On February 13, an event that paid tribute to the División Azul soldiers (the Blue Division or the Volunteer Spanish Division) was held in the Almudena cemetery in Madrid. The honourees, a group of 14,000 young men, both soldiers and Falangists, fought for Hitler in World War II to return the Führer’s previous support to Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War.
The event was organized by Juventud Patriótica (Patriotic Youth), a neo-Nazi group from Madrid and supported by España 2000 and La Falange, both Spanish far-right groups. About 300 people attended the event, some of whom were wearing Nazi insignias and carrying neo-fascist flags while performing fascist salutes. Among them all, the presence of a young woman— not even 20 years old— holding a megaphone outstood remarkably from the crowd in her Falangist-blue shirt.
Her name was Isabel Medina Peralta, a History student, and she shouted antisemitic slogans never heard before, at least in democratic times. Isabel told to the attendants to the event “It is our supreme duty to fight for Spain and for a Europe now weakened and destroyed by the enemy” (“es nuestra suprema obligación luchar por España y por una Europa ahora débil y liquidada por el enemigo) as well as “the enemy will always be the same, even though wearing different masks: the Jew, because there is nothing more certain than this statement: the Jew is to blame” (el “enemigo que siempre va a ser el mismo, aunque con distintas máscaras: el judío, porque nada hay más certero que esta afirmación: el judío es el culpable”).
These kinds of claims shook the Spanish opinion to the point that Twitter shut down her personal account two days later even though she has been proclaiming the same sort of message for years. Still, she immediately opened a new one afterward.
The Jewish Community in Spain is truly scarce; barely 45,000 of them live in Spain, according to the data provided by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE). Although it is unavoidable the relevance of the Jews in the History of Spain (also known as Sephardi Jews), probably the historical event more relevant to them was the expelling of the whole community by the Catholic Kings in 1492, the culmination of a tragic period in which the Inquisition prosecuted them restlessly.
Franco’s attitude towards the Jews has been discussed by historians and scholars whose opinions oscillate between the dictator’s friendly attitude towards Jews during the Holocaust and profound antisemitism. In 2015, the Spanish government passed a law by which the Sephardi Jews proved the bond with the country (via surnames or knowledge of the language, among other requisites) could return to Spain and obtain citizenship. By 2019, almost 6,000 Jews had acquired the Spanish nationality, though they are still demographically far away from the nearly 2 million Muslims living in Spain.
Isabel Medina Peralta describes herself as a fascist and a national-socialist. She rejects any affiliation or even remote connection or sympathy with VOX or any conservative party, whom Isabel despises for considering the nation as a symbol rather than focusing on its people, unlike her. The young History student assumes the potential effects of her words and believes they will lead her sooner or later to prison, a time she is planning to invest in writing a book. Indeed, the “new muse of Spanish fascism” accused Abascal’s party of patronaging and electioneering since Rocío Monasterio, VOX’s president in Madrid, wrote a tweet supporting the Jewish community and associations after the scandalous speech.
Isabel’s discourse has entailed chiefly two types of reactions: either people thought she was just someone seeking popularity, an anecdote that revived old ghosts from a past, totally disconnected from current problems in Spain or mention her as a representative token of the increasing polarization of the discourse in Spanish society. In any case, Isabel’s speech has brought to the surface a couple of essential issues. On the one hand, it unveiled an increasing global problem of radicalization among the youth, to which Spanish youngsters are not alien. On the other hand, it brought to the table the old debate over hate speech, the need to legally regulate it, and the limits of the freedom of expression.
Concerning the former, Isabel belongs to the Falange Española and the group Bastión Frontal. The latter is a radical organization born during the COVID-19 lockdown with slightly more than 100 members, most of whom come from other organizations such as Hogar Social and have connections with other radical groups such as San Blas Crew or la Conquista del Estado. They bawled out the Unidas Podemos’ leader Pablo Iglesias on the first day as the official candidate to the Community of Madrid.
A study carried out by SM foundation launched in 2017 on Spanish millennials’ behaviors and attitudes unveiled the increasing ideological radicalization of that generation as one out of every five youngsters (out of a total sample of 1250) supported either the extreme Left or the radical Right. The last events happening in Spain, such as Isabel Medina’s speech or, from an opposite stance, the street violence that took place for several days after the imprisonment of rapper Hasél seems to be evidence of that. Generation Z, to whom Isabel belongs, seems to be following the same trend.
About the need to regulate (or not) hate speech, some legal measures have been taken. The FCJE, the Movement against Intolerance, and the Platform against Antisemitism have announced they will use all the lawful means to bring that event to court. In the same line, the Prosecution Office in Madrid has called for an investigation to determine if the speech actually can be labeled as a hate crime. Articles 510 and 570 from the Spanish Criminal Code that regulate the freedom of expression are very vaguely formulated hence the room for different interpretations.
Several academics and experts in the field have pointed out the dangers of a law that may restrict the citizens’ freedom of expression. For instance, they could entail the so-called “chilling effect” — by which citizens or groups are deterred to give opinions or thoughts because of fear to violate the law and be used by governments to impose censorship on behalf of the protection of some groups or rights.
Even though currently the Jewish community in Spain is small, they also suffer indiscriminate attacks duly reported by the FECJ and sued when required. The same happens to Muslims and other minority groups. Due to the increasing polarization happening in the youngest generations we mentioned above, the need to set up a serious debate on hate speech in Spanish society seems indispensable. And even the urge to rethink the legislation on it.
Unfortunately, the XXth century history is full of examples in which hate speech was always the prelude to genocides, wars, or attacks of all sorts. Internet, though the easy culprit to appoint, is not always to blame hence the examples of the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, or the Balkans in a pre-social media era. That does not mean that the debate on Internet regulation is not another essential topic to tackle. Still, it should not shadow other issues Isabel’s speech has unveiled, such as the need to foster critical thinking learning among students. Whatever the results, this kind of debate should always be preventive rather than a post-incident (whatever the magnitude) lament.
Dr Carmen Aguilera-Carnerero is a Senior Fellow at CARR and a Lecturer in English and German Philologies, University of Granada. See full profile here.
© Carmen Aguilera-Carnerero. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
This article was originally published at CARR’s media partner, Rantt Media. See the original article here.