"Anti-fascists" defy neo-Nazis on Spanish streets
Neo-Nazis attacking immigrants are nothing new in Spain, but an equally marginal and violent force opposing them is now emerging.
Youths calling themselves anti-fascists clash in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities with neo-Nazis or similar gangs whom they resemble with their shaved heads, leather jackets and military boots like in a mirror image.
Little is known about the groups which only make headlines when something bigger happens, such as the recent killing of a 16-year-old anti-fascist by a neo-Nazi on the Madrid subway, or clashes between hundreds of anti-fascists and police in Barcelona.
The emergence of violent as well as non-violent anti-racist groups are a response to insufficient official policies, which have failed to stem the increase of racist attitudes, says Esteban Ibarra, president of the Movement Against Intolerance, which campaigns against xenophobia.
Sociologists, on their side, are detecting an increasing, even if superficial, interest in ideologies among young people who have grown up in a consumerist society.
Spain is one of the European Union countries where the number of immigrants has grown most rapidly, now making up nearly 10 percent of the population of 45 million.
The biggest non-European groups are Moroccans and Ecuadorians, who number around half a million each.
Police estimate that about 10,000 people belong to various kinds of far-right groups in the country which does not have a far-right party with parliamentary representation.
Neo-Nazi youths do not only attack immigrants, but also others such as homosexuals and homeless people. Such groups suffer about 4,000 acts of aggression annually, according to the Movement Against Intolerance.
The youths most commonly known as anti-fascists, who seek to prevent such attacks, belong to groups with names such as Sharp, Redskins, National Revolutionary Youth, Anti-Fascist Brigades or Bukaneros.
Both the anti-fascists and the neo-Nazis often have their roots in similar movements in other European countries or the United States.
Both types of radicals also seek ideological points of reference in Spain's 1936-39 Civil War, which pitted the leftist republican government against right-wing dictator-to-be Francisco Franco.
Police estimate that there are at least 500 "really violent" anti-fascists or related people in Madrid alone. But it is difficult to distinguish the violent from the non-violent ones, making the total number hard to determine.
The violent groups that make headlines are part of a much wider movement comprising the most heterogeneous groups ranging from punks and squatters to anarchists and the far left, Ibarra pointed out in an interview with the Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
The anti-fascist groups started emerging already a decade ago as part of a Europe-wide "anti-globalisation" movement, but they are now becoming more visible, he observed.
People whom police regard as thugs looking for brawls often attend peaceful demonstrations for causes ranging from calls to end poverty to affordable housing.
Demonstrations, football matches, neighbourhood festivals or other events can escalate into violent clashes with police, as has happened in Barcelona, where hundreds of anti-fascists and "opponents of the system" confronted the security forces with stones, bottles or sticks.
Dozens of people have been injured in clashes which have also caused material damage worth hundreds of thousands of euros in the recent years.
"Political parties' lack of efficiency against racism feeds the activity of marginal groups," Ibarra says. "Neo-Nazi flags, for instance, are allowed at football stadiums."
"Racist websites continue functioning with impunity, and people who are convicted of racist attacks come away with light sentences," he added.
While activists like Ibarra urge the authorities to take action against the far right before violence between neo-Nazis and anti- fascists escalates, sociologists place both types of radicals within a wider context.
Young people whose identity is based on consumerist values feel insecure and in need of collective projects, but are also unwilling to give up a pleasure-oriented approach to life and to embrace ideologies on a deeper level, experts believe.
The apparent ideologies of people displaying neo-Nazi or anti-fascist slogans are "empty, without a clear content," sociology professor Antonio Espantaleon told the daily El Pais.
Some youths even pass from anti-fascist to neo-Nazi gangs or vice versa, seeking acceptance and security within a group regardless of its ideas, experts point out.
[Copyright dpa 2007]
Subject: Spanish news