The extreme right in Spain: Neo-Nazis in Catalonia
By Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH PRO IGUAL
Neo-Nazis in Catalonia are by far not a new phenomenon. One of the first legal cases involving neo-Nazis in Spain took place in Barcelona, most importantly the case of the notorious Libreria Europa. Its owner, Pedro Varela, was sentenced in 1998 to five years in prison and a large fine for the denial of Holocaust and incitement to hate. However, Libreria Europa has never been closed and to this date serves as an important congregation center for neo-Nazi and extreme right elements from around the world.
In recent decades, Catalonia has seen the most considerable increase in the numbers of organized and violent neo-Nazi groups, alongside Madrid and Andalusia. The Catalan authorities have tended to downplay the seriousness of the situation, although the authorities did commission a White Paper analyzing the phenomenon of xenophobic juvenile violence and possible motives behind it as early as in 1999. Since then the number of extreme right elements in Catalonia has at least doubled, from an estimated 1000 members to approximately 2000 of followers today. Most are aged under 25 and often come from a humble socio-economic background.
Neo-Nazis in Catalonia oppose the region´s aspirations towards independence, instead promoting the idea of a unified national Spain. This difference of opinion apparently does not preclude close ideological links between them and the ultra-nationalist Catalonian parties, such as Plataforma per Catalunya (PxC), in so far as both violently oppose non-European immigration, particularly from Muslim countries.
Recent violent incidents
There have been a number of high-profile violent incidents involving neo-Nazi elements in Barcelona over the recent years.
- In October 2009, four neo-Nazis attacked and robbed a Senegalese immigrant in Manresa (outside Barcelona). In their own admission to the police, they were looking to “make trouble with immigrants.”
- In August 2010, a skinhead attacked and injured two young members of ERC (a Catalan leftist movement) in Terrassa (Barcelona).
- In June 2011, an anti-racist immigrant activist was attacked entering her own home in Sitges (Barcelona) by three hooded men, alleged neo-Nazis. The victim was severely beaten and burnt with a cigarette, while being racially abused and insulted. The attackers managed to escape.
- In October 2011, a group of anti-fascist activists attempted to stop the neo-Nazi concert in Poblenou (Barcelona). Only involvement of the police (Mossos d´Esquadra) prevented full-blown clashes between the adversaries.
As recently as in 2012, neo-Nazis have been responsible for several brazen premeditated attacks in Barcelona and vicinities:
- In March 2012, skinheads attacked and brutally beat a group of anti-fascists at a discotheque in Manresa; several persons were critically injured, one nearly killed. The attack was carefully planned and carried out by a well-organized group committed to propagating its openly neo-Nazi ideology. The attackers displayed a military formation while throwing firebombs inside the concert venue to create confusion, and then used metal bars, knives and brass knuckle to inflict damage onto their victims.
- In July 2012, during the European football championship, a group of c. 30 skinheads attacked several immigrants in the center of Barcelona; some of the victims required considerable medical attention. The skinheads displayed Spanish flags – including those from the Franco era – as well as Nazi symbols, and engaged in acts of vandalism setting on fire street containers and Catalan flags, and throwing stones and other heavy objects at the police that came to stop them.
The most recent trend in the neo-Nazi movement in Catalonia has been tactical transformation, focusing less on the external manifestation, such as shaven heads, swastikas and Nazi salutes, and more on inconspicuous but sinister popularization of xenophobic slogans and recruitment of disenfranchized young men disillusioned with their chances in life and without any prospects for the better.
The extreme right movement is currently also much better organized and financed and enjoys connections to the officially registered parties of the racist and xenophobic breed, such as National Alliance and the Social Republican Movement, in addition to the previously mentioned PxC. (To read more about the Spanish extreme right parties, please see PRO IGUAL´s earlier article available here.)
Today, more than ever, the extreme right movement in Catalonia poses a clear and present threat to the established democratic principles and fundamental rights and freedoms, something to which the Catalonian authorities should start paying much more serious attention.