Spain’s snap vote: Catalans fear right-wing takeover

Final opinion polls project that the right-wing PP party will win a majority in a coalition with the far-right Vox.

Spain's far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal
Spain's far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal gestures as he speaks during an opening campaign rally ahead of the July 23 snap election, in Puerto Almerimar, El Ejido, Spain [File: Jon Nazca/Reuters]

Madrid, Spain – Should polls prove correct and far-right Vox party form part of a future Spanish government after next Sunday’s snap general elections, it is not just pro-independence political parties that risk being banned: even Catalan language magazines in public libraries are in danger of disappearing.

“Mission accomplished,” Jesus Albiol, the newly-appointed councillor for culture for Vox in the town of Burriana, proudly announced on Twitter last week after cancelling the subscriptions for the magazines, two of them children’s comics, for the local library.

“We’ll no longer go on promoting Catalan separatism with our town’s money. These magazines,” he concluded in capital letters, “ARE OUT.”

Albiol’s removal of the Catalan language magazines provoked widespread condemnation from multiple political parties far beyond Burriana for what some viewed as attempted censorship.

Salvador Illa, president of the Catalan Socialists, even called on the leader of Spain’s main conservative party, Alberto Nuñez Feijoo of the Partido Popular or People’s Party (PP), to condemn “this fanatic who bans Catalan magazines”.

However, it is not just children’s comics in Catalan in public libraries that Vox is looking to eliminate if, as is increasingly likely, the far-right formation becomes the junior party in a PP-led government after the July 23 vote.

Spain's opposition and People's Party (PP) leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo and the President of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso
People’s Party (PP) leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo and Community of Madrid President Isabel Diaz Ayuso (left) attend a campaign rally in Madrid [File: Isabel Infantes/Reuters]

Vox’s electoral manifesto proposes – via a referendum – banning all pro-independence political parties across the country, from Catalonia to the Basque Country and Galicia.

“Vox wants to illegalise pro-independence dissidence and get rid of Spain’s autonomous governments as well,” Germà Capdevila, Catalan political analyst and editor of the Catalan-language magazine Esguard, told Al Jazeera.

“They also advocate that areas currently run by autonomous governments like health, education and security all revert to centralised control. In that sense at least, the future is really black.”

Currently, opinion polls suggest Vox will take about 35 to 40 seats in Spain’s next parliament and remain the third-largest party, enjoying a kingmaker’s role for any right-wing government.

But Capdevila said that he did not expect such dramatic policies as banning parties to be put immediately into action should Vox actually wield state-level political power.

“Whenever a party gets into government, they soften up their dialogue. In the case of the far right, that’s what happened with Giorgia Meloni in Italy, and it would be even more the case if – as would happen with Vox – they’re the junior partner in a right-wing coalition.”

As for the pro-independence parties and their voters in Catalonia, the idea that Vox might be part of a government is viewed with increasing alarm.

“It’s very difficult to predict exactly what will happen. But as the elections approach, the atmosphere of fear, repression and unease is worsening,” Xavier Diez, a writer and historian who backs Catalan independence, told Al Jazeera.

“One of the fears we have is that amongst the far right in Vox are lifelong pro-Franco supporters and they have the same old Francoist goals, including imposing Spanish culture and the Spanish language and trying to get rid of Catalan,” he said, referring to the former Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco.

A person rides a bycicle on a bike lane past a general election campaign poster
A man rides a bicycle in Madrid past an election campaign poster showing Santiago Abascal of the far-right party Vox [File: Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters]

Among Catalonia’s pro-independence parties, the dangers of the far right gaining access to government have become “one of the motors of their political campaigns”, Capdevila said.

“The [left-wing] ERC and CUP parties both argue that the final goal is independence, but short term even they are saying the most important aim in these elections is to create a majority that avoids the far right taking power,” he said.

“The only separatist party that doesn’t follow that line is Junts, the most conservative of the three. Junts basically states that it doesn’t matter if it’s the left or the right in power in Madrid – they’ll always be against the independence movement,” Capdevila said.

“A lot will depend on the balance of power between PP and Vox, assuming they win, but I don’t think they’d dare to ban parties in the short term,” said Luis Simon, a lifelong pro-independence voter in Girona, a Catalan city with a strong separatist tradition. “Long term, though – yes, they could try.”

Vox’s hardline stance on pro-independence parties chimes in well with a key plank of the right’s campaign against Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his Socialist Workers’ Party, Simon pointed out.

“The Socialists have done a pretty good job with the economy, so the right’s main vote-capturing strategy is a scare tactic: they constantly criticise Sánchez for working with the Reds [his hard-left coalition partners, including Communists] and the Catalan and Basque independence parties, too, to pass progressive laws,” he said.

While the prospect of Vox in government “sends shivers down my spine”, Simon said, and he will vote for the left-wing CUP party, he added that he has “pro-independence friends who are not going to vote because they are annoyed with everything political”.

“Then, I have other friends who are pro-independence who are going to vote Socialist to try to stop the PP,” Simon said.

A woman prepares her postal vote ahead of the July 13 deadline for postal voting in Spain's snap general elections
A woman prepares her postal vote ahead of Spain’s snap general elections [File: Vincent West/Reuters]

Capdevila confirmed that after 2017’s failed independence bid in Catalonia, “there’s a feeling in certain quarters of the movement that they gave it everything they could six years ago, that their leaders didn’t do as much as they should have, and now they are not going to vote”.

“The big incognito is what kind of effect this abstentionism will have, because if you study social networks it seems like they are a majority of voices. But while social media is an echo chamber which often over-exaggerates reality, abstentionism plays into the hands of the far right. Because the hard right’s supporters are all going to vote, that’s for sure,” Capdevila said.

Simon predicts that with the elections taking place during the summer, the first real stand-off between the likely PP-Vox government and Catalan independence will be on September 11, Catalonia’s national holiday.

“Not much will happen in August in the holiday period, but that’ll be where we see the first showdown,” Simon said.

And as Capdevila sees it, a PP-Vox government in Madrid could well, in the long term, act as fresh fuel for the Catalan separatist movement.

“There can be no doubt about that, because look at the impact a minor anecdote like removing five magazines from a library has had across the country, with press conferences, politicians weighing in and the like,” he said.

“More than taking the initiative, the Catalan pro-independence movement is a reactive one. That’s what fired up the attempted break with Spain in 2017, and this time round the same thing may well happen again.”

Source: Al Jazeera