By Arab News
By Mohamed Chebaro*
Amid the suffocating heat hitting Europe this summer, the far right in Spain might this weekend be on course to further suffocate the outlook for the future of democracy and liberalism both within the country and across the continent. With a general election taking place on Sunday, a far-right success might add more empty rhetoric, discriminatory discourses, xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia, whose manifestations one hopes will not recall the country’s fascist past, which would erode minorities’ rights in an increasingly multicultural Spain.
It is widely expected that a right-wing victory in the country’s snap election would pave the way for more conservative parties to dominate across the EU. The election was called by socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez after the left was routed in the May 28 local elections (as leftist voters stayed away, it is believed) and the result could see the extreme right take a share of power for the first time since the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco ended in 1975.
Recent polls indicate that PM Sanchez’s bet on a snap election might backfire, as the numbers indicate a likely government coalition of the right-wing People’s Party and the far-right Vox, with its anti-immigration and anti-feminist agenda. Above all, that will mean the further progress of the far right as a force to be reckoned with on the political stage across Europe, which the traditional right and left have failed to contain.
For Sanchez, who has been in power since 2018 at the head of a left-wing coalition, the stakes are high. His position is under threat despite his economic record, with 5.5 percent growth in the country last year and Spain being the first major EU economy where inflation has fallen below 2 percent since the onset of the crisis caused by the Ukraine war, the rising cost of living and the effects of the pandemic years.
The problem of most Western societies and their lurch to the right is due to a series of misconceptions and the malicious weaponization of various factors. These include fears for the fatherland, the over-magnified talk of change in countries’ demographic fabric due to the continuous waves of migrants reaching their shores, talk of poorer economic performance, and a perceived failure among many older people that the central government has lost control due to the somewhat weaker rule of law.
Look around Europe nowadays and you see far-right parties on the rise everywhere, led by so-called patriotic nationalists, religious ultraconservatives, populists and nostalgists bordering on white supremacists. They tend to reminisce about the old isolationist, pre-globalized world, in which societies were largely homogenous (for most European countries, this meant white Christian), and are imbued with neo-fascist roots of different flavors.
Something has happened to cause the breaking of old taboos that date back to the fall of Nazism and fascism in Europe, as increasingly mainstream parties have been showing a readiness to bring those once-marginal forces back into national politics.
Since the turn of the century, things have started to change. In 2000, the center-right in Austria agreed to jump into a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party. Today, Italy, the EU’s third-largest economy, is run by a prime minister with neo-fascist roots. Far-right nationalists are also part of the coalition government in Finland. The Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigration, anti-multiculturalism party, is the second-largest party in parliament and is propping up the coalition government. And the matter is no different in Greece, where three far-right parties have entered parliament in recent elections. Then there is the UK’s Brexit, conceived by a far-right-leaning tribe of the ruling Conservative Party that campaigned to “take back control” and stem the immigration flow from Europe and beyond.
Many have been wondering if this lurch to the right in Europe is a mere vote of no-confidence in the political system and the political establishment — as you often hear far-right politicians calling it — or the result of conservatives complaining that liberalism has strayed too far, as echoed by ultraconservative Republicans’ in the US.
All that is maybe part of why a larger number of people are voting for the right, but it is also because people nowadays are increasingly attracted by the outspoken members of far-right parties — who often sell empty rhetoric that is difficult to implement once in government. This is in addition to most electorates being at the mercy of often malicious digital campaigns, which mislead them to consider black and white options, when the real answers to the problems of our increasingly volatile societies and world lie in a gray area.
Politicians are often not able to allay all fears about the future or remedy the fears resulting from the open borders in Europe, which have sparked questions of identity. This is especially the case as a result of the surge in migration witnessed over the past two decades, accompanied by poor government integration policies that have exposed schisms in the social fabrics of societies, particularly in urban centers, such as seen in France recently. Not to forget, of course, the economic issues and the wrongly conceived belief that globalization has jeopardized the livelihoods of many and has destroyed their pensions and future.
In Spain, Sanchez is still hoping to be able to form a new leftist coalition by mobilizing the undecided. The timing of the election, however, at the height of summer and in the middle of a heat wave, does not bode well for the prime minister and his wishes to keep the far right out of government. Millions are already on holiday and Sanchez must hope that they remembered to vote by post prior to their departure.
• Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist, media consultant and trainer with more than 25 years of experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy.