It was exactly three years ago that VOX, the Spanish populist conservative party, sent shivers down the spine of the establishment elite in Madrid. Formed by outcasts driven from Spain’s traditional center-right party, the Partido Popular (PP), in 2013 and launched the following year, VOX came into its own in 2018. In October 2018, VOX filled Madrid’s Palacio Vistalegre Arena with 9,000 enthusiastic partisans. In December of that year, the party would enter a Spanish legislature for the first time when it won almost 11% of the vote and twelve seats in elections for the Andalusia regional parliament. Polling, which often leans left in Spain, had predicted that VOX might win one seat and 1.5% of the vote.
At the time, VOX’s rise seemed to be attributed to specific circumstances that year. June 2018 had seen Spain’s Socialists (PSOE) return to power in a parliamentary maneuver with the help of the country’s communists and separatist Catalan and Basque parties, ending seven years of PP rule seemingly besmirched by financial scandal. That fateful, informal coalition—Socialists and the Communists of Podemos/Izquierda Unida (United Left/IU) in government plus the votes of ultra nationalist Catalan and Basque parties—rules Spain to this day. The fact that this is a fragile coalition hasn’t prevented these parties from pursuing a breathtakingly radical agenda.
In 2019, VOX would enter Spain’s national parliament, the Cortes, for the first time, winning 24 seats and 10.3% of the vote in the April general elections. And when those elections had to be repeated in November 2019, VOX surged to 15.1% of the vote and 52 seats. Because of these outcomes, the center-right rules in the regions of Andalusia and Madrid as the PP needs the votes of VOX to maintain its majority in local legislatures. In terms of votes, VOX is now Spain’s third largest political party.
Three year later, VOX has outgrown the Vistalegre Arena. On October 9th and 10th the party gathered at the IFEMA fairgrounds in Madrid for a more expansive reunion, named “Viva21,” the party’s biggest since COVID-19 assaulted the world, with the pandemic hitting Spain particularly hard in 2020. One organizer told me that the goal of the first day of the conference was to “do something different than other political parties do, making it more of a street festival and cultural event than a political gathering.” That goal was accomplished and deeply appreciated by the thousands that day who visited tents representing Spain’s 52 provinces, eating local food, and drinking local wine and beer. Some promoters wore traditional costumes or were garbed as paper maché processional giants (cabezudos), while others played Galician bagpipes or danced the jota of Aragon. Daytime was for families and, of course, the most heartening image here was that VOX voters often do have families, they have children—heartening in a country with one of the lowest birth rates in Europe.
Even though day one was more fun than politics, party president Santiago Abascal spoke both days, and his brief remarks that first afternoon lauded Spain’s history, culture and unity, taking a swipe at the “lamentable” U.S. President Joe Biden and his proclamation for Indigenous Peoples’ Day (formerly Columbus Day) that attacked the Spanish enterprise in the New World. Abascal tartly noted the gall of a president whose ancestors “wiped out the Indians and placed their remnants on reservations” criticizing the discoverers of the New World. Spain in contrast ended the “genocide” carried out by Aztecs against other indigenous people and initiated the greatest project of brotherhood in history, the creation of what is now Latin America, with its mestizo mixed and indigenous population. Spaniards should be proud of their heritage, of the discovery and evangelization of the New World. In a reference to the 450th anniversary of Lepanto, he added that Spaniards should be proud to be heirs of those intrepid souls who stopped the Turks in the Mediterranean.
Evening brought an even more festive atmosphere with fireworks, disc jockeys, and live music aimed at young people. For live groups performing at a VOX event, there is a real cost to be paid in terms of Spain’s overwhelmingly left-wing ‘cancel culture.’ Legendary Spanish heavy metal guitarist Jose Luis Campuzano (“Sherpa”) said simply before beginning to play: “There are those who said it is a shame that I am here. I say it is an honor to be here.” He thanked the back-up musicians who agreed to play with him, “because others refused.” Also performing were Spanish rappers Santaflow (“Facha”) and G. Babe (“Soy”) who were already well known for having pro-VOX or libertarian sensibilities. VOX spokesman Iván Espinosa de los Monteros remarked to the press earlier that “the number of Spanish performers who are not leftists is surprising.” He also responded to leftist media that mocked the first day of the event as “like attending the wedding of your cousin back in the pueblo.” Espinosa acidly noted that words like wedding, cousin, pueblo, tradition, family, rural communities—“all those words despised by the posh progressive (los pijo progress) Left”—these words are very agreeable to many Spaniards.
If day one had a clear political undercurrent, day two was about politics front and center, presenting VOX’s political agenda and underscoring its newfound regional and international strength before an open-air audience estimated at 20,000 people. Brief video congratulations to VOX for Viva21 played from leading conservative politicians from Peru, Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, and the United States (Texas Senator Ted Cruz). The current prime ministers of Poland and Hungary sent their taped congratulations as well. Both Portuguese parliamentarian Andre Ventura, leader of the Chega Party (good speech), and Italian leader Giorgia Meloni (a greater speech) of Fratelli d’Italia, spoke in person and were warmly received. The first speech by a Spaniard was by Jose Antonio Ortega Lara who was kidnapped and held in an underground dungeon by the Basque terrorist group ETA in 1996-1997. Ortega Lara, a VOX co-founder in 2014, lauded the essential pillars of VOX’s conservative agenda: the right to life, liberty, and property, and a defense of Spain’s unity and integrity.
Winding up the event was a stemwinder of a 45-minute speech by VOX president Abascal, which graphically underscored how far the party has come in three short years and the challenges that it faces. Much of the speech was VOX electoral boilerplate that we’ve heard before but delivered with the passion of a firebrand by one with a face of a man who could have ridden with Cortes or with the Iron Duke of Alba.
Abascal noted how far the party has come and how it has now forged European and global alliances with likeminded people who see the same worldwide threats, “a merciless left that rejects debate and wants to take our freedoms.” Praising Meloni and Ventura as future leaders of their countries, he looked forward to a growing political alliance in Southern Europe defending both national borders and shared values. VOX is not against Europe but is in favor of truly sovereign states within the framework of Europe. It will stand with others against the intolerant “European Taliban” of the Left: “We will reconstruct what they destroy and rebuild what they demolish.”
He lauded the VOX-supported labor union Solidarity, launched in 2020 and already “the terror of the (established leftist—socialist and communist) labor unions of the seafood restaurants and bordellos” (a reference to notorious corruption in high places in these regime-connected lapdog unions). Abascal gave a shoutout to VOX’s legal team’s remarkable record over the past year in logging real victories before Spanish courts, challenging various illegal actions by the government and by separatist politicians.
The Spanish leader castigated the overwhelmingly left-wing Spanish press which—he predicted—would mostly ignore Viva21 (he was right) while lavishing positive attention on the just concluded convention of the PP and on the upcoming one of the PSOE.
He compared PP and PSOE to “feuding partners of the same firm” who quarrel on the surface while still maintaining a partnership to be able to divide the spoils. The PP is not for real, much needed change in Spain but merely a “crude relief” (burdo relevo) for PSOE if it should come to power. The PP claims it will challenge the Left but when the PP ruled, it was either unable or unwilling to remove leftist laws brainwashing the population, promoting leftist ideologies, and enshrining the “progressive consensus” of the globalist Left. In 2013, the PP even signed an agreement with the Chinese Communist Party. In both Madrid and Andalusia, the local PP has not abided by accords with VOX that allowed the PP to rule after the 2019 elections but instead has been willing to make deals with the PSOE Socialists and it is not unlikely that if they should come to power, they would seek to rule in conjunction with PSOE, despite protestations to the contrary. (In UK Tory party terms, the Spanish PP is extremely “wet.”)
Abascal blamed both PSOE and PP for having signed on to the “progressive” Agenda 2030 (the Spanish version of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals) which seeks to further transform Spain along leftist, globalist lines. When the time came to choose the Secretary of State for Agenda 2030, who did the current government choose but Enrique Santiago, the Secretary General of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE), a former negotiator for the Colombian FARC and apologist for the narcoleftist regimes in Latin America. VOX’s own Agenda España, launched at Viva21, is “a response to the globalist agendas which aim at the destruction of the middle class, the liquidation of the sovereignty of nations and an attack on the family, on life, and on the shared roots of the West.” The second day of VOX’s event ended with the Spanish National Anthem, the Marcha Real, and lots of confetti.
VOX’s October 2021 Viva21 event and Abascal’s speeches were successes on multiple levels. These are smart, relatively young politicians with a vital passion that often seems lacking in both the ruling PSOE Socialists and in VOX’s occasional allies, but now more often bitter rivals, in the PP. Abascal’s party is not a one man (or one woman) show but has built up a team of articulate individuals—Party spokesman Espinosa and his wife Rocio Monasterio, VOX Secretary General Javier Ortega Smith, lawyer and deputy Macarena Olona, Barcelona leader and Afro-Spaniard Ignacio Garriga—able to eloquently defend themselves before a skeptical and belligerently hostile press and present a concrete disciplined vision of themselves and of the Spain they want to build.
VOX’s forging of ties in Europe and in Latin America, in the 700 million strong ‘iberosphere’ is also smart politics, building broader communities of interest in the defense of liberty and sovereignty and against communism and its ilk in Latin America and Iberia. In Latin America, it is a form of transparent, clean political payback by VOX to what regimes like Castro’s Cuba, Chavez/Maduro’s Venezuela, and Correa’s Ecuador tried to do in Spain, which was to forge alliances with local communists/socialists and advance a shared agenda—in the case of Venezuela and Ecuador, those regimes allegedly even funded leftist politicians in Spain.
But despite the very real success of VOX, the odds are still daunting. VOX has clearly advanced over the past three years but it still faces multiple fronts of attack. As Abascal’s speech indicated, they face a largely hostile (often left-wing, especially television) media, and incoming fire from both the Left (PSOE and Podemos) and the squishy social democratic leaning PP. Actual violence against VOX, whether by leftist provocateurs or ultranationalist bullyboys in Catalonia and the Basque Country or by growing Moroccan criminal gangs is often winked at by the media and by the government. The good news is that if they are still outnumbered, the happy warriors of VOX are not (rhetorically) outgunned. They are fearless.
Spain will go to the polls no later than December 2023 and recent political events in Spain point to one of two paths possible for VOX in 2023. The February 2021 elections in Catalonia saw a confused message from the PP, which seemed to be on both sides of the Catalan issue, and VOX succeeded in passing both the PP and another national party to become the leading conservative party in the region, winning 11 seats to the PP’s three (although all were outnumbered by the Catalan separatists). This sorpasso (overtaking) is the dream and the goal for VOX in all of Spain.
The May 2021 elections for the Madrid Autonomous Region saw another possible glimpse towards the future with a landslide victory (44.7% of the popular vote and 65 seats) by PP leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso, but VOX still garnered 9.5% of vote and gained one additional seat (for a total of 13 seats). Diaz Ayuso still needed the support of VOX to get a legislative majority. She also seems to be a rare PP politician who is not vicerally hostile to VOX, as seems to be the case with PP national leader Pablo Casado, who seems uneasy with female rivals like Diaz Ayuso and loses no opportunity to fiercely criticize VOX. Indeed, the left attacked Diaz Ayuso for somehow “copying” the VOX narrative. In this example, VOX succeeded in maintaining its share of the vote and its key king-making role but came nowhere near matching the PP leader. But Diaz Ayuso’s victory was extremely unusually in the Spanish context. It is hard to believe that the bland Pablo Casado could pull off the same success. Polls today in Spain show that if elections were held today that Casado’s PP would win, followed by PSOE, and then VOX, and that Casado would still need VOX’s help to govern. This time VOX’s price is bound to be high.
What the PP wants is not VOX’s leadership, renegades from the mothership, but its voters. But it has not quite figured out how to do so. The party’s barons seem to be more comfortable in leaning more towards demonizing VOX than in targeting the Spanish Left. But if the partying and the speeches at Viva21 are any indication, the VOX voter is home to stay and not going anywhere.
Alberto M. Fernandez is a former U.S. diplomat and Vice President of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) in Washington, D.C.
A revised version of this essay appears in the Winter 2021 edition of The European Conservative, Number 21: 30-35.