‘The Guardian’ reports on Vox’s attempts to curtail the right to abortion in Castilla y León
** Where does it end?’ Far-right’s gains raise fears for LGBTQ+ freedoms in Spain
** Rights groups in region where Vox is in government warn voters in run-up to snap general election
Ashifa Kassam (@ashifa_k)
Valladolid, Castilla y León
Sat 15 Jul 2023
Pride celebrations have long been a small but raucous affair in the northern Spanish city of Valladolid. Setting off from a singular triangle-shaped plaza, a dozen drummers lead hundreds through the narrow streets of the largest city in Castilla y León.
But this year – after the region became a showcase for the far right’s first foray into Spanish government since the Franco dictatorship – the shift in tone was palpable.
“For the first time in a very long time, we felt that Pride was not about demanding more rights,” said Virginia Hernández Gómez of LGBTQ+ rights group Fundación Triángulo in Castilla y León. “Instead, it was about demanding that the rights we have not be taken away.”
The sparsely populated region – described by Vox leader Santiago Abascal as a “showroom” for the ultraconservative party’s pledges to eradicate Spanish laws on abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality and violence against women – has been thrust into the spotlight as Spain gears up for a snap general election.
Most polls suggest that the right wing PP is on track to win the election, but that it will need the support of the far right to govern. Human rights groups are warning voters across the country to heed the precedent being carved out in Castilla y León.
“There’s a chance that what has happened in Castilla y León could happen across the country,” said Hernández Gómez, pointing to the steady drip of rollbacks, rhetoric and reversals that have taken hold since the far right entered the regional government in 2022. “That’s why the elections on 23 July are so important – both the model of our country and the rights of many are at stake.”
As the junior partner in the region’s coalition government, Vox has taken aim at funding that encouraged companies to hire survivors of violence against women, curtailed the hiring of gender equality advisers in city halls and pulled funding from services that sought to help migrants find jobs.
Among its most polemic measures was a series of protocols aimed at dissuading women from getting abortions. “Does Vox actually have the jurisdiction to implement that? No,” said Beatriz Olandía of the Coordinadora de Mujeres de Valladolid, an umbrella group made up of NGOs, political parties and women’s groups in the city. “But if there is one thing that characterises Vox, it’s the culture war and the re-opening of debates that have long been setled.”
Vox’s initiative, which sparked threats of legal action from the Socialist-led government in Madrid, was eventually stamped out by the PP. But the damage had been done, as it forced women to scramble to protect gains consolidated long ago and derailed the push for further progress, said Olandía.
“It’s a bit paradoxical. We’re in 2023 and suddenly there’s a man who opens his mouth and we have to defend our right to decide about our own bodies,” said Olandía. “So the feeling is one of, where does this all end?”
The region’s vice-president, Vox’s Juan García-Gallardo, has employed a similar tactic when it comes to legislation combatting violence against women as well as historical memory. The party has slashed funding for workers’ unions and eschewed practical solutions for ideology when it comes to crucial issues for the region, with García-Gallardo blaming “hypersexualisation” and the prevalence of casual sex in Spain for sparking a “demographic winter” in rural areas.
For the LGBTQ+ community in Castilla y León, the constant stream of antagonism emanating from the region’s institutions – whether the steadfast refusal to light up the regional parliament for Pride, as done in previous years, or the string of homophobic comments made by Vox’s García-Gallardo – has translated into mounting safety concerns.
Days after members of the city’s LGBTQ+ community said that some were now fearful of holding hands in public or kissing in a bar, a young man was severely beaten during festivities in a nearby village by several people who allegedly used homophobic slurs. Police later arrested three people and are investigating another five.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Hernández Gómez of Fundación Triángulo. “We believe that what is being said in the [region’s] parliament isn’t a true reflection of society, but rather of a very small minority. But what we’re seeing is that these small groups now feel legitimised and can go as far as aggression.”
Across Spain, where the recent regional and municipal elections sparked a rash of dealmaking between the PP and Vox, signs suggest that the far right intends to stick to the same playbook as its grip on power grows. Along with taking aim at Pride flags and vetoing depictions of the LGBTQ+ community, Vox’s newly minted crop of politicians have resisted efforts to hold a minute of silence for women killed by their partners. In the region of Valencia and nearby city of Vila-real, the ultraconservatives distanced themselves from banners condemning violence against women, while four Vox councillors in the city of Albacete sat out as their colleagues stood in respect.
It remains to be seen whether the far-right will gain enough seats in next week’s election to wield any real power, said Hugo Marcos Marné, a professor of political science at the University of Salamanca. But their stint in Castilla y León – where they control three of the region’s 11 ministries – suggests that their presence in government works to normalise views against reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights and immigration.
“They’re not innocuous,” said Marcos Marné. “Even if in terms of public policy there is not as much short-term change as you might expect, over time there is an erosion effect.”
Some of this decay is evident in Castilla y León, where the PP has stood by as the far right barges across what would have been red lines for the conservative party, said Olandía of the feminist umbrella group Coordinadora de Mujeres de Valladolid. “They gave them everything they wanted,” she said. “When it comes to the PP, we have no idea what their limits are.”
She pointed to the precedent to argue that if Vox were to become kingmaker following the general election, the rollback of rights could be far more radical than anything seen in Castilla y León. “Here we’ve had a bit of bulwark in the central [Socialist] government. But imagine a government where Vox is given certain portfolios and concessions?” she added. “That scares the hell out of me. It’s a step backwards, by decades.”