Last week, Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias revealed that he had received a death threat, sent via the Interior Ministry. It turned out that he wasn’t the only one: the head of the civil guard, María Gámez, and the interior minister, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, also received similar missives.
These were not simply sinister social media posts. Four bullet cartridges were sent to Iglesias with a stencilled note identifying him, his partner, government minister Irene Montero, and his parents as targets. Bullets were also sent to Gámez and Grande-Marlaska. The style was a throwback to the dark years of Eta’s terrorist violence, when the Basque separatist group sent such letters to politicians, judges, business owners and others as a matter of course.
It could be that these letters are simply an aberration. But, sadly, they fit into the pattern of Spanish politics of recent times, in which aggression has become increasingly predominant, creating a swirling vacuum where genuine debate of public issues should be.
However, the death threats themselves have been overshadowed by the response to them on the part of the far-right Vox party. Rocío Monasterio, candidate for Vox in the upcoming Madrid regional election, cast in doubt the veracity of the threats, suggesting Iglesias had fabricated them, and would not condemn them — “I condemn all violence,” she said, while refusing to acknowledge this particular incident.
This takes Vox deep into Trump territory, where even the slightest suggestion of statesmanship is shunned if it carries no political advantage. But it also reflects how politically uncomfortable these threats are for the far-right party and many others. Eta stopped killing over a decade ago and it formally disbanded three years ago. Yet Spain’s hard right has sought to keep it alive as a political issue, monopolising terrorism victimhood (despite the fact that Eta’s victims came from across the political spectrum) while casting the left as allies of the non-existent organisation. It has been a mendacious yet effective policy which has blown oxygen into the embers of Eta’s macabre legacy and helped polarise the country.
Iglesias’s status as the target of a domestic terrorist threat turns all this on its head. For Vox, and many in the Popular Party, Podemos’s leader is a friend of terrorists, so he can’t possibly be the victim of terrorism. Can he? In a binary world, many will find this too much to digest and so will buy Vox’s warped conspiracy theory that the letters are a hoax.
Quite another matter is whether Iglesias was right to walk out of a live radio debate because Vox was peddling this line, and whether the candidates of the Socialist Party and Más Madrid are well advised to join him in boycotting further debates with the far right. Engaging with those who are gleefully hacking away at Spanish democracy with a post-truth pickaxe will never be easy. But surely it is necessary, now more than ever.