Spain’s immunity to the right-wing populist fever sweeping Europe is often touted as a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak European political landscape. “Unlike elsewhere in Europe, the far right in Spain stays on the fringe,” NPR noted in 2017. Recent developments, however, cast doubt on Spain’s capacity to keep populism at bay. In last December’s Andalusian regional elections, Vox, a far-right party and until that point the laughingstock of Spanish politicians, garnered some 400,000 votes, or 10.9 percent of the vote, enough to earn the party twelve seats in the Andalusian parliament. As the international news media reported, this was the first time a far-right party had won at the ballot box in Spain since the return of democracy in 1977. El País, Spain’s paper of record, captured the shock of the nation when it concluded that “the hard right is no longer a ghost that walks by every time Spaniards go to the polls.”
Founded only in 2014, Vox is the creation of Santiago Abascal, a 42-year-old former parliamentarian from the Basque Country who credits his entry into politics, as well as his political conservatism, to the hazing that his family endured at the hands of ETA, the Basque terrorist organization. Baptized by the American press as the “Trump of Spain,” Abascal is famous for his publicity stunts, nationalist fervor, and anti-Islamic rhetoric. In June of 2016, Vox unfurled a 200-square-meter Spanish flag over the Rock of Gibraltar, part of the British territory on Spain’s southern tip, in a bid to fuel Spanish nationalist sentiment. A Vox political ad during the Andalusian elections featured Abascal, an avid horseman, riding through the countryside of Andalusia to the theme music from the Lord of the Rings films. The ad was part of a campaign that Abascal cast as a reconquest of Andalusia from Muslim immigrants, a historical reference to Catholic Spain’s conquest of Andalusia from the Moors in the fifteenth century.
Vox’s manifesto includes the anti-immigrant and xenophobic
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