Spanish politics

How Spain’s far-right Vox party copies Nazi propaganda techniques

A campaign poster criticizing the cost to the state of foreign unaccompanied minors and the use of insults such as ‘rat’ are reminiscent of formulas used by Hitler to disseminate hate messages

Nazi propaganda comparing the cost of an ill person with the cost of a healthy family.
Nazi propaganda comparing the cost of an ill person with the cost of a healthy family.

The propaganda techniques that Spain’s far-right Vox party has adopted in its campaign for the Madrid regional election of May 4 were already tried and tested in Germany by the Nazis.

Both the campaign billboard in which Vox attacks the cost to the Madrid region of unaccompanied migrant minors, and the words used to dehumanize the leftist Unidas Podemos candidate, Pablo Iglesias, such as “rat” and “hunchback,” mirror strategies used by Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party to win over millions of Germans in their drive to persecute and annihilate not only the Jews but also the disabled and sick.

Using the word mena – an acronym with negative connotations for unaccompanied foreign minors – Vox’s juxtaposition of the €4,700 it allegedly costs to maintain a migrant minor with the €426 in pension payments received by “your grandma” has one clear goal: to vilify and expel unaccompanied children and teenagers from Spain, as Vox candidate Rocío Monasterio has made clear. The billboard has been strategically placed in various commuter train stations around Madrid, but not only is it inaccurate, it is also under investigation by the prosecutor’s office as an alleged hate crime.

Vox’s election billboard inside a train station in Madrid’s underground system.
Vox’s election billboard inside a train station in Madrid’s underground system.PODEMOS / Europa Press

By law, the Madrid region takes all minors requiring “protection measures” into care, regardless of their “nationality or social circumstances.” According to data released on March 31 from the regional department for family and social issues, Madrid has a total of 3,709 minors in its care. Of these, 2,637 are Spanish (71.1%) and 1,072 (28.9%) are foreign. Among the migrant minors, 269 have arrived in Spain unaccompanied by an adult, amounting to 7.2% of the total.

So where does Vox get its figure of €4,700? In the Madrid region’s 2020 budget for the care of protected minors, a total of €96.1 million was allocated to pay for 1,903 places in care homes – other minors are cared for by families – resulting in an average monthly cost of €4,208 per place. It should be noted that this money is handed to the organizations responsible for the care of these minors.

Aside from whether the figure is accurate or not, the big question is whether it is legitimate in a democracy to discuss the cost to the public coffers of caring for a person in need, instead of reflecting on how to manage resources to improve their care. The Nazi regime used this kind of propaganda to justify a no-spend policy on people with disabilities or hereditary diseases.

"60,000 Deutschmarks is what this handicapped person costs us over the course of his life. This money is also yours” says the poster on the left, while the one on the right points out that a patient suffering a hereditary disease costs an average of 50,000 Deutschmarks (DM) by the time they reach 60.
"60,000 Deutschmarks is what this handicapped person costs us over the course of his life. This money is also yours” says the poster on the left, while the one on the right points out that a patient suffering a hereditary disease costs an average of 50,000 Deutschmarks (DM) by the time they reach 60.Unknown / Unknown

On July 14, 1933, the German government passed the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases, mandating the sterilization of people suffering from genetic diseases, including mental disorders, learning disabilities, physical deformities and even alcoholism. Although it is impossible to know the exact number of sick people who suffered under the Nazi regime, it is estimated that some 300,000 people were killed and another 400,000 sterilized, according to research published in The First into the Dark: the Nazi Persecution of the Disabled by Michael Robertson, Astrid Ley and Edwina Light.

Underpinning the violent rhetoric against the sick and those with special needs was propaganda aimed at convincing German citizens of the high cost of maintaining these “parasites” to the state, as Michael Burleigh points out in his book Death and Deliverance: Euthanasia in Germany, c.1900 to 1945 published in 1994. According to Burleigh, the spin was partly successful, as secret police reports reveal that “people were far from unanimously condemning these eugenic policies.”

This Nazi propaganda, titled "How much does the care of hereditary disease cost?" compares the annual cost of a sick person with workers’ salaries: “One year of hospital: the annual salary of two workers; seven years of hospital: the annual salary of seven workers; 10 years in an asylum: the annual salary of 10 workers.”
This Nazi propaganda, titled "How much does the care of hereditary disease cost?" compares the annual cost of a sick person with workers’ salaries: “One year of hospital: the annual salary of two workers; seven years of hospital: the annual salary of seven workers; 10 years in an asylum: the annual salary of 10 workers.”Unknown

There is nothing new about Vox’s strategy of slamming public spending on the care of unaccompanied migrant minors: it is the same propaganda technique used by the Nazi regime to justify the annihilation of those it perceived as genetically inferior.

But this is not the only similarity with Nazism. On April 23, shortly after receiving a death threat in a package with four bullets, Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, who recently quit his job as deputy prime minister to run in the Madrid election, noted that those insulting him have switched from “Red [communist] shit” to “hunchback” and “rat.” It was also on April 23 that Vox deputy Macarena Olona tweeted the message “PONYTAILED RAT,” alluding to Iglesias. Her followers on Twitter managed to turn both this and “hunchback” into trending topics on the social networking service. These are the same terms used by the Nazis to insult the Jews, whom they depicted at times with a rodent’s body, sparse beard and aquiline nose. They murdered six million.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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