar Llamazares.

Llamazares asked prosecutors to outlaw National Alliance after some of its members attacked a Catalan cultural center in Madrid on Catalonia’s national day on Sept. 11.

Pena said the media focus on the attack actually raised National Alliance’s profile, sending the number of telephone calls from people seeking to join surging from a dozen a month to more than 20 a day.

Along with other small extreme right parties grouped under the platform “Spain on the March,” which was formed in July, the party organized a protest against Catalan independence in Barcelona on Oct. 12, rallying some 400 neo-Nazis behind Franco-era flags and fascist-style symbols.

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