Santiago Abascal, chairman of the Vox party, at a campaign rally in Granada, Spain on April 17, 2019 | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/A.Camara
Santiago Abascal, chairman of the Vox party, at a campaign rally in Granada, Spain on April 17, 2019 | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/A.Camara

Spain has been an exception to the upsurge of nationalist, far-right movements across Europe. With the rise of the Vox party, this has changed. The openly misogynistic, xenophobic and Islamophobic party just made it to the Parliament. What does that mean for Spain's political course and newly arrived migrants?

The far-right scene has been on the rise across Europe, and Spain is no exception to this phenomenon. The far-right Vox party won almost 10 percent of the vote in general elections held on April 28, 2019, securing the party 24 seats in Parliament. Vox’s popularity has surged against a backdrop of Islamophobia that gained momentum as Spain became the main country of arrival for migrants in 2018.

Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE) secured 123 seats and the far-left Unidas Podemos won 42 seats in the recently held election. Together, the left secured 165 seats countrywide in the 350 seat parliament. On the contrary, the two traditional right-wing parties - the Conservative party and Ciudadanos (Citizens), won 66 and 57 seats respectively. The far-right Vox was able to secure 24 seats. The remaining 38 seats were claimed by regional parties.

The result is a victory for Socialist leader, Pedro Sanchez, but the rise of an openly misogynistic and xenophobic party leaves many including the country’s newest residents wondering what shape the country’s political landscape is taking and what it means for them.
Souvenirs and banner reading For Spain to promote the far-right Vox party during the election campgain April 2019  Photo Picture-allianceAP PhotoA Barrientos

Understanding Vox

To understand whether Vox poses a threat or has the potential to have an impact on Madrid’s policies, it is essential to trace the party’s development. Vox was formed about five years ago with the agenda of defending Spain against what the party called its ‘enemies’: feminists, LGBT community, liberal elites and Muslims among others. Since its inception, Vox has been supporting the ‘unity of Spain’ and pushing back nationalist movements in the Basque country and Catalonia. The party established a narrative that calls for the Reconquista (reconquer) of Spain, referring to images of the Cid Campeador - the Spanish nobleman and military leader. He led the campaign against the Moors in the 11th century when the Iberian peninsula was under Islamic rule. Vox however denies that its use of the term amounts to an attack against Spanish Muslims.

The party shares similarities with other far-right movements across Europe, such as the National Front in France and the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany. 

It is not a coincidence that Vox’s big break came at a time when Spain become the main port of entry in 2018 for migrants and refugees trying to make it to Europe from northern Africa. In a relatively poor region in southern Spain, in Andalucia, Vox secured 10.9 percent of the votes in the regional elections held in late 2018 on an anti-migrant rhetoric. It was a result that far exceeded expectations.

Following success at the regional level, Vox burst on the national scene with 24 seats in countrywide polls. Backed by the likes of Steve Bannon, Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini, the arrival of Vox in the Spanish Parliament marks a big shift for Spain, where the far-right has not played any significant role since the transition from dictatorship to democracy when Francisco Franco’s regime ended with his death in 1975.

Vox has called for a crackdown on illegal migration and independence movements. The party plans to reform a law on gender violence which triggered accusations that it is anti-feminist. Vox’s leader Santiago Abascal has proposed an ideological confrontation over issues such as gay marriage and multiculturalism. Last week, it repeated its demand for the closure of 'fundamentalist mosques' and the 'arrest and deportation of extremist imams.' Vox leaders also demand that Spain should participate in military missions against the 'Jihadist threat' and build a wall in Ceuta and Melilla.

It is to be noted that Vox denies being an outright far-right party. It claims that the electoral success in Andalusia as well as at the national level can be attributed to the fact that the party addressed issues concerning ordinary people such as unemployment, crime and border protection.

Barcelona based journalist Cristina Mass points out that although the alleged threat of migration has been used politically - helping not only the far-right, but also the traditional right parties - there are many other factors that have contributed to the rise of the far-right. She added, “the general political crisis in terms of what’s happening with the monarchy, the economic crisis and the political crisis in Catalonia have all contributed to the rise of the far right.”

Rescued migrants arrive ashore at the port of Cadiz in southern Spain Credit EPAACARRASCO RAGEL

What does Vox’s stride mean?

Tulbure Corina - a freelance journalist in Barcelona told InfoMigrants, ”with the arrival of Vox on the political scene, the persecution of people with migrant status will be harsher.” Corina added, “although Vox cannot legislate, it will spread racism and xenophobia through the streets.”

Cristina Maas is also apprehensive about what the future holds. She told InfoMigrants, “the far-right is now normalized in the institutions. It will depend upon what Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez does from now on to see what consequences this development will have. What we already see very clearly in Spain is that there is institutional racism through the laws and the way migration is treated as a threat and not as a natural phenomenon as it should be.”

Laura Pérez Castaño, Councilor Feminism and LGBT in Barcelona Municipality told InfoMigrants, “there is no doubt that Vox will try to target anyone who is an opponent of theirs, be it women, foreigners, LGBT members; anyone who actually poses a threat to their patriarchal society model.”

Human rights activist, Joana Aziz, also shared the same concerns. “Vox’s policies will directly affect and further repress vulnerable groups,” reiterated Aziz, who is originally from Syria. “It’s clear that this mobilization of the far right in many parts of the world is preying on the disenfranchisement on the working people by pinning people against each other instead of directing the focus to those in power,” she added.
Moroccan migrant who lives in a house for undocumented immigrants near Almera Spain  Photo Ismail Azzam
How do migrants and refugees feel about VOX?

On the contrary, Mustafa Assaloo, a Syrian refugee currently living in Spain, is not worried about the Vox party. Talking to InfoMigrants, he said, “I don’t think there will be any new worries for migrants and refugee due to the success of Vox.” Assaloo explained that the situation in Spain is already difficult for migrants and refugees as it is, partly because of the government's policies and also due to the lack of employment opportunities.

Muhammad Aslam, a migrant from Pakistan, however, is more wary of the future. “Spain is following in the footsteps of France, Germany and especially Italy.” Aslam argued that a far-right force has quickly made inroads in Spain just like it did in other European countries, and it will only grow in strength. He added, “the situation may not be dire right now, but I bet you, in the next election, Vox will be a force to be reckoned with. The stage is set for that to happen - the highest number of people [coming to Europe] arrived in Spain last year and the country is struggling economically. Vox will play these cards.”

What now for Spain?

In less than a month’s time, Spain will once again head to the polls to vote for its local governments and the European Parliament. Tulbure Corina believes that it is essential that the media does not give voice to Vox’s message. “Freedom of expression cannot mean spreading racist and xenophobic messages, as it happened during the electoral campaign for the general elections,” she concluded.

Referring to Rome’s policies on migration, Joana Aziz concluded, “given Spain’s own history in fighting authoritarian regimes, it should resist such initiatives and disable it from growing.”

By Aasim Saleem
Additional reporting by Hafiz Ahmed from Barcelona


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