11 Jul, 2009 @ 17:02
3 mins read

Racist or violent?

Is the recession causing a backlash against foreigners in Spain? asks Paul Whitelock

Is the recession causing a backlash against foreigners in Spain? asks Paul Whitelock

IN the last few weeks there have been a number of violent incidents against foreigners in Andalucia.

These include nine British tourists being injured in a brawl in Alhaurin de la Torre, as well as an attack on a small community of Romanians by over 100 Spaniards in La Carlota, Cordoba, last week.

The worst of these incidents, however, occurred a month ago when British father-of-two Stephen Mallon, 49, was attacked along with his son and nephew and thrown off a balcony in Competa.

His death, after lying in a coma for 12 days, has so far led to the arrest of 15 Spanish youths and has caused much debate about whether the incident was racist or not.

The attack was at first attributed to anti-foreigner feelings in the town, where more than 50 per cent of the population is foreign.

While many local British are sceptical, this has subsequently been denied by the investigating guardia civil, who maintain that it was caused by the jealousy of a local Spaniard.

A recent attack in Ronda – reported this issue – seems to have more blatant xenophobic connotations.

Amid cries of “Foreigners go home!” and “We don’t want you here in Spain!”, the two friends in their 50s were bottled and then kicked to the floor.

A popular German resident, well integrated with a Spanish girlfriend, and his Finnish friend, had merely wanted to buy cigarettes. And this in a normally sleepy mountain town, heavily reliant on tourism and not known for its lager louts and hooligans.

Such an attack has never happened in Ronda before… so why now?

It is well-documented that when times are hard economically, people turn against migrants.

Earlier this year there were street demonstrations in the UK against Polish immigrants, who, locals claimed, were “stealing” their jobs.

There was further anger against Italian workers, who were perceived to be taking jobs off British steelworkers.

In Northern Ireland a series of vicious attacks against Romanians has recently taken place.

Throughout history the Jews have been persecuted wherever they’ve been for their perceived success in earning a living come what may.

Since the re-unification of Germany, the Gastarbeiter, or foreign workers, previously welcomed with open arms for their willingness to take on low-paid manual work, have been the subject of criticism, discrimination and attacks by out-of-work Germans and neo-Nazis.

Back here in Spain the government has just announced a scheme to offer money to repatriate 70,000 unemployed Romanians who came here in droves as soon as that country joined the European Union in 2008.

“There was anger against Italian workers, who were percieved to be taking jobs”

This is the first time an EU country has offered nationals of another EU country money to go home.

In the past decade, five million foreign workers have arrived in Spain, making up 10 per cent of the population.

But with unemployment reaching almost 17 per cent, immigrants are now among the first to lose their jobs.

The Spanish government has been encouraging them to go back home by, for example, offering jobless Latin Americans money in exchange for a promise not to return to Spain for at least three years.

It may sound attractive, but most are not interested, with, so far, only around 4,000 Latin Americans having taken up the offer.

Such schemes might be a good method of easing the tensions that are currently bubbling under in Spain.

There is no doubt that racist feelings emerge everywhere when there is a recession and local people perceive that foreigners are well-to-do, as many of the Spanish do here.

Add a bit of alcohol and the gang mentality and there is a recipe for disaster.

Even if these violent incidents are not part of a trend of xenophobia – and I sincerely hope not – they are nevertheless very worrying.

As Malaga judge Manuel Caballero-Bonald confirmed last week, the number of attacks by young people resulting in injuries has increased dramatically in 2008 and 2009.

“These attacks are often so serious that they constitute criminal offences,” he said. “Many victims come from the hospital straight to the courts.”

A senior source at the provincial police headquarters in Malaga admitted that the situation is very worrying. It is one of the reasons that the town hall has now definitively banned the regular botellon, or outdoor drinking sessions, in Malaga on Friday and Saturday nights. Sadly, the regular drinking sessions have recently been turning into violent punch ups, not dissimilar to the ones sometimes seen on the streets of the UK.

“What should be simple fights are turning into really vicious bloodbaths,” said the police source. “There is a tremendous aggression in the air at the present time.”

Whether the attacks are racially motivated or not, they are certainly not welcome, and the Olive Press believes that the full force of the law should be brought to bear against the perpetrators in order to dissuade similar attacks in the future.

What shouldn´t happen is the apparent ‘hushing up’ of such attacks in order not to upset the tourist economy. These sort of attacks should be dealt with quickly and very publicly.

Jon Clarke (Publisher & Editor)

Jon Clarke is a Londoner who worked at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as an investigative journalist before moving permanently to Spain in 2003 where he helped set up the Olive Press. He is the author of three books; Costa Killer, Dining Secrets of Andalucia and My Search for Madeleine.

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  1. We may be different nationalities but the last time I looked most ( with a few exceptions) Spanish and Northern Europeans were the same race. So unless the two people weren’t Caucasian, it wasn’t a “racist” attack.

  2. i dont understand the last comment in the uk if you call a gypsy a certain name, you end up in court for being racist and that is law, what do you call a racist attack why should someones colour make any difference these people were told to go back to their own countries thank god foreigners do come and live here or the spanish would have no jobs at all, most of them know this, my neighbour works for a car hire firm loves his job and what would happen to all the large stores and shopping malls without them,oh by the way i got in touch with the tourist board in ronda and they had not heard anything about the attack by the way iam italian and lived in the uk and was branded a wop and eytie i call that racist ,

  3. Although we chose to reside in Spain for various reasons – the main one of which was that residential accommodation was cheaper than the UK,we were also pushed for time, and had a problem selling our property in Oz (property market collapsed), we are always aware that we are guests in Spain, no matter what we contribute to the economy. Attacks against immigrants are on the increase in a number of countries, mostly because of the current ‘economic downturn’. Are they ‘racist’? Probably. They are directed against non-Spanish peoples. Message? “We are frightened”. Same as in the UK, USA, etc.etc. If it gets too bad we will just have to leave and live with family in UK., until things quieten down. Don’t like the idea, but you can’t change the way things are at the moment – anywhere you live.

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