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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Opinion | Spanish violence wears a uniform

A+woman+shouts+slogans+while+protesting+male+violence+against+women+in+Pamplona%2C+northern+Spain%2C+Thursday+Nov.+25%2C+2021%2C+during+the+International+Day+for+the+elimination+of+violence+against+women.
AP Photo | Alvaro Barrientos
A woman shouts slogans while protesting male violence against women in Pamplona, northern Spain, Thursday Nov. 25, 2021, during the International Day for the elimination of violence against women.

After the Spanish national team beat England 1-0 in the Women’s World Cup final, footage emerged of Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales forcibly kissing midfielder Jenni Hermoso. This immediately sparked a plethora of reactions from the public — some outraged, some embarrassed, some accustomed. 

Copious responses to an event like this are expected, particularly when such a spectacularly inappropriate and exploitative action is displayed so publicly, and in a context that is supposed to be joyful. For many women, the idea that the team’s victory — already something of an incredible effort, given the devaluation of women’s football in Spain — was so overshadowed by violent male entitlement came as a huge embarrassment. To me, it just seems like tradition. 

Spain’s national sport is not football — it’s brutality. I cannot remember a point in my life, situated solidly in the newest stage of “new democracy,” where stories of violence were avoidable, whether they were pleas to exhume decades-old mass graves from the civil war so as to find murdered family members, individual anecdotes detailing the unprompted brutality of the Civil Guard, testimonies of tortures in interrogation rooms from 1936 to well into the 2010s or the monthly tally of femicides

Every occurrence of a visible and legible incident of sexual violence or workplace harrassment, such as Rubiales’ nonconsensual kiss, leads to an insufferably context-lacking news cycle in the mainstream media. It lasts for months, entertains “both” sides, and not to be deterred from the true purpose of journalism — to sell papers and increase ratings  — steadfastly refuses to analyze the violence of the present as a product of the past. 

While there is something almost laughably cruel about platforming abusers and their defenders, the most troubling aspect of how Spain reacts to gender violence is the obligatory performance of shock. We ask, “How could this happen? How did he think this was appropriate? How did her friends not know? Why is no one being punished? Were there indications that he felt that way about women? Why would he do this to a complete stranger? How did she deal with this in silence for years? Were there signs that one day he would beat her to death?” 

These ridiculous lines of questioning lead to viral interviews — some with the victims, others with the bereaved, many even with the abuser’s family. Afterwards, the parliament members and the news pundits take deep, brave breaths and pose a shocking and potentially revolutionary question — does Spain, perhaps, maybe, have a problem with violence against women? And if, potentially, shockingly, it does, where does that violence come from? And that’s as far as it goes, every time. 

Spain’s fundamental issue remains its egomaniacal desire to be seen as just as “developed” as other so-called first-world countries, an impulse which frequently runs headfirst into the country’s inability and unwillingness to reckon with its past. It is so plainly irresponsible to pretend that the impact of Francoism has been even partially washed away when, in reality, the state that exists today has been built on the core ideas of the dictatorship. You can never erase the wounds of nearly forty years of fascism, particularly not if the transition to “democracy” was led by the fascists themselves who made sure they could all keep their jobs and made it impossible for future generations to know what their families had done or what had happened to them. 

If you bring up, in 2023, how domestic abuse and ‘random’ violence are rooted in national tradition, you’re likely to get an eye-roll or be told to “stop living in the past” in the best of scenarios. For those of us hemmed in by the state borders which we don’t agree with, for whom the Spanish flag is already a symbol of centuries of violencemuch of which endured past the “transition” — the unwillingness from Spaniards to analyze their own national identity as a product of fascism and imperialism can be unbelievably frustrating. 

It seems impossible to ignore the common variables in these instances of violence. The abuse, the murders and the impunity continue, and the expectation is that we sit around and pretend that a state that employed violence against women as a punitive strategy for four decades, a state that rebuilt itself on the principle of impunity for its agents and its aspirants, a state that has sanctioned brutality so neatly and efficiently that even the illegal, inadmissible instances of it are a tongue-in-cheek joke, has nothing at all to do with it. 

In 2016, in Iruña during the San Fermin festival, five men from Sevilla gang-raped an eighteen-year-old girl, filming the entire act. The incident was the subject of unavoidable discussion for years, referred to as “La Manada” (The Wolfpack), the name the assailants had for their WhatsApp group chat. Part of the outrage came from the short sentences the defendants received, which were later lengthened, and from the painful conversations about sexual violence within the Spanish state. Most tellingly, no one seemed to know how to define it or how to respond to it. 

For so many of us, the fact that even an act as plainly brutal and deliberate as this assault sparked debate, defensiveness, rhetorical arguments about the difference between gang rape and “just” sexual abuse and countless suggestions that the victim was at fault stood as testament to a deeply sick society that prioritized the impulses of men over the safety of women at each turn. 

What was sorely missing from the ensuing discussion, what has truly not received a deservingly thorough analysis, is the fact that two members of La Manada were members of the state security forces — Antonio Manuel Guerrero was a civil guard, and Alfonso Jesus Cabezuelo was a member of the military that returned to his post mere months after the assault. A month before they and their friends committed the gang rape in Iruña, four members of La Manada sexually assaulted an unconscious 21-year-old woman in Cordoba after they got her into Guerrero’s car. 

I have never managed to separate the threat of male violence from the reality of the state’s ability to ignore and sanction it. The facts are too undeniable — that we will never know the real number of Republican and Independentist women murdered by the Regime, that the state will never admit their responsibility for the “dirty war” that funded death squads and heroin trafficking networks, that Spain’s “most famous serial killer” was just a lunatic trained and emboldened by the military

The unacknowledged victims are the most telling — the suspected 300,000 children and babies stolen from their “unsuitable” communist, poor or single mothers and given to regime-oriented families into the 2000s. The “last” murder victim of the transition, a young Basque girl named Yolanda Gonzalez, falsely suspected of belonging to a militant group, was murdered by a member of a state-backed death squad who was able to return to Spain and is currently practicing law there. Beatriz Etxebarria, tortured and sexually assaulted by the civil guard in their “interrogation process” in 2011. The 73 women killed in this year alone, by men who said they loved them, by men weaned on a national narrative of entitlement and “disciplinary” violence, and those who were killed for the “crime” of existing as a sex worker or as an immigrant. 

Any expectation that the state will one day even admit to this violence in order to stop it is a baseless one. Until the construction of the Spanish state in actuality is understood as a fundamentally hegemonically violent one, the brutality it produces will be treated as “unpredictable.” While the bulk of my hope is centered on the potential to one day be independent from Spain, the rest of me tries to imagine a future where Spaniards can construct a state built on the foundation of something other than brutality.

Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger writes about politics and international and domestic social movements. Write to her at [email protected]

About the Contributor
Sofia Uriagereka-Herburger, Senior Staff Columnist
Sofia Uriagereka is a senior majoring in Anthropology. She writes primarily about politics, both domestic and international.