MADRID-Spain is not a place you would expect to find much of a conservative movement. The country's president, Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, leads the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, which is-if you are a conservative-as bad as it sounds. His administration, which began in 2004, has legalized same-sex marriage, made abortion more accessible, and negotiated with terrorist organizations.
But even the easy-going Spanish people have had enough. Unemployment in Spain is above 20 percent and Spain's national debt puts the country in danger of default. This bad news has been a boon to Spain's tiny but growing conservative movement. "The people of Spain are more conservative than its leaders," said Elio Gallego Garcia, the director of the Institute of Studies of the Family. "We just need to give the people a voice."
There's evidence that is happening. A pro-life rally in 2009, organized mostly by Spain's conservative groups, attracted more than 1 million people to the streets of Madrid. "That event was important," said Lola Velarde, president of the European Network for the Institute for Family Policies, based in Madrid. "It showed what is possible if we work together."
Indeed, in recent years, a variety of conservative and pro-family organizations have gained strength. Leonor Tamayo is in charge of international outreach for Profesionales por la Etica, a group that has helped bring more than 2,000 complaints before the European Court of Human Rights. The complaints assert that a required subject in schools, Education for Citizenship, subverts the right of parents to educate their children according to their own convictions. The complaints are meeting with mixed results. Nonetheless, Tamayo says that "the important thing is the coordination" between the more than 70 parents organizations throughout the country. The complaints have also kept the issue in the Spanish news.
Conservatives in Spain have few of their own media outlets, though that is changing. A conservative weekly newspaper, Alba ("Dawn"), has a circulation of 25,000. It is owned by Grupo Intereconomia, a conservative media group founded in 1995, which now has a presence in both radio and television. As for conservative book publishers, one of the few recent efforts has been by the conservative group HazteOir.org, which published the book The Zapatero Project: Chronicle of an Attack on Society. More than 200,000 copies have been distributed to conservatives and to the media.
But the conservative movement labors under the burden of history. Dictator Francisco Franco ruled Spain for much of the 20th century, and his strong ties to the Catholic Church hurt the church's credibility and-by extension-the church's pro-family and pro-life stands. Also, Spain has been a democracy only since 1978, so civic institutions and a tradition of volunteerism and political activism are almost nonexistent. There's nothing equivalent to the Tea Party movement, for example. And Protestant evangelicals, who provide an active base for the pro-life and pro-family movement in the United States, make up less than 1 percent of Spain's 46 million people. Many of them are immigrants from Latin America, so evangelical Christianity is often discounted as a foreign religion.
Nonetheless, many believe the conservative movement will be able to produce electoral success in 2012. Zapatero has already said he will not stand for reelection. The center-right Popular Party gained seats in the national parliament in the last election. It currently stands at about 155 seats, and needs only 170 for an outright majority.
Of course, as the Popular Party has become more, well, popular, it has become more "center than right," said Garcia. Nonetheless, he said, "We believe that we are at a point where things can only get better. We are gaining strength at every level. We have hope."