Hate crimes and Spain´s Nazi skeletons in the closet 

This article is the first in a series exploring the Nazi legacy in Spain and its effect on a growing number of hate crimes.

Hate crimes, whether motivated by victims´ race, nationality, religion, political or sexual orientation, have been happening in Spain for years. But contrary to statements of responsible law enforcement authorities – and public belief – that such crimes have been rare and isolated incidents, evidence suggests otherwise. There is also a fairly organized neo-Nazi movement present in various parts of Spain. Their targets are immigrants, sexual minorities, and other groups or individuals deemed “undesirable.” The existence of neo-Nazism in Spain, something until now largely ignored, warrants attention of the authorities just as much as investigating individual hate crimes.

A little historical excursion may help illustrate the point. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, thousands of war criminals either passed through in search of a safe haven, or found a new home in Spain. Among the most notorious individuals settling here were Aribert Heim (“Dr. Death”) and Otto Remer. Needless to say, fascist dictator Franco who had been known to exchange favors with Hitler and ruled Spain until his death in 1975 had no intention of either extraditing or prosecuting Nazi fugitives. Thus, “whole colonies of them lived here undisturbed for decades.”

Following Franco´s death, the country needed peace and internal reconciliation more than atonement for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, especially those committed elsewhere. Society had been deeply scarred by civil war and nearly evenly split into those who served Franco´s regime and those who suffered from it. Trying to get even at that point would have been tantamount to a new civil war. Hence Nazi skeletons in Spain´s closet were allowed to remain there. Until Zapatero, none of the elected Spanish governments even agreed to deal with the issue.

While most of the Nazi fugitives themselves eventually turned into skeletons, their legacy had lived on in the form of neo-Nazi movement. Groups of youths with shaven hair, military boots and Nazi paraphernalia terrorized immigrants and homeless people in various urban zones throughout decades. By some estimates, the neo-Nazi count in Spain reaches thousands, with Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid taking the lead. Nazi activities are manifest in sports (e.g. football), as well as in specific music scene.

The number of hate crimes targeting foreigners, political opponents, sexual minorities, homeless people and persons suffering from drug addiction seem to have steadily increased in Spain. Not all of the reported hate crimes have been perpetrated by neo-Nazis. And not all neo-Nazis in Spain have been implicated in violent crimes. However, there is a traceable connection between Nazi ideology and some of the highest-profile cases (e.g. murder of Carlos Palomino, an anti-fascist activist).

In the coming months, PRO IGUAL will publish a series of mini essays on this blog with the aim of exploring and exposing neo-Nazi movement and its connection to a growing number of hate crimes committed in Spain. It is our hope that the Spanish authorities will come to: 1) recognize that the phenomenon of organized neo-Nazi movement exists, and 2) start tackling it, since dealing merely with isolated cases of hate crimes may prove as futile as cutting weeds but leaving the roots.