36 Steps to Democracy in Spain
On the 20th of November 2011, a General Election was held in Spain. It was won comfortably by the centre right party “ Partido Popular”.
36 years ago to that day, the Spanish Dictator, Francisco Franco Bahamonde, had relinquished his 36 year hold on Spain by the simple act of dying. He had held the reins of power since the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, when a military coup overthrew the democratically elected Republican Government. The violent three year war fundamentally divided Spain and Spanish families and was seen by the wider world as a seminal struggle between the forces of good and evil, left and right, fascism and democracy. Franco was not going to be divested of his power by any other means than death following a protacted period of illness.
I was there in Spain that day, in Seville, on the 20/11/1975, allegedly studying for my BA in Spanish Studies. My tutors, back in England, were ready to summon me and my fellow students home. I remember thinking, in a romantic moment, that my favourite writer, Laurie Lee, had also found himself trapped in Spain in 1936; caught in the crossfire of early fighting in the Spanish Civil War. He had been rescued in a rather melodramatic fashion by a British naval boat destroyer, patrolling off the coast of the Costa del Sol.
My tutors had no need to worry; they had feared a blood letting; a rising up of an oppressed people seeking justice. It didn’t happen and it has not happened since. Spain had chosen to take the easy way out and entered into a collective pact of national amnesia, the so-called “Pacto de Olvido”
They have sleepwalked through the last 36 years.
However, significant undercurrents of concern and tension have been stirring lately. Not enough to emerge as a significant election issue, given the depths of unpopularity to which the incumbent socialist party had plummeted-a result of harsh counter austerity measures.
The concerns have been sparked by a recent controversial decision by ex Prime Minister, Zapatero, which may prove to be his lasting legacy to the nation. This was the introduction of legislation to allow the exhumation of old civil war mass graves that had lain undisturbed for 72 years. The older generation have always been well aware of their precise locations but have not had the will to start digging into the past. Their grandchildren do have the will and a period of national reflection is guaranteed. Jason Webster, a new writer on Spain, has captured the new zeitgeist perfectly in his recently published book “Guerra”.
Interestingly, a final act of the outgoing Government has been to publish a report that it had commissioned which recommends the exhumation and removal of Franco’s body from the controversial ” Valle de los Caidos” memorial which literally claims to be a monument to the ” fallen” of the Civil War. In reality it remembers only the dead of the victorious fascist dead. It is a recognition that a period of reflection and reconciliation cannot be entered into whilst a Monument to the dead of one side in a civil war remains as a National Museum.
I have a passion for Spain and a desire to see social justice done there.
I am enjoying a second chance in life. I am studying to be a writer after a torrid few years of redundancy and divorce. I am having an Indian Summer in my life, or as the Spanish would say, “Una Veranilla del membrillo”, which literally and deliciously translates as “the little summer of the quince”
Spain, with its new generation, has a similar window of opportunity to reflect, look deep into their souls and start afresh. Will they take it? The election result was not a good start but there are 36 good reasons why I think that this will not be the end of the story.