The last few weeks and months have brought to light a side of Spanish politics that has stayed mostly hidden since the 1980s. The most recent example of this trend came on the 10th of February. 50,000 Spaniards joined demonstrations in Madrid supported by the neofalangist VOX party. Partido Popular leader Pablo Casado made a speech proclaiming Pedro Sánchez’s time over. He promised a return to “harmony and legality.” These buzzwords are heavily reminiscent of the Franco era, presumably not by chance.
The stated aim of the protest was to oppose Sánchez’s moderate policy towards Catalunya, but it went beyond that. Along with proposing to ban the Catalan language in schools and remove it from the list of official languages, VOX (and the new PP) take extreme stances against non-white immigration, abortion rights and the LGBT+ community.
Sánchez has certainly done things wrong. He failed to disclose his controversial 21-point agreement with the Catalan president Quim Torra. This made for an overwhelmingly bad press response when Torra unilaterally revealed the points last week. As former President of the Government Felipe González says, these agreements should be carried out publicly and transparently. This huge error of judgement could help set the country up for far right government.
Political commentator Xavier Vidal-Folch has pointed out one of the worrying symbolisms of the new Spanish nationalist movement. Spanish democracy has been represented for 40 years by three or more flags displayed alongside each other: the rojigualda (red and yellow national flag); the blue and yellow of the EU; and at least one of the flags of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities. The 10th of February march, and the propaganda of today’s right wing, have used only the rojigualda. This is an echo of the Franco era. While today’s far right may not wear the same blue uniforms or salute the yoke and arrows, they are open once again in their admiration of Caudillo Franco. To me, it’s frankly scary.
I spent much of my early 2000s childhood in Málaga province, Andalucía: a long-standing stronghold of social democracy and hardcore antifranquismo. In recent years, the migrant crisis has become a wedge issue in Andaluz politics. Spain is the only country still trying to take in refugees and help them. Andalucía bears the vast majority of this burden.
In the 2018 elections, VOX won 2 seats in Málaga province and 12 across Andalucía, with a frightening total of 11% of votes. That’s more than half of the vote share PP ended up with. PSOE and the populist left Adelante Andalucía fell short of a combined majority. The new Andaluz government is an alliance of the far right VOX and populist “centre” right Ciudadanos and PP. This is the first non-PSOE government in the region’s democratic history.
VOX’s poisonous ideology is spreading its spores across society and enabling even more extreme voices. I was slightly sickened recently to come across the official website of the modern Falange Española. I had thought that FE only existed as a small and secretive terrorist organisation. It made me realise how much the country I see as my second home has changed for the worse.
When Pedro Sánchez came to power last June, following a vote of no confidence in the Rajoy government, I felt hopeful. He set out his vision for a more compassionate society. He pledged to support regional governments dealing with an influx of tired, hungry people. One of his first acts was to accept a ship full of refugees which Italy had turned away.
Sadly, even with a government doing its best to protect and help the migrants, resources remain tightly stretched. Many Spanish citizens feel resentful, while some in the most affected areas just feel overwhelmed. And yes, racism plays a significant part. The traditional grudge against “Moors” has never really gone away, as shown by Almería’s 2008 race riots. Predictably, Almería had the highest levels of VOX and PP support in the 2018 Junta elections – 16.8% and 27.2% respectively.
Other fears have compounded the immigration issue. For instance, Andaluz voters worry they will lose their jobs in Gibraltar after Brexit. Spanish voters in general fear that Catalunya will separate from Spain and take its strong manufacturing economy with it. Pedro Sánchez looks weak on these issues, and has lost public trust with “under-the-table” dealings with the Catalan government.
The right wing breakthrough in Andalucía seems to have been just the start of a wider franquista revival. The protests foreshadowed the rejection of the Sánchez government’s left wing budget by the Cortes Generales, and the calling of fresh general elections. I will be discussing this further in another article, to be published soon.