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‘Basta!’ (Enough!): The nationalist elephant(s) in the room

Basta coalition's lead candidate André Ventura speaks to the press. [Chega]

The Spanish elections of 28 April saw the rise of the far-right party Vox, which secured 24 seats in the Parliament and more than 10% of the vote. In 2017, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) became the first far-right party in Western Europe to reach power in decades, as the coalition partner of the country’s People’s Party. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN) lost the presidential elections in 2017, but recent polls place her rebranded party ahead of President Macron’s liberal Renaissance Movement.

Similar examples of strengthened nationalist parties are found in other EU countries: according to the BBC, 16 countries out of the current EU-28 saw a significant rise in votes for nationalist and far-right parties in the most recent country elections.

Most of these parties have enough in common for Italy’s Matteo Salvini – the leader of nationalist right-wing League party – to try to unify them at a European level: most present themselves at the campaign trail as anti-establishment, promoting the national identity and culture of populations which feel increasingly diluted in a globalised world. Other main features include Euroscepticism and a strong anti-Islam and anti-immigration stance.  

In Portugal, despite the national crisis of 2011, only one small party has subsisted as an assumed extreme (although far-left) party, the Portuguese Workers’ Communist Party/Re-Organized Movement of the Party of the Proletariat (PCTP/MRPP). It never held a seat, neither in the Portuguese parliament, nor in the European Parliament, and is currently leader-less after the death of his founder in February.

Over the last couple of weeks, the Portuguese press has been analysing and interpreting the newly created coalition Basta (‘Enough’), which includes the new party Chega (another word for ‘Enough’), the Monarchic Popular Party (PPM) and the Democracy and Christian Citizenship Party (PPV/CDC).  

This coalition is led by André Ventura, a professor who became known in the municipal elections because of derogatory comments addressed to the Portuguese gipsy community. Its supporters claim that it is not ‘far-right’, but ‘conservative and nationalist’, an “alternative to the centre-right [to the social democrat party – PSD, EPP-affiliated] and to the almost non-existing right” in Portugal, according to Ventura.

In my opinion, it was inevitable that a movement like this would start in Portugal. The country has the dictatorship-driven nostalgic older electorate, who do not see themselves any more in an increasingly weakened political leadership on the right. It also has the younger right-wing generation, who craves for stronger, more assertive messages that supposedly define what it means to be Portuguese.

In the last political debate, Ventura defended much tighter restrictions to the immigrant and refugee population in Portugal. When asked if he was worried for being considered the “face of far-right nationalism in Portugal”, he defended people – his supporters – do not care about these labels and that those extremist behaviours can only be associated to the dissatisfaction of a population.

The danger of far-right movements resides in the common-sense and reasonability of such statements and in how much a leader, a candidate or an elected official can distance himself from the perpetrators of extremism. If you inflame society with just the right amount of xenophobia amongst reasonable statements, society will react in extreme ways.  

I believe it’s still too soon to judge Basta’s true intentions but I will remain observant of what can be read between the lines in the upcoming weeks. I advise you to do the same. 

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