Borrowed from across the Atlantic, in 2016 Spain’s far-right populist party Vox used an all too similar slogan to broadcast its message. “Make Spain Great Again.” While this message immediately brings to mind similar far-right populist movements occurring across Europe, and in particular the United States, Vox embodies quite a unique character. Vox is a breakaway political party led by Santiago Abascal that removed itself from Spain’s conventional rightwing People’s Party in 2013. In its pursuit of anti-Muslim, nationalist, anti-feminist and Eurosceptic policies, Vox is gaining traction amongst the Spanish electorate. Just today, Vox captured the attention of headlines around the world for its refusal to sign on to a resolution commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, instead shifting the focus towards violence against men. Vox wields this amount of power because it managed to achieve nearly double the number of seats it holds in the Spanish parliament between two elections held in April and November this year, up from 24 to 52 seats, making it the third largest political party in Spain. What differentiates Vox from similar movements across Europe, and largely explains the recent upswing in support, is their firm position on territorial integrity and opposition to Catalan nationalism. However, for all its differences, Vox still gains much of its legitimacy from international support and far-right populist movements around the world, much like its slogan.
Ironically, for all of its anti-Islamic rhetoric, Vox owes much of its origins to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which donated almost 1 million euros to Vox between December 2013 and May 2014 leading up to the European Parliamentary elections. The NCRI is an organization with close links to the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK). MEK assisted in the toppling of the US-backed Shah of Iran, and is ideologically driven by Marxism, feminism and Islamism. However, MEK was cast into exile following the Iranian Revolution of 1979 due to its popular support within Iran. Owing to their exile, MEK supported Iraq’s war with Iran from 1980 to 1988, which is how they managed to fund themselves. However, since Saddam Hussein’s demise following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and his subsequent execution in 2006, it is speculated that MEK now receives funding from Saudi Arabia. This external funding was primarily linked to Alejo Vidal-Quadras, one of the founding members of Vox and a longtime supporter of the MEK. Nonetheless, whether the 1 million euros came from Iran, Iraq or Saudi Arabia, it is fascinating to consider that a bigoted political party relied on an Islamic nation to contribute to their Islamophobic ideology.
Another example of international support that has provided Vox with legitimacy derives from CitizenGO. Uncovered by openDemocracy (an independent media platform), CitizenGo is a campaign group that helps to coordinate far-right parties across Europe through petitions and events. The campaign group has been compared to a US-styled “Super PAC,” which aims to influence elections. openDemocracy displayed close coordination between CitizenGo and Vox leading up to the parliamentary elections in April, along with other far-right populist parties across Europe. This is of particular interest when considering the broad support and congratulatory remarks that Vox received from France’s Marine Le Pen, Italy’s Matteo Salvini and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, each of whom hold far-right populist views. What’s truly astonishing about these developments, such as the funding from the NCRI, campaigning of CitizenGo and broad support for one another, is that they are inherently contradictory to the very ideologies that these movements profess to lead. Vox, along with other right-wing populist movements claim to be the will of the people or nation against a corrupt elite, and yet they rely heavily on international funding and networks in order to achieve their aims.