Conventional wisdom states fascism was defeated in 1945 with the defeat of Nazi Germany. Any Spaniard would be quick to correct this notion, however. While Nazism in Germany and fascism in Italy were indeed defeated in World War II, Falangism, Spain’s own brand of fascism, lived on until Francisco Franco’s death in 1975.
The legacy of Franco and of Falangism remains a crucial aspect of Spanish politics to this day. Following Franco’s death, Falangism was all but eliminated, and sympathetic platforms have generally failed to regain a foothold in Spain ever since. The country has long been considered to be impervious to the brand of far-right populism that has become increasingly prominent in Europe.
In an article titled “The Spanish Exception,” scholar Omar Encarnación writes, “Franco’s penchant for demagoguery, hyper-nationalism, and xenophobia makes any Spanish politician who even gestures toward these themes unacceptable to most voters.”
Yet this certainty that Spain would resist far-right politics has dissipated abruptly with the rise of the Vox party. Vox is by no means a reincarnation of Falangism — in fact, their second in-command, Javier Ortega Smith, has made a concerted effort to distance his party from the Falangists.
But the party’s platform is disconcerting nonetheless. Nationalism is the driving force behind Vox, and this manifests itself in two equally problematic policies.
The first and most visible problematic policy concerns immigration. Vox advocates deporting all undocumented immigrants, prohibiting teaching Islam in public schools and for surrounding Ceuta and Melilla, Spain’s enclaves in Morocco, with walls.
Perhaps even more troubling, however, is Vox’s policy on Spain’s internal nationalities. Spain is a far more diverse country than most know. In accordance to the country’s 1978 constitution, the country is made up of 17 different autonomous communities, which have their own sets of laws, known as Statutes of Autonomy.
The consequence of this high degree of autonomy is that Spain is a considerably decentralized state, and the central government has limited authority over its provinces.
Vox has said it intends to change this situation by removing regional governance. This platform is especially targeted at the Catalan region, which attempted to secede in 2017. Vox has taken a hard line against secessionist movements like the one in Catalonia.
Ortega Smith stated, “We must put a stop to secessionism. It wants to confront us, it wants to divide us.” Should Vox come to power, they have stated they intend to rescind Catalonia’s autonomy charter.
This policy of cohesion and unity has been the main driver of Vox’s rise to prominence. The incumbent socialist government headed by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has been criticized for allowing the Catalan separatists to hold the regime hostage and for preventing any progress from being made.
Vox’s leader, Santiago Abascal, has capitalized on this political gridlock, condemning the “illegitimate socialist government” as being in an alliance with “separatists, populists and friends of terrorists,” according to The Guardian.
While it is verifiably false that Sanchez is allied with the Catalan separatists — after all, they were the reason why his budget for 2019 was defeated and forced an early election to happen — this type of rhetoric is proving to be highly influential among the fed-up electorate.
This, combined with backlash against feminism and political correctness, has fueled Vox’s journey from a fringe party without any seats in parliament to a major player in Spanish politics.
“Vox may finish fifth in parliament, close to Unidos Podemos, but they’ll go from no seats to up to around 30,” said José Pablo Ferrándiz, chief researcher for the polling firm Metroscopia, in an interview with The Guardian. “That is a complete success.”
The fate of Spain’s democracy may, therefore, depend entirely upon Catalonia. Should the government that takes power in April be able to reach a compromise and restore normalcy to the political climate, Vox’s appeal may very well decline as quickly as it rose.
But if not and Vox rises to power in some form or another over the next few years, the fabric of Spain’s already strained agglomeration of nations may snap.