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Will Bannonism Play in Spain?

Spain has mostly resisted the right-wing populist wave so far. One party, with links to the former White House strategist, is trying to change that.

“Spain first!” roars Santiago Abascal, the leader of a far-right party called Vox. Sharply dressed, with a well-groomed beard, Abascal is giving a speech in a Barcelona hotel, with the words La España por venir, “The Spain to come,” looming behind him. “This is the biggest event in the history of Vox,” he declares to an audience of 2,000 people waving Spanish flags and cheering, on June 3. “We are here to defend our way of life, our homeland, and the heritage of our fathers!”

Abascal finishes his speech and steps off stage to piped music that sounds like the soundtrack from The Lord of the Rings. Members of the audience, largely male, not young, greet the Vox leader with slaps on the back and bear hugs as he makes his way down the aisle. Above them is a forest of Spanish flags nearly touching the ceiling—a ceiling so low it makes the room look like an underground bunker. There’s something faintly ridiculous about the whole scene.

Vox was founded in 2014 out of disenchantment with the center-right People’s Party, the dominant force of conservatism in Spanish politics for the past 40 years. Along with the sort of hard-line stances on immigration and the European Union that are now familiar from emerging right-wing parties throughout Europe, Vox’s raison d’être is to protect the unity and sovereignty of Spain. It believes that the “autonomous communities”—regional governments set up in the years after Gen. Franco’s death in 1975—should be abolished. The party claims to be surging thanks to recent events.

In October, a referendum was held on whether Spain’s northeast region of Catalonia, which has its own language and cultural traditions, should become independent. Although the referendum did not have Madrid’s blessing, the “yes” result led Catalan leaders to declare a republic. Would-be voters were beaten by police, Catalan leaders were jailed, and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy imposed direct rule on the region in an unprecedented move. Still, Vox says that the Spanish government under PP was too soft in its response.

Throughout the crisis, Vox staged nationalist demonstrations, usually attended by a few hundred people. Fascist salutes and swastikas were often seen at protests organized or endorsed by the party.

Vox chose to hold its aforementioned “biggest event” yet in Barcelona to directly confront the separatists. The party believes that it can win municipal seats in the Catalan capital with the support of unionists—people who want to remain part of Spain, and make up at least half of Catalonia’s population.

Vox’s “Spain first” slogan is a deliberate nod to Trump. “Like Donald Trump in the United States, we want to make Spain great again,” Vox’s general secretary Javier Ortega says. But while Trump is president of the world’s most powerful country, Vox consists of minnows. The party has no seats in the Spanish Parliament and despite its claims to be on the verge of electoral breakthrough, opinion polls suggest otherwise. Far-right parties have emerged in Spain in the past but have never managed to win much support here. Somehow the country has even been able to resist the recent trend of right-wing populism sweeping through Europe. Can Vox be the party to change that?

Source : slate