What happened to Spain?

The rise of Vox, the far-right populist party


TEXT: Madalena Ricardo
PHOTOS: Wikimedia Commons


When the far-right started to emerge in Europe, many people feared this new trend. Mainstream politicians, especially, expressed their worries about the new political wave that was about to flood Europe – populism. It was a sign of weakened institutions, a crisis or representation, and a growing dissatisfaction with the traditional mainstream parties, which were failing to fully address everyone’s concerns.

Undoubtedly, major phenomena such as globalization and the neoliberal hegemony impoverished the middle class, increased inequality, and led society to demand more social protection. Facing new crises, the populist parties tried to capture and exploit this discontent. In many cases, they thought themselves to be able to manipulate and speak to the marginalized, the ones who felt excluded, who believed their demands were not being listened to.

Remarkably, the Iberian Peninsula appeared to be the exception to this movement – Portugal and Spain had not been affected by far-right populist parties. In fact, none of these parties had representation in the Portuguese and Spanish parliaments. Not even the Nordics, the supposedly near “perfect” democracies, had been able to escape the wrath of populism; but Portugal and Spain had. Thus, it came as a shock when, on December 3rd , Europe woke up to startling news – Vox, a Spanish populist party won 11% of the votes in a regional election in Andalusia.

In the elections of 2015, this party barely reached 1% of the votes. It became the first far-right party to win seats in a regional election since 1975, the year of Franco’s death; the year that marked the definitive end of the authoritarian dictatorship and the consequential beginning of democracy. It was also particularly surprising since Andalusia was a liberal bastion of the Socialists. Translated to the US, this would be equivalent to a Hillary Clinton’s win in Texas and Trump’s in California; a nearly impossible occurrence.

What is Vox in the first place? Vox is a right-wing populist party founded in 2013 by members that had previously belonged to PP (People’s Party) and other conservative parties. Vox has a clear stance against women’s rights, considering itself anti-abortion, and seeking to fight against what it describes as “radical feminism”, by suppressing all feminist institutions and repealing the gender violence law.

It is also against same-sex marriage. Additionally, it takes an anti-immigration stand, due to a growing number of immigrants and refugees. It identifies itself as a Eurosceptic, nationalist party, and therefore, one that seeks the unity and indivisibility of Spain; seeking to remove the autonomous communities and the sovereignty of regional identities, such as the Basque and Catalan. It appears to share similar ideas to those portrayed by dictator Francisco Franco, and, in reality, the party has actually expressed friendly positions towards Franco. The party has received support from Marine Le Pen; it admitted seeking similar goals to Viktor Orbán; and David Duke, ex-leader of KKK congratulated Vox for its victory.


The party has received support from Marine Le Pen; it admitted seeking similar goals to Viktor Orbán; and David Duke, ex-leader of KKK congratulated Vox for its victory.


But what happened to Spain? How did it get here? Perhaps, we were too busy looking at the Brexit fiasco, thinking of the typical Germany and France, and, once again, decided to ignore the Iberian Peninsula. What happened whilst Europe looked away? Well, Spain experienced significant economic, political and social changes, distinctly triggered by events such as the Eurozone crisis, the Catalan crisis, the Refugee crisis, and rampant immigration levels. It was a combination of multiple factors that would lead to Vox. Firstly, it was the astounding political instability that has been tormenting Spain for the last years. Mariano Rajoy, the prime-minister and a major political figure in Europe, was ousted via a non-confidence motion after several cases of corruption and bribes inside his party, PP. Pedro Sánchez, PSOE’s leader, replaced him, but the absence of a majority in the parliament leads to great instability and the overshadowing duty of new elections, which will be the third election in four years.

Now, Sánchez is desperately trying to form a viable coalition, while the fragmented right-wing is trying to do the same with Vox. The Spanish have lost their confidence and trust in the mainstream political parties and are tired of corruption scandals. The next elections hold a lot of fear and anxiety, and, unquestionably, they will be particularly important.



Perhaps, the biggest factor was the Catalonia crisis, starting in 2017. When an independence referendum was planned, the Spanish government refused to negotiate, condemned the act., and declared the referendum illegal. The situation reached unexpected levels of violence by the Spanish police, with a high number of injured civilians. Independence was still declared, but many politicians were arrested, and Catalonia has, since then, been in a political deadlock. But what this crisis represents is greater than we could imagine. It is a matter of identity, of history, of repression, and of division.

It is a matter of lack of dialogue and mutual understanding, which was not promoted by who it should have been – the people in charge. It is a complex matter that has resulted in a huge internal division, as well as resentment towards the other side. Ultimately, Vox is representing those who want to see a united Spain, where autonomy is no longer allowed. Populism is feeding off this internal division; the “us” vs “them”, the unabsorbed demands that the Spanish government was not able to respond to effectively.

Furthermore, the economic crisis that Spain recently endured, besides stimulating ideas of separatism, contributed to greater social injustice and a new employment crisis. Nonetheless, that was not the only issue. Record migrant arrivals to Spain have led Vox to gain more popularity. The party leader, Santiago Abascal, has claimed to be against “illegal immigration” and stated that “A Spanish-American immigrant is not the same as the immigration from the Islamic countries”. Andalusia became the main landing point for the entry of migrants, due to the proximity to Gibraltar; so, immigration was used as a key argument in the regional elections, which would eventually result in Vox’s success.

Nevertheless, one particular point must be mentioned. Vox’s members have, on multiple occasions, displayed not only similarities with dictator Franco’s policies, but have also showed benevolence and even respect towards him. Recently, the government approved the exhumation of the remains of Franco, as the place where he was, the Valley of the Fallen Mausoleum, was becoming a pilgrimage site for his supporters. Also, that Mausoleum is a monument to honor the fallen of the deadly Civil War, and therefore, it seems insensitive to simultaneously keep Franco in the same place. Vox showed its discontent and criticized it greatly, once again showing its esteem for Franco. It appears to have become a more widespread belief in Spain that Franco’s dictatorship led to peace, national unity and order. It is a serious matter of lack of efficient civic education when a country, which was under a tough dictatorship for so long, and battled such a deadly civil war with over 1 million deaths, starts to forget how vile the past was, and starts replacing it with a positive memory.


It appears to have become a more widespread belief in Spain that Franco’s dictatorship led to peace, national unity and order.


This is incredibly dangerous. It reveals a country that does not know its own history, who keeps public spaces to honor a dictator that killed and tortured hundreds of thousands in concentration camps, who allows the existence of a National Foundation to keep his memory alive and reminds us of a transition to democracy made by elites, not the people.

The apparent political instability, the rise of immigration numbers and the disunity in the Spanish territory due to the Catalonia crisis has led to a sense of absence of peace and order. Thus, combined with the lack of understanding of their own history, people started believing that this peace and order was required again, and could only prevail in a similar, nationalist party to Franco’s, Vox.

Vox decided to capitalize on these feelings of insecurity and dissatisfaction, and the weakness of the mainstream parties, especially the fragmentation of the right, to reach power. It saw the perfect moment and took it.

Vox is an attempt to return to the past, to avoid progress and maintain traditional, yet outdated and discriminatory beliefs. Vox sees itself as the future of Spain, but I can only see it as its demise, similar to the past. It reminds us of ideas of a Spain of the 1950s that our grandparents told us about – traditional, overly influenced by Catholicism and behind Europe in terms of progress. A vote for Vox is a vote for the past, for a Spain of the 1950s that tried to avoid progress and overly exalted traditional values and roles. It is a Spain where women’s rights were ignored and violated; where gay people had to live with fear and shame; and where autonomous communities were repressed, their language and identities suppressed, and the “unity of the Spanish nation” mattered more than pluralism.

I do not know what will happen to Spain, but I do hope it is not this.


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