The word democracy comes from the ancient Greek word demokratia, “demos” means people + “kratos” means rule. So, democracy means a government ruled by the people. Here in Spain, Democracy is a new word for us. We have only lived in a democracy since 1975.
Everybody talks about the “Spanish miracle” or the “Spanish transition” (1975-1990). This refers to how easily we changed from a 40-year dictatorial, fascist government (remember General Franco?) into a democratic country. I personally do not believe it was that easy. People were fearful, blood was shed and there was even an attempted coup d’état, but we also had exceptional and courageous people (politicians and civil ones) who all worked together with one goal: Democracy.
Amazing politicians in a historical moment
Several years before General Franco’s death (November 20th 1975) the “Generalísimo” named and prepared his successor. The chosen one was King Juan Carlos.
When Franco died, our King was just 38 years old with a different path in mind for Spain. He wanted a free country and surrounded himself with the key players of the transition.
On one side we find the right-wing (ex-Franco supporters) such as Mr. Manuel Fraga, a minister under Franco’s regime. He was responsible for convincing the military that the new General Commander was King Juan Carlos, and they had to follow his guidelines. Mr. Fraga also had to take power away from the Catholic Church. You must understand that if you didn’t go to mass on a Sunday during Franco’s regime, you would either be sent to prison or directly shot. Under the new rules, this was not going to be accepted
On the other hand, we find the left-wing politicians who now live in exile. The two most important ones were Mr. Felipe Gonzalez, and Mr. Santiago Carillo.
Gonzalez was the leader of the PSOE (socialist party) and would be the third president of democratic Spain. Santiago Carillo, was the leader of the Spanish Communist party. Mr. Carillo, who was 100% against Franco and the Monarchy, became the key to settling the new Spain. He trusted the King, returned to Spain and famously said, “I will never believe in the Monarchy, but I will always trust the King” With this sentence he made us understand that there was not going to be war again.
Mr. Adolfo Suarez deserves a special mention. He became our first president in 1976. He was the leader of a political party ideologically placed in the middle; not too conservative, but also not too liberal. He was like the director in an orchestra, quiet but understanding the important role each person has to play. Before Mr. Suarez died in 2014, in one of his last interviews, he explained that in order to make some decisions, he would listen to all the parts, and then decide based on his guts, not his brain.
the unresolved Basque and Catalonian issue
The Basques and the Catalonians were two regions/cultures that Franco really hated, and worked hard to repress them. For me, the question is: why these two? There are a at least 3 reasons to take into consideration:
- These states share borders with France. In Franco’s eyes, France, represented the worst of the modern world: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. These three words (freedom, equality and fraternity) do not exist in the vocabulary of a fascist dictator. As you can imagine, the Basque Country and Catalonia would inhale the breath of these liberal ideas.
- Another reason for the dictator to hate Basques and Catalonians is the important industry present in both states. Iron production in the Basque area has been present since Roman times, and since the industrial revolution (1760-1840) the Basque factories and ports have been producing and shipping boats, railroads, etc. all around the world. Catalonian textile production has always been one of the most prominent in Europe. This makes both states powerful and economically independent.
- Franco didn’t really need any more excuses to try to control those people, but there was one more. Basques and Catalonians speak, behave and live differently from the rest of the Spanish people. According to Franco, they were cultures that fought against the Spanish dream.
So, repression, violence, and hate against Basques and Catalonians during Franco’s dictatorship were fierce. Police would shoot you if you dared to speak a word in Basque. Traditional dances were prohibited and even the slightest display of these cultures were repressed.
As we know, hate breeds hate, and violence begets violence. Once Franco died, both territories fought for the rights that they believe they deserve—rights that are different from the rest of the states in Spain. The Catalonians fought for these rights intellectually. The separatists slowly gained control of the educational system. In one generation, all the kids were taught in schools that Spain is bad. Spain is getting all our money. Spanish language is not good… This situation is what we are dealing with at this moment. About 50% of Catalonians hate Spain.
The Basques demanded their rights in a very violent way. The creation of ETA, a terrorist band similar to the IRA in Ireland, was formed. Over 3000 terrorist attacks and almost 1000 deaths took place all over Spain. As a teenager, I remember the bombs, the riots, the fear, the chaos. I remember the tense silence right after the explosion of a bomb. Those four or five seconds were terrible. My mom would go nuts, and she would scream her lungs out “SON OF A BITCH! AAAHHHHHH!” Her eyes, I remember her eyes. They were full of tears, and hate, and fear. No kid should see his mother’s eyes like that.
I am sorry, I am not a writer and I cannot find the right words to make you understand all of this. I am a Basque man, and I am ashamed of what happened here. I am ashamed of the Basques who killed innocent people. I am ashamed of seeing those tears in my mom’s eyes. But I am also very proud of the Basques who fought against all of this. I am also proud of my mom. A woman, like many others, who taught her kids how to be a good Basque, a Basque who does not accept more hate, or violence.
If you are interested in learning about this period of Basque history, I really recommend reading Homeland by Fernando Aramburu. It took me over two years to read it all the way through. It touches too close to home. HBO has made a film of the book, and it is pretty good.
social rights in democracy
I do not want to finish this article without talking about all the social changes that took place in Spain right after Franco’s death.
First, a spontaneous social/cultural movement, “La Movida,” started in Madrid and quickly took over the entire country. La Movida was about being free, about action, about trying, and about accepting everybody.
There are some important icons who emerged from this moment. Icons such as Academy Awardwinner Pedro Almodóvar. Besides discovering Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, he showed us that love is love. His movies talk about love; lesbian love, heterosexual love, gay love… who cares who you love. Thanks to Pedro we have changed from killing people for their sexual orientation to being on of the most gay-friendly countries in the world.
Other huge social changes came about for women rights during LA Movida. During Franco’s regime, a woman could not have a bank account in her own name—it was either her father’s or her husband’s. Nor could a woman apply for a job without her husband’s permission. Thank God, that today all of this is history and women have the same rights as men.
Since Franco’s death, many social, political and structural changes have taken place in Spain. Many more are still to come, but I am happy to say that I live in a democratic country.