For the first time since 1976, a far-right party is about to become part of a Spanish regional government. And one as decisive in the whole of national politics as that of Madrid. It does so in a particularly polarized context, in which the Podemos-Vox dichotomy has been effectively installed as two comparable and unbearable evils in any government option. I am not a fan of the Podemos leader, a man as irritating as he is irritable in a party with populist speeches and awkwardly grounded strategies. But it cannot be the same. At this time and in this Europe, establishing an equidistance between what one and the other defend or between the danger they represent for democracy – as Fernando Savater affirms – seems absurd to me.
Vox is not just a populist and hooligan party, with an ultra-liberal economic ideology, a taste for Manichaeism and a distorted and melancholic vision of history. Vox leaders promote an ideology of hatred. Lacking the most elemental compassion for some of the most vulnerable groups in our society, it strikes the waterline of a modern welfare state. A racist, sexist and anti-scientific agenda that determines the framework of the debate and the red lines that we are willing to cross. Including those of violating the law, as the processists and the batasunos –Their true reflections on the other side of the political mirror– in Catalonia or the Basque Country.
In no case is this activity limited to the noise of the headlines and social networks. To verify the true ilk of this political force, it is enough to look at its parliamentary activity, where many oral interventions and written questions exude an ignorance and annoyance that could seem childish, but that end up determining the whole of the conversation. Its true effectiveness is not in winning the argument, but in getting it to be bought by the parties that have real power in the institutions.
All this would be very worrying if it affected only Madrid, or even Spain. What is alarming – and clearly distinguishes them from a left-wing populism that goes through low hours throughout Europe – is the historical dimension of this matter. In his most recent book – The decline of democracy (Debate/Random House) – Conservative historian Anne Applebaum offers a devastating dissection of this phenomenon, the evolution of which she has followed first-hand from her residence in the Eastern EU. Conservative authoritarianism is a solidly established phenomenon in countries like Poland and Hungary – Fidesz’s latest move has been ensure control of all public universities– and spreads like an oil slick across the rest of the continent. Salvini is once again part of the Government of Italy, Le Pen tops the polls for the first round of the presidential elections in 2022 and the United Kingdom has been trapped in an identity reverie whose consequences for locals and foreigners have only just begun.
History repeats itself in many other European countries, where more or less relevant forms of national populism have managed to sneak into coalition governments that chose to play short and thereby blanked their positions. The deterioration is recognizable in rights, freedoms and obligations that may seem a long way from local elections, but are not: the right to move and express oneself freely; the right of women to live without fear of sexual assault; the obligation to protect all children, wherever they come from; the independence of judges, the public media and other democratic institutions. Ultimately, Europe’s ascendancy in protecting these same values in a world that is moving dangerously in another direction.
When Vox has entered the Government of the Community of Madrid, Spain will also have crossed that point of no return.
It cannot be the same. The lazy argument that there are extremes everywhere or that the left also has unpleasant and rude characters is not enough. Of course. But what we are at stake is much more serious than that. We all have a responsibility to avoid it because we all have options to do so. At the time of voting, it is possible to choose left or center-right alternatives that have formally committed not to include Vox in the executive. Once the elections are over, and if they are unable to form a government without the PP, the opposition parties must at all costs facilitate an investiture that does not include the ultra-rightists. It is not about making a vacuum, but about applying a firm sanitary cordon in the government, precisely for the reasons that Pablo Casado explained to all Spaniards in that memorable debate on the motion of censure promoted by Vox. The serious and historical tone that he used eight months ago is still valid today. The crossroads is still there, in front of each one of us.