The Spanish far right mobilizes against the new progressive coalition government
- Dani Gago Lizenz CC
- The amnesty for politicians and activists prosecuted for the independence referendum held in Catalonia on 1 October 2017 mobilizes far-right groups around the slogan "Spain is breaking up".
- Nazi, fascist and ultra-Catholic groups rally against Spain's new government.
- Spain's right-wing has promised a legislature fraught with action against the government.
In October 2023, the Spanish extreme right saw its biggest popular mobilizations for years, coinciding with the pacts between social democrats and pro-independence parties to give the Spanish presidency to Pedro Sánchez, the candidate of the social democratic Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE). The announcement of an agreement to grant amnesty to politicians and activists prosecuted for the events related to the 1 October 2017 independence referendum held in Catalonia is viewed by the Spanish right wing as a betrayal of the country; they have gone so far as to label it a coup d'état, a dictatorship or a surrender to separatism.
The referendum was organised in 2017 by the Catalan government and civil society and mobilized more than two million people. It was deemed illegal by the Spanish government, then led by Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Popular Party (PP), which responded by sending thousands of police to try to block it, without success. Subsequently, the Spanish justice system tried its political leaders, who ended up in prison or in exile, as is the case of Puigdemont, MEP and former president of the Generalitat, the government of the autonomous region of Catalonia. All of this led to numerous protests in Catalonia over several years, concluding with the indictment of thousands of people and complaints of police violence. Pedro Sánchez's agreement with the pro-independence parties Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, the Catalan Republican Left), social democrats, and the conservative Junts per Catalunya (JxCat, Together for Catalonia), includes an amnesty for most of the indicted politicians and activists, including several police officers accused of abuse.
The Spanish right, which had already mobilized against the referendum in 2017, reactivated this same nationalist discourse in the face of these new government pacts, initiating a series of protests called first by the PP and Vox parties, and replicated by all the extreme right-wing groups across the country. The protests were held in front of the PSOE headquarters in Madrid and turned into several nights of rioting, led by Nazi and fascist groups who took advantage of the agitation and the calls from the right to assert their position and make themselves visible in the front ranks of the protests.
The first major rally was organised on 24 September by the PP in Madrid, and brought together tens of thousands of people, including former conservative presidents José María Aznar and Mariano Rajoy. On 8 October, the Spanish nationalist platform Societat Civil Catalana (SCC), which was created shortly before the 2017 referendum and brought together all branches of Spanish nationalism, from neo-Nazis to Communist Party members such as Cayo Lara— called another protest in Barcelona that gathered some 50,000 people.
A few weeks later, on 28 October, another call madeall the facets of the right-wing visible again in Madrid, with the participation of members of the extreme right-wing party Vox and members of the PP. Finally, starting on 3 November, the protests were held in the street Calle de Ferraz in Madrid, in front of the PSOE headquarters, where Nazi and fascist groups began to gather with their respective banners in front of the police line protecting access to the premises, which was eventually overwhelmed by the violence of the demonstrators.
Every day since 3 November, a few thousand people have gathered in the same place. These radical groups have provoked violence almost every night, throwing objects at the police and breaking through the security barriers.
These protests have provided an opportunity for the extreme right, especially for Vox. After losing almost half of its members of parliament, falling from 52 to 33 in the July 2023 elections, the party is now trying to regain prominence and support. Indeed, the protests coincide with several news reports pointing to the transfer of millions of euros from the party to the Disenso Foundation, Vox's think tank, whose transparency faces less scrutiny than that of the party itself. With the anti-government mobilization, Vox has managed to move the media spotlight away from that, while reclaiming its leading role in the protests. In fact, a new youth formation that has begun to make itself visible in these protests is Revuelta is linked to Vox. Revuelta has coincided with other neo-fascist groups such as Hacer Nación, Facta, Falange de las JONS, Comunión Tradicionalista Carlista and España2000, all of which are marginal, but which have enjoyed unprecedented media focus in these protests.
Ultra-Catholic groups have also participated, some of them calling for collective prayers, and others, such as HazteOir, whose leaders are linked to the ultra-right-wing sect El Yunque, have paraded a bus bearing the image of Pedro Sánchez caricatured as Hitler around Madrid. These mobilizations have been collectively baptized “National November”, a term that began to be used by Vox supporters and which has become popular on social networks.
In addition to daily rallies outside PSOE headquarters in Madrid and other cities, there have been other protests in other parts of the capital, such as a march to the Moncloa Palace (the President's residence) on 17 November. There have also been reports of attacks on PSOE headquarters in several towns, and on a PSOE member of parliament in the vicinity of Congress on the day of the investiture. On 17 November, several members of the military signed a manifesto calling for a coup d'état and the removal of the newly appointed President, and on 18 November, a soldier was intercepted in the vicinity of the PSOE headquarters armed with a pistol.
Telegram chats are functioning as an uncensored broadcasting channel for far-right groups, where they share plans for violent action and calls for terrorist attacks, attacks on the police, the press, or the killing the president of the government. So far, the police have arrested at least 80 demonstrators during the protests but have not carried out any operation to arrest those responsible for these messages or these channels, or other known far-right militants who appear in several images with their faces uncovered throwing objects at the police during these protests. Nor have those responsible for the 104 attacks on PSOE headquarters across Spain in recent weeks been identified.
In the meantime, independence has lost support at the polls in Catalonia, and the PSOE gained the most votes in the latest elections. A large part of the pro-independence movement considers the coalition pacts with the PSOE to be a betrayal of the cause by the main pro-independence parties, although the right-wing insists that they represent a surrender to separatism.
The Spanish right has promised the next legislative term will be marked by action and protest against the government, mainly because of the amnesty agreed with the pro-independentist groups, and against any other agreement it makes with these parties. Spanish nationalism is one of the main rallying and mobilizing forces of the right. The new government, with the partners it has, is going to have to carefully and persuasively explain every step it takes, and try to sidestep the right’s constant and persistent political and media campaigns.
Nora Rodríguez, @ NoraRodrguez, is a criminal lawyer specializing in hate crimes. She has participated in several campaigns, as well as in research and monitoring of Spanish far-right groups. She is co-author of the publication "De los neocon a los neonazis. La extrema derecha en el Estado español" (Neo-con, neo-Francoists and neo-Nazis. Tracking the Spanish Far Right) published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation..
Miquel Ramos, @ Miquel_R, is a journalist specializing in the extreme right and hate speech. Coordinator of the publication "De los neocon a los neonazis. La extrema derecha en el Estado español" (Neo-con, neo-Francoists and neo-Nazis. Tracking the Spanish Far Right) published by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and author of the book "Antifascistas. Así se combatió a la extrema derecha española desde los años 90" (Antifascists: Fighting the Spanish Far Right since the 1990s).