By Tom Gill
It is now 25 years since the death of General Franco. Last Sunday, a few die-hard catholic and fascist civil war veterans gathered in Madrid’s Plaza de Oriente and a counter demonstration of anti-fascists clashed with police in the capital’s A_tocha area with a number of the anti-fascists arrested.
But Spain has seen little popular outpouring over the event, choosing instead to commemorate the event in the media.
Rather than delve into its authoritarian past, it has decided to celebrate the democratic Spain that succeeded the Generalissimo.
There is certainly much to celebrate. The bastions of Franco’s support from the civil war through to 1975 have fallen. The army is back in the barracks, and the church has been confined to the pulpit. Big business now has to contend with legally constituted trade unions, while the state’s powers are limited by a constitution guaranteeing the same civil rights enjoyed elsewhere in Europe. – Spanish citizens now have a social welfare state, state education, a health system, and standard of living on par with the rest of Europe. Censorship is out and the country’s cities now boast a vibrant social and cultural life.
Politically there should be celebration too. Although the dictators political heirs are now in government, the Popular Party was elected in free and fair elections in 1996 and democratically returned with an absolute majority earlier this year.
True, Manuel Fraga, a minister in the 1960s when political opponents were still being executed, is still around. But he has been packed off to the remote northern region of Galicia, where he is president of the regional government. The current Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, was only 22 years old and training to be a lawyer when the General died.
Yet while few, if any, would wish a return to the authoritarian and isolationist past, not everyone is enamoured with post-Franco Spain. Some 15 per cent are without – jobs and youth unemployment is especially high. Women still suffer from restrictive abortion laws.
The country’s 450,000 black immigrants also have doubts about the new Spain and their current woes may soon be amplified if draconian new immigration rules currently being discussed by the Spanish Parliament are passed into law.
Hired by unscrupulous employers in undesirable jobs in the agriculture, construction and hotel industries, they live under constant intimidation and threat of violence. The plight of Spain’s non-European immigrants was brought to international attention earlier this year by the events in the Andalusian town of Ejido, where mainly North Africans work in plastic hothouse farms producing vegetables for most of western Europe.
The business has made the town and province of Almeria one of the richest areas in Spain, but unable to obtain legal status, the workers are ruthlessly exploited. Ejidos Mayor, Jaime Orega from the ruling Popular Party, chose not to address immigrant demands for work and resident permits, and better pay and conditions. Instead, he fuelled local prejudices by complaining that the town was being over-run by immigrants, although they represent a tiny fraction of the population.
In February, following three alleged murders by local North Africans, local racists and fascist thugs from outside the town went on the rampage against the North African community, attacking their shops and homes. The civil guard and Mayor Orega, stood by and watched. Events in Andalusia triggered racist violence elsewhere in the country.
In response, Aznar’s Popular Party this month intends to pass a new law that will make it both harder for immigrants to become legal and make it easier to expel them from the country. Rejected as “repressive” by the socialist and communist opposition, and non-governmental organisations, the government’s proposed Ley de Extranjeria will increase the time of residence from two to five years before immigrant workers can become legal. Meanwhile, they have no right to strike or freedom of association, and cannot vote in local elections.
The new law is a recipe for greater social tension, says Yolanda Villavicencio, a Spanish immigrant rights activist: “We will have no means to defend ourselves against abuse [from employers], while other workers will accuse us of encouraging cheap labour”.
Many are concerned that this legislation will undermine Spain’s claim to be a thoroughly democratic state. What is clear is that although Franco is is dead, the country now shares with. Europe many of the same zenophobic and racist responses to economic and social problems.