“Spaniards First”: Spain’s Far-Right Vox Party Is Co-Opting Trumpism

They fear-monger about immigrants, push conspiracy theories, and want to build a wall. Spain's VOX party is using Trump-like tactics.
Former President Donald Trump (AP) and Vox Party President Santiago Abascal (Contando Estrelas from Vigo, España / Spain, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Former President Donald Trump (AP) and Vox Party President Santiago Abascal (Contando Estrelas from Vigo, España / Spain, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. Carmen Aguilera-Carnerero is a lecturer at the department of English and German Philology at the University of Granada (Spain) as well as a senior research fellow at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR).

Like the majority of far-right populist parties, Spain’s VOX has built a great part of their discourse upon the rhetoric of fear. As Ruth Wodak points out, the extreme right’s concept of fear is frequently constructed upon the discursive strategies of ‘victim-perpetrator reversal’, ‘scapegoating’, and the ‘construction of conspiracy theories’.

Anybody can be potentially addressed as a dangerous ‘other’ a fact that, along the alarm-inciting policy assimilated by the great part of the citizens, start to be a natural constituent of the social landscape. The creation of in-and-out groups, as Engel and Wodak state, necessarily implies the use of strategies of positive self-representation and the negative portrayal of others.

In the case of Spain, that socio-economic anxiety is constructed against an enemy who can be internal, or anybody who threatens the unity of the nation either ideologically — attacking their pillars and customs, like the current “socio-communist government”, as they call it — or, in practical terms, those who challenge literally the unity of the country such as the Catalan independentists. The figure of the external enemy who menaces to break the harmony of Spain is mainly embodied by the immigrants. Once the “other” has been clearly delineated, VOX can design different strategies to defeat them.

In relation to the external enemy, the far-right party’s policies against illegal immigration have always been inflexible. In the 100-point electoral program they presented to run for the National Elections in 2019, the political force dedicated a whole block of proposals to address their policy on immigration together with another set on defense, security, and frontiers. Both groups are interconnected and represent 20% of their measures suggested to build a better country.

Although there is already a spiked barbed wire in the cities of Ceuta and Melilla – the two Spanish cities remaining on African soil – VOX suggested the building of an impassable wall à-la-Trump to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country. The admission of immigrants would then depend on two criteria, the economic demand and the capacity of adaptation of immigrants to Spain, that is, the compatibility (meaning similar religion and linguistic skills). In practical terms, they were stating their preference for South American (traditionally Christian and Spanish speakers) rather than African immigrants, as Abascal contended in 2018.

As we have stated, the regulation of illegal immigration has been one of the main issues for VOX but interestingly, the construction of that “other” has undergone semantic scalation in which the immigrants have been qualified in multifarious ways to create anxiety in the population depending on the specific problems the country was going through in different stages.

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Back in the summer of 2018, when VOX was far from being the powerful political force it is today, they expressed their rejection of the measures adopted by the government concerning the Aquarius, the migrant rescue ship chartered by NGOs “SOS Mediterranean” and “Doctors without Borders” to save refugees and migrants in trouble at sea. As the government allowed the hosting of 629 immigrants wandering at sea, VOX saw in that decision an “act of propaganda” and accused them of performing “fake humanitarian policy” as well as “being accomplices of human trafficking mafias”. This was linked to what the political force has defined as “a calling effect”, foreseeing a massive incoming of immigrants on the Spanish coasts and urging the mobilization of the army to defend the borders.

From then onwards, VOX focused on MENAS (menores extranjeros no acompañados) or non-accompanied foreign minors. The MENAS – whom they call “the kids of the socio-communist government”- are framed by the far-right party as delinquents who escape from the minor centers and attack decent Spanish citizens. In that very same line, multiculturalism is frontally rejected by VOX and one of their representatives in the congress, Rocío de Meer, described the neighborhoods full of immigrants as “multicultural dumps”  in which the decent working-class were condemned to live.

The most frequent hashtags used by the far-right party to talk about this topic online are #paremos la invasion (let’s stop the invasion), #fronterasseguras (safe frontiers) or #fueramenas (MENAS out). Illegal immigration is presented in online discourse through the typical metaphors of “invasion” and “waves”. The first one has the connotation of “attack”, involving the idea of destruction, force, and hostility as well as entailing the need for self-defending from the “enemy”. The “wave” metaphor implies the idea of intimidation by a wild force and the effect of an unruly situation.

During the year 2020, VOX focused onCOVID-19 and the way the government has dealt with the pandemic but just after the peak of the crisis was reached, they went back to the immigration issue.  Due to the collapse of the free Spanish Health System that was overwhelmed by the massive amount of cases of coronavirus, the far-right party proposed in March that illegal immigrants should pay to be medically assisted echoing the “Spaniards First” populist philosophy of their campaigns.

Especially profuse was the discourse of the party during the summer since they qualified the immigrants as “undercover jihadists coming to Spain”, “delinquents”, “good-for-nothing infected illegals” or “positive for COVID-19.” In September, immigrants were associated with the second wave of coronavirus in Spain as well as with the urban protests against the constraints imposed by the government in relation to the pandemic.

VOX’s fear-inducing strategy regarding immigration has been semantically constructed in a way that escalated progressively to create alarm and fear in the Spanish population. The framing of immigrants mutated progressively from performing a massive arrival to being delinquents, good-for-nothing jihadists, and infected invaders. So, migrants’ incoming was semantically presented as an actual risk for the safety of the land and public health. Indeed, in November they urged the Spanish Navy to block the arrival of immigrants to the Canary Islands. The narrative of migrants as infected invaders in the middle of a pandemic stigmatizes a community that already lives under constant suspicion and fosters their collective discrimination with a serious issue that goes beyond mere politics and becomes a matter of public health.

This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.

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