Letter from Madrid: The worrying rise of Spain's far-right
Writing: Paola Valentina
We’re living in scary times. As the future of the UK is kept dangling by a thin string tied precariously to the December 12th elections, police forces in Italy detain various armed neo-Nazi political party members with chilling admiration for genocidal leaders. We are seeing an overall emboldenment of the far-right. The tides have been turning for quite a while, and this pendulum swing towards the right has seeped its way into the recent Spanish elections, which took place in November 10th last year.
Although the Socialist Party Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) remains the largest party, led by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, it has lost 3 seats in parliament and was unable to secure the absolute majority in the Cortes Generales (Spanish parliament), necessary for a non-coalition majority government. The most jarring and significant change after the most recent elections however, which have been the fourth elections the nation has seen over the last four years due to an inability to overcome political stalemates, is the 22-seat foothold obtained by the newcomer far-right party, Vox. Founded in 2013, Vox only managed to obtain seats in parliament in April this year, and has broken the proverbial spell of Spain (and Portugal) of being able to avoid far-right parties, of course, until now. Currently, it is the fifth largest party represented in the legislative chamber, holding 53 seats - which explicates the heightened value in acknowledging the implications of its ascendance in power.
Led by Santiago Abascal Conde, who claims to always “be armed with a Smith and Wesson”, Vox has managed to tap into the discontent felt by many Spaniards, in the context of political paralysis, corruption, a slow recovery from the 2008 financial crash and the Catalonia crisis looming over Spanish politics. Some of Vox’s policies include strict immigration measures: wanting to immediately expel all illegally residing individuals from Spain and remove the nation from the Schengen area group. Abascal also opposes separatist regions’ independence and autonomy - which is interesting as he comes from the Basque region himself - and instead promotes the primacy of the Spanish Castilian language as well as proposing to fly federal Spanish flags on all public buildings. He is a supporter of bullfighting, which has been banned in the Canary Islands and Catalonia; proposes to ban the teaching of Islam and close fundamentalist mosques; and is backed by Marine Le Pen of France, Matteo Salvini of Italy, and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders - all prominent anti-immigration, right-wing political figures.
Vox’s victory sees Spain fall prey to the broader trend of far-right groups gaining political power and popular influence. Given Spain’s recent history under Franco’s dictatorship, this trend is all the more worrisome, and should also seem eerily familiar to those who remember the late Francoist Spanish regime. Vox’s vision of Spain echoes Francsico Franco’s military dictatorship: a strong, conservative unitary rule, and the systematic repression of separatist movements and autonomous regions’ traditions and cultures, as well as scepticism and rejection of European integration. Franco’s legacy, outwith the political atmosphere, remains a contentious issue today - recently surrounding the exhumation of Franco’s remains.
Given how recent Francos’s dictatorship was, ending in 1975, Vox’s ascent is even more unnerving. Strikingly, the largest demographic that voted for Vox are mostly young, employed professionals between the ages of 25 to 34 - those born after the bloody civil war and francoist regime years, and during or even after the transition to a new democracy. The collective hush-hush mentality and failure to address a contentious, violent past, contrasted with the likes of post-Nazi Germany, is perhaps why Vox is able to appeal to the millenial generation who did not live through, nor directly suffer under, the dictatorship.
Spain, along with Portugal, seemed to have been able to avoid the far-right wave until very recently: and although the left still govern under a coalition of PSOE and Podemos, the significant number of seats now held by Vox is a direct result of the failure of the left to unite sooner, or come to arrangement after the April elections. So, what next? Only time will tell whether the ascent of Vox and the far-right in Spain is an aberration - a reaction to voting fatigue and distrust in the political establishment, and other recent problems of paralysis and corruption, and the issue of Catalonian secession. Regardless of the cause, it has been made clear by the electorate that another snap election is not an option - it is the duty of the left and centre to make progress by offering a united front and regaining the confidence of the disillusioned.