Spain and the Politics of Disregard

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Bologna: October 1, 2017 was the starting point of an institutional crisis in Spain that had been developing for years. The 2008 financial crash, the 2012 Eurozone crisis, a corrupt and dishonest political class, years of social and ideological tension and a government that disregards societal demands have set the scene for a disruptive period in the Iberian peninsula.

A year later, the international media intensely covered the Spanish national and military police using violence to remove voters from polling stations and getting rid of ballot boxes. Now, nine members of the former Catalan government are in prison and an increasing number of Catalan politicians are going into self-imposed exile while tension on the streets keeps rising. The main roads of Catalonia are still being blocked and demonstrations are being held regularly.

While the secessionist movement is clearly the main crisis for the Spanish state, it is not the only one. The Spanish government, and almost the entire opposition in Parliament, seems to disregard the unrest that is spreading across the peninsula.

Last week, the city of Murcia marked 200 consecutive days of popular unrest surrounding the new high-speed train. The railroad isolates one of the poorest neighborhoods of Murcia from the rest of the city. After three decades of demands, the government decided to build a wall to cover the railroad, creating not only a physical division, but also a psychological one. The construction of the wall instigated massive demonstrations never seen before in that part of the Spanish coast.

In the Balearic Islands, a group marching to defend the teaching of Balearic – a dialect of Catalan spoken in the islands – in public schools, was violently confronted by a group of neo-fascists and a rally for Spanish unity.

These neo-fascist and far-right groups are emerging across Spain and yet their extreme views and tendency for violence have gone unnoticed by the political class. Their xenophobic and nationalistic narrative is monopolizing the political debate over a unique Spanish identity. This has increased discrimination towards refugees, muslims and other groups. For example, Hogar Social provides assistance to poor families and individuals, but only if they are Spanish nationals.

The far-right groups also share a rejection of the Catalan identity and the Catalan language. While political parties such as Vox are calling for a ban of the Catalan language in public schools in Catalonia, a group of fascists set fire last week to a pro-independence establishment in Barcelona where meetings of secessionist groups used to take place.

With continuing protest and increasing violence, the Spanish political class faces bigger challenges than it realizes. The politics of disregard may be the only policy that Madrid knows or understands, but it has divided the Spanish society to the point where identity has become the focus of modern political debate. Though the policy has kept the government in power since 2012, it may not work indefinitely. Backlash will only grow as social and economic conditions fail to improve. However, what will happen to Spain at that point remains to be seen.

Lluís is a staff writer at the Bologna Centre. He is a first year MA student concentrating in European and Eurasian Studies, find him also at @lluisdt

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