Fans of the socially inept anti-hero Lisbeth Salander of the bestselling Millennium trilogy will be pleased to hear that even if author Stieg Larsson did not manage to write a fourth volume before he died, Salander has nonetheless re-emerged – in Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla.
The Spanish daily newspaper El País reported Sunday that for the past two years a shadowy internet personality, calling herself Salander has been hacking her way into files belonging to state institutions and then publishing them on the web to reveal the seamier side of public life.
Salander lists among her most notable achievements providing inside information concerning the abuse of patients in a state-funded mental institution, which led to an employee being fired for hitting a patient.
The Facebook page where she published most of the documents has been closed down and the “Spanish Salander” remains unidentified. But in an interview with the paper, she claimed she started her online campaign because she was “sick of people being scared to have opinions or rebelling”. She claimed the political classes of Melilla had “exploited the geographical barrier of the Mediterranean to create an alternative, parallel reality”.
Covering just 4.5 square miles and with 85,000 inhabitants, Melilla has an unusually high profile in Spanish news because it and fellow enclave Ceuta are the only places where Europe and Africa share land borders – and economic migrants make repeated attempts to break through the 20ft, triple wire fences that surround it.
Like the rest of Spain, Melilla has had its fair share of corruption cases, the most recent erupting in late February when 60 Guardia Civil policemen briefly closed down three local government offices – for environment, social services and entertainment – in order to sift through documentation. The operation was part of a bigger anti-corruption investigation, codenamed Opera, investigating alleged perversion of justice, document fraud and illegal tax demands that had seen the city’s tax department suffer a police raid last October.
Four top officials in Mellila have been formally declared as suspects in a separate corruption case, and last year the former director of its industry department was jailed for three years after it was discovered that between 1999 and 2003 thousands of vehicles had “passed” their MOT tests at €60 (£50) apiece – but in fact had never been near it.
“Salander the second” has now gained cult status in Melilla, according to El País. The paper says she was a popular choice for chirigotas – folk songs composed especially for a town’s carnival and adapted to political or social issues of the time – and that one restaurant has dedicated a dish, Huevos a la Salander, to her.
Not everybody is happy with Salander’s methodology. Last week Melilla’s Vice-President, Miguel Marín, told the newspaper Melilla Hoy that he did not understand how it was possible that a person, hiding behind a pseudonym, could be aware of every one of the judicial actions that was being carried out in the city and could then write about them on online forums – as apparently happened with Operation Opera.
However, with hundreds of graft cases in the courts, corruption is regularly cited by Spaniards as their second biggest worry after unemployment. “There should be a Salander in every one of Spain’s provinces” one internet user said.