By: Andreea Gustin
We hear it all the time: the past is in the past. But is it really? I find myself questioning the validity of this saying now more than ever. Recently, it feels as though elements of the past are creeping into our present. However, the problem here lies in the fact that many people are celebrating the past without the historical understanding of what that truly means and the weight that it carries.
Last month in Madrid, the people of Spain witnessed something that has become all too common throughout Europe recently. In shades of a much darker time, neo-Nazis’ marched through the streets to “honour” the Blue Division, the Spanish troops who fought with the Nazis. Upon seeing this, I couldn’t help but ask myself: Who are these marchers really honoring?
The march took place near a cemetery where veterans who fought alongside Hitler’s troops are buried. About 300 attendees proceeded behind a banner of the Blue Division shield which read “Honour and glory to the fallen.” Participants made the Nazi salute and sang fascist songs. In a speech addressing the crowd, a young woman was recorded saying: “It is our supreme obligation to fight for Spain, to fight for Europe, now weak and liquidated by the enemy. The enemy will always be the same, although with different masks: the Jew. […] The Jew is the culprit and the Blue Division fought it.”
Spain is known to be one of Europe’s more “liberal” countries in which public expressions of admiration for Nazi Germany, anti-Semitic rhetoric and large far-right gatherings are relatively uncommon. This is due to the fact that many people have bitter memories from the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who sided with the Nazis during World War II and then ruled over Spain until 1975. But Spain, like many European countries, has seen a massive and sudden rise in right-wing populism in recent years. In 2019, the Vox populist right-wing party entered parliament for the first time as the country’s third-largest party, with 52 out of 350 seats.
Regardless of the fact that this may have been a relatively small group of marchers, any signs of allegiance to Nazism or fascism are more than worrisome. Over 75 years after the end of the war, we seem to have arrived at a time where people have forgotten just how dangerous these ideas really are. Shortly after World War II ended in 1945, and the pictures of the piles of human bodies and the bombed-out cities were seen across the world, no one in their right mind wanted to be associated with the Nazis. Europe went through a process of denazification in an attempt to hastily scrub away any remnants of a shameful past.
But now, decades later, people have either forgotten or were never taught about where this kind of hatred really ends. Those who continue to blame the Jews, like many who attended this rally, are following a time-honored tradition. Make no mistake. Jews are always the first victims of hatred, but they are never the last. The Nazis went after the Jews first, but when it was all over, the entire continent was devastated and upwards of 60 million human beings were dead.
Now why is this group of hateful marchers even worth discussing? Because we all know that these extremist gatherings can look exciting to some people who weren’t taught the truth about the past. And we all know where this ultimately leads.
We live in a time of upheaval once again. These marchers who are supposedly “honoring” the Blue Division are only further perpetuating these ancient hatreds. It is as if they are marching out of a nostalgia for a past that they know nothing about. Many of these marchers do not understand the weight of their actions. Many of them are so focused on spreading their hate-filled ideologies that they ignore the unimaginable pain many have suffered. There is nothing honorable about the Blue Division. No one wins when this kind of hatred surfaces. Learning, acknowledging and accepting historical wrong-doings is the only way we can stop history from repeating itself.