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Spanish far-right political party Vox vetoed an institutional declaration by the Assembly of Madrid condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine because the declaration contained a clause calling on Spain to accept all war refugees, regardless of their origin or nationality. In the words of the party’s spokesperson, Rocío Monasterio, voting ‘yes’ on the declaration “was not possible because Vladimir Putin’s partners in the chamber tried to take advantage of the victims in Ukraine to legalize Mr. Mbayé’s mantero friends and the illegal immigration that stormed the borders of Ceuta and Melilla on Wednesday”. In this single sentence, Monasterio managed to tightly package Vox’s overtly nativist, illiberal, and conspiratorial rhetoric into one of its major claims: the Spanish left, and European left more broadly, is responsible for the perceived social ills caused by multiculturalism and immigration from the Global South.

Monasterio’s thinly veiled references to Spanish left-wing populist party Podemos exemplify the Vox’s nativist message. She begins by labelling the party as “Vladimir Putin’s friends” before directly attacking member Serigne Mbayé, a Senegalese-born politician and deputy in the Assembly of Madrid. Mbayé, who came to Spain as an undocumented immigrant, once sold counterfeit products on the streets of Madrid in what is referred to in Spain as “top manta,” or “manteros,” prior to becoming a Spanish citizen and politician. Although Mbayé is now a Spanish citizen, Monasterio views him as an outsider, a law-breaker, and an opportunist who came to Spain to take advantage of its lax immigration laws. In the same diatribe against Mr. Mbayé, Monasterio went on to label multiculturism as an “imposition on all Spaniards, just as it is on all French, Belgians, and Germans.”

The spokesperson’s nativist rhetoric does not, however, encapsulate the entirety of her message. Taken at face value, she is not against accepting migrants, rather she is against certain kinds of migrants, reinforcing a common “us” and “them” paradigm found in right-wing, illiberal political movements. Monasterio cites the border fences in Ceuta and Melilla, two autonomous Spanish cities surrounded by Morocco where many African migrants attempt to enter European territory. In recent decades, these borders have come under much scrutiny, especially by right-wing parties in Spain, as migrants employ a variety of tactics to gain access, including rushing the fences in the hundreds to try to overwhelm border security. There is no doubt that the borders in these cities present their own series of issues that require a political solution; however, Vox interprets migrants from Africa as inherently different from Ukrainian refugees, despite the fact that many Africans may be escaping similar circumstances in their home countries. Presumably white, Christian Ukrainians are portrayed as victims, whereas Africans are portrayed as illegals attacking the border. In other words, some refugees, the “us,” are worthy of entry, while others, the “them,” are not.

Vox’s opposition to immigration from Africa is particularly preoccupied with migrants from the Arab world. In a press release dated March 3, 2022, the President of Vox in the Catalan Parliament, Ignacio Garriga, warned of the serious problems facing residents of El Vendrell, Tarragona caused by the perceived Islamization of the town. On a visit to El Vendrell, Garriga claimed “walking through the streets of this town, we have been able to confirm that what were once Spanish hairdressing salons, and even streets, are now signposted in Arabic. Precisely what is wrong with having a growing presence of people from the Arab world is not made clear; however, Mondon and Winter’s concept of mainstream Islamophobia which loosely defines “Muslim culture and community as inherently and homogenously opposed to some of the core values espoused in a mythical essentialized culturally homogenous, superior, and enlightened West,” offers the appropriate insight. While it may be politically unfeasible to claim that Muslims are racially inferior, insinuating that Muslims are incompatible with the native culture is a more tempered style of discourse that attempts to distance the message from outright racism, yet still generalizes all Muslims and make no distinctions in terms of specific beliefs, ideologies, behaviors, or activities of individuals or sub-groups.

Both Monasterio and Garriga appeal to the conspiratorial belief system of far-right, nativist groups, whereby migration from the Global South is not simply a benign phenomenon, but rather a malicious ploy by leftists and elites to push multiculturalism on traditional European cultures in a bizarre attempt to rid the continent of white Europeans. Monasterio claims Mbayé and Podemos are trying to legalize undocumented African migrants, while Garriga claims that the left and the European elites are promoting multiculturalism which is leading to squatting, violence in the streets, and general unease among the native population. In their view, multiculturalism, in particular migration from the Arab world, poses a civilizational threat to the Christian culture of Europe.

This is not the first time Vox has vetoed an institutional declaration, which require unanimity to take effect. In November 2021, Vox vetoed an institutional declaration in the Spanish Parliament on violence against women, because the party does not believe that women suffer violence on the basis of their gender. Vox has a history of anti-feminist rhetoric and associates the mainstream feminist movement today with a multitude of social ills and the breakdown of the traditional family unit and society. The conspiratorial themes found in this type of illiberal discourse are uniquely dangerous. Instead of raising awareness on what may be legitimate concerns for society, such as poverty, civil unrest, poor assimilation of migrants, etc., illiberal actors put forward the idea that certain groups are part of an evil ploy to undo the bonds that hold society together. In its recent history, Europe has seen the dark potential of these types of messages, and liberal actors ought to make the message clear that such rhetoric offers no meaningful political solution to the issues facing European societies today.

Cian Deegan is a graduate student at the Elliot School of International Affairs at The George Washington University, where he focuses on democracy promotion in international development.