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Why fascism won’t take over Spain The hysteria around the far-Right is unfounded

Spain's revolutionary days are over (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Spain's revolutionary days are over (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)


July 19, 2023   5 mins

Spaniards heading to the polls this Sunday will not do so cheerfully. Not only is the election disrupting the summer holidays of more than a quarter of Spanish voters — but the options on the ballot paper are, at first glance, pretty dismal. Neither of Spain’s two mainstream centrist parties can win outright, and so both will be forced into coalitions with smaller, more extreme parties. If one is to believe the feverish discourse, it’s a choice between anti-feminist neo-fascists on the Right or blood-drenched, murderous terrorists on the Left.

There is a grain of truth in this. If the current Socialist Prime Minister Pedro SĂĄnchez wins, he will probably only be able to form a government with the backing of EH Bildu — a Basque separatist party that welcomes former terrorists from the now defunct but once dangerous ETA into its ranks. However, if the opposition People’s Party (PP) of Alberto NĂșñez FeijĂło wins, it will need the support of Vox — a hard-Right party that attracts national conservatives and authoritarians. Some of its supporters remain in thrall to the thuggish military dictator Francisco Franco.

Bildu and Vox each claim to be devoted democrats, but most Spaniards strongly dislike both — and with good reason. Vox leader Santiago Abascal has called Sánchez’s government “the worst in 80 years”, suggesting that he prefers Franco’s violently repressive autocracy. His party hopes to repeal abortion and euthanasia laws, end measures to ensure gender equality and combat domestic violence, and re-centralise power to Madrid.

The reputation of EH Bildu leader Arnaldo Otegi is even less flattering. The ETA veteran has only semi-apologised for the group’s murder of 853 people between 1968 and 2011. Having vowed to “alleviate” the suffering of the victims’ relatives in 2021, he then humiliated them by putting forward 44 former convicts at local elections in May 2023. These included seven candidates condemned for murder or for directly assisting murder.

While Spain’s mainstream parties would rather avoid such unseemly bedfellows, it seems they will have little choice: the People’s Party will likely win the most votes but fall short of an absolute majority. In that case, it will have no option but to turn to Vox. The party has no other potential allies: its dismissive stance on devolution and independence referenda has alienated nationalists from the Basque Country and Catalonia, who might otherwise have been sympathetic to its Christian Democrat agenda. Indeed, ever since Catalan separatists tried to secede unilaterally in 2017, the split between unionists and centralists has often dominated politics just as much as traditional Left-Right alignments.

If Feijóo’s PP and Vox fail to win a majority of seats, then Sánchez — whose party has long followed a conciliatory policy of devolution without independence — will form a minority coalition government with far-Left Sumar (a tweaked version of current coalition ally Unidas Podemos) backed by all the nationalist and separatist parties. That includes five or so deputies from EH Bildu. Nevertheless, although the polls are still too tight to call a winner, a People’s Party-Vox coalition is still the most probable outcome.

The election campaign has become all about the kingmakers. “Take the vote of Txapote!” (an infamous ETA chief currently jailed for several murders) is a favourite PP slogan targeting Sánchez’s Socialists. “Vote against the pact of hate!” shouts a massive scaffolding banner in Madrid’s famously gay Chueca district, claiming a PP-Vox coalition would shred women’s rights and fuel homophobia.

What frantic political slogans fail to acknowledge is that whichever side wins, Spain is not about to be sucked into a whirlwind of insanely radical government. EH Bildu and Vox may make headlines, but in reality they have very little influence. Support for Vox has in fact shrunk to below 13%, from 15% in 2019 elections. EH Bildu, meanwhile, represents fewer than 1.5% of Spaniards. By comparison, the People’s Party and the Socialists are large, resilient and moderate parties — European-style Christian or Social Democrats who have run all of Spain’s governments for four decades. Some think the most logical coalition would actually be between them, creating a German-style “grand coalition”. Of course, entrenched bad blood makes that impossible, but minority allies are unlikely to force larger parties to adopt truly radical policies.

The reasons for this lie in the strength of Spain’s 1978 constitution, designed three years after Franco’s death to prevent a return to radicalism. Any significant change requires a two-third parliamentary majority, which can only be found by combining the votes of both People’s Party and the Socialists. As a result, there have only been two amendments in the last 45 years, both to please the European Union. (In comparison, France’s Fifth Republic has amended its 1958 constitution 24 times, and Germany’s Basic Law has had 62 changes since 1949.)

The constitution proved its worth in 2017, when Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont made his unilateral declaration of independence. The Constitutional Court proclaimed Puigdemont’s so-called referendum — which most Catalans boycotted — illegal, and the main secessionists were jailed or fled into exile. Since then, the separatist balloon has deflated. EH Bildu faces a similar problem, with support for Basque independence, which has never grown above 50%, waning in the face of a constitution that declares the “indissoluble unity” of the Spanish nation.

Yet those on the far-Right who imagine the constitution is their friend are equally misguided. Even if Vox gets into power, it will struggle to pass many of its more radical policies. Its call to recentralise Spain’s 17 semi-autonomous regional governments would require rewriting a constitution that enshrines the “right to autonomy” of the country’s regions. Elsewhere, as the constitutional scholar Ana Carmona Contreras points out, other Vox proposals such as striking out the abortion law or banning separatist parties are similarly made impracticable under the constitution.

In the face of inevitable failure, Vox will likely devote its energy to culture warfare instead. Expect chest-thumping about Spanish history — especially the conquistadores in the Americas and other “deeds and feats of our national heroes” — as well as attempts to revive the flagging fortunes of professional bull-fighting with public money. (Its manifesto also takes a dig at “New Bauhaus” architecture, a dislike uncomfortably close to that of Adolf Hitler.) Otherwise, Vox’s influence will be reduced to encouraging a People’s Party government to uphold its economic principles: cutting taxes and shrinking the state.

In other words, Vox is destined to share the fate of far-Left party Podemos, whose role in Sánchez’s outgoing coalition shows how slight the impact of small, radical partners can be. Podemos’s headline reform to employment law, and its support for minimum wage hikes, hardly challenge the standard aims of social democracy.

The main policy mistake Podemos will be remembered for wasn’t intended to be radical. Its clumsily written 2022 rape law allowed some sex offenders to leave jail early. It was, however, a well-meant response to a horrific gang rape during the San Fermin fiestas in Pamplona in 2016 — but it left a loophole open to be exploited. “Sánchez put hundreds of monsters back on the streets,” a Vox campaign poster shouts. That may be true, but there is little radical about the law itself.

Much like Podemos, Vox will struggle to push through its radical agenda. Those watching this weekend’s election for signs of a neo-fascist revival are therefore likely to be disappointed. Unlike much of Europe, Spain’s revolutionary days are over; few European countries offer as much political stability as Spain has over the past four decades. Vox may try to whitewash Franco, but Spaniards learned much from an era of civil war and dictatorship. They won’t be going back.


Giles Tremlett is a British author, journalist and broadcaster based in Madrid, Spain. His latest book is España: A Brief History of Spain.

gilestremlett

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Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
9 months ago

Why is this story illustrated with a picture of Elton John?

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
9 months ago

I thought it was Pauline from the League of Gentlemen on holiday

Gary Howells
Gary Howells
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Devlin

Surely it’s Pauline Campbell-Jones (Steve Pemberton) the Restart officer in The League of Gentlemen.

Gary Howells
Gary Howells
9 months ago
Reply to  Paul Devlin

Surely it’s Pauline Campbell-Jones (Steve Pemberton) the Restart officer in The League of Gentlemen.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
9 months ago

Really!!

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
9 months ago

I thought it was Pauline from the League of Gentlemen on holiday

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
9 months ago

Really!!

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
9 months ago

Why is this story illustrated with a picture of Elton John?

R Wright
R Wright
9 months ago

I dislike New Bauhaus architecture and that does not make me Hitler. This is a stupid, wishy-washy article and I hope Vox get 25% of the vote if only to spite it.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Tremlett’s views on vegetarianism are uncomfortably close to Hitler’s

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
9 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

Tremlett’s views on vegetarianism are uncomfortably close to Hitler’s

R Wright
R Wright
9 months ago

I dislike New Bauhaus architecture and that does not make me Hitler. This is a stupid, wishy-washy article and I hope Vox get 25% of the vote if only to spite it.

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
9 months ago

Tremlett knows his Spain, granted, but in English terms he is the ultimate Guardianista.

barbara neil
barbara neil
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark Gourley

A very “left” biased article. There are so many things I take issue with, that it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s think big for starters. Did he mention the attempts of the current Socialist (Sanchez) /Communist (Podemos and now Sumar) government to change the Constitution by the back door to please the separatists? The corruption of the institutions on which democracy live and dies? The galloping inflation and unemployment? The continual lies, cover-ups, opacity? The ineptitude? The denial of the right to private property by giving squatters rights over owners? The rise in crime rates ? Might this not be enough for people to see the wolf in sheep’s clothing? Another thing, since definitions matter. The PP is a centre party and Vox is a right wing party. As a well-known ex-marxist Spanish philosopher, Escohotado ,said – The far (hard, extreme etc) right doesn’t exist. It’s an invention of the far (hard, extreme) left.- In the case of Spain, I couldn’t agree more.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  barbara neil

You omitted to mention the recent desecration of the grave of the late Caudillo, one Francisco Franco Bahamonde.

This act of barbarism cannot have been helpful.

Last edited 9 months ago by Charles Stanhope
barbara neil
barbara neil
9 months ago

The desecration of graves- n.b. only SOME graves – is a petulant, nasty and vindictive trait of this government. Meant to symbolize the winning of the war that they lost almost 100 years ago. Gives the measure. What is truly amazing is the condescension with which they treat electors. (A few days ago I read they had recently been digging up a mass grave in Catalunya only to find that the bodies belonged to victims of the Republicans, not victims of Franco’s forces. So they covered them up again.) Monty Python has a lot to answer for.

barbara neil
barbara neil
9 months ago

The desecration of graves- n.b. only SOME graves – is a petulant, nasty and vindictive trait of this government. Meant to symbolize the winning of the war that they lost almost 100 years ago. Gives the measure. What is truly amazing is the condescension with which they treat electors. (A few days ago I read they had recently been digging up a mass grave in Catalunya only to find that the bodies belonged to victims of the Republicans, not victims of Franco’s forces. So they covered them up again.) Monty Python has a lot to answer for.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
9 months ago
Reply to  barbara neil

Are describing California or Spain?

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
9 months ago
Reply to  barbara neil

Are you describing Spain or California?

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  barbara neil

The far (hard extreme) right most certainly does exist. Nowadays it’s known as the “far (hard extreme) left.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  barbara neil

You omitted to mention the recent desecration of the grave of the late Caudillo, one Francisco Franco Bahamonde.

This act of barbarism cannot have been helpful.

Last edited 9 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Warren Trees
Warren Trees
9 months ago
Reply to  barbara neil

Are describing California or Spain?

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
9 months ago
Reply to  barbara neil

Are you describing Spain or California?

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  barbara neil

The far (hard extreme) right most certainly does exist. Nowadays it’s known as the “far (hard extreme) left.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark Gourley

I think Coutts should close his bank account

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago

In a perfect world of the main board directors of Coutts should suffer the traditional punishment for traitors at Tyburn*

However we live in an imperfect world and such behaviour by odious ‘money lenders’ like Coutts appears to be quite kosher.

Surely they could be prosecuted under the plethora of ‘equally acts’ that we have had dumped on us in recent years.?
Or failing that cannot the Bank England discipline them in some public and very humiliating way?

(* Mild strangulation followed by vivisection whilst ‘quick’, (alive and fully conscious) starting with the genitalia.)

Last edited 9 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago

Me think that Mr Farage has a very good claim for libel and that the damages would be sufficient to enable him to open an account with Coutts.
Have you notice how when someone is accused of offending the woke orthodoxy there are immediate grovelling apologies and sackings, but not apparently the other way round

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago

Me think that Mr Farage has a very good claim for libel and that the damages would be sufficient to enable him to open an account with Coutts.
Have you notice how when someone is accused of offending the woke orthodoxy there are immediate grovelling apologies and sackings, but not apparently the other way round

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago

In a perfect world of the main board directors of Coutts should suffer the traditional punishment for traitors at Tyburn*

However we live in an imperfect world and such behaviour by odious ‘money lenders’ like Coutts appears to be quite kosher.

Surely they could be prosecuted under the plethora of ‘equally acts’ that we have had dumped on us in recent years.?
Or failing that cannot the Bank England discipline them in some public and very humiliating way?

(* Mild strangulation followed by vivisection whilst ‘quick’, (alive and fully conscious) starting with the genitalia.)

Last edited 9 months ago by Charles Stanhope
barbara neil
barbara neil
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark Gourley

A very “left” biased article. There are so many things I take issue with, that it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s think big for starters. Did he mention the attempts of the current Socialist (Sanchez) /Communist (Podemos and now Sumar) government to change the Constitution by the back door to please the separatists? The corruption of the institutions on which democracy live and dies? The galloping inflation and unemployment? The continual lies, cover-ups, opacity? The ineptitude? The denial of the right to private property by giving squatters rights over owners? The rise in crime rates ? Might this not be enough for people to see the wolf in sheep’s clothing? Another thing, since definitions matter. The PP is a centre party and Vox is a right wing party. As a well-known ex-marxist Spanish philosopher, Escohotado ,said – The far (hard, extreme etc) right doesn’t exist. It’s an invention of the far (hard, extreme) left.- In the case of Spain, I couldn’t agree more.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago
Reply to  Mark Gourley

I think Coutts should close his bank account

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
9 months ago

Tremlett knows his Spain, granted, but in English terms he is the ultimate Guardianista.

Terry M
Terry M
9 months ago

Fascism is NOT a rightist government philosophy, it is decidedly left wing since it is collectivist. This canard keeps popping up because the leftists/socialists are so desperate to disavow their past. Read Mussolini’s biography; he was a socialist who became disenchanted with the party leaders, so broke off to form a variation on the theme. The word comes from ‘fasces’ which means a bundle of sticks, i.e. collectivism.
The closest right wing government is crony capitalism which recognizes individualism and concerns special favors on an individual basis. If involves collusion, but recognizes individual economic autonomy.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago
Reply to  Terry M

“Fascism is NOT a rightist government philosophy”

The funny thing tho is that actual fascists disagree with you — they see the communists as their mortal, eternal enemies, not their kissing cousins. Sure, there are similarities but there are also exact opposites in doctrine.
Hitler: The master race must exterminate the weak.
Stalin: Workers of the world unite.
Hitler: Cozy with the industrialists.
Stalin: Killed the industrialists.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

A case of People Front of Judea

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

Narcissism of small differences.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

A case of People Front of Judea

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

Narcissism of small differences.

Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
9 months ago
Reply to  Terry M

“Fascism is NOT a rightist government philosophy”

The funny thing tho is that actual fascists disagree with you — they see the communists as their mortal, eternal enemies, not their kissing cousins. Sure, there are similarities but there are also exact opposites in doctrine.
Hitler: The master race must exterminate the weak.
Stalin: Workers of the world unite.
Hitler: Cozy with the industrialists.
Stalin: Killed the industrialists.

Terry M
Terry M
9 months ago

Fascism is NOT a rightist government philosophy, it is decidedly left wing since it is collectivist. This canard keeps popping up because the leftists/socialists are so desperate to disavow their past. Read Mussolini’s biography; he was a socialist who became disenchanted with the party leaders, so broke off to form a variation on the theme. The word comes from ‘fasces’ which means a bundle of sticks, i.e. collectivism.
The closest right wing government is crony capitalism which recognizes individualism and concerns special favors on an individual basis. If involves collusion, but recognizes individual economic autonomy.

polidori redux
polidori redux
9 months ago

“Vox leader Santiago Abascal has called SĂĄnchez’s government “the worst in 80 years”, suggesting that he prefers Franco’s violently repressive autocracy.”
Does it? It might simply suggest that he believes that it is the worst government since the introduction of democratic government, rather than demonstrating sympathy for Franco. If the writer has a good reason to believe otherwise then I suggest he provides some context to convince me, rather than insinuation.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Do you remember Spain under Franco?
Contrary to popular left wing drivel it was a remarkably congenial place.

The ‘Paradores’ were splendid, in fact unrivalled in Europe. Crime was virtually non existent, and the interior was an historical paradise, whilst the food was scrumptious.

Conversely the roads were dreadful, the need for ‘bail bonds’ onerous and the Guarda Civil could be troublesome.

However all in all Spain was a joy to visit, and we ALL know what would have happened had the wretched Marxist’s won the Civil War.

Last edited 9 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Do you remember Spain under Franco?
Contrary to popular left wing drivel it was a remarkably congenial place.

The ‘Paradores’ were splendid, in fact unrivalled in Europe. Crime was virtually non existent, and the interior was an historical paradise, whilst the food was scrumptious.

Conversely the roads were dreadful, the need for ‘bail bonds’ onerous and the Guarda Civil could be troublesome.

However all in all Spain was a joy to visit, and we ALL know what would have happened had the wretched Marxist’s won the Civil War.

Last edited 9 months ago by Charles Stanhope
polidori redux
polidori redux
9 months ago

“Vox leader Santiago Abascal has called SĂĄnchez’s government “the worst in 80 years”, suggesting that he prefers Franco’s violently repressive autocracy.”
Does it? It might simply suggest that he believes that it is the worst government since the introduction of democratic government, rather than demonstrating sympathy for Franco. If the writer has a good reason to believe otherwise then I suggest he provides some context to convince me, rather than insinuation.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
9 months ago

Have Sinn Fein ever promised to alleviate the suffering of all their victims, I wonder ?

Last edited 9 months ago by Mike Downing
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Certainly not! Their motto is “never forgive and NEVER forget”.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Certainly not! Their motto is “never forgive and NEVER forget”.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
9 months ago

Have Sinn Fein ever promised to alleviate the suffering of all their victims, I wonder ?

Last edited 9 months ago by Mike Downing
Arthur G
Arthur G
9 months ago

It’s a nifty trick conflating a standard right-wing party with unapologetic former terrorists. You can do better.

Arthur G
Arthur G
9 months ago

It’s a nifty trick conflating a standard right-wing party with unapologetic former terrorists. You can do better.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
9 months ago

I think devolution to the regions took place in the early 90s, long after the Constutution was passed. So presumably centralising again would not be against the Constitution.. Btw why call Franco a thug? He installed a dictator ship after winning a bloody civil war that alas ,the Communisfs lost, and stayed neutral during the 2nd WW. He was a General. Is that thuggish by definition? Please help .

Last edited 9 months ago by Anna Bramwell
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

You say “a bloody civil war that alas ,the Communisfs*lost” and then ask why Franco is called a thug?

(*sic.)

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Why “alas” the communists lost? Franco’s victory saved the Spanish people from the grisly fate always awaiting the victims of communist-fascism.

Last edited 9 months ago by Richard Craven
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

You say “a bloody civil war that alas ,the Communisfs*lost” and then ask why Franco is called a thug?

(*sic.)

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago
Reply to  Anna Bramwell

Why “alas” the communists lost? Franco’s victory saved the Spanish people from the grisly fate always awaiting the victims of communist-fascism.

Last edited 9 months ago by Richard Craven
Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
9 months ago

I think devolution to the regions took place in the early 90s, long after the Constutution was passed. So presumably centralising again would not be against the Constitution.. Btw why call Franco a thug? He installed a dictator ship after winning a bloody civil war that alas ,the Communisfs lost, and stayed neutral during the 2nd WW. He was a General. Is that thuggish by definition? Please help .

Last edited 9 months ago by Anna Bramwell
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 months ago

Elton John has been spending far too much time in the tanning salon.