Spain tries to keep rightist rallies off the streets
By Victoria Burnett
International Herald Tribune
Published: November 13, 2007
MADRID: The government is trying to ban an extreme right rally against immigration amid fears of rising outbursts of xenophobic violence.
However, Madrid's highest regional court has dismissed a government motion to prevent an annual march that marks the deaths of Jos Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange party, and the former dictator Francisco Franco.
The central government's representative in the Madrid region, Soledad Mestre, is seeking to ban a march Saturday by the National Alliance, a far-right party established last year whose manifesto is to defend “our country, Spain, our blood and our race.” Under Spain's decentralized system, each region has a locally elected government and a central government representative. A spokesman for Mestre said the government wanted to ban all “xenophobic and racist” rallies on the grounds that they could lead to violence. However, he said it was unclear whether the government could secure an injunction by Saturday. The offices of the National Alliance did not respond to e-mail messages or telephone calls Tuesday.
The government's attempt to ban the rallies follows the death Sunday of a 16-year-old Spaniard who was stabbed in the Madrid subway when his group of hard-left activists was on its way to confront supporters of the rightist National Democracy party, which was marching against immigration. A separate anti-immigration march by the National Front protested that foreign workers were dragging down salaries and getting preferential treatment from the government, according to the party's Web site.
Spain has won praise for the apparent ease with which it has absorbed four million immigrants over the past decade and has scored high on polls that indicate how well-received immigrants feel in Europe. However, some immigration and race-relations specialists say resentment toward immigrants in Spain is rising and could grow sharply if the economy slows and unemployment rises.
Esteban Ibarra, head of the Movement Against Intolerance, said that immigrants were a growing target for a handful of fascist or neo-Nazi groups, some of which are registered parties, like the National Alliance, but many of which are informal.
Ibarra, who asked for the National Alliance march to be banned, said a rash of new ultra-right groups had emerged in recent years.
“What is dangerous is the new fascist movement, which is xenophobic and has Nazist tendencies,” he said. “We need to prevent criminal xenophobia from growing.”
The government's attempts to ban ultra-right rallies comes at the beginning of a brief marching season for Spain's hard-line rightist groups, which stage a cluster of rallies around Nov. 20, the day when Primo and Franco died, in 1936 and 1975, respectively.
The centerpiece is the Falange's march to the Valley of the Fallen, a huge mausoleum where Primo and Franco are buried. Primo supported Franco's uprising against the leftist Republican government and was executed by the Republicans in 1936.
The government tried to stop that rally on the basis that the motto “assassinated by the Socialists” – a reference to Primo's execution – was “hurtful to some citizens and could provoke confrontation.” The Madrid regional court dismissed this argument, defending the group's right to hold a public meeting.
While the rally will go ahead this year, its future has been cast in doubt by a new law that would ban political rallies at the Valley of the Fallen, which will be recast as a monument to all those killed in the 1936-39 civil war.