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Battle lines harden in Spain’s classroom culture wars

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Via Financial Times

For the leader of Spain’s far-right, a parental veto is necessary to stop “erotic games” for under-sixes in the classroom. For the governing socialists, the veto is a worrying sign of a “far-right” laboratory in the country’s south-east.

Barely two weeks after Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist-radical left coalition took office, the battle lines in Spain’s culture wars have hardened in a fight over what the far-right Vox party calls the parental PIN — a requirement that parents approve their children’s attendance for classes taught by non-teachers on topics such as sex and gender.

Vox compares it to the pin codes that can prevent children from watching inappropriate videos at home.

The affair demonstrates Vox’s agenda-shaping influence after it scooped up 15 per cent of the vote in last November’s general election. The party is the third-biggest force in Spain’s parliament, supports minority administrations across Spain and is keen to expand the parental PIN and other radical policies across the country.

“We are going to use our power . . . to ensure that parental protection works in schools,” declared Santiago Abascal, the party’s leader, this week. “We want to protect children from sexual content.” But critics dismiss talk of “erotic games” as a wilful misinterpretation of educational materials and an effort to shut down discussion of gender and sexuality.

The measure is opposed by people like Paqui López, who represents parents’ associations from 300 schools in Murcia, the southeastern region where Vox has already made the parental PIN a reality. “This is an ideological issue pushed by the right,” she said. “The families have never asked for the parental PIN . . . This is a problem that did not exist.”

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by JAVIER LIZON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10523723h) Leader of Spanish VOX party, Santiago Abascal, speaks to supporters during a protest called by the extreme right wing party in downtown Madrid, Spain, to show their opposition to the new Government, 12 January 2020. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was invested at Parliament on 07 January 2020. Vox protests against Government, Madrid, Spain - 12 Jan 2020
The parental veto affair demonstrates the power of Vox, led by Santiago Abascal, to set the agenda after it took 15 per cent of the vote in last November’s general election © JAVIER LIZON/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

But Vox’s rise, and its parental PIN campaign, are testimony to the disquiet felt by many in Spain’s conservative heartlands at the social and political trends of recent years and the prominent role of “progressives” in public life.

Mr Sánchez’s coalition has labelled the provision unconstitutional, giving Murcia a month to revoke it or face legal action. Victoria Rosell, the government’s commissioner against gender-based violence, has even suggested that continued resistance by Murcia could lead Madrid to impose direct rule, although she subsequently said she was speaking in jest.

This week, Mr Abascal said the parental PIN was necessary to protect children from “erotic games for under-sixes”, suggesting that they were being subjected to such activities in the classroom.

“Such indoctrination has nothing to do with education; it is the corruption of minors,” he declared. In a tweet, Vox also accused Mr Sanchez’s Socialists of “using public money to promote pederasty”, leading Twitter to suspend the far-right party’s account.

Vox’s critics say that the “erotic games” Mr Abascal referred to were a phrase taken out of context from educational guidelines — from outside Murcia — that described children’s sexual development rather than prescribing activities for the classroom.

Ms López argues that the origins of the parental PIN in Murcia lie in rightwing resistance to schoolroom meetings with LGBTI groups to discuss homophobia, but adds that the measure now affects a wide range of “complementary” lessons in which someone other than a teacher leads the class.

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She said that, without a parental authorisation slip — the kind of form that can easily get lost in a school bag — students could forgo instruction on issues such as bullying or how to recycle. “We don’t want school a la carte,” she added.

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Nevertheless, Vox wants to expand the measure well beyond Murcia, the one region of Spain where Vox came first in November’s election, possibly helped by a backlash against immigrants working in Murcia’s fruit industry. In Murcia, as in Madrid and Andalucía, Vox supports a minority administration led by the centre-right People’s Party. It insisted on the parental PIN as a quid pro quo for unblocking the budget in Murcia, a manoeuvre that could also work elsewhere.

“Murcia is the laboratory of the far-right,” said José Luis Ábalos, a leading Socialist official.

Murcia’s People’s Party-led government has downplayed the importance of the parental PIN, a phrase it prefers not to use. But Pablo Casado, the PP’s national leader, has eagerly taken up the issue.

After one Socialist minister said the parental PIN violated the fundamental right to be educated and that “children do not belong to their parents”, Mr Casado responded with fury. “Are they saying what they tell families in Cuba, that the children belong to the revolution?” he said. “Are we going to get to the point where children inform on their parents for not being good revolutionaries, as occurs in Cuba?”

Such interventions have led some commentators to wonder whether the PP, which ran the national government less than two years ago and still leads the opposition, is seeking to emulate Vox. “The PP has been cornered as Vox continues this culture war,” said Lucía Méndez, one of the founders of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

Ms Méndez argues that both the government and Vox benefit politically from the confrontation, uniting both sides as they denounce the other as extremists. But she cautioned that if Vox continues to shape the opposition’s political agenda, the centre right could be the real loser.

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“If the PP adopts the language of Vox,” Ms Méndez asked, “why should people vote for them rather than the real thing?”

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