The perspective of a Scottish EFL teacher in post dictatorship Spain.
Recently a video emerged on YouTube of a municipal band raising right hand salutes whilst singing ‘Cara al Sol’, a fascist song who’s very lyrics can be attributed to Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the leader of the Falange. The singing takes place outside of a church in Cordoba and is led by the priest, demonstrating the deep seated and institutionalised nature of fascism in Spain. My reaction was – being me –to call out this abomination for what it was and I posted the video to an EFL facebook page saying “Welcome to Fascist Spain”.
The reaction was however, not what you might expect. No one seemed to be concerned about what they had just seen, if they even bothered to view the video at all. All of the responses were against me for somehow insulting the Spanish by calling them fascists. At the early stage of the discussion I intervened to explain that Spain has never really moved on from the dictatorship era and that one only needs to scratch the surface to find the kind of insular and ethnically nationalist attitudes and beliefs which are closely linked to property ownership and authority. At this point I was accused of not knowing anything about Spain, being ungrateful to our Spanish hosts and having something wrong with me that I could even think such a thing.
So it would seem that we have differing perspectives on the world around us. I am a Scottish graduate from a working class background who has been reasonably politically aware for most my life. I demonstrated in George Square as a child against the sale of VX nerve gas to Saddam Hussein to subdue any Kurdish unrest and I have been quite active in the Scottish independence movement, particularly since 2006. I’m not a luvvie and I seek truth regardless of its convenience.
For around three years I lived in the picturesque pueblo of San Lorenzo de El Escorial which is just short of an hour outside of Madrid and is home to the palatial monastery complex of Philip II and very close to Valle de los Caidos where socialist slaves were forced to labour in the sun to create a memorial complex of enormous proportions including a 500ft crucifix and cavernous basilica for the burial of Franco and Jose Antonio. Life could be very good in the pueblo and the experience of Spanish ways I would say was far more authentic than that what I now experience here in the city.
I got to know many good people and a great many more on top such is the culture of having house parties and drinking in large groups much larger that we normally do back home. Through all this interaction I think a reasonably accurate picture of social attitudes was painted for me. Although I had read up on my Spanish history and in particular Paul Preston’s recent publication I was being told that it wasn’t my business and it was to be left alone. Actually my people and many others from around the world came here and fought against fascism and the genocidal forces of Franco.
One of the most common things said of Franco is that he built all the reservoirs. That he modernised Spain which was a rural and agrarian society before the war and that people don’t always realise that. That you can’t have an opinion because no one really knows what happened and if the reds had won then we would all be living in a gulag now. History for the Spanish is not often respected as an interpretive discipline and is usually regarded as a narrative delivered down from authority. Catalans are often referred to as Polish. “Los Polakos, let them go and take their horrible, disgusting language with them” was something I heard more than once and when I suggested that someone might be offended by this kind of racism I was told that it wasn’t racism because the Catalans are Spanish. I happen to be of Polish heritage myself. It’s not entirely like that all the time of course but there is a feeling that you can’t really talk about it and of course I found myself associating more with those on the left who had a more relaxed attitude to the whole thing but one thing that we could all agree on was that Spain is a fascist state continuing. I even found a set of keys by the roadside and when I picked them up they had a ‘Division Azul’ keyring which looked like it may even have been from the 1940s. The Blue Division was a unit of Spanish soldiers sent to assist the German Nazis from 1941 – 1943. Remember that the next time someone tries to tell you Spain were neutral during WWII.
When I started out teaching I just couldn’t seem to avoid getting those pesky kids classes but until I had established myself, I had to get on with it. The first thing I noticed apart from the general lack of discipline was that there was a very casual and disturbing attitude toward racism in the classroom. Within the first week a colleague had begun to fall out with the academy over a child referring to football legend Ronaldinho as a black monkey. The parents were not to be told. Later as I was taking a class of teenagers one girl drew swastikas all over her books whilst I was talking to her. This time her parents were told and the whole family were down at the school claiming that I had invented the whole thing and should be sacked immediately. They even bought new books to show that she had never done such a thing. In another class a Catalan boy was persistently bullied and insulted for refusing to denounce his nationality. I was not allowed to intervene and it wasn’t long before I decided never to teach children again. In the world of business English which I teach now it can be just as bad. I had a racist nun for many months, two engineers in their 40s who would pull skin beside their eyes back and speak in a mock Chinese, many blasé references to the Catalans and indeed several rather insulting remarks about Scotland and how laughable it was that we could even think about becoming independent.
Recently a disaster happened when a flight bound for Dusseldorf from Barcelona crashed in the French Alps killing all 144 people on board. A national tragedy for Spain you would have thought but apart from the PM making some brief statements and the FM of Catalunya being berated for speaking in his own people’s language it was not considered a Spanish tragedy. For the whole week I waited for someone, anyone to just mention what should have been the main talking point of the week but it wasn’t raised once and that’s with me speaking to around 40 different people. What did happen though was that Twitter became awash with racist comments of the most disgusting kind referring in some cases to Catalans as less than human and with a venomous want to dig the knife into the most tender of wounds as the Catalans mourned the loss of several dozen of their people.
So just how modern and liberal is Spain today? Well recently a bill has been passed which will make it an arrestable and finable offense – amongst other things – to take photographs of the police, to gather in groups of more than 3 and using words which could be considered an affront to national dignity. What is more, these new offenses are defined as ‘administrative infractions’ meaning that they can be dealt with directly by the police who can impose fines on the spot which can only be contested in administrative courts which charge for their services. From all of this, lists of dissenting people are being compiled. These new gagging laws which are designed to frighten the people from taking part in any kind of protest against the state are key to properly transforming Spain from the illusion of liberal democracy to the reality of an authoritarian police state.
Conclusion: Spain was always a fascist state continuing and is now virtually back in the same state as it was in the 1970s and is being driven quickly backwards towards the 1930s.