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The Catalan independence movement is not behind the rise of Spain’s far right

The Spanish extreme right is fueled by a fear of true democracy, of diversity, of equal opportunities and women’s rights. They have used fear and hate as their main tools to cultivate growth, as Anne Applebaum’s deeply reported essay shows. 

In Spain, the rise of the extreme right originated from internal divisions and power struggles within the conservative Partido Popular (PP). Vox, the far-right party that just recently won its first seats in the national Congress, emerged from this rift. Under the leadership of party leader José María Aznar, the extreme right felt that it was well-represented by the PP, but the period led by Mariano Rajoy led to the breakaway of leaders and the creating of parties such as Vox, which are far more willing to admire former dictator Francisco Franco and the traditional goals of Spanish fascism.

The Catalan independence movement, for its part, has grown more intense since 2010 as a result of attacks made by the Constitutional Court and Spanish parties to undermine the main law that governs Catalonia, which had been approved by the Catalan people in a binding referendum in 2006. These aggressive blows against the statute and the Catalan people´s will for self-determination were mainly instigated by the PP. Could we then say that it was the right that fueled the independence movement, contradicting the theory, included in Applebaum’s essay, that independence was a factor in the rise of Vox?

It’s clear that this new far-right movement is a global phenomenon that transcends Spanish borders and has gained force because of multiple factors. How could we otherwise explain the rise of the extreme right in many European countries without independence movements? In the case of Spain, corruption scandals that engulfed the PP were also a factor that fed the extreme right-wing populist reaction? What about immigration and refugees fleeing armed conflicts, hunger and persecution in their own countries?

Spanish political parties have decided to single out the independence movement as the culprit for all Spain’s misfortunes to absolve themselves of any responsibility for their poor record and management. For many years, the parties that have governed Spain, regardless of their political leanings, have subjected Catalonia to a disturbing lack of public investment and have discriminated against the Catalan people.

Instead of assuming responsibility for this structural discrimination, the Spanish political parties and their academic, intellectual and media spokespeople have preferred to build a false narrative, linking the Catalan independence movement to the growth of the extreme right. This fiction is now underpinning the administrative and political recentralization of the kingdom of Spain.

An accurate analysis of the election results of April 28 shows that, in fact, Vox has gained a lot of support from conservatives who traditionally have voted for the PP or the more recently established center-right party Ciudadanos, according to polling by the Center for Sociological Research.

In other words, this extremist vote already existed and is not new. The real phenomenon that Spain has experienced is not the emergence of the extreme right but rather its fragmentation into three different formations that are competing for this space.

The far right, part of the legacy of Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, had been sitting quietly because 40 years of dictatorship prevented their rapid entrance in the political system. However, the threatening and violent response of the Spanish government against the peaceful and democratic Catalan process endorsed the discourse of the extreme right, which they previously had not dared to express openly. The biggest parties in Spain have legitimized the idea that the unity of Spain is more important than respect for democracy and justice. This argument has normalized a political attitude central to the Spanish extreme right.

If Spain had reacted democratically to the peaceful demands of the Catalan people (such as that of Britain toward Scotland or Canada toward Quebec) Spanish right-wing extremism would not have had the endorsement of the political system in espousing its radical and antidemocratic ideas.

But this is why we must not retreat from our defense of democracy. Indeed, the best response to fascism or, in this case, to ultranationalism, will always be to promote peace, free information and the unity of democrats.

Catalonia will keep moving forward to gain recognition for its right to self-determination through peace and democracy. We hope that Spain will rise to the occasion and give a 21st-century democratic response: that the Catalans should decide on their political future through a referendum.

[Article publicat al Washington Post, el 7 de maig de 2019]