When the Spanish military dictator Francisco Franco Bahamonde died in 1975, champagne flowed—and tyranny quickly gave way to democracy.
Two years later, the country held its first democratic election in almost 50 years. A centrist party emerged as the largest winner of votes, while socialist and communist parties pulled in second and third. Conservative party the People’s Alliance limped in fourth, and the far-right “National Alliance July 18” didn’t gain a single seat in Spanish congress.
Since this first post-Franco democratic effort, the far right has continued to fail to make it into Spain’s legislative chambers in any meaningful way. But today’s snap election (April 28) may change that.
Five years after being founded, a new far-right party, Vox, is on the up. In less than six months, public support for this nationalist, xenophobic outfit has gone from zilch to up to 15%, according to recent polling (link in Spanish).
The party first came together in January 2014 after dissident members of the center-right Partido Popular broke loose of their Christian-democratic roots. Sources of the clash included PP’s economic policies, such as raising taxes, and a perceived failure to tackling growing separatist movements in Catalonia and the Basque country.
Like many far-right movements in Europe and further afield, Vox looks unfavorably upon immigrants, Muslims, women’s rights, LGBTQ people, and certain elements of the EU. Men and women are viewed as not necessarily being the same, and should not be treated as such, while Muslim immigrants are said to be incompatible with Spanish culture. The party’s leader, Santiago Abascal, characterizes Vox not as extremist or fanatical, but rather the party of “common sense” (link in Spanish). Vox’s talk of expanding gun rights and fighting “elites” and “globalists” resembles rhetoric more common to the US. (It also has Steve Bannon’s backing.)
Vox’s iconography plays on tropes of Spanish identity and nationalism—the red and yellow of its fluttering flags, bullfighting, and even the eight-century-long Reconquista, a Crusades-like battle that ended in 1492 and saw bloody violence between Muslims and Christians throughout the Iberian peninsula.
As US publication Vox (no relation) reports, the party’s earlier failure to gain traction was likely due to the fact that many Spanish nationals were reminded of Franco and his decades of dictatorial devastation. Spain’s isolation under Franco may be one reason why it has historically been quite amenable to opening its borders to migrants and refugees; Vox’s (the party, this time) anti-immigrant themes at first seemed off-message. But continued low unemployment in the country, as well as ongoing fears of Catalonian secession, seems to have made for a more receptive audience.
As of the end of 2018, Vox only had 12 seats in a southern Spanish regional government. With 80% of votes counted so far, the party is on track to win 23 national seats, ending 40 years of the country’s perceived immunity to the lure of far-right politics.