Conference on the economic, cultural and political conditions of contemporary Spain

To understand the cultural and political situation of Contemporary Spain it is vital to analyze very briefly the important events that took place in Spain during the period of 1936 and 1982. Within almost fifty years, one can highlight three important stages: Civil War (1936-1939), Franquismo (1939-1975) and Democratic transition (1975-1982).

In Spain, as it is well known, the Republic legitimacy was interrupted by the military uprising of July 18, 1936, which triggered three agonizing years of Spanish Civil War, leaving a debacle of more than a million casualties.

After the victory of Franco’s troops, upon the legitimacy of the Republic Franco established a dictatorship with fascist inclination, which consequently hindered civilian rights and liberties. In addition, religious freedom were restricted during these years in Spain. where the Catholic Faith was the official religion under the Franco regime. Freedom of the press did not exist and all publications had to undergo censorship; first years in the delegations of Falange, and after in the new created Ministry of Education and Tourism, whose founder is still today’s right wing political leader, Manuel Fraga Iribarme. Freedom of assembly and association did not exist in Spain, or for that matter, political parties where non-existent with the only exceptions of the FALANGE ESPANOLA TRADICIONALISTA a political party which gave its support to Franco during the uprising of July 18, 1936.

In Spain, civil marriage, divorce or abortion were prohibited. The first three years following the Civil War and before the end of the Second World War, Franco maintained international relations with two fascist regimes, Germany and Italy. Franco also maintained relations with the Argentina of Peron, who facilitated Spain with the importation of beef and wheat. After the end of the Second World War and with the victory of the allies, Spain’s foreign relations were diminished to such an extent that its relations were concentrated in Portugal, Dominican Republic, Argentina and the Vatican; countries which retained their Embassies in Madrid. It was not until the end of 1950, that United Nations lifted Spain’s diplomatic sanctions and at the beginning of 1951, the United States sent its Ambassador to Spain. As the Cold War began to shape the world, the United States initiated a foreign policy strategy prioritizing support to the anti-communist sentiment sorne regimes espoused, without concerning, whether or not, these regimes held a democratic system. The visit of President Eisenhower to Spain during the 1950’s gave a strong support to the Spanish dictatorship which triggered sentiments of anti­ americanism among the Spanish democratic left in the subsequent decades. One must not forget, that Spanish republicans hoped during the latter years of civil strife, that if the Second World War had started it would have changed the correlation of forces in the Spanish civil War. After the defeat of Fascism in 1945, Spanish republicans contemplated that a defeat of fascism would de facto re-establish Democracy in Spain. Nevertheless, the new economic order definitely rendered against their aspirations.

The economic system of Franco’s Spain was autarkic and supported by a system of family and public industries, which could not compete in the international arena. Such a system slowly developed an internal market highly protected by tax barriers. The international economic aid Spain received was essentially from the United States, along with a treaty signature granting American military bases in Spanish territory. Such a treaty is known as the Madrid Pact of 1953. In this manner Franco managed to reduce his isolation in the international scene. He prevented the downfall of his system by receiving financial credits, even though, this would be in exchange of ceding rights of sovereignty. Franco’s signature of a defense agreement, allowed the United States to establish military bases in Torrejon, Zaragoza, Monzon and Rota. The agreement on economic aid that Spain received from the United States was also vital to the Franco regime. The framework of financial and economic stability which United States conditioned its economic aid, paved the way Spain’s stabilization program in 1959.

During the first decades of the post-war, the impoverishment of Spain’s popular classes opened up a flow of migration to other European nations. They lived in very bad conditions in those countries of destination, basically, Switzerland and Germany, but they were able to send an important flow of money to their families, which produced a flow of foreign exchange that helped the nation’s balance of payment as well as to reactivate domestic consumption and investment. Finally, the touristic boom of the sixties constituted an important engine to bring foreign exchange and to Spain’s economic take-off during the last years of Franco’s regime.

The Spanish demands of the working class for political democratization in labor unions were increasing at the beginning of the seventies. The existence around the socialist party of underground political organizations and also -especially around the Communist Party- helped to create an environment of increasing demands for freedom. Another influencing factor was the generational changes inside the different tendencies of the Franco regime, which relaxed its repressive apparatus and allowed the disbandment of previous press censorship, even though some important restrictions remained.

With Franco’s death on November 12, 1975, the regime was almost exhausted, the new attempt of liberalization by the new president, Arias Navarro was too mild and did not even convince the most moderate. It is in this context, that the personality of Adolfo Suarez emerged. His background comes from the Falangista youths, but he also was of he King’s generation. He was assigned the task to put forward a transitional process of democratization within the State’s structures while keeping a supreme political and economic hegemony of the same elite presenting a facade of democratic legitimization. The Law of Political Reform of 1976 approved by the post-Franco’s Courts and taken to referendum, became the important key to the legalization of political parties and the subsequent convocation for the constituent general elections of June 15, 1975.

The Spanish transition was characterized by the so-called “Constitutional Consensus.” The political instability which Spain experienced during the democratic period before Franco and the wounds inflicted by the civil War were present among those parliamentarians responsible for drafting the Constitution of 1978. Some, like the General Secretary of the Communist Party,

Santiago Carrillo had participated directly in the Civil War. Others, like the Secretary General of the Spanish Workers Socialist Party, Felipe González lived and struggled in underground, and were the children of that generation defeated in the trenches. Pragmatism and moderation reign among those parties of the parliamentarian opposition, while the UCD, a party of which Adolfo Suárez was Secretary General, amalgamated a new generation politically nourished by the Franco regime and by successful right wing parties who learned the lessons of pragmatism in the application of technocratic power under the Franquista regime.

The Spanish transition had its moments of danger, of devolution. On February 23, 1981, a Coup d’Etat was attempted by Teniente Coronel Antonio Tejero Melina, who brought to light the resistance among those reactionary sectors to democratic changes. Political instability was permanent during the period of Constitutional endorsement from December 6, 1978 to the Coup attempt of February 23, 1981. The legalization of the Communist Party by Suarez weeks before the convocations of the first General Elections of June 15, 1977, was considered to be high treason – especially among the military sector- but Suarez was gambling with the electoral credibility in this card. The Catholic Church also activated new tensions within the governing party primarily among Christian-democratic groups in the process and approval of the divorce law.

The re-arrangement of the new regional map, the approval of new statutes for regional autonomy in Euskadi and Catalonia during 1979 and 1980 exasperated the military sectors which fought against separatism during the Civil War. Furthermore, the banking sector also expressed their apprehension in front of the political changes that were taking place. The War of the Flags in the Basque country, the series of terrorist attempts by ETA against the high commands of the military and the clashes generated the King’s visit to the Council House of Guernica -all these events taking place during 1980, prepared the ground for a period of instability that would favor “a change of direction” in the Spanish democratic process. The resignation of President Suarez in the UCD Congress on January 1981, in Palma de Mallorca, was due to all kinds of pressures. He relinquished his power to the representative of the most conservative sector of the governing party, Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, the son of a politician executed during the II Republic. His main objectives, among others, were to halt reforms while gaining political space. However, for the ultraconservatives, this was not enough and the coup attempt of February 23, 1981 was their response.

One has to bear in mind, that in politics, physical laws cannot be applied, thereby, when forces are pushing to the right, does not necessarily mean a shift to the right, but to the contrary, these forces can, as the Spanish contemporary history shows, a shift to the left.

The impact of witnessing the Coup attempt live on television, convinced Spaniards that it was necessary to go beyond and their actions resulted in an electoral victory by absolute majority of October 28, 1982, which brought the Spanish Workers Socialist Party, known as PSOE, to power.

During the period of 1982 and 1985, PSOE, which -was brought to power with a militant and very ideological base, had to the contrary; initiate a liberal reform in order to transform the structures of the neo-fascist state. In this context, the consolidation of the regional map, the democratization of the army, and the reconversion of the industrial structures were initiated with determination. The transformation of the industrial sector was vital in order to compete effectively in the European Market. This policy generated a loss of nearly three million jobs in a population of 36 million people.

This policy of reconversion in the mid-term produced positive signs and economic recovery was felt after 1986 with GNP of 5% in the last four years. In fact, Spain has registered an spectacular economic growth and produced a recuperation of jobs, more than those jobs lost during this period of reconversion.

From the international perspective, the incorporation of Spain to the structures of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1986, induced an important presence of foreign capital in the Spanish economy thus encouraging better perspectives for investment. The referendum about Spanish permanence to NATO with positive results in March of 1986 contributed to placate fears of western industrial democracies headed by the United States. It is in this framework that Spain is rethinking the challenges of the nineties and the events of 1992 which constitute an emblematic symbol of a new Spain. The celebration of the Olympic games in Barcelona represents not only a very important publicity investment for the country, but it also represents the modernization of the infrastructures of Barcelona, the capital of one of the Spanish regions -Catalonia- the region with major economic growth inside Spain.

The celebrations of the Universal Exposition in Seville, and the Quincentennial, has two objectives in mind: first, to serve as a dynamic engine to one of the most populated regions of Spain -Andalucía- and traditionally one of the most backwards. Second, the Quincentennial tries to establish a new framework of relations between the Spanish culture and the Latin American culture that goes beyond previous ones based on cultural and historical utilization..This new framework tries to open up new relations of solidarity with Latin American Countries with which Spanish transition have serve as a milestone for democratic transformation.

The cultural, political and economic perspectives of Spain are frankly optimistic. Democracy• is completely stable, political parties and electoral system have demonstrated its effectiveness in subsequent local, regional and general elections.

The effort to increase investment has taken place in the last years stimulating enterprise competition which is noticeable in the increasing volume of exports. However, as other members of the OECD, Spain also experienced a slower economic growth during the first months of 1991. Projections of growth are moderate if comparing with previous economic cycles, although previsions for 1991, for its Gross National Product (GNP) are 2.5 percent higher than other countries of the European Economic Community.

Finally, we believe that within a historical context, Spanish democratic transition has been a positive one, as assertive as the cultural, political and economic transformations that occurred in the last nine years. Today, Spain is a country which socially is in March and has arranged its future within the European Community.

ANNA BALLETBÒ, August, 27 , 1991

Guest Scholar, Wilson Center Washington, D.C.