It is just a few months ago that we were receiving irate tweets from Spaniards claiming that there were no fascists in Spain. How quickly things change.
Matt Carr is a writer, campaigner and journalist. His latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).
Also see the article from El País: PP accepts some of far-right Vox’s demands in order to govern Andalusia Read here
Until recently Spain was something of an anomaly in the ‘new’ populist/far-right European politics. Despite – or perhaps because of – the recent memory of the Civil War and the decades of dictatorship, it had no explicitly far-right party of any influence.
Even the Partido Popular (PP), which swept up much of the post-Franco right, was essentially a mainstream conservative party rather than a far-right right formation.
As we now know, the mainstream is no longer what it was, and last December Spain joined the European trend when the extreme-right party Vox unexpectedly won 12 seats in the Andalusian regional elections. Founded only four years ago, Vox is now entering into coalition in the Andalusian regional government with the PP and the new ‘anti-corruption’ centre-right party Ciudadanos (CS).
Where the PP contained elements of Francoism, in its personnel and its political behaviour, Vox is the full package, combining ‘old’ Spanish fascism with its newer Trumpian variants.
Vox proposes to deport 58,000 undocumented migrants. It wants to eradicate Spain’s autonomous regions completely and devolve the powers of all regional governments back to the central government. Like its counterparts elsewhere, it loathes ‘feminazis’ and ‘feminist supremacists’.
It wants to change domestic violence laws to prevent ‘false cases’ against men, remove all state grants for ‘radical feminist’ organisations, and uphold the ‘natural family’ based on male and female parents rather than same-sex marriage. It also wants to rescind the Law of Historical Memory, which has enabled excavations of mass graves containing victims of Francoism both during and after the Civil War.
In true Trumpian fashion Vox also wants to cut income and corporate taxes and build ‘walls’ in the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco. Anyone who has been to both exclaves will know that the giant security fences erected around them already are difficult enough to cross, but Vox, like Trump, is fond of political symbols.
All this is steeped in the very particular iconography and historical traditions of the Spanish far-right.
Vox wants to ban the construction of ‘fundamentalist’ mosques and – somewhat laughably considering its own position on gender rights – mosques that ‘disparage women’. It wants to change Andalusia’s regional day to celebrate the conquest of Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.
During its electoral campaign various Facebook ads showed Vox’s leader Santiago Abascal riding through Andalusia with a group of mounted riders, accompanied by stirring music and the slogan ‘The Reconquest will begin in Andalusian lands.’
Franco also depicted his 1936 coup as a ‘reconquest’ and presented himself as a new El Cid waging war against the Marxist hordes, so Vox knew what it was doing here.
What explains Vox’s breakthrough? The answer lies partly in the politics and economy of Andalusia itself. For years Andalusia has the poorest region in Spain, with 37.3 percent of the population ( approx 3 million people) living in poverty and an average monthly salary of 327 euros. The region has been ruled for nearly forty years by the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), and the until recently the Socialists regarded Andalusia as their political fiefdom.
Both the PSOE and the PP have drained votes seats in the last two regional elections, which explains why the PP has been willing to enter into coalition with them. Vox did well on a low-turn out, winning 400,000 votes. It came second in eight Andalusia districts, and only came came first in El Ejido, in Almeria.
No one who has been to El Ejido will be surprised by this. A soulless gold rush town situated in the heart of Almeria’s ‘plasticultura’ greenhouse industry, El Ejido owes its existence and its new-found wealth largely to its floating population of underpaid migrant workers from African and Morocco. For years El Ejido was run by the corrupt racist mayor Juan Enciso, who once declared ‘ at eight in the morning there are never enough immigrants, at eight in the evening there are too many of them.’
Andalusia has also been the first port of call for undocumented migrants trying to enter Europe through Spain. In the last two years the numbers of undocumented arrivals have increased, following the tightened policing of the ‘Libya route’ to Malta and Italy.
In this context Vox’s anti-immigrant politics have clearly gained new traction, and public disenchantment with the two main political parties in Andalusia has enabled it to present itself as an alternative to a moribund and atrophied system.
It would be a mistake to identity Vox as a purely Andalusian ‘protest’ party, however. The military coup that overthrew the Spanish Republic in 1936 was in part intended to suppress Catalan and Basque national aspirations. Vox belongs to the same extreme centralist tradition, and its appearance is clearly linked to the Catalan independence movement.
Vox refers to separatism obsessively in its 100 point program. It wants to reimpose the Spanish language in Catalonia and the Basque Country, ban all parties, associations and NGOs that seek ‘the destruction of the territorial destruction of the Nation and its sovereignty’, including regional tv stations and weather forecasts, and penalise ‘ offenses and outrages against the national anthem, the flag and the crown.’
It also proposes to promote and protect a Spanish national identity which celebrates ‘Spain’s contribution to civilisation and universal history, with special attention to the heroic acts and great deeds of our national heroes.’
Though Vox wants to remain in the EU, it doesn’t want to be part of the Schengen Area, partly because it believes that Schengen encourages ‘immigration mafias’, and also because the Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and his fellow ‘golpistas’ – coup plotters – sought political asylum in Schengen member-states.
Where the PP clung rigidly and clumsily to Spain’s democratic constitution in its attempts to prevent the Catalonia’s independence referendum in 2017, Vox proposes to change the constitution completely, and re-impose a Francoist model that would eradicate the constitutional basis of Spain’s democratic transition.
That ‘reconquest’ is a long way off, but a recent poll in the newspaper El Mundo suggested that Vox could win as many as 45 deputies in the Spanish parliament if national elections were held this year, giving it a national balance of power to match what it already has in Andalusia.
If the PP and Ciudadanos translate their Andalusian coalition into a national arrangement, then that would be very bad news for Spain and Europe.
We can only hope that the Spanish left can get its act together, and that Spanish society can mobilise itself against a movement that poses a direct threat to everything that Spanish democracy has achieved since the death of the dictator.