Is Spain Backsliding to Its Dictatorial Past?

BY Vadzim Malatok

Spain, the country that has been regarded by many to have an immunity against the omnipresent rise of populism, finds itself making the headlines amid the insurgence of the right-wing populist Vox party in the November general elections. An unexpected outcome has led to much debate on the future of Spain amid fears that the country will eventually backslide to its dictatorial past of the Franco era. 

The snap elections called by the Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez were held on November 10, 2019, in an attempt to break the political deadlock that arouse due to the Sánchez’s refusal to form a left alliance. What was seen as an opportunity to consolidate power, in fact resulted in an unfavorable outcome for the leftist parties that lost a substantial number of seats to the conservative Popular Party (PP), which gained over 20 seats, and the far-right Vox, which won 52 seats – doubling its seats since it first entered the Parliament in April.

“Today a patriotic alternative and a social alternative has been consolidated in Spain that demands national unity and the restoration of constitutional order in Catalonia,” said Santiago Abascal, a 43-year old leader of Vox, in his celebratory speech on Sunday night.

These results, however unexpected, shouldn’t come as a complete surprise given that most of the issues that Spaniards worry about such as corruption, unemployment, and Catalan and Basque separatism, remain unresolved.

Formed in 2014 by the former members of the PP, who were dissatisfied with the leadership of Mariano Rajoy and the party’s policies that landed it too far to the center, leaders of the new party pledged to defend Spanish national unity, restore central power, respect Spain’s cultural diversity, and bring immigration under control.

Despite the fact that Abascal himself does not place Vox to the right of the political spectrum but rather insists it is a party of “extreme necessity,” most experts seem to agree on striking similarities with other right-wing populist parties, especially on issues such as immigration.

What sets Vox apart, however, is the fact that it does not necessarily seek support of the working or “economically marginalized” classes but appeals to the middle-aged, middle-class males who has voted previously for the PP or Ciudadanos, according to Spain’s National Research Centre (CIS). In addition, the party’s uniqueness stems from the fact that it does not seek Spain’s break from the European Union (EU) but advocates for curbing illegal immigration and strengthening border security.

At home, Vox is seen as an alternative that the voters hadn’t had since 1975 when a predominant two-party system was established. Campaigning for tougher controls on immigration, a roll-back to the Gender Violence Laws, and economic liberalism, places the party between the PP and Ciudadanos, and thus helps attract supporters from both sides and foster sense of belonging. In fact, the losses suffered by Ciudadanos, which saw its numbers decrease from 57 to 10 in the Parliament, are believed to have gone to Vox.

“Unity is one of the things that needs to be very strongly defended in Spain. And the other is freedom — we defend the free market, we defend the freedom of Spaniards, we defend certain traditions. We defend things that nobody has been defending for the past 50 years,” told Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, Director of International Affairs at Vox, to CNBC back in April.

However, with its vows to “Make Spain Great Again,” the party’s promise to revoke a Historical Memory Law of 2007, which condemns Franco’s regime, and opposition of the government’s decision to exhume and transfer the body of the late dictator, many question the party’s stance on the Spain’s fascistic past. 

Abascal claims that he is not a supporter of the late dictator despite the fact that his party is advocating for the upholding of tradition – the policy that was championed by Franco. In his response to opposing the exhumation of Franco’s body, Abascal said that “Spain should look to the future not the past.”

It is evident that an absolute absence of right-wing nationalist and populist parties since 1975 has resulted in the accumulation of issues that are emerging all at once and Vox is seizing its opportunity to emerge as a powerful force by addressing these concerns in a pragmatic manner. And if the incumbent Pedro Sánchez and his Socialist Workers’ Party fail to form a majority alliance and leave the divided nation in limbo during the lengthy Catalan crisis, Vox will continue to capitalize on these shortcomings. However, no one is sure how far will Vox go.

The Heterogeneity of the Right-Wing Populism Regarding Middle Eastern Migrants

BY Vadzim Malatok

The populist actors oftentimes present policies in ways that are intended to have an emotional or fearful effect on the population. This approach adds more malleability to an already fluid ideology. As a result, the populist actors are able to adopt to the changing political landscapes and manipulate social issues to their own advantage. 

The ability to present themselves as political chameleons have resulted in emergence of various populist actors that disagree with one another on a variety of issues. For instance, the populist radical actors point out at the dysfunctionality of Islam in the Occident and denounce uncontrolled immigration from the Middle East. In addition, they advocate for halting immigration and tightening border security as well as creating programs directed at immigrant assimilation, for the latter believed to help preserve European democratic institutions and principles. The extreme-right actors also share similar attitudes toward immigration from the Middle East but are of the opinion that immigrants, and in particular of the Middle Eastern origin, are incapable of integration and assimilation, which might further explain their opposition to globalization in general. There are also ultra-religious groups that do not berate Islam directly but maintain that liberal secularism and liberal democracy, which are prevalent in the Western world, engender Islamization of the European continent. 

And although the above-mentioned groups differ in how to maintain European identity, they present Muslim migrants as the main contaminants of the European culture. But even the act of racialization itself has shifted from biological, as was conceived by the Nazis, to cultural suggests Pietro Castelli Gattinara in “Framing Exclusion in the Public Sphere.” This shift is significant in that it allows the populist actors to label migrants as ‘incompatible’ with Western values rather than ‘inferior’ to a particular ethnic group.

 As a result of the fear of the cultural contamination, the Pegida movement emerged in 2004 in Germany. Similar to the most of the far-right populist actors, the Pegida views Islam as a “religion of conquest and submission,” though, unlike the other groups, it offers a great deal of freedom and flexibility to its participants, which can be attributed to the emergence of the ethno-pluralistic ideology and certain autonomous nationalistic groups that are self-governed and do not answer to any superior body. 

 In conclusion, the heterogeneity of the populist right-wing movement is evident upon considering their stance on migration, which also points to the shared similarities between them such as Islamophobia. As a result, most of these groups present themselves as “the last defenders of national interests.”

The Fragebogen: Denazification Questionnaire

BY Vadzim Malatok

At the end of the World War II, the Allies implemented a program that was intended to cleanse Germany and all remaining elements of Nazism from its public life. The term ‘denazification’ was coined to reflect the program’s objective, which consisted of nine different policies that varied from holding the leaders of the NSDAP accountable for the regime’s atrocities to “changing names of parks, streets, and public ways.” In 1945, the Allies created a questionnaire, known as the ‘Fragebogen’, which consisted of 131 questions that the Western Germans were required to fill out. The questionnaire was a part of the denazification program and contained questions ranging from the individual’s pre-Nazi voting record to his or her weight and height. 

In addition, however, the questionnaire went as far as to inquire about the person’s implicated relatives – the maneuver that had been previously attempted by the NSDAP. When Adolf Hitler came to power, one of his main goals was to indoctrinate citizens into Nazism by modifying public opinions and beliefs. As a result, a notion of an ‘exemplary citizen’ was invented to depict one who reported on his or her neighbours or relatives for their supposed anti-Nazi actions. The number of reports was staggering, and evidently, the Allies decided to incorporate the same approach to help identify the remnants of the National Socialist Party. However, the drawback of the questionnaire was that it was to be completed ‘under oath of honesty’, which meant that the accuracy of answers was often questionable. The only available resources that the Allies had to investigate the factuality of answers were the NSDAP, SS, and SA documents that remained in their possession after the war. As a result, many answers could not be scrutinized and were thus accepted in the hope that the respondent answered the questions truthfully. However, according to Hannah Arendt, “Europeans do not always believe in telling the absolute truth when an official body asks embarrassing questions.”

Overall, the ‘Fragebogen’ was subjected to much criticism, for its “wide scope, uneven implementation, and emphasis on party membership rather than on individual criminal acts.” As a result, it is considered to be a failed project on the part of the Allies despite its massive circulation.

Is Italy on the Verge of Lapsing into Fascism?

BY Vadzim Malatok

In recent years, the Italian streets have witnessed an increase in the usage of fascist symbols and rhetoric being used by protesters and right-wing politicians, alike. One of the perpetrators of reviving Italy’s “traumatic” past has been said to be none other than Matteo Salvini. And for good reason. The 46-year-old leader of the Italy’s right-wing populist party Northern League was recently involved in yet another daring venture that generated much debate over his supposed admiration for the Italian dictator of the 20th century, Benito Mussolini. 

On October 19, 2019, thousands of Italians gathered together in Rome to protest against the newly formed coalition between the center-left Democratic Party and a populist Five-Star Movement. The so-called “Italian Pride,” led by the centre-right coalition leaders, reminded many of the infamous “march on Rome” that took place on October 27, 1922, and marked Mussolini’s rise to power. 

Not only does the date proximity evokes connotations to the march, but also the overall message of protesters that was delivered by Giorgia Meloni, leader of Brothers of Italy, who said: “[w]e’ll be a strong opposition and won’t let anything go with this government.” Similarly, Mussolini once stated that “[e]ither the Government will be given to us or we shall seize it by marching on Rome.”

Of course, Meloni, unlike Mussolini, chose a softer tone in her rhetoric because an overly aggressive approach wouldn’t be tolerated by the international community of the 21st century – at least not yet. But the message was loud and clear.

What is unclear is to what extent the Italians will entertain this idea of having their fascistic past revived while allowing one of the country’s leaders to imitate Il Duce. The fact is, Salvini has been the center of criticism over his appeal to fascism in the past but without any serious harm to his reputation among the electorate.

On March 4, 2019, Salvini, a de facto Italian Interior Minister, posted a tweet quoting an American poet, Ezra Pound, in an attempt to address his neo-fascist followers.

The tweet, which reads out as “[i]f a man is not willing to take some risk for his own ideas, either his ideas are worthless, or he is worthless,” received a backlash due to its linkage to the author who’s been criticized for his anti-Semitic remarks and fascist appeal.

On another occasion, Salvini tweeted: “Tanti nemici, tanto onore!” in response to criticism that was directed at him over his racist and xenophobic remarks. The quote, which means “so many enemies, so much honor” was not only borrowed from Mussolini’s famous “[m]olti nemici, molto onore,” but was also posted on the late dictator’s birthday.

On May 5, 2019, Salvini addressed his supporters from the balcony in the town of Forli – the same balcony where Mussolini witnessed the execution of four partisans in 1944.

One may wonder why Salvini is so obsessed with the late dictator and the answer is: it is not just because he is Italian. In fact, Salvini and Mussolini have more in common than one might think.

Salvini, just like Mussolini, began his political career on the far-left before moving to the opposite side of the political spectrum. In 2015, he commented by saying that “I’m an old fashioned communist, I know more factories than bankers do.” 

Most importantly, however, Salvini has shown his ability to attract masses, exploit popular discontent, and sway public opinion – the talents that Europeans have witnessed before in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

Of course, other right-wing politicians across the globe share similar prowess in using the language of political populism to influence public opinion, but only Salvini has taken it to the new extremes. Another populist with neo-fascist inclinations is the 2017 French presidential candidate Marie Le Pen, who works side-by-side with Salvini on a number of issues.

While the likes of Salvini and Le Pen haven’t exactly gone the same route as their predecessors such as Mussolini and Hitler, they have been heavily criticized for influencing the rebirth of fascist movements. In Italy, the fascist-like attitudes have been on the rise and will continue to rise while Matteo Salvini is at the center of the Italian political turmoil.

The Role of Women in Hitler’s Germany and Franco’s Spain

BY Vadzim Malatok

The emergence of the Third Reich and the Francoist Spain is frequently associated with the growing predominance of nationalistic and fascistic attitudes in the region, which, in turn, are associated with the largely masculine attributes such as strength, aggressiveness, and independence. As a result, the role of women within these male-dominated regimes has been either understudied or overlooked. However, the recent findings by numerous historians suggest that women’s contributions extended beyond that of a ‘supportive’ role as was propagandized during the Francoist dictatorship. Therefore, it is imperative to determine the extent of ‘blame-worthiness’ that may be attached to women for the atrocities committed by their governments.

In the article “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-9,” Sofia Rodriguez Lopez and Antonio Cazorla Sanchez argue that women’s participation in Franco’s Spain was not limited to that of stereotypical innate feminine capacities such as nursing, social services, sewing clothes, and so forth. In fact, pro-Franco’s women were involved in the activities ranging from mere resistance against the Republic to sabotage, and, in some cases, espionage. In addition, Nationalist women created the Women’s Section, a feminine organization, that enlisted around 15 per cent of all Spanish women and characteristically resembled similar organizations in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Despite the fact that Nationalist women acted in a somewhat cohesive manner rather than individually, the extent of their involvement varied greatly, and therefore, should be examined more scrupulously in order to avoid exposure to generalization or overstatement.

In Wendy Lower’s book Hitler Furies, the reader encounters similar issues of ambiguity, generalization, and, at times, oversimplification. The research conducted by Lower lacks concretization that would leave the reader in disbelief, for the magnitude of women’s participation in heinous acts. For instance, Lower mentions that lovers and wives of the SS officers were often involved in the atrocities committed by or along with their partners – the statement that need not be fathomed in amazement given that most of these women were probably amoral in the first place if they had decided to establish a relationship with the Nazis. In addition, Lower notes that “the number of ordinary women who contributed in various ways to the mass murder is countless times larger than the relative few who tried to impede it.” (81) However, it is unclear who an ordinary German woman is and whether or not the wives of the SS officers or those with close proximity to power are considered to be ordinary women.

In summary, the role of women in Hitler’s Germany and Franco’s Spain ought not to be underestimated. In some instances, the concepts of femininity were obscured to the point that women acted as equals to men. Thus, Lower is correct in that “… system that make mass murder possible would not function without the broad participation of society…” (14) and that conclusion should be used as a base for further exploration of the magnitude of female participation in heinous acts.

Works Cited

López, Sofía Rodríguez and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez. “Blue Angels: Female Fascist Resisters, Spies and Intelligence Officials in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–9.” Journal of Contemporary History 53, no. 4 (2018): 692–713.

Lower, Wendy. Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2013.

Consumerism as a Tool to Advance Fascist Movement: Contrast Between Italy and Germany

BY Vadzim Malatok

When Benito Mussolini ascended to power, Italy was in political turmoil. Although the fascist insurgency was gathering momentum, the Duce’s overriding objective was to form a national identity that hinged on the relations of various social classes and that of the citizens with the state. According to Victoria de Grazia, the totalitarian regime resorted to indoctrination by means of “expansion of a mass consumer market and growth of the mass media.” Conversely, Nazism’s solution to the social question lay in the regime’s need for public support and legitimization, which is reflected in the state’s policy intended “to deliver a high standard of living to working-class Germans.” The contrast in approaches between the two authoritarian regimes can be explained in terms of economic sustainability.

First off, the newly elected Nazi Party chiefly concerned itself with the eradication of the cultural diversity and reduction of unemployment, which were regarded as the by-product of the Weimar Republic. To accomplish this, the Nazi regime “aggressively promoted production over consumption”and according to Shelley Baranowski, “[honored] workers according to their ability to produce for nation and race.” In Italy, on the other hand, deep economic slump led to the government’s commitment to promote the “modern” approach to consumerism that would “supplement the inadequate social security coverage by the state pension” and provide “another source for government investment programs.”

Thus, the Italian government appraised its workingmen on the basis of their accessibility “to a slowly developing national mass market”as opposed to their relationship to production as was done in Germany. Moreover, the prolonged economic stagnation created a few obstacles for the Fascist Party to increase the consumer purchasing power and the authoritarian regime resorted to dissemination of propaganda through written publications and state-run radio that “taught” its citizens how to modestly spend and increase savings. Ultimately, the only beneficiary from this policy was the regime itself.

In Germany, on the other hand, the honoring of workers was done through Strength through Joy– the Nazi leisure-time organization. Baranowski elucidates that the organization’s primary goal was to “guide workers to purposeful and restorative leisure that stimulated productivity.” Tourism became one of the main distinctive features of the Nazi mode of consumption. Not only tourism allowed Germans to observe the dire economic conditions that foreigners lived in, it created positive images of Nazism, domestically and abroad, due to its perceived “accomplishments.”

While both regimes strived for the indoctrination of its citizens, only one proved to be more effective than the other, and Baranowski succinctly summarizes it by indicating that a “greater opposition to fascism existed in Italy than in Germany.” However, is that a compelling enough measurement of effectiveness?