We’re toasting to Spanish far right’s defeat for all the wrong reasons

By Antonio Maestre, Journalist and writer

Vox is nothing more than a simplified expression of the ideas that were always seen as acceptable by Spain’s conservative hardliners, Antonio Maestre writes.

In 1994, former Spanish Foreign Legion Corporal Massimo Testa de Andrés died in Melilla and was buried in the city cemetery of La Purísima. 

Testa’s real name was Andrea Ghira: he was the infamous Butcher of Circeo and the perpetrator of one of the most violent crimes in Italian history. 

There is not a single Italian citizen alive in 1975 who does not remember the photograph of bloodied and beaten Donatella Colasanti being helped out of the boot of a Fiat 127 where Ghira, Gianni Guido and Angelo Izzo had put her together with Rosario López.

The three men kidnapped them, raped them for two days, tortured them, and left them both for dead while they went to have dinner with their families. 

They drowned López in a bathtub. Colasanti survived by pretending to drop dead after they struck her with an iron bar.

The crime was known as the Circeo massacre because it took place in the town where these three young men of the Roman bourgeoisie had a villa where they perpetrated the crime. 

The three murderers were linked to fascist parties and organisations. They considered the kidnap, rape and murder of two working-class girls good entertainment. 

The far-right hooligan Andrea Ghira never served a sentence for these crimes. He took refuge in Spain because all the fascists of the world have always known that it was a safe place for them and their ilk. 

Francoism never left the mainstream

Back to the present day: Europe, at least a part of it, has breathed a sigh of relief after seeing the results of the July general elections in Spain, in which the extreme right lost a significant portion of its seats in the parliament and has not managed to enter the government together with the Popular Party (PP) as the polls predicted.

The international press has since dubbed Spain as an anti-fascist bridgehead that has managed to go against the rising influence of the post-fascists on our continent today. 

Yet, it did so without delving into the profound particularities of a country that has long metabolised its ideology within the institutions. 

In Spain, the ideology that has never been persecuted or sanctioned is not seen as politically incorrect or unacceptable. 

In fact, fascism, or its Spanish derivative, Francoism, has undergone a process of institutional integration during Francisco Franco’s rule that makes it very difficult for it to stand apart from the mainstream in order to become novel or avant-garde, as it does in other European countries such as Germany or France, where it was persecuted.

A history of letting fascists sleep peacefully

What Germany, France and Italy do have in common is the exile of their leading figures of the criminal extreme right to Spain. 

The cemeteries of Madrid are the final resting place of the most distinguished figures of international fascism. Only the leaders of the extreme right who were annihilated by the Partisans or persecuted by the Allies did not fall into eternal sleep in the capital of Spain. 

The cases are innumerable, but it is worth mentioning some of these infamous figures in the criminal history of fascism. 

Personalities such as Ante Pavelić, the Croatian Nazi Ustaša leader who collected human eyes to decorate the centrepieces of his office tables, Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, the Nazi Vichy collaborationist in charge of Jewish affairs, and Otto Skorzeny, an SS colonel and head of Nazi special operations, passed through Spain, rested, took refuge and led a public and social life. 

The collusion of the Spanish state, its dictatorship-derived laws surviving in democracy, a philo-fascist right wing and a social democracy unwilling to carry out a thorough revision of Franco’s rule and bring foreign and domestic war criminals to justice made Spain a paradise for any fascist or Nazi in search of a peaceful retirement. 

Protections that were forged during Franco’s regime continued in a democracy that refused to respect the demands of the countries of origin of the fugitives whenever extradition was requested, justified by the fact that certain crimes were not criminalised in the Spanish legal system.

Those in Europe celebrating that Spain has not fallen prey to the extreme right in the last election do not fully understand that the danger lies not so much in an extreme right that will never get beyond 15% of the vote but rather in a conservative mainstream that is very affectionate to post-fascists because they have always felt close to the same ideas. 

Vox only says the quiet part loud

The Spanish conservative right is much more radical than its counterpart in Germany and France for the simple reason that it was formed on the premise of the triumph of its local fascism. 

In Spain, they were victorious and have not had to be ashamed of their legacy in the Civil War and dictatorship, whereas, in Germany or France, they were built on the premise of repudiation of a past or confrontation with Nazism in World War II. 

The extreme right in Spain had been latent for many years within the PP itself, and Vox is nothing more than a simplified expression of the ideas always seen as acceptable by conservative hardliners. 

The likes of Vox’s leader Santiago Abascal simply dare to say them out loud and publicly defend them. 

And in the run-up to the 2024 European elections, Europe’s conservatives, like their Spanish peers, are choosing the same attitude of quiet acceptance of the new far-right parties’ fascist ideas.

To put it simply: the European conservative right has learned it cannot defeat the extreme right and has decided to build bridges with them instead. 

Europe’s conservatives will now take a page out of Spain’s book

The European People’s Party (EPP) flagbearers, including Italy’s Antonio Tajani and Germany’s Manfred Weber, have already made strides to integrate fascists into the much larger conservative family. Alberto Nuñez Feijóo would have been one more piece of that movement. 

The leader of the Spanish PP wanted Italian Prime Minister and leader of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia Giorgia Meloni to join the EPP, as he made abundantly clear in a joint interview with the newspapers El Mundo and Corriere Della Sera. 

Spain is an example in Europe not for what has been celebrated as the brave resistance of PSOE’s leader Pedro Sánchez to the rise of the extreme right, but for having been the archetype of a democratic state that has never dealt with lingering fascist ideas in the institutions favouring the impunity of those who committed crimes protected by that criminal ideology. 

And if anything, Spain will now serve as the model for how to integrate the extreme right into the mainstream without it being too noticeable.

Antonio Maestre is a journalist and writer. He is a regular contributor to eldiario.es, La Sexta and La Marea, as well as Le Monde Diplomatique and Jacobin. Maestre is the author of books Los Rotos (“The Broken Ones”), Infames (“Infamous”), and Franquismo S.A. (“Francoism PLC”).

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Spain election repeat more likely after expat vote count

Spain’s already complicated electoral landscape just got a lot more complex.

On Saturday, the count of the 233,688 ballots deposited by Spaniards living abroad — which are tallied five days after the in-person vote is held — led to the redistribution of seats in the Spanish parliament. As a result, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Party lost one of the spots it was allocated in Madrid, which will now go to the center-right Popular Party.

The Popular Party is now set to have 137 MPs in the next legislature; together with the far-right Vox party’s 33 MPs and the single MP belonging to the affiliated Navarrese People’s Union (UPN), the right-wing bloc is set to control at least 171 seats the same number as Sánchez and his preferred partners. Should the Canarian Coalition revise its stated position, which is against backing any government that includes Vox, the conservative bloc could add another seat to its tally.

Those numbers do not improve conservative leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo’s chances of becoming prime minister. Even with an additional seat under Popular Party control, he still does not have enough support to overcome the crucial simple majority vote that a candidate must win in parliament in order to form a government.

But with the technical tie created by the reallocation of seats, Prime Minister Sánchez’s already narrow path to victory has become much more precarious, making the possibility of new elections in Spain more likely.

Prior to the loss of the seat in Madrid, Sánchez’s options for remaining Spain’s head of government involved persuading nationalist and separatist MPs to back a left-wing coalition government formed by his Socialist Party and the left-wing Sumar group. The combined forces of those parties and the 153 Socialist and Sumar MPs would have enabled Sánchez to count on 172 favorable votes, slightly more than the 170 the right-wing bloc was projected to control. As long as he convinced the Catalan separatist Junts party to abstain, Sánchez would have had more yeas than nays and been able to form a new government.

But now, with only 171 votes in its favor, the left-wing bloc will be facing at least an equal number of right-wing MPs capable of rejecting Sánchez’s bid to remain Spain’s prime minister. Getting Junts to abstain is no longer enough — Sánchez will need one or potentially two of the separatist party’s MPs to vote in his favor.

A hard circle to square

If getting Junts to abstain was already unlikely, getting the party to explicitly back the Socialist candidate seems virtually unthinkable right now.

Since 2017 the party’s founder, former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, has been pursued by the Spain’s judiciary for his role in the Catalan independence referendum. As a member of the European Parliament, Puigdemont has been able to sidestep Madrid’s efforts to extradite him from Belgium, where he lives in self-imposed exile. But in June a top EU court stripped him of his immunity and just days ago Spanish prosecutors called for a new warrant to be issued for his arrest.

Earlier this week Junts said that it would only negotiate with Sánchez if he agrees to declare a blanket amnesty for everyone involved in the 2017 referendum and commits to holding a Catalan independence vote.

“The party that needs our support will have to be the one to make the effort,” said incumbent Junts MP Míriam Nogueras. “These negotiations need to be held from one nation to another … Things are not going to be as they have always been.”

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister María Jesús Montero was quick to reject both demands, saying on Tuesday that the Socialist Party could only negotiate “within the margins of legality set out within the Spanish constitution.”


For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Holding new national elections would almost certainly hurt separatist parties. With the exception of Basque group EH Bildu, all of them lost seats in last Sunday’s vote, and they’re likely to lose even more support if they force electors to go back to the polls in December or January.

On Saturday, Raquel Sans, spokesperson for the Republican Left of Catalonia party, admitted that her group had begun to hold discreet talks with Junts with the goal of forging “strategic unity” among Catalan separatists and avoiding repeat elections that “are not in the interest of the public.”

The tie between the two blocs may allow conservative leader Feijóo to press Spain’s King Felipe VI to name him as his candidate to be the next prime minister when parliament is reconvened next month.

Although there is no chance that Feijóo will be able to win the required support from fellow MPs, a failed bid in parliament will allow him to momentarily quiet the dissenters in his ranks who have been calling for him to step down in the aftermath of last Sunday’s result, in which the Popular Party won the most votes in the election but failed to secure the seats needed to form a government.

There is still the possibility, however, that enough party leaders will tell the king that they back Sánchez’s bid and that he has a viable path to form a coalition government. While the now-caretaker prime minister is keeping a low-profile this week, Socialist Party representatives are said to be hard at work, holding informal chats with partners with the objective of stitching up that support in the coming weeks.

Regardless of whether the candidate is Feijóo or Sánchez, the moment one of them fails their first investiture vote, a two-month deadline will begin counting down, at the end of which the Spanish constitution dictates that the king must dissolve parliament and call new elections. That new vote must be held 54 days after the legislature concludes, so if no deal is struck in the coming months, Spaniards would go to the polls again at the end of this year or, more likely, at the beginning of 2024.

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