Des Freedman and How to Fix Media Policy – Andrew Devenish

In “Populism and media policy failure”, Des Freedman in my opinion correctly points out many issues which enable and support the growth of populist and far-right movements in the US and the UK. In particular, he cites “policy silences” and “policy failures” in four main areas where there has not been enough done by government policy to encourage a healthy environment for media and journalism. These four issues are the failure to tackle concentrated ownership, the failure to regulate tech companies, the failure to safeguard an effective fourth estate (investigative journalism), and failure to nurture independent public service media. In my opinion, Freedman’s analysis of the policy failures and silences in these four areas are spot-on and highlight real, important issues that help enable the growth of populist movements too much. However, Freedman’s solution to these problems leaves something to be desired.

Essentially, Freedman wants a total shift in the approach to media policy and calls this new approach a “redistributive” media policy. However, it’s unclear what this actually means. For instance, when Freedman correctly points out issues with commercial media (they go where profits can be found), and public service media (funding can complicate things and journalism can get too close to government), he doesn’t elaborate on how a “redistributive” policy would solve these problems. He is happy to say in his conclusion what problems would be solved by this new policy paradigm but neglects to explain how they would be solved. This paradigm would be “designed to cater to the needs above all of disaffected citizens” but it is once again unclear what that would entail. Would media companies be publicly owned, or commercial entities? How would these companies under this new paradigm operate to ensure that they properly serve the public’s interests? Perhaps it isn’t Freedman’s goal to make policy recommendations, but after he so astutely points out many areas where policy can be improved, his solutions are rather less satisfying.

The Dark Side of Social Media

Well… it is a dark side if we are talking about right-wing populists’ mobilization. In theory, social media could be used to mobilize other kinds of powerful movements, like the Arab Spring. Dark sides or bright sides aside, this week’s readings offer interesting insight about the more creative ways right-wing populists have spread their ideas and fostered support. Nicole Doerr discussed how visual images are used to garner support. Des Freedman focuses on the populists’ skills in utilizing social media to communicate with supporters. Niko Hatakka outlined some of the drawbacks of using social platforms to promote a party’s or group’s image.

Doerr’s discussion of how imagery was used was particularly interesting. In the EU, there many different languages spoken. If a group, for example a right-wing populist group, wants to have its message reach a transnational audience, images are a good way to transcend language barriers. Additionally, the same image, in this case the black sheep, can be used in different settings or countries. The design of the poster or the caption may be adapted to best suit the environment, but the core symbols stay the same. Using simplified cartoons like the black sheep reinforces Freedman’s summarization that populists are able “to transmit ‘sentiment’ over ‘fact’…to exploit the mainstream media’s appetite for sensationalist stories.” The black sheep is an unfortunately perfect example of how an over-simplified cartoon can unite people across national boundaries, against immigrants.

Freedman’s arguments and reasoning a(C)cur(a)tely pointed out the shortco(m)ings of the media scene, including social media. In addition to the pro(b)lems concent(r)ated ownersh(i)p, one of the most important issues currently is the failure to regulate tech companies. Free(d)man points out that (g)oogl(e) and Facebook ‘not only rule the pl(A)yi(n)g field but (a)re ab(l)e to set the rules of the game as well.” Freedman drew the parallel between lack of regulations here and wh(y) (t)he turnout of the last US elect(i)ons was (c)ostly and question(a)ble. This involved lack of transparency about privacy on social media and that many people did not even know they were being targeted with ads on social media.

I found Hatakka’s arguments interesting because they pointed out the potential drawbacks of populist groups using social platforms. On one hand, social media is a great way to reach ‘new digital foot soldiers’, on the other hand, allowing more people to be actively part of the discussion could lead to ‘decreased message discipline’ and a tainted image. Not only does this argument point out the risks of using social media to mobilize people, it also highlights how important the image and messaging is for the group. Why populism claims to speak for the people, in reality the message needs to be controlled. Social media is a detriment here.

When analyzed together, Doerr, Freedman and Hatakka provide a balanced assessment of the mobilizing and transnational powers of social media, while acknowledging the risks of using social media for populist groups.

The world is not increasingly populated by populists; the world is increasingly structured for (and by) populists

By: PSjoberg

The evolution of media, having completely transformed daily life since the new millennium, is surprisingly and shamefully overlooked as a cause of so much of the 21st century’s political events and developments. Three of this week’s readings – those by Niko Hatakka, Des Freedman, and Nicole Doerr – address this fact, diligently outlining the ways in which modern social media and online platforms directly contribute to the recent wave of right-wing populism in Europe.

Hatakka correctly identifies how right-wing populists, and people who are generally unhappy with the prevailing government in their respective countries, are able to use online forums, like Hommaforum in Finland, to stir up emotional political sentiments among voters. Hatakka also rightly states that “digital communication technologies have provided not only new tools for political organization, but a whole new logic to political identity formation and group formation.” This is the crux of the problem: so many observers are refusing to acknowledge that the world’s political landscape and means of political discourse are undergoing a foundational change. This is not simply an issue of new tools or strategies being introduced to politics, it is an issue of the norms of political discourse shifting.

Des Freedman succinctly argues that so little attention is being paid to “the structural conditions and policy frameworks that have facilitated the circulation of clickbait and misinformation.” Populist groups tend to thrive on the spread of misinformation and “click-baity” emotion-driven headlines. What people are continually failing to acknowledge is the fact that modern social media platforms also thrive off this practice, thus creating an ideal partnership between the two: populists and the media.

Nicole Doerr further expands on this general hypothesis by detailing the ways in which right-wing populists are increasingly using visual images and symbols in order to make their message at once more powerful and more international (by softening the obstacle of language barriers).

It is easy to identify the faults of political discourse. What is more difficult is to be able to accurately predict the abuse of media platforms by right-wing populists before they are able to fully muster the technology to their advantage. Tess Slavíčková and Peter Zvagulis attempt exactly this in their study of anti-minority rhetoric in Czech print media. Their article demonstrates the difficulty in identifying what is and is not considered “hate speech” and examples of “new racism.” Slavíčková and Zvagulis demonstrate in their article, perhaps in contrast to their aims, the near impossibility of creating an accurate warning mechanism for right-wing political abuse of the media.

Sources:

Slavíčková, Tess and Peter Zvagulis. “Monitoring Anti-Minority Rhetoric in the Czech Print Media: A Critical Discourse Analysis.” Journal of Language & Politics, vol. 13, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 152–170.

Hatakka, Niko. “When Logics of Party Politics and Online Activism Collide: The Populist Finns Party’s Identity under Negotiation.” New Media & Society, vol. 19, no. 12, Dec. (2017): 2022–2038.

Freedman, Des. “Populism and media policy failure” European Journal of Communication 33(6)(2018): 604-618.

Doerr, Nicole. “Bridging language barriers, bonding against immigrants: A visual case study of transnational network publics created by far-right activists in Europe” Discourse & Society 28(1) (2017): 3–23.

Op-Ed #3: Populism and the Future of Europe

Populism and the Future of Europe

Banner Future is Europe

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that [is] it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not before”

-Rahm Emanuel

The Euro Crisis, Immigration Crisis; since it’s inception, the European project has faced crisis after crisis. Today the crisis facing the European Union (EU) is Populism. Despite the fear that the rise of populism has brought, now is the time for the EU to act.

While populism can be found across the globe from the United States, India, and much of Latin America; populism has been most prominent in Europe. Populist leaders like Viktor Orban, Marine Le Pen, and Geert Wilders have captured the headlines and inspired the rise in populism across Europe.Populist parties in Poland, Italy and Belgium have seen electoral success. Populist groups fared well in this years European Parliamentary elections. Populism has undeniably taken hold across Europe.

But why has Populism gripped Europe tighter than other regions?

The reason for this is the EU itself. The EU as an institution is the perfect scapegoat for populists to rally against. Populist movements rely on pitting the‘corrupt elite’ against the ‘ordinary people’ . The EU fills the corrupt elite role as the role and purpose of the EU is not understood by the European public. As Time’s correspondent Vivienne Walt argues, populists and nationalists cast E.U. executives as disconnected elitists out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people.

Related, populists claim the EU takes away national sovereignty. Populists leverage this by painting the EU as undemocratic. This rhetoric is often used, as shown by this tweet by Nigel Farage, one of the populist leaders behind Brexit.

The Future of Europe

All is not lost. In fact, now is the time for action by the EU! Ironically, populism may have provided the spark to spur deeper European integration. The problem of a ‘democratic deficit’ ‘has dogged the EU for decades, a claim often used in populist playbooks. However, with the spotlight of populism, European wide issues have been brought into the pubic sphere for debate.

This is the EU’s chance to pursue deeper integration, become more democratic, and finally defeat the populist surge. As demonstrated with the Eurozone Crisis, in times of crisis, the EU can increases its mandate. An example of this is the recently introduced European Citizens Initiative (ECI). The ECI allows European citizens to directly influence EU policy making. This mechanism has been seen as a great step towards solving the EU’s democratic deficit.

Only if Europeans know they are being heard will they feel like they belong to Europe, care about Europe, and engage with Europe.

– Manfred Weber, Leader of the European Peoples party (EPP)

Now is the opportunity to make this a reality.

Populists have engaged not only the public on EU level policies but brought the attention of national leaders to debate. French President Emanuel Macron has lead the debate with some calling him the leader of Europe. Macron has supported the creation of an EU army, European minimum salary, and has called for a European Renewal. The renewed spark of debate around the future of the EU and Europe in no small part has been thanks to the populist groups, who have increased the salience of EU integration.

 There is now a clear reaction by Europeans against the rise of populism. The populist movement within Europe seems to be stalling. Within the EU,  populist parties fell short of expectations in the last European Parliament elections. Further, the populist parties within the European Parliament are divided. Nationally, populists have lost out in key states such as Austria. Locally there are now challenges  to the populist strong holds.

While unlikely to be gone overnight, populism in Europe may have caused its own demise. The EU should take this opportunity and address populist claims head on. By doing so, the EU is poised to see a renewal in public interest and debate, something long awaited by many.

The Future is Europe

Left Wing Populism and Feminism: For Who and At What Cost?

By: Julia Aguiar

Understanding populism is the political equivalent of trying to hold a fistful of sand. As you tighten your grip, it begins to slip through your fingers. Put another way, definitions of populism are widely debated making it almost impossible to derive its exact meaning. In general, populism can be characterized as malleable. The shape shifting ways of populism account for why it finds a place on both sides of the political spectrum. 

In an interview with Zack Beauchamp, populism expert Cas Mudde offers several definitions of populism. Mudde holds that populism builds itself on the notion that society is made of two opposing yet distinctly homogeneous groups — the elite who are inextricably corrupt and “the people” who are pure and often downtrodden. Where left and right wing populism diverge is in their understanding of “the people.” In right wing iterations of populism, conceptions of “the people”are based on race, class, and nativism in relation to a hardlined notion of national identity. How populist movements on the left define “the people” is generally perceived as more inclusive and based on the principle of anti-establishment.

Due to the unmistakable undertones of race and class imbued in populism, it is no wonder that more overt conversations on gender and sexuality have been pushed to the periphery. Swept under the populist rug as it were. 

For many, the adoption of left wing populism is promising for the way that it offers to advocate for the downtrodden in decidedly progressive terms. As with the example of Podemos in Spain, left wing populist movements are picking up on the current discourse on feminism which is increasingly entering the mainstream. But how feminist can the politics of populism ever be if operating on a bedrock of binary, opposition, and homogeneity? Principles that are the antithesis to meaningful feminism. While Podemos invokes the language of feminism, they adopt a type of mainstream feminism that is woefully benign and unproductive. Superficial as the feminism that Podemos espouses is, it is revealing of an inherently misogynistic political order and the general discomfort towards a more dissident type of feminism.

The left wing populist party, Podemos (We Can), was founded by Pablo Iglesias Turrión in 2014 in reaction to the anti-austerity movement that swept through Spain in May of 2011.

Podemos as a political party and member of the left wing alliance, Unidas Podemos, has not shied away from a discourse on gender and sexuality. In fact, they openly declare themselves a feminist political party. But Podemos’s embrace of feminism is revealing itself to be increasingly loose. Its limited understanding of feminism and perpetuation of toxic mainstream feminism suggests that maybe Podemos uses feminism as a buzzword to bolster its progressive image.

In an interview titled “A Feminist Movement For Us All,” Jacobin Magazine sat down with the Secretary of Intersectional Feminism and LGBTI of Podemos, Sofía Castañón. When asked critical questions of Podemos’s feminist stance, Castañón offered vague responses. She spoke of the supposed “feminist perspective” that Podemos utilizes without deconstructing exactly what that means. Most unsettling is that in the interview, and in the platform of Podemos more broadly, there is a profound absence on the LGBTQ community in Spain. This contradicts the supposed intersectional feminist approach of Podemos. They claim intersectionality, but the intersectionality they practice is for the benefit of cisgendered women. Podemos seems to have capitulated to the perception that Spain is accepting of the LGBTQ community. However, the very presence and support of the vitriolic anti-LGBTQ campaigns of Vox desperately require a response from a political party. In this regard, Podemos is failing. 

More troubling still is the fact that Castañón’s is posited as representing the whole of Podemos’s feminist politics. Here we can point to the highly criticized masculine makeup of Podemos. At the top, Podemos is filled with men of large personalities. That would be less a problem if leaders such as Turrión were more vocal and clear in their supposed feminist perspectives. Instead, we see that the discourse on feminism is shouldered almost exclusively by the female members of Podemos and is lacklustre at best. What’s more, in a series of anonymous interviews conducted by Johanna Kantola and Emanuela Lombardo, it was revealed that female members of Podemos feel politically disempowered in the party and practice self-censorship amongst their male counterparts. 

As was demonstrated in the results of the Spanish General Election earlier this month, the shortcomings of Podemos to even keep its seats has made way for the rise of Vox which almost doubled its seats. The failings of left wing populism provide a significant global lesson: not all progressive politics aid in the liberation of marginalized peoples.

Leaked documents from the Chinese Government Show How They Orchestrated the Mass Detention of Muslims; Are You Surprised?

Very recently, 403 pages of internal Chinese documents leaked to the New York Times show the severity of the clampdown on the ethnic minorities of the Xinjiang region. President Xi Jinping ordered the mass detention of Muslims under the pretext that it is for the struggle against religious extremism and terrorism. The targeted population are a Turk-speaking mostly Islamic population in Central Asia called the Uighurs, an ethnic minority. However, even he was quoted saying “round up everyone who should be rounded up.” This is indeed extremely vague and makes it easy to target Muslim communities as epicenters of “religious extremism”, even if they are not. It offers a great opportunity for marginalization and oppression from the Chinese authorities, and they have used this simple definition to detain the masses of Islamic peoples.

These detainees are sent to prison and internment camps that are described by the state as “job-training centers” that will allow the minds of those who have contracted the “virus” of religious radicalism to become healthy again and rejoin society. International and local students whose families have disappeared are being threatened to silence about matters of imprisonments on the basis that what they say and their behaviours will impact what happens to their families. This has been happening incessantly over the past three years. One cannot overstate the severity of the generalization of Islamic communities in the detentions made by Mr. Xi’s government.

How surprising is it that China organised the mass detention of Muslims? Surely, the Chinese government has committed many crimes against basic human rights, but this is not the point I am trying to make. I should rephrase the question: how surprising is it that Muslims are the ones being detained? Is China the only country doing this? The answer is no. There is an increasing global trend of “Othering” the Islamic community. Just last week in India, a massive student protest occurred because a professor was hired to teach Sanskrit in the faculty of Sanskrit Vidya Dharma Vijnan at the Banaras Hindu University. There was a student walkout and the protest is still going. All this simply because this professor identifies as Muslim and the students found it inappropriate that a Muslim was teaching Sanskrit, even though he was fully qualified to do so. So, China is definitely not the only one persecuting Muslims. However, the Chinese instance this is a very explicit oppression, while others, like Europe, take a more subtle approach to the othering and oppression of the Islamic community.

It has become more pronounced in the recent years that the historical tradition of the “east” as the “other” has become focused as Islam as the “other”. The EU devoting itself to the unifying of Europe under the prospects of humanism, equalitarian values and tolerance, yet this does not apply to Muslims inside Europe and to those that are wishing to come to Europe. Fatima El-Tayeb of the University of California outlines this issue in her article ‘Gays who cannot properly be gay’: Queer Muslims in the neoliberal European city. El-Tayeb shows that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Europe struggled to reunite the opposing sides of the eastern and western bloc in an increasingly interconnected world. There was a need to define a common identity for unification. How could they define what it means to be European, when Europe is so diverse? Surely it is easier to define what is not European. Thus, the “othering” became a unifying factor. So, the slogan of the European Union “Unity in diversity” becomes “Unity of the Eastern and Western European states against the Islamic Other.” Why? Because, as El-Tayeb argues, Islamic communities are viewed as a threat to the “European values” mentioned above (equality and tolerance) even though by adhering to the othering of Muslim communities, Europe is breaching its promise of the same equality and tolerance they vowed to protect.

So, I ask again: is it so surprising that China is also taking a blow at the globally marginalized community?

Reinforcing the “Global Islam” Enemy: Western populism’s influence in the Iranian protests

Western populism is influencing the events in Iran and thus reinforcing a “global Islam” as the enemy. The definition of populism is complex as it is not fixed; it shifts and adapts according to the region in which it arises. Thus, it is difficult to specify a homogenous definition of Western populism, but as Cas Mudde writes, “the key enemy has become Islam.” What links Western populism is the distinct “us” versus “them” of the Islamic population.

The current government in Iran is theocratic. This theocratic state was a result of what can be considered a populist uprising, also known as the Islamic revolution of 1979. The elements of populist tactics are seen in the call for a referendum to decide the fate of the Dynasty previously in power, or to call for the establishment of an Islamic Republic government, the mobilization and protests by primarily the population’s youth. Though the protests that Iran is currently facing seem to be influenced by the prominent “us” versus “them” discourse of Western populism.

The protests began as reacting to economic problems, though this does not deter from the fact that the protests show prominent Western influence. Mudde distinguishes populism as the corrupt elite versus the pure people. This is a rhetoric that has taken hold by the protesters. Recently, the Islamic republic in Iran caused an internet blackout in what prominent human rights activists are calling a means to control the mobilization of the people. It has also been claimed to be a tool to isolate Iran and the events from the rest of the world in the face of intense violence. This discourse is populist in nature, as it features the corrupt elite versus the pure people. As the government is an Islamic theocracy, this narrative of the corrupt elite paints corrupt as Islam against the people. It portrays this system of governance as violent, against the people, and representative of an archaic people.

This notion that Islamic culture is archaic is used to ‘other’ Muslims minorities in Western populism. It is also being used to mobilize the people against the theocratic regime in Iran. It can be seen in the discourse surrounding the #whitewednesday movement, where women challenge the mandatory wearing of the hijab. Masih Alinejad, founder of the #whitewednesday, is very active on social media platforms and is very critical of the Iranian government. As she has been exiled, the internet gives her access to critique and challenge the Iranian government, a trait that has become increasingly important within populism – to deter from the fake news by controlled media outlets. This critique is reliant on the hijab as a signifier of the oppression of women. This #whitewednesday movement illustrates this Othering of the theocratic corrupt government in repressing the pure people. It is a way for Alinejad to “[give] a voice to voiceless people.” It is playing into the idea that the Islamic government is oppressive, thus feeding into this Western populist narrative of the Islamic Other.

This is not to say that these women are rejecting Islam or that these women should not be critical of their own autonomy. What this movement shows is that it is greatly influenced by populism; critiquing and challenging the authority of an Islamic theocratic regime, thus consciously or unconsciously challenging and reinforcing the Islamic Other. There is significant lack of discussion around the voices of women who do not oppose the mandatory wearing of the hijab. This then shows the influence of Western populism, as the hijab has been a physical identifier of the Islamic Other. Therefore, a lack of focus on the desire does not fit into this dichotomy of the western “us” versus “them” narrative.

It is this challenge of Islamic authority that rose to power through populist means, being challenged by Western populist discourse, such as the notion of archaic Islamic culture oppressing the people, that allows for the Othering of Islam in an Islamic state. This in turn reinforces a global Islamic enemy.

Op Ed #2: Patterns of Populism

By Daniel Williams

For all the show, for all the fuss, of individual populist groups often maintaining nationalistic views and policies, there is a silent overarching factor to these various groups.

In fact, Pew Research Center has recently released a series of excerpts from their findings regarding populist groups and their views on various issues important across the EU. And, wouldn’t you know it, these groups maintain notably similar stances on many issues. For instance, support for Russian President Vladimir Putin is markedly high among all right-wing populist groups throughout Europe, with small geographic variations.

But perhaps more interesting are the cases where these groups do, in fact, disagree with each other. Limiting our analysis to right-wing populists, we can find that there are differences that exist on several critical issues to populist platforms among the right. Confidence in the EU, views on Muslims, and even positive opinions of their own culture, are all points of dissonance among Europe’s various far-right populist groups. The question then is why?

Geography seems to be an element of this. Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary seem to be the nations that most commonly buck the trends set by other nations. Eastern Europe seems to have notably different ideas of what populism means, despite being some of the most fervent right-wing bases. Poland especially is known for an exceedingly far right government, yet Poland’s populist supporters are confusingly more likely to be favourable of Muslims than the average population of Poland. This is a rather bizarre trend when looking at the far right in Western Europe, but is mirrored by Slovakia’s right-wing members too.

This could be due in part due to a difference in othering within several Eastern European nations. While in Western Europe the ‘other’ is Islam and Islamic refugees, in Eastern Europe it seems that there is instead a different, resurgent threat: Russia.

Remember when we analyzed the approval of Putin among right-wing European populist parties? Well, something absent from the data on this particular issue is, you guessed it, Poland.

Further missing from the data is the influence of populists within Ukraine. Ukraine, having fought a bloody war against both separatists supporting Russia and against Russian clandestine forces, is not present on this list. Nor is Belarus, or the Baltic States.

The issue that is being seen here is one that has for a long time plagued Europe, the sense that the part of Europe that truly ‘matters’, politically and economically, is the West. Eastern Europe is, within the western world, still underrepresented, and as such trying to define patterns for ‘Europe’ as a whole results instead in defining patterns for Western Europe.

While it is not unimportant to maintain analysis of Western Europe and its influential political sphere, we must still attempt to move beyond the scope of Western Europe and instead try to encompass the true whole of the picture. Only then can we attempt to define real patterns for populism and the far-right throughout Europe.

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.

Hacer España Grande Otra Vez

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.