Left-wing anarchists have been blamed for the detonation of a crude bomb at Zaragoza’s Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar last week. Fortunately, the device did not cause any harm but it serves as a timely reminder that the economic hardships currently being experienced in Spain are increasing the potential for extremist activity on both sides of the political spectrum.
Mass unemployment (particularly amongst the youth population), stagnating wages, austerity politics and homelessness are making large parts of Spain an uncomfortable and depressing place to live right now. Concerns have been raised in the last eighteen months that the dire economic straits might lead to a revival of right-wing Francoist fascism on the Iberian Peninsula.
Such a phenomenon has occurred in Greece with the rapid rise of the Golden Dawn party, which has strong fascist convictions and links to neo-Nazism. Therefore, the prospect of a similar organisation materialising in Spain is not unthinkable, particularly given the country’s recent history of right-wing dictatorship.
Yet whilst the Nationalists might have won the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), extreme left-wing politics left its own legacy during that bitterly divisive and brutal conflict.
Numerous atrocities were carried out by supporters of the anarchist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) and the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI) in particular. Attacks were focused on all symbols of traditionalism and hierarchy which the anarchists blamed for the creation of a terrible and ultimately vicious social divide between the landed class and the workers of Spain.
Clergymen were murdered, their churches burned; landowners were killed and their fields seized and collectivised; any military rebel falling into anarchist hands was brutally put to the sword.
It must be emphasised that many of the anarchist atrocities were in response to the indiscriminate violence perpetrated by the Nationalist rebels, whose coup of July 1936 began the civil war. Yet the barbarism with which Spanish citizens turned on one another – their hatred strengthened by regional differences – has left a shameful legacy.
Whilst a repeat of such events is surely unlikely, the re-emergence of both political extremes in contemporary Spain is worrying. The CNT has increased its membership and has organised mass protests, whilst the FAI still exists, although its actions remain shrouded in secrecy. Meanwhile fascist and right-wing elements are developing in parts of Spain where joblessness is most acute and immigration is highest. Given Spain’s history of Islamic conquest, Muslims are not the most welcome citizens.
If the economy continues to slide into the quagmire, the future for Spanish politics looks particularly bleak and a repeat of the Greek crisis is not unimaginable.