Vox reinvents history to claim ‘Reconquista’ of Spain

The links with Trump-style populism are not just ideological as Vox has likened its rise to that of the US Tea party and Trump himself.
Sunday 17/11/2019
Santiago Abascal, leader of far-right Vox Party, waves to supporters as fireworks go off outside the party headquarters after the announcement of the general election first results in Madrid, November 10. (AP)
Big boost. Santiago Abascal, leader of far-right Vox Party, waves to supporters as fireworks go off outside the party headquarters after the announcement of the general election first results in Madrid, November 10. (AP)

The far-right Spanish Vox party received a big boost in Spain’s fourth general election in as many years with its share of the vote jumping from 10% to 15%.

Narciso Michavila, the president of the GAD3 polling company that conducted a pre-election survey indicating an increase in Vox support, said the party had gained momentum “largely due to the reaction in the rest of Spain towards pro-independence movement in Catalonia.”

He also attributed it to the collapse in the vote for the pro-market Ciudadanos, which dropped from almost 16% of the vote in last April’s election to 7% on November 10, suggesting that many of that party’s voters were drawn to the far-right party’s tough line on Catalonia. Vox has not been shy in saying a state of emergency, which would involve the suspension of basic rights, should be imposed on the region.

“Europe is what it is, thanks to Spain. Thanks to our contribution, ever since the Middle Ages, of stopping the spread of Islam,” argued Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, Vox’s vice-secretary of international relations. “History matters and we shouldn’t be afraid of that.”

The rallying chant of political rallies in the Spain of late dictator Francisco Franco was “Viva Espana” and such cries are the hallmark of Vox rallies.

Vox President Santiago Abascal opened his campaign in the general election in April in the tiny town of Covadonga, at a lush valley in the northern region of Asturias. Covadonga is referred to as the cradle of Spain, the narrative of conservatives claims. It was the site of the first victory by Christian Hispania against Spain’s then-Muslim rulers and the start of the “Reconquista,” which would end with the fall of Granada in 1492.

That victory of Covadonga in 722 never took place. The date Muslim armies crossed the Strait of Gibraltar was 711 and the hated Visigoth rule quickly collapsed. The victory of Covadonga a decade later never took place but was a “historical fact” conveniently invented by King Alfonso the Great (848-910) a century-and-a-half later. This reinvention of history does not worry Vox leaders unduly. They talk of the “reconquest” of Granada, a city that did not exist before Muslim rule, and “Reconquista,” an expression that did not exist in the Middle Ages.

That term first appeared in the middle of the 19th century and entered the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy in Madrid in 1936, the year Franco rose against the republic.

Spain is not a country whose very definition proceeds from its fight against Islam, something serious historians such as Alejandro Garcia Sanjuan describe as a serious misreading of the reality of the Middle Ages. Had there been a Reconquista, the Visigoth kingdom would have been restored.

Bearing in mind that the Visigoths were present in Spain for three centuries and the Muslims for eight, one must look to the ideology of the Right to understand how the expression “Reconquista” was instrumentalised. Franco “reconquered” Spain from 1936-39 against the atheists and communists, ironically with the help of Muslim irregulars from the northern Rif region of Morocco.

The modern Reconquista, argues Sanjuan, became a fundamental “conceptual touchstone of the national-catholic reading of the history of Spain.” Hence today’s Reconquista is aimed at the Catalans, first and foremost, and at the Basques though the leader of Vox is of Basque origin.

This internal reconquest does not preclude other characteristics of Vox. Its advocates stoke fears of Muslims imposing sharia in southern Spain, turning the cathedral in Cordoba back into a mosque and forcing women to cover up. Hatred of Islam is part and parcel of the appeal of Vox, fear of immigrants particularly in Andalusia.

However, in the murky politics of covert finance of extreme right-wing parties in Europe, it comes as no surprise that 1 million euros were received by Vox after its founding in December 2013 and the European parliamentary elections in May 2014 via the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled Iranian group set up in the 1980s by the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (MEK), documents leaked to El Pais, Spain’s leading daily, indicated.

That MEK is feted by such people as Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton and Steve Bannon should give food for thought. That MEK should have helped Saddam Hussein in his fight against the Kurds further muddies the waters.

The nationalist hard right has used history or, more accurately, the misrepresentation of history as a tool in its idea of recovering identity associated with early Christendom. Modern nationalism has thrived on the notion of a people unchanged through the centuries.

Spain must be guaranteed a glorious past extending into the mists of time that guarantees the existence of the nation for all eternity. Historian Jean-Paul Demoule asks: “Isn’t it much more interesting when humans choose it, rather than endure it?” So Vox rattles on.

Abascal would rather have Spain accept immigrants from Latin America, since they share “our” language, culture and, he insists, worldview.

The 4% of the population in Spain that is Muslim could “become a problem.”

With Vox, fear of the other is laced with a form of virulent anti-feminism not seen elsewhere in Europe and a clear homophobic agenda. Its leaders call feminists “feminazis” and want more people to have the right to carry guns.

The links with Trump-style populism are not just ideological as Vox, described by Bannon as “one of the most important and interesting parties in Europe,” has likened its rise to that of the US Tea party and Trump himself. The party also hates globalisation.

The main target of Vox is the Catalan independence movement but that could change. The Muslim community in Spain could bear the brunt of a more radicalised Vox.

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