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Inside Spain: The racism question and a drop of hope for drought-hit places

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
Inside Spain: The racism question and a drop of hope for drought-hit places
Migrants in Spain are three times more likely to be stopped by police than Spaniards. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO / AFP)

In this week's Inside Spain, we look at how racist incidents keep damaging the country's reputation but not enough to change attitudes, and how the heavy Easter rain in Spain has alleviated the drought crisis but not resolved it.

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The perennial ‘Is Spain racist?’ question reared its ugly head last week, twice. 

It started with a leaked video of two young African men in Madrid’s Lavapiés neighbourhood - who were unarmed and showed no aggression - being hit and pinned to the ground by Spanish police officers. 

Left-wing parties have demanded answers, a demonstration took place to protest against police harassment in this multicultural barrio of the capital, the Interior Ministry has since opened an investigation, and polarisation on social media is rife with allegations that the attack was either unprovoked, that they were carrying drugs or were hostile to the officers before the video was shot.  

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And in another chapter of racism in Spanish football, third-division Senegalese goalkeeper Cheikh Sarr was suspended for two matches after receiving a red card for jumping into the stands and confronting a supporter who had repeatedly racially abused him. 

His teammates refused to finish the match, denouncing the "unacceptable racist insults".

The Spanish football federation (RFEF) acknowledged Sarr was "seriously offended", but banned him for his reaction and criticised him and his teammates for not reporting the racist chanting earlier in the game when it had first started, as well as awarding the other team a 3-0 forfeit victory.

As expected, this approach by Spain’s chief footballing body, which is currently under investigation for corruption, went down like a tonne of bricks among the international Spanish football commentators, already irked by the racist chants shouted practically every week at Real Madrid’s Vinicius and others. 

Awareness of racism in Spain and its coverage in the press have certainly increased, although much of Spanish society has not yet incorporated political correctness into their daily speech when referring to other races. 

Unfortunately, reported cases of racist and xenophobic hate crimes increased by 18 percent in 2022, according to the last Interior Ministry data. 

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But a study last year by the National Research Council found that the vast majority of Spaniards consider racism in the country to be an insignificant problem compared to other issues, ranking it 54 out of 65 in importance. According to Amnesty International, many Spaniards are unaware or in denial over whether there's racism in the country.

Keeping this in mind, it seems that racist abuse at Spanish football stadiums and leaked videos of police violence against migrants will continue to be given coverage, but it may be some time before we see an actual change in attitudes. 

A problem that worries a higher proportion of Spaniards is the drought affecting large swathes of the country, namely Catalonia and Andalusia. 

The very heavy rain over Easter may have put a damper on the processions, but it’s been a blessing for stored water reserves.   

READ MORE: Will there still be drought restrictions in Spain after all the rain that's fallen?

Regional and local politicians have felt the pressure to promise that water restrictions in cities such as Barcelona, Málaga, Cádiz or Seville will either be lifted or not implemented during the summer.

There is a general sense of caution, though.

Environmentalists have warned that the drought is far from over and that assuming that a week of rain can solve Spain's lack of water only reflects how the general public reacts to long-lasting environmental issues. Catalonia’s drought for example has been raging for at least four years.

The Easter downpour certainly brought some respite, but Spain’s fight against drought is a marathon, not a sprint. 

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