“A Francoist reverie”: how the Spanish right clings to its imperialist past | Spain

TPerhaps better known is Plaza Mayor, where tourists congregate to drink strong beers and feast on overpriced paella. So perhaps the Puerta del Sol, where the inhabitants ring the new year by eating a grape on each of the 12 chimes.

But Madrid’s Plaza de Colón, a 25-minute walk from these spaces, has come to play a special role in the social, political and historical life of the capital – and the rest of Spain.

It is here, under the statue of Columbus – whose name it is in the square – and in the shadow of the enormous Spanish flag which measures 294 square meters and weighs over 30 kg, that the country’s right wing likes to gather for defend the glories of the past and lament the humiliations of the present.

In February 2019, leaders of the Right People’s Party (PP), the center-right Citizens Party and the far-right Vox party joined tens of thousands of protesters furious at what they saw as the capitulation. of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in front of Catalan separatists. Last June, the three parties returned to Colón with supporters to demonstrate against Sánchez’s controversial decision to pardon the 12 Catalan pro-independence leaders convicted of the failed secession attempt nearly four years earlier.

Colón’s allure and symbolism isn’t hard to grasp, especially at a time when Spain’s right-wing and far-right parties are embarking on yet another journey of historical revisionism and imperial nostalgia. Not for them the overturning of statues, the offers of apologies or the fits of national introspection.

In August, Vox marked the 500th anniversary of the conquest of Mexico by claiming that Spain had “succeeded in freeing millions of people from the bloody regime and terror of the Aztecs.” A few weeks later, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, right-wing president of the Madrid region, criticized the Pope for having had the temerity to apologize for the behavior of the church in Mexico, arguing that Spain and Catholicism Roman had brought “civilization and freedom to mainland America”.

Not wanting to be outdone, Pablo Casado, the leader of the PP, boasted that the process initiated by the Spanish conquest of the Americas had resulted in “the most important historical event since the Roman Empire”.

Less than a fortnight before the Spanish National Day – which is celebrated on October 12, the date of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas – one of the predecessors of PP leader Pablo Casado mocked calls for a colonial apology of the Mexican President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. It was a bit rich for the Mexican prime minister to complain about Spain given its names, José María Aznar said. “So Andrés came from the Aztecs, Manuel from the Mayas?” “

Casado, who was sitting next to Aznar, joined him in suggesting that López must be an Inca name – seemingly forgetting or unaware that this empire had risen and been overthrown by Francisco Pizarro and his conquistadors on a entirely different continent.

Peruvian writer Gabriela Wiener in Madrid. Photography: Denis Doyle / The Observer

López Obrador’s party fired back, saying it was not totally surprised that the former leader of a party from the Franco regime “must deny the indigenous genocide on our continent”. He also called Aznar a “bellicose instigator” for his support for the 2003 Iraq war.

Whatever the emotions aroused by the proclamations of the Spanish right among many Latin Americans, shock does not seem to be part of it. “You just feel embarrassed for them and all their imperial ramblings,” says Gabriela Wiener, a Peruvian writer who has lived in Spain for 18 years. “They are always in the grip of a Francoist reverie and do not see what is in front of them. “

Wiener points to the most obvious signs of Spain’s fetishization of its colonial glories, from the country’s National Day to the Plaza de Colón.

“You have to have a really fucked up homeland complex to need such a big flag and all that pomp and ceremony,” she said.

Wiener’s latest book, Huaco Retrato, is a flawless personal reflection on racism, identity, desire, mourning, polyamory, jealousy, betrayal and abandonment. But it also explores what it means to have a European last name and be a Latin American woman in 21st-century Spain.

The book – which takes its title from the ceramic portrait vases of Moche pre-Columbian culture – begins with the narrator’s visit to the Quai Branly museum in Paris. There, she looks through the shop windows and contemplates some of the many figurines brought to Europe by Franco-Austrian adventurer Charles Wiener – who also happens to have been the author’s great-great-grandfather.

In their brown skin, their nose, their cheekbones and “their eyes like little shining wounds”, the protagonist sees echo after echo of her own face. The encounter raises an inevitable question: how can she reconcile these traits with this last name?

As the narrator searches for answers, she decides to confront the figure of Charles Wiener and dig under family pride – and internalized racism – long stoked by the European intruder who is now best known as the man who has almost rediscovered Machu Picchu.

As she sees evidence of a slow and overdue decolonization process in the US, UK and France, Wiener is not holding her breath for similar efforts in her adopted country.

“I don’t think Spain has really started its process of historical memory – even when it comes to the bodies of those who died in its own territory and are buried in ditches. How can we expect this country, still so wrapped up in an imperial and Francoist vision, to look into ways to make amends to others elsewhere?

Moreover, she adds, while much of Spain’s wealth still comes from its colonial connections, the country, like many others, is still loath to confess its sins. Look at the treatment of migrants on and within its borders.

A figurine from the Moche culture (100 BC) in Peru, the inspiration for Gabriels Wiener's book, Huaco Retrato.
A figurine from the Moche culture (100 BC) in Peru, inspiration for Gabriels Wiener’s book, Huaco Retrato. Photograph: Juan Aunion / Alamy

“Everything that is happening in the world today is a consequence of colonial policies. You go to the south of the world, loot, kill and sell people, turn communities against each other, sell them weapons and leave a terrible mess. And then when they come knocking on your door, they get a rubber bullet in the face.

Revisionism, however, is not limited to Spain. Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro was pictured wearing Spanish soccer gear and beaming for the camera when Vox boss Santiago Abascal visited to meet him earlier this week.

Meanwhile, the Cross of Burgundy – a banner associated with the Spanish monarchy and the country’s imperial exploits – has appeared at protests in Peru and is popular among those who embrace its colonial and Catholic history.

As Wiener notes, there is a lingering paternalistic narrative of conquering the Americas – “all the talk of how we did so much for these people because they were a blank page, or were savages eating each other. others”.

Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa – by far Peru’s best-known living writer – recently caused a stir when he said voting the right way in elections was more important than having free elections .

Vargas Llosa, who presented an unsuccessful candidacy for president of Peru in 1990 – and whose fiction has repeatedly dissected the uses and abuses of power in his country and beyond – has drifted further to the right with the age and found himself addressing the national convention of the PP. in October.

“Latin America will undoubtedly emerge from [a very difficult situation] when Latin Americans find out they voted badly, ”he said. “The important thing in elections is not that there is freedom in these elections; voting is good – and voting well is very important because countries that vote badly, as has happened in some Latin American countries, pay dearly.

For Wiener and for many other Latin Americans – especially women – denial of the past continues to poison the present. The poem that comes towards the end of Huaco Retrato offers a lively and bitter articulation of life in Spain for so many Latin American migrant women: being told that the Spanish you speak is bogus; to be complimented on how you can make fried chicken and the beauty of your little black hands; to have your history and your culture denigrated; and to be seen as only suitable for cleaning or changing diapers for Spanish babies and their elderly.

“Spain’s relationship with these migrants is totally temporary,” Wiener explains. “They are treated like children and condescending. They are thanked, but no one has signed the agreement to improve their rights.

Wiener hopes Huaco Retrato, to be published in English in 2023, will serve to counter the dominant paternalistic and revisionist discourse. But she says Spain might as well stop reimagining the past and recognize, respect and listen to the Latin American migrants it now depends on. “Spain lives in self-delusion. What can he resolve if he doesn’t even look at all the violence he has caused and continues to cause? We’re here to remind them of all that.