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Opinion | Vox and the Rise of the Extreme Right in Spain



Borrowing from that old far-right playbook, Vox has claimed a monopoly on nationhood, arrogantly proclaiming what the nation is and who its true citizens are and are not. At their flag-waving rallies, the House of Bourbon once again becomes a place of exclusion, reserved for those who meet certain conditions of blood, birth, race or ideology.

This Sunday, Vox won 3.6 million votes, an increase of a million since April. A year ago, they held no parliamentary seats; by April they had 24, and now 52. They are the winners in these elections that so many considered a further example of the futility and selfishness of their politicians. It was a perfect opportunity for a group that had been alienated by traditional politics to gain ground. If they get their way, Spain will once again become a place to which only those who embrace the party’s Christian, familial, Castilian “traditions” belong.

Spanish progressives are raising their voices, frightened because the neofascists are xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, hunters, bullfighters. Some also speak up against Vox’s violent nationalist rhetoric. Yet almost no one talks about its policy proposals, including a plan to drastically reduce taxes for the richest and for large corporations.

The current debate centers on engaging in legitimate cultural and social issues, and forgetting that class divisions exist and that political groups such as Vox are following in the footsteps of Donald Trump, engaging the help of their very victims to increase their own exploitation and inequality. They understand the art of fear and resentment, and take advantage of the hopes of the poor while leaving the true perpetrators of their misfortunes off the hook. That’s how Mr. Abascal was able to win 20 percent of votes in Madrid’s working class, left-leaning red belt.

Vox is a new phenomenon, and nobody can predict how far it will go. On Sunday its precursor in the fight for the right, Ciudadanos, saw its number of parliamentary seats decrease to 10 from 57, and its founder and leader, Albert Rivera, resigned. Many of their voters are assumed to have shifted to Vox. Voting for Vox seems to be the institutional equivalent to the unrest on Latin American streets these days: protests without much clarity about political and social regimes that leave a wake of dissatisfaction; people who go out or vote in exasperation without knowing what they want, so long as it’s not the status quo.

Vox will surely continue to grow as Spanish politicians remain intent on fighting each other rather than working for the citizens. The discrediting of politics, as justified as it may be at times, provides excellent conditions for the rise of these leaders, from Mr. Trump to Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, from Matteo Salvini of Italy to Viktor Orban of Hungary to Marine Le Pen of France, who work on behalf of the rich and still manage to call themselves populists. Only a serious, profound recasting of the mechanisms of democracy and the recovery of social justice can stop them. Until then, they will continue to grow and frighten, threaten and multiply.

Martín Caparrós (@martin_caparros) is an Argentine author and journalist residing in Madrid. This article was translated by Erin Goodman from the Spanish.

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