On Sunday 2nd of December 2018, during the regional Andalusian elections, Vox, a far right ultra-catholic nationalist party, won 12 seats in the regions parliament.
This is the first time in Spain, since the fall of Franco’s dictatorship, that a far right party has won any form of democratic power.
It won’t be the last time either.
Vox are a far right party that sprung up in 2013 from centre-right party Partido Popular. Ex-members of the PP set up Vox which was instantly based around right wing traditionalists politics, strong catholic values and nationalism. Now, 5 years later, they have embraced popularism: the political trend that is sweeping Europe with the help of Steve Bannon.
Steve Bannon has been helping political parties across Europe following on from Donald Trumps success in the USA. Bannon was a key player in the Trump administration and has helped Tommy Robinson gain popularity in the UK and far right parties in Italy, France and Greece make electoral gains.
Vox were instantly labelled Francoists by the countries media when they first appeared and they found it difficult to gain the support of voters. Yet, they have broken this mould and now have 7000 members and counting.
Earlier this year they had several rallies where thousands of supporters were waving Spanish flags and and chanting nationalist slogans. But where has this support come from and why?
The environment was always here
Many commentators in the past have said that Spain will not embrace far right ideology due to its recent history. Many believed because of Franco that people will not tolerate backwards, secular nationalist talk. Well they were wrong.
Following Franco’s death, in 1975, there was a transition to democracy. Many felt this was an accomplishment— others not so much. Part of this transition was a pact of silence. It sounds like something from Lord of the Rings. It’s just as peculiar.
Following the facist dictator’s rule, many were scared about the possibility of going to jail for supporting Franco’s regime. The pact of silence put these worries to rest for many on the right. The pact protected people in Franco’s regime from being prosecuted and it was a way of closing the divisional wound in society that was still open and fresh after the civil war.
Unfortunately, it was a plaster that would not help heal anything.
The pact allowed people get on with their lives and not deal with the dark past. Spain made great gains in culture and in rights for minorities. It joined the EU which was seen as a sign of modernity and progress.
Many Spanish people are pro EU as it has helped the country out of the dark age of Franco. Infrastructure and workers right have been elevated since joining. The whole European project has helped this country; this is visible when driving around Spain just look at its modern motorways. It has wide expanding bridges connecting regions over its mountainous landscape. These are down to EU funding.
While this progress was being made many did not talk about the horrors of Spain’s fascist past. Right wingers wanted to leave the past in the past and the left were happy to make progress. There were a few people that wanted to talk about it but they were not listened too.
Later the historic law, brought about by PSOE, would erase fascist statues though out Spain and most of street names were changed. Spain started to talk about it’s dark past, however it was 30 years too late.
Some Spanish people are not aware, and some don’t want to be, of the horrors of Franco’s time. They were not educated about it fully in school and it is taboo to talk about at the family dinner table. Here is what it was really like.
The pact of silence really had an impact on Spanish discourse. This allowed for progress in society on top of very unstable foundations.
The Political landscape
Spanish politics, in its infancy, was unfortunately the victim of corruption. Similar to what has happened in Italy and Greece; people are unhappy with the institutional right and left centre based parties. Cases of money laundering and blackmail were common. Due to this, PSOE and PP have lost out recently to new parties Cuidadnos, a right party, and Podemos a far left party.
Vox are late comers to this. They are capitalising on the lack of faith in the old parties. Podemos made gains in 2015 but have since lost support and direction. This is due to its inexperience as a party and because of too much focus on its leadership.
PSOE have failed to manage the terrain well. Pedro Sanchez, current Prime Minister of Spain, took over in 2018 from the PP with a vote of no confidence. He did this with the intention of helping his party gain popularity. He has tried to do this by setting out a very good centre-left program with support and it looks good. Yet, many people are not paying attention. He promised elections to the population which he has failed to deliver, therefore cementing any wavering distrust people had in the PSOE. Social Democratic parties are dying all over Europe and there is limited choice for a good left wing party.
People can see that his government has little power and that he has made promises he cannot deliver on due to his parties lack of support in Parliament. If the recent elections in Andalusia are a view of the future then PSOE may die with the rest of the social democrats in Europe.
Society is the environment
Other factors that have been over looked include the general acceptance in Spanish society of fascism, sexism and racism.
Many people did not want to talk about the dictatorship era of Franco. When fascists did talk about it they could praise this time and they were never shut down. You can say what you want. Most people never listen. There are even associations that want to maintain the memory of Franco. Yes, they are legal.
You can see here where I have visited a Franco bar.
Can you imagine a Nazi bar in Berlin? In Germany if you do a Nazi salute or wear Nazi memorabilia you might go to prison. This does not happen in Spain.
Fascist supporters of Franco have been allowed to gather all over Spain unchallenged. Whether this is at his deathbed in the mountains of Madrid, the Vally of the Fallen, or on the streets of Barcelona and Valencia.
There has been a tolerance of in Spain, for many years, and these people have just been labelled idiots. Obviously, that was not enough; they should have been put in prison for celebrating a murderous dictatorship that has held the country back.
By not closing down these fanatical right-wing morons they have become a caricature of modern day Spain. They are often discussed on very bad daytime Spanish television and even Franco’s grandson has become minor Z list celebritiy. By allowing this to happen they really make people forget how dreadful the era was.
Now they have changed how they say things— people are starting to listen.
Blame the Immigrants or the Women
Racism in Spain is seen as commonplace and it is not challenged heavily. This may be due to the historical lack of immigration in Spain and poor exposure to the benefits of immigrants. There are well documented acts of hostility towards immigrants. Here’s a few.
People make excuses for old people as they had next to no dealings with immigrants. Due to the gap between cultures there is a feeling of immigrants are from another planet. Vox wants hardline controlled immigration and it wants to demolish mosques. They also want to refuse all refugees.
Spain used to have a serious problem with sexism and racism. It has in recent years made great leaps and bounds for addressing the sexist attitudes of many men in Spanish society and in the state itself. However, racism has been unaddressed.
Many men feel threatened by equality for the sexes, as some do in the progressive western world, some men feel they are being disempowered. Right wing popularists take advantage of this by saying that modern day progressive attitudes are trying to remove the countries identity and take culture away from it. “Feminists are emasculating society”.
Vox want to ban sex changes, female quotas in elections, abortions and sexual abuse laws.
Who are we? Spanish? Basque? Catalan? Both?
Nationalism has been a problem in Spain for a very long time but it recently came to ahead in the Catalan independence crisis which you can read more about here.
In many countries, regional identity is mostly channelled into football teams or taken as a joke between people. Here in Spain it is lot stronger due to: the make up of the government following the establishment of democracy; the suppression of regional culture by Franco and very brutal and strong attempts at independence.
Regional governments were established and are managed as separate entities. Regional governments have control over healthcare, development, education and many other things. The central government based in Madrid manages taxes, defence and national law.
Because of the regional governments there has been many independence based parties in the Basque country and in Catalonia.
This level of national divide has led to many widely believed regional stereotypes.
In the UK you may say that somebody from Scotland is an alcoholic or is tight with money. It’s widely regarded as not true and is used as banter at football matches.
A similar stereotype, regarding the use of money, is applied here to people from Catalonia. There is also the stereotype that the Catalans think they are better than the rest of the people in Spain. These stereotypes make people hate other people, from a different part of the country, before they have even spoke.
The stereotype of people of Andalusia is that they do not work and and that they just party. There are many other stereotypes of the other regions, but one thing they all have in common is that they divide the country more than bring it together.
I know people from Madrid that refuse to visit Barcelona. The feelings about people from other regions are strong and unfounded.
This divide of regional government and creation of stereotypes has encouraged regional identity. Then there are the ultra Spanish ones too.
Despite identifying as Andalusian or Valenciano many people also identify as one hundred percent Spanish too!
Prior to Franco’s dictatorship there was not a strong generic Spanish identity. He cultivated one by making flamenco the main dance and bullfighting their main sport. He also outlawed several regional languages and made Spanish the only language. The Spanish national identity also had strong connections with the Catholic Church and machoest behaviour. But, as a friend of mine says “We don’t all dance flamenco here”.
Many people on the right feel the Spanish identity is threatened by independence movements, feminism, immigrants, and everyone’s favourite conspiracy fairy tale ‘Cultural Marxism’.
They feel that Spain should be for the Spanish and people should put their Spanish identity before anything else.
Vox have capitalised on division. The divisions between the regions and the fears of Spaniards that their national identity is under threat. They plan to abolish all regional government and give more power to the central government. They believe in the strength of the Spanish national identity and that a united Spain is sacred.
Not Francostein … Vox
This is why I think Spain, as a country, is having an identity crisis which has led to the rise in the far right. Too many identities and a past that continues to haunt them.
Distrust in central government; corrupt politicians from left, right and independence parties; left wing parties with little direction; unhealed wounds of the past and a tolerance of far right rhetoric that should have been buried with Franco. These things are a breading ground for any far right group. Spain was complacent and underestimated this rise because of its history.
Now, Vox could be bigger than Podemos in the next general election. This is down to a poorly dealt with history and no credible left-wing alternative fighting back the historical claws of fascism.
It will continue to rise unless we fight back.