Written by: Marta Navarro
Politics is a topic that has been growing in importance in the Spanish socio-political sphere. Everyone seems to be an expert and to have an opinion about it, however, not everyone seems to have the interest to understand the proposals offered by the different parties. It is therefore not surprising that the rise of populist discourses within Spanish politics has led to a growing tendency of polarization.
The start of this trend can be found in the 15M movement, a movement that led young people, mainly university students, to go out on the street to protest against the political inefficacy that Spain had been living in since the economic crisis of 2008. In their terms, they wanted ‘to be heard’. Their political alignment was a left-right one, bringing together different ideologies, from social democracy to communism. This can be taken to be the start of the new Spanish politics. The political party Podemos emerged from the 15M movement, lumping together different left-wing ideologies and anarchist tendencies. 2014, however, was not only the year that Podemos was born, but also that Vox was born.
Vox, on the other hand, emerged as an answer to the movements that the 15M brought up. Vox can be categorized as one of the ‘new Right’ parties that are emerging all around Europe. It was created in 2014, however, its political presence was not noticeable until 2018. Unlike Podemos, Vox took more years to gain entry to the Congress, only obtained after several factors aligned. First, the rise of Podemos and their growing representation in the Spanish Congress made the conservatives fear the possibility of Pablo Iglesias becoming president. Secondly, the leadership change that the Partido Popular (PP) suffered in 2018 when Mariano Rajoy, the former president of Spain and a well-known figure, was asked to step down. He was replaced by Pablo Casado, a young politician known for some scandals relating to his master’s degree. Therefore, Spanish right-wing politics lacked a strong leader.
In this context, Vox became popular, having a leader that represented the Spanish masculinity image, a discourse that promised to take Spain back to its roots, addressing the Catalan problem and using incendiary terms such as calling Podemos ‘communists’ or the PP and Ciudadanos ‘derechita cobarde’ (‘cowardly right’). This is when you could start hearing terms such as “communist” or “fascist” used in the streets, without people being aware of the connotations and meaning of these words. And it is exactly this lack of awareness that made the discourses more incendiary. The more extremist their discourses got, the more people adhered to these parties.
This has left Spain in a completely polarized environment, but what is worse is what it has done to the younger generations. The political debate has been translated into cultural matters, creating a division following the way you dress, the music you listen to and the places you go to. Mutually exclusive identities have been created within the younger generations, which make you choose which one you want to belong to. Following the norms that have been established, you need to pick one of the two normative identities, which in most cases will also mean casting your vote for a specific party, which has turned out to be either Podemos or Vox, showing the lack of in-between. The rise of these two political parties during the social media era has made them gain a dimension that the older political parties could have never reached: the dimension of being trendy. This is what Spanish politics has come to, the trendiness of polarization, without caring about ideals.
Nowadays, the trendiness that Podemos might have gained between 2018 and 2020 has gone down due to Pablo Iglesias leaving the party. Since 2020 and the pandemic, Vox has been the one party that has taken the main spotlight. No day goes by without either Vox or Santiago Abascal being a Trending Topic on Twitter. What people do not realise is that this is what they are looking for: being trendy, creating scandals and being in the spotlight. One of the clearest examples of this is the migratory crisis involving Morocco and Ceuta in 2021. Santiago Abascal then created this image of him entering Ceuta on a white horse, echoing images from Spanish myths such as El Cid on his horse. This imaginary image soon became viral, and a lot of memes were made. This means that the representation of him as the next Spanish myth, embodying Spanish attributes became viral, which only made some people more attracted to the idea of Vox.
The cultural war that is being fought in Spain and has Madrid as the main battlefield with Isabel Díaz Ayuso against the rest, is mainly about the idea of Spain. If you love Spain you have to fit certain standards and vote Vox, if, on the other hand, you do not like the traditional conception of Spain you have to fit other standards and vote Podemos. Taking away the capability of the people to create their own personal political thought and making social pressure the basis of voting will never solve Spain’s problems. Corruption, economic crisis, unemployment or gender inequality are only some problems that Spain is facing at this time, however, most of the voters are only preoccupied with voting for the party that is better for their social recognition. Their main worry is projecting the image of a good Spaniard that defends their land; however, they forget that without good policies there will be no Spain to defend.
Featured image by Vox España