Núria Bassa, Toni Strubell – Spain’s formula for facelifting fascism

What the Catalans have never understood is that neo-liberalism, which the EU embodies, does not want democracy or self-determination. Nor does the financial elite care who does its bidding, liberal democracy or fascism. Until the Catalans comprehend this, their independence movement is not going anywhere, as we are currently seeing.

Toni Strubell  is a former MP in the Catalan Parliament, journalist, and author of What Catalans Want

Núria Bassa Camps is a Catalan writer and photographer

Article publicat en catalan aquí

As the scourge of the far right sweeps across Europe again – it seems we will never learn – it is clear that the phenomenon has markedly different characteristics in the various states involved. There is of course a common content of racism, intolerance towards minorities and complicity with hardline capitalism. But the way in which the far-right has erupted in each country has differed considerably. In Spain, for instance, the phenomenon is quite unique in being the only EU country in which fascism was never subsequently defeated after its rise to power. Dictator Franco not only died in his bed, but did so with full US and UN blessing. Due to the shameful way in which the “Democratic Transition” was staged after his death in 1975, the fascist regime’s ongoing legitimacy was never really questioned, incredible as it may seem. As the saying goes in Spanish, “from yesteryear’s dust, today’s mud”. This background would undoubtedly explain why the far-right’s formal reorganization in Spain has been one of the least traumatic of all European fascist revivals. The symbols, the civil service, the police, the military, the media, the ideology, the clichés, the monuments and “referential” figures were all there on stand-by. No awkward face-lifting was called for in Spain as it may have been elsewhere. Why should they be when King Juan Carlos himself, the very head of state, had been the hand-picked and ideologically groomed heir to it all?

To understand the rise of the far-right in Spain today, compared to that in other countries, we need to take into account what has always acted as its unifying totem: the conflict with the Basque Country and Catalonia. VOX was founded in 2013 when a handful of Popular Party (PP) members, led by Santiago Abascal, disenchanted with Rajoy’s “moderation” in the face of the Catalan independence process, left the party alleging that it was not doing enough to defend Spain’s unity. The party they founded, VOX, presented a programme of 100 “urgent” measures (https://voxespana.es/100-medidas-urgentes-de-vox-para-espana) the first of which was, predictably, the suspension of Catalan autonomy, the unmitigated defeat of what they termed the “coup” and the criminal prosecution of the movement to avoid “the destruction of the territorial unity of the Nation”. The surge in VOX’s popularity (15% vote and 52 MPs in Madrid parliament now) was to be triggered by the trial against the Catalan Referendum organizers in 2019. The party was allowed to stand as sole private prosecution in the most mediatized court case in recent Spanish history. Hitherto little known Javier Ortega Smith, general secretary of VOX, was soon to become a TV celebrity after endless months of TV ranting against the Catalan defendants. Not only did VOX gain notoriety but actually led the banner in a statewide crusade against the Catalan cause. The whole judicial treatment of the case, as shared by state prosecutor, judges and press, had few aspects that were not in some way coloured by VOX.

But the Catalan Referendum trial was not the only legal front on which VOX was to conduct its massive publicity campaign with the full cooperation of the state. It prosecuted President Puigdemont’s lawyer Gonzalo Boye (see https://braveneweurope.com/interview-with-gonzalo-boye-spain-the-eu-cannot-overlook-the-intimidation-of-lawyers-defending-political-opponents-in-spain), the Catalan government in exile, speaker Roger Torrent and part of the Parliament bureau (for allowing particular debates) and even drew up charges against a Belgian magistrate whom they accused of having committed rebellion or sedition (sic). All this occurred with the entire complicity of the Spanish legal authorities who not only failed to nip these extravagant initiatives in the bud, but seemed to openly encourage them. Where in Europe, with the exception of Poland, would it be possible for a far-right opposition party to gain such enormous prominence in clearly politically-motivated initiatives of this nature? Only in a state with a clear penchant towards the far-right. In the current composition of VOX, there are predictably former members of all the right-wing parties right across the board. But more significant perhaps is the degree of identification it shows with the Spanish Deep State, notably in the strong presence of far-rightists in the military, senior civil service and high-ranking judiciary. The party’s results in barrack cities are mind-boggling. In this context it is particularly significant to point out that the man responsible for VOX’s international relations, Rafel Bardají, was the mastermind behind the Spanish intervention in the Iraq war. On several occasions Bardají is known to have met up with Trump’s ex-adviser Stephen Bannon who is currently building a Brussels-based alliance of far-right European parties. In few are the fascist leanings of the party as visible as in Santiago Abascal’s VOX.

While in Merkel’s Germany, steps are taken to isolate such fascist groups, a close look at what is going on in Spain reveals no such steps outside Catalonia and the Basque Country. Elsewhere, VOX’s legitimization process has been accomplished with remarkable ease. Recent events are startling. For instance, last week Madrid’s PP president, Isabel Ayuso, proudly announced that when accused of being a fascist, she takes it as a sign she is “doing things right”. It is widely forecast that she will have no qualms about governing with VOX if she needs their support after the forthcoming regional election there, as PP does in several communities and cities. Barcelona’s PP city councilor, Josep Bou, has also shown the same message having argued last week that VOX is an “acceptable” group because it abides by the Constitution. Another field in which the complicity with VOX is worryingly widespread is in the police as may regularly be seen at demonstrations and on the social networks. A recent report indicates that the pub most frequented by the police in the Usera district of Madrid is one frequented by Nazi-saluting fascists and bears the name “Una grande y libre”, Franco’s die-hard motto. But it is arguably in Oviedo (Asturias) where the most scandalous case of fascist face-lifting has occurred with the recovery of Francoist street names by the PP city council. For example, calle Federico García Lorca will go back to bearing the name of José Calvo Sotelo, a martyr of the fascist cause. Would all this be happening if VOX weren’t breathing down PP’s neck? And whose fault is that, one may ask?

These examples go to show just how successful VOX has been in dragging PP and Ciudadanos towards the fascist abyss in just two years. Yet this effect has not only been felt on the right. Government party PSOE also shows worrying signs of increased tolerance of the far right as can be perceived, for instance, in some aspects of EU vice-president Josep Borrell’s behaviour. Indeed, what differences are there, if any, as regards its position over the corrupt monarchy, the Catalan question, the gag law (that the Council of Europe has criticized) or the refusal of banks to pay back the €60,000M they owe to the people of Spain? Are there any?

All this speaks of Spain’s drift to the far-right as a phenomenon of alarming proportions. Maybe this could be one of the reasons why authorized voices have ironically declared that the European Union’s great enemy is not Russia, but Spain.

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