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SCIENCE AND SOCIETY Extinction and dissolution

Plans to abolish the Andalusian School of Public Health highlight a disturbing rightward shift in southern Spain’s politics, write ROX MIDDLETON, LIAM SHAW and JOEL HELLEWELL

THE city of Granada in Andalusia is home to the Andalusian School of Public Health (EASP), a key organisation for public health in the region. 

EASP also has international collaborations, including with the World Health Organisation, on a wide range of topics. 

Now, EASP is under threat from Andalusia’s new right-wing regional government, which has announced plans for its “extincion y disolucion” (extinction and dissolution). 

The move has been met with outrage from the scientific community, with petitions gaining thousands of signatures. 

The roots of right-wing Spanish nationalism can be traced back to the medieval period. 

Granada has a remarkable history. It was the last city under Islamic rule in Europe. Over 500 years ago on January 2 1492, Granada fell to the Catholic forces of Ferdinand II and Isabella I, marking the end of the Nasrid dynasty. 

The battle was swiftly followed by the Alhambra Decree, passed by Ferdinand and Isabella. 

This anti-semitic edict gave the Jews in Spain four months to either convert to Christianity, leave the country or be executed without trial. 

At least 40,000 were expelled, destroying the historic Jewish culture of Spain. Within a decade, a similar edict had been passed targeting Muslims, who had also lived in southern Spain for centuries. 

Appropriately for the location of the EASP, southern Spain also has a rich history of Islamic science, particularly in healthcare. 

For example, the 10th-century physician al-Zahrawi was born in the city of Cordoba in Andalusia. 

His knowledge of surgery was so respected that his writings “eclipsed those of [Roman physician] Galen and maintained a dominant position in medical Europe for 500 years,” according to historian Donald Campbell. 

The roots of Western science in the Islamic tradition within Europe are unsurprisingly neglected by Islamophobes who are obsessed with protecting white Christian Europe from “outsiders.”  

Andalusia is one of the 17 “autonomous communities” (and two autonomous cities) which are the primary administrative divisions in the Spanish state. 

It was formed in a referendum in February 28 1980, which is its regional day of celebration. EASP was founded just five years afterwards. 

The ascendant right-wing party Vox has a flagship policy to change the date to another anniversary: January 2, to commemorate the end of Islamic rule over half a millennium ago. 

Celebrating this period of religious persecution is an important symbolic gesture for Vox, which has been endorsed by Steve Bannon. 

In the 1930s, Spain had one of the lowest Jewish populations in Europe. Yet General Franco still believed in a “Jewish-Masonic Bolshevik conspiracy” — as historian Paul Preston has documented, Franco subscribed to anti-semitic Catholic magazines which shaped his thinking. 

He also appointed Juan Tusquets Terrats, who translated the plagiarised and fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion into Spanish, as one of his most trusted advisers.

Vox wants to return to Francoist Spain, abolishing autonomous communities and repealing legislation on gender equality. 

Recently, Vox gained 11 per cent of the vote in the regional elections in Andalusia, which had the second-lowest turnout on record. 

Despite having a small fraction of the vote, they held the balance of power. Vox has now gone into a coalition government with the more mainstream People’s Party (PP) and centre-right Citizens (Cs), ending 36 years of government by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party of Andalusia (which set up EASP). 

While the PP and Cs have not adopted Vox’s more controversial policies, the cost of Vox’s support may already be visible. The unprecedented coalition seems to want to change decades of what it sees as socialist misrule. 

In particular, it seems intent on destroying the more recent scientific achievements of Andalusia by abolishing EASP. 

The director has already been replaced by a political appointee. The new law would dissolve EASP altogether and replace it with a new “Andalusian Institute of Health” based in Seville, the capital of Andalusia, furthering their aim of more centralisation. 

Spanish academics have written an open letter condemning the proposals, which they say would undoubtedly have a “negative impact” on public health. 

The government claims that this is nothing to worry about. But it is already apparent from the proposed law that the new institute would have its freedom severely limited compared to EASP, with the government stressing a more “conceptual” direction. 

This would certainly mean a reduced focus on research into the social determinants of health and practical interventions, which are usually detested by right-wing parties. 

The Andalusian Minister for Health and Families, Jesus Aguirre of the PP, has defended the proposals as merely trying to “optimise material and human resources,” but their true intent is clear. 

It is particularly concerning that Vox is on board with the coalition’s legislative agenda. Anyone who co-operates with Islamophobes to dismantle scientific institutions deserves our condemnation. Science in Andalusia is once again under threat. 

The petition can be signed at tiny.cc/EASP-petition.

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