Turmoil in Spain around Immigration

One morning, I was walking to class and saw a large crowd of people, dozens of police cars, and Spanish flags everywhere, chanting in front of a building next to my classroom. Thinking it was an event for the city, I naively joined the crowd, not realizing what I had gotten myself into. I had walked straight into a protest. I eventually made it out and later discovered that the building was the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) office. 

Still not knowing the purpose of this protest, I talked to my history professor, Tamar Groves, about the current political atmosphere in Spain. I learned that Spain was experiencing the biggest political instability since the Catalan Declaration of Independence in 2017. Driven by the deep cultural and ideological differences within the autonomous regions, Spain has always struggled with political and geographical tensions. Knowing almost nothing about Spanish politics, I was shocked to learn that different autonomous regions in Spain even spoke different languages. These tensions eventually led to Catalonia declaring independence from Spain back in 2017. While Catalonia never gained independence, the Spanish government prosecuted the leaders for crimes such as rebellion and disobedience. However, the main leader, Carles Puigdemont, fled to Belgium to avoid his arrest. 

This long strife between the different regions in Spain reached another breaking point this year when no political party won a majority vote to form a government, and the elections carried over into the fall, when I was spending a semester in Salamanca. The current government led by the liberal Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party aimed to gain more votes from other political parties to win over the conservative Popular Party (PP). The PSOE resorted to seeking support from the independence-seeking regional political parties of Catalonia by offering amnesty for the wanted independence leader Puigdemont in exchange for their votes. This offer brought major uproars and protests from individuals who believed Puigdemont should be prosecuted for rebellion and disobedience. 

The following weeks in Spain leading up to the election were full of protests in all regions of the country, greatly raising tensions. Streets were filled with clashes between the Spanish and Catalan flags, megaphones, signs, and countless protesters of all ages. 

Given the conservative history of Salamanca, most of the protests I observed supported the conservative PP and even the extreme right Vox party. The rise of the Vox party coincides with the topic of immigration began to be introduced to Spanish politics. This extreme right party split off from the PP, and its recent success in Spanish politics has led to further polarization of the Spanish people, especially in topics such as immigration. 

In the past, the public opinion towards immigration in Spain has has been very neutral. Despite the large influx of immigrants and refugees from other European nations and North Africa, the Spanish people had very open attitudes to immigration. There weren’t rejections of immigration and people appreciated immigrants’ economic and societal contributions. Given Spain’s very open-minded stance on immigration, political parties did not push any anti-immigration policies or campaigns. 

However, this neutrality and even some positivity around immigration was reversed recently in 2020, as shown in multiple national surveys. This shift can be noticed by acts such as anti-immigration political campaigns from parties like VOX and negative connotations towards immigration topics in the press. While this change cannot be attributed to a single factor, there are multiple contributing factors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, political tensions, economic instability, rising unemployment, and crime rates. All of these issues are closely related to each other, and some people have resorted to blaming immigrants and refugees for these current problems in Spain.

This relationship between Spanish immigration and politics was definitely a difficult topic to understand, given how so many factors were involved in this relationship. Despite the challenge, the political aspect of immigration added great depth to my project, and I am interested to see how this topic progresses in the future. 

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