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World

Spain's Far-Right Party Prompts A Wave Of Spanish Nationalism

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. So Spain used to be one of the few European countries that did not have a far-right party. But then last December, the populist Vox Party won seats in a regional parliament. The main issue fueling this party is nationalism, though, rather than immigration. Lucia Benavides reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLAMENCO MUSIC)

LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: Even in the dead of winter, Seville is full of sun, tourists and flamenco playing in the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLAMENCO MUSIC)

BENAVIDES: Life in the Andalusian capital seems to continue as before, despite a change in local politics. This December, the far-right party Vox won 12 parliamentary seats, the first time a right-wing populist party entered mainstream politics since Spain's return to democracy in the late 1970s. Vox now holds legislative power in the populist region. They've promised to cooperate in a coalition government with two conservative parties, Ciudadanos and Partido Popular.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: One of Vox's ads ends with the slogan Make Spain Great Again. And they've promised to tighten up control on immigration, limit regional autonomy and repeal Spain's domestic violence law that protects women from their abusers. But despite being around since 2013, the party is just now raising a wave of Spanish nationalism. Juan Lopez, a taxi driver in Seville, says it's a response to the Catalan independence movement. In October 2017, Catalan Separatist leaders seeking more regional autonomy carried out an independence vote, despite the central government calling it illegal.

JUAN LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: Lopez says the Spanish government's lenience towards Catalonia has cost some Spaniards to want a political party that puts its foot down.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

BENAVIDES: On February 9, tens of thousands attended a protest in Spain's capital to demand that the government stop negotiations with Catalan leaders. They called the talks unconstitutional and said the Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez should step down. Lopez says that's why he sympathizes with Vox.

LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: "That explains the results in Andalusia," he says. "None of the other parties were taking a strong stance against Catalonia, but Vox was."

FRANCISCO SERRANO: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: That's Francisco Serrano, president of Vox in Andalusia. He says his party calls things by their name, and that's what people want.

SERRANO: (Through interpreter) What's happening in Catalonia is an attempted coup, a sedition, a rebellion, by people who want to break the unity of Spain.

BENAVIDES: Javier Garcia of the left-wing Participa Sevilla says the main narratives heard in the Andalusia campaign were national issues, like Catalan independence, immigration and feminism, rather than the day-to-day struggles of the region's residents.

JAVIER GARCIA: (Through interpreter) That constant bombardment of information eventually has an effect on people. We're seeing a political competition between the three right-wing parties.

BENAVIDES: All three of those leaders spoke side by side at the February protests in Madrid, a sign that Vox is beginning to be accepted by Spain's conservative politicians. Less than a week later, Sanchez announced he'd call for snap elections on April 28 after failing to pass his budget plan. Polls say Vox could win more than 6 percent of the vote in a national election. Together, with the two other conservative parties, which polled at 17 and 15 percent, Spain's right-wing parties could form a large enough coalition to govern. For NPR News, I'm Lucia Benavides in Seville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.