When I was in Holland recently, there was no way for me not to notice once again the turmoil around the far right political figure of Geert Wilders. In the same time hearing about how Mr Le Pen of the Front National in France is being side-lined by his daughter (quite funny if the underlying issues weren’t so sad).
Thinking about it, it crossed my mind that – although there is a lot to worry about here in Spain – you never hear or see anything from comparable brothers. Being a foreigner myself it is very hard to imagine here that could be some kind of xenophobia around here.
It seems that more than five million immigrants arrived in Spain between 1995 and 2005 (attracted by a booming economy), changing the face of the country overnight and initially raising concerns of a possible xenophobic backlash or a rise of far-right political parties, as was the case in other European countries. But it didn’t happen.
Then, in 2008, the financial crisis hit and the Spanish economy went bust. Finding themselves out of a job, hundreds of thousands of migrants decided to return home. But many others have stayed in a country where almost a quarter of the workforce is idle and where competition for scarce subsidies and jobs is fierce.
Spain is very much the exception in Europe: France, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, and the countries of the former eastern bloc have all witnessed the growth of anti-immigration parties. So why not Spain?
May be the majority of migrants who came here did so during a construction boom, and they came to work. Migrants were well received because they fed the boom. What’s more, unlike in other European countries, those who came (mainly from Latin America) shared many cultural and religious traits with Spaniards.
Another reason is that Spaniards are able to identify with the immigrant’s position, probably much more so than say, a German or a Dutchman. In the 1950s and 1960s, millions of Spaniards went abroad in search of work, and now due to the crisis, the grandchildren of those men and women are repeating the process.
The country’s live-and-let-live attitude was forcefully demonstrated in the aftermath of the March 11th, 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid, which killed nearly 200 people. The perpetrators were mainly Moroccans resident in Spain. But contrary to fears at the time, there were no major outbreaks of racism in the weeks and months that followed.
It isn’t all without any problems here: Of course there are certainly opponents of immigration in Spain, but the political parties are not competing with each other to represent these views. An anti-immigration party would have a hard time attracting votes. This could be due to the way the Spanish right is largely grouped in a single party the Partido Popular (next to the much smaller Ciudadanos on the center-right), as well as an electoral system that ‘punishes’ new parties. In countries with proportional election it is easier for these kinds of parties to appear. And sadly, on a more personal base, a good friend of mine – Juan Manuel D. – decided to leave Madrid and go back to Columbia as his wife wasn’t threated correctly by some Madrileños….
However the strong growth of the Spanish economy at this moment and the consequently falling unemployment should be helpful to keep racism further under control. So the 4 Dutchies, 1 Englishman, a couple (…) of Chinese and the 1 Belgian here in Alcalá can live happy here.