On the 16th of November 2023, Pedro Sanchez was voted in as Prime Minister of Spain, or President of the Spanish Government, to use the official nomenclature.
This investiture came after a long-fought war between Sanchez’s PSOE party and the Catalan independentist parties ERC and Junts Per Catalunya, who, in exchange for supporting Sanchez’s investiture, demanded an amnesty for its leaders. Among these figures was Carles Puigdemont, the ex-president of Cataluña. In October of 2017, Puigdemont attempted to declare Catalan independence, and then fled Spain in self-imposed exile, skirting Spanish arrest warrants for sedition.
The negotiations between PSOE, ETC, and Junts were incredibly complex and fraught — due to both the current political context and the history of amnesty in Spain. If you wish to understand more about this issue, I recently wrote an article for The Sundial Press explaining how this came to be, alongside my opinion on the matter of amnesty.
In this article, I will not be talking about amnesty itself. The topic has been debated to death on hundreds of Spanish-language websites, and I would encourage an interested reader to check out El Pais, El Mundo, and ABC, in order to get a panoramic view from all political stances.
Instead, I wish to comment on the reactions taken by many Spaniards against amnesty, reactions that border on calls for a civil war and reinstating fascism.
Sanchez’s investiture has seen a complete misinterpretation of the political landscape, an unnecessary polarisation take place, and a horrific idealisation of the civil war era fostered in social media.
For one, sites such as TikTok, have enabled the extensive sharing of videos, depicting protests taking place on Calle Ferraz (the street housing the PSOE leadership) against the amnesty law. While many of these videos are harmless, some are very clearly not. One in particular is set to an audio of a speech by Blas Piñar, a Spanish politician and member of the Falange, Franco’s political party, proclaiming “Viva Cristo Rey, Arriba España” (Long Live Christ the King, Long Live Spain), a motto commonly used by the fascists. Some protesters, as seen in this tweet, even raised their hands in the fascist salute, seemingly supporting a return to the Francoist era.
These people are idolising fascism. There is no other way to put it.
Similarly, fascist comments are also being posted on other platforms, such as Twitter/X. One tweet asks the Spanish king to directly involve himself in politics and reinstate a Bourbon absolute monarchy, in which the king holds the legislative power of the country. This suggestion is in flagrant violation of the constitution — ironic, coming from a member of a movement revindicating the supposed unconstitutionality of Sanchez’s actions. It seems that for some, the Madrid of 2023 should be the Paris of 1814. This tweet threatens King Felipe with exile if he doesn’t undertake this coup d’etat, seemingly a reference to his father, Juan Carlos I, currently in self-imposed exile from Spain.
Others are willing to be more direct about their political leanings \. One user tweeted “no se puede defender la democracia alabando un dictador,” “democracy cannot be defended by praising a dictator.” To this, another user (whose name and profile picture were the Roman Emperor Hadrian, a dog whistle for online right-wing “alpha male” communities) replied “No defendemos la democracia, defendemos España. A ver si nos vamos enterando,” “We do not defend democracy, we defend Spain. Try to get with the programme.”
Meanwhile, a commenter on a TikTok Live equated Pedro Sanchez with Kim Jon Un, and warned readers about the possibility of a new civil war, telling them to “get ready.”
Spain, as a whole, is still dealing with the issue of fascism. Despite the deplorable acts committed by Francisco Franco, a sizable portion of Spanish society holds some level of admiration, or at least respect, for the dictator. Indeed, when his body was moved from the obscene Valle de los Caidos monument on the outskirts of Madrid, many protested the move.
This admiration for the autocrat comes from a place of fear — a fear of moving on. Franco, speaking purely on economic terms, brought an impoverished, destitute Spain into the limelight worldwide, taking those who had little to no qualms with fascism along with him. This was especially true after 1959, when the Spanish Milagro Economico (“economic miracle”) took place, whereby the Spanish economy was the second fastest growing in the world, following Japan.
However, it isn’t this abstract economic growth that took place nearly 70 years ago that pushes 18 to 30-year-olds to spout fascist dogma online. It’s the claims of unconstitutionality made by political figures — such as the far-right VOX party — against Sanchez.
VOX, with no factual foundation, has claimed that Sanchez’s PSOE is undertaking a coup d’etat by using this amnesty law to form a government. This is blatantly wrong and dangerously provocative. Sanchez’s actions, while possibly politically dubious, are perfectly constitutional and legal. His party used the legal mechanisms and provisions established by the Spanish Constitution to their full extent and broke no laws while doing so.
Emeritus Professor Thomas de la Quadra from the Carlos III University in Madrid, put it best in a recent article when he said, “An investiture under these conditions will be fully legitimate, no doubt, but based on an error, with the implicit partial assumption of a narrative, the consequences of which I fear we will unfortunately see in the future.”
Indeed, it may be VOX who is getting closer to a coup d’etat. They have asked the Constitutional Tribunal of the country to intervene in the investiture process, thus advocating for the destruction of the Spanish separation of powers. This explicitly violates the constitution they pretend to protect.
Vox’s actions — both claiming that PSOE’s actions are unconstitutional, and their own undermining of constitutional institutions — trivialise the actions taken by Franco in 1936. They legitimise a coup d’etat and incite this increased propagation of fascist propaganda on the internet.
The rise of social media neo-fascism following Sanchez’s investiture and the amnesty law is a perfect analogy for the European political landscape as a whole. Extreme right-wing views across Europe are on the rise. This can be, in part, attributed to populists such as VOX’s Abascal, or Fox News’ Tucker Carlson (who happens to be in Madrid, with Abascal, participating in protests). However, the influence of social media — and the echo chamber that it can become — cannot be underestimated, as it can exalt fringe views to mass markets. Outrage is propagandised, indignation becomes one’s raison d’être, and populism is normalized.
Indeed, any action that populists view as seditious will lead to mass cultural and political reactionism, possibly sinking a country into the depths of its unfortunate past.