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David Gies
Professor, Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, U.Va.
"Africa No Longer Begins at the Pyrenees: Spain in Modern Europe"
November 3, 2005

In order to help you understand Spain's rather stunning recent integration into the European community of nations, I'd like to jump back a few centuries and begin with a story. One of the most irritating questions ever posed about Spanish identity and sovereignty, appeared in the French Encyclopedia in 1782. In an article on geography, in which a guy asked rather famously, "What do we owe Spain?" After two centuries, after four, after ten, "What has Spain ever done for Europe?" Spain for the generation of Europeans who believed the worse of the black legend, was the "other". That is, it was part of Africa. After all, the Pyrenees formed a boundary between Spain and the rest of Europe. And the country itself had been colonized by the Arabs from 711 to 1492. Nearly eight centuries. Anyone who has ever been to Spain and has seen the Alhambra in Grenada, the great Mosque at Córdoba, Arabic presence and influence was and is all over Spain. The cultural residue of that domination was clearly in evidence throughout the country.

The general thinking was the Europe began North of the Pyrenees, for it was in Europe, that is Great Britain, France, the Austro-Hungarian Empire where all of the notable scientific literary, social, and cultural advances took place. For those who hated Spain, Spain was a place overrun by foreigners. It was stifled by the horrifying inquisition, plagued by bad monarchs, bad roads, and bad food, and ignorant of all the most advanced thinking of the western world. For Edman Bourke, Spain was and I quote, "A whale beached on the shores of Europe." This is the image of Spain that entered the twentieth century propagated by many historians. Spain lost the last of her overseas possessions in the stupid Spanish-American War of 1898, which precipitated a crisis of identity that lasted for decades. Her neutrality in the First World War left her out of the negotiations concerning the restructuring of Europe.

The brutal Civil War of 1936-1939 provoked international outrage when the winner of that battle Francisco Franco thumbed his nose at the allied powers and seemed to throw his lot towards fascism. In March of 1946, the United States, Great Britain, and France unanimously condemned Franco's policies and regime and voted to exclude Spain from the U.N. General Assembly, which recommended further that Spain be banned from all international organizations. In 1947, Spain was excluded from the Marshall Plan. I urge you to watch the wonderful movie, have you ever seen the movie Bienvenido Mr. Marshall (Welcome Mr. Marshall)? It's a great satire about how America is going to provide toys and gifts and machinery to save Spain.

In 1949, Spain was excluded from NATO. Franco was seen as a pariah on the international scene. But in some ways, the Cold War saved Spain. As the fear of communism spread throughout the West, Europe and the U.S. suddenly found themselves in need of staunch anti-communist allies in Southern Europe. And Spain, strategically situated at the mouth of the Mediterranean, fit the bill. Policymakers managed to hold their noses at Franco's politics in an effort to recruit this ferocious “commutatator” to our side. Loans were extended to Spain starting in 1949. Ambassadors were exchanged in 1950. U.S. military bases created outposts on Spanish soil in 1953 in exchange for a loan of two hundred and twenty-six million dollars. And full recognition by the Vatican capped what Franco believed to be a movement toward legitimization.

Still, Europe itself resisted Spain's advances. Sure, Spain had given the world a few dazzling artists in the twentieth century - Picasso, Dali, Lorca - but she had also given us Franco. As what was then referred to as the European Movement developed in earnest in the late 1940s and 1950s with its common economic alliances in industries such as coal, steel, and banking, Spain found itself once again out of the loop. Sitting on the margins of Western economic development. It was not until the creation of the European agricultural community, that was called the Green Pool at the time, that Spain was invited to participate in pan-European discussions about agricultural issues.

Spain, which possessed a rich agricultural base and a potential market for European goods marked its first steps towards European integration in the area of agriculture. It's a country rich in oranges, olives, olive oil, cork, wood, leather, and dairy products. Spain was at the time, it must be remembered, predominantly agricultural and possessed a large land mass. Spain's six hundred and twenty-mile width is the same distance as from London to Prague excluding the Canary Islands. It is the second largest European union country by area and the fifth largest by population.

In fact, as late as 1975, one fifth of all Spanish workers were still on the land. That's changed dramatically as we'll see in a moment. Still, since the creation of the European economic community in 1957, which stipulated that only democracies could aspire to membership, Spain was kept at arms length. Franco initially exploited Europe's hostility to its regime by demonizing Europe as the source of all modern evil. As early as 1937 at the height of his struggle for dominance in the civil war, he referred to liberal democracies as bastarded, Frenchified, and Europeanizing. That is, as Franco coded it, Europe was seen as liberal, communist, and bad.

Franco built a career on a political policy on distancing himself from the corruptions of modern Europe while at the same time, moving toward the integration even he knew would be essential if Spain was to become a modern country. He played a cat and mouse game with Europe, shunning its supposed excesses while recognizing however grudgingly how necessary a European identification was to Spain venture. As Julio Crespo writes and I quote, "The Franco regime was well aware that the process of European integration would inexorably affect the country, but Europe kept its distance or rather held its nose as it allowed Spain to play on the periphery of the European community. By 1958, Spain entered an organization called the Organization of European Economic Cooperation, the OEEC, which set the stage for the slow integration of the Spanish economy into the developing European model, but that change would be slow and coming.

When Spain formally applied for membership in the EEC, the European Economic Community in 1962, there was outrage and condemnation all over Europe. As a result, Admiral Juan Carrero Blanco, later spectacularly blown up by separatists, proclaimed that the common market was a “thiefdom” of masons, liberals, and Christian democrats. Still both Franco and the heads of state of Europe recognized the efficiency of separating ideology from economics. Europe condemned the former, that is Franco's policies, while opening up contacts in the latter sphere. From an impoverished and ruined economy in the 1940s, Spain was so poor during these so-called hunger years, los años de hambre, that one could buy individual cigarettes, on the street, used toothbrushes, and ballpoint pens on installment purchases. Anyway, the country gradually moved into what has become the economic miracle of the 1960s. When Spain had the second highest economic growth rate in the world only after Japan. Its gross domestic product increased seven point five percent annually between 1961 and 1973 and it became the ninth industrial power in the world run by what was a growing and soon to be solid urban middle class.

In the early 1970s, Spain was awarded preferential status by the European community. Foreign minister Gregorio López Bravo declared, "My country belongs to Europe." The comment seen as a step forward toward full integration and respectability. Remind you Franco is still alive. But European minister stressed this is still purely economic agreement, that is it held no political implications whatsoever. They were wrong of course, but they didn't know what to do with Franco's anti-democratic stance, which was still a thorn in the side of Western democracies. ABC, the franquist newspaper, proclaimed that Spain was finally fully European. Nonetheless, Franco's political policies seemed to harden during the last years of his dictatorship. Censorship, the unrest and political dissonance, banned meetings, and canceled passports, and several controversial executions set off waves of protest all over Europe in the early 1970s.

In a defiant display of power in December of 1973, the terrorist ban ETA assassinated Franco's by now Prime Minister Juan Carrero Blanco. A man committed to maintaining Franco's policies after his death. Carrero Blanco's death marked for some, the first moment of what was to be called the Transition. For it became clear to everyone that more of the same. More of Franco's policies, more of the Franco dictatorship were difficult to maintain once Franco died. And even Franco couldn't live forever. After a grotesque period in which doctors did everything to keep him alive, he finally died on November 20, 1975 and as Saturday Night live kept telling us for months thereafter, “Franco is still dead.” He's buried at the Valley of the Fallen, el valle del caídos, a monument despised by the left as a symbol of fascist oppression. Not one head of state of a democratic country anywhere in the world attended his funeral. The shadow of Franco weighed heavily over Spain in November 1975. What now?

Franco had been cultivating the young Prince Juan Carlos, educating him in Spain as a successor to his own policies. But when Franco died, something went terribly wrong with that plan. Juan Carlos refused to follow into the mold of a fascist dictatorship and instead lead the country through a series of brilliant political moves, which have come to be known as the Transition. Spain's transition to democracy was so rapid, so depthly handled and so complete that it is odd to think back to those Franco years with anything, but slight amusement.

Through a series of smart, tactical maneuvers and open elections, Spain transformed itself between 1975 and 1982 from a repressive dictatorship into a modern socialist democracy, figure-headed by King Juan Carlos de Borbón. Juan Carlos formally declared King on November 22, 1975, swore to uphold justice, freedom, and democracy. Juan Carlos was thirty-seven years old when he assumed the throne of a troubled and deeply conflicted country. In the first three months of 1976 alone, Spain experienced more than seventeen thousand strikes compared to just two thousand during the entire year of 1974 and practically none during the real hardcore Franco years when they were simply banned.

But the King moved quickly to ensure that his promise of justice, freedom, and democracy would become a reality. In July he forced the resignation of his Franco’s minister, Carlos Arias Navarro and replaced him with a guy named Adolfo Suárez. A little known functionary, who truth be told, promised little. But Suárez moved quickly to create an agenda for political reform. He opened a dialogue with opposition parties, many of which had been banned in Franco Spain. The two dominant parties were the PSOE, the Socialist Workers Party led by a young lawyer named Felipe Gonzalez and the PCE, the Spanish Communist Party, led by General Secretary Santiago Carrillo who had lived in exile in Moscow since 1939.

In November 1976, just one year after Franco's death, the Parliament voted an important law of political reform, which opened the way for rapid changes about to take place. Briefly, those changes were the following.

In January 1977, Prince Felipe, the son of Juan Carlos was officially designated Prince of Asturias, that is the equivalent to the Prince of Wales, the heir to the Spanish throne. This meant that Spain would have, theoretically at least, a legal successor to the throne should anything happen to Juan Carlos.

Second thing, in February 1977, the Socialist Party, which had been banned during the entire Franco years, was legalized along with twenty-four other political parties. The Communist Party, which is the main representative of the extreme left was still considered too threatening and was left out of that process. It was still banned.
Third thing, in March of 1977, Spain established diplomatic relationship with Mexico, which it had broken off in 1939. Juan Carlos' father Don Juan de Borbon, the guy on the left, who still held claim to the Spanish monarchy, officially relinquished his right in favor of his son.

Fourth, in April 1977, so you see these are absolutely coming fast and furious, and these were very exciting and really very nerve-wrecking days in Spain. That these things were coming out once a month. In a bold and really dangerous move Suárez, de la noche a la mañana, as we say from the Night to the Morning, overnight, legalized this Spanish Communist Party. Said, "It's now legal. Get over it and march on." Everybody kind of went “Okay” and marched on. In July of 1977, the first open and free election in Spain in forty-one years took place. More than one hundred and fifty political groups were represented in these elections, but the winners turned out to be Centrist Party and Felipe Gonzalez's socialist party, the PSOE. Suárez holding the majority was re-elected President of the government.
The most important task now facing this new government was the drafting and ratification of a new Constitution, which in fact it did and became a reality; ninety one percent of the Spaniards supported it. They supported it in the ratification of December 1978. In just three years, 1975 to the legitimizing of the Constitution in 1978, Spain had transformed itself officially, spectacularly, and surprisingly into a modern Constitutional democracy. But challenges still remained.

Spain struggled with the management of the democratic process and tensions arose between the old Spain and the new Spain. Suárez who had been viewed just five years before as a visionary, was by 1981, thought of already as too old-fashioned. The country had just moved beyond him. Not right to lead Spain's leap into the modern world, he resigned and a new President, a guy named Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo immediately confronted one of the greatest challenges to democratic stability Spain has ever faced and that's this: dramatically with the t.v. cameras and radio stations open to the public, a disgruntled and armed ban of civil guard conspirators headed by a mustache buffoon named Antonio Tejero stormed into the Parliament in full session and took everyone and this included all leaders of government. It is the equivalent of when the President is giving a State of the Union Address and everybody is there, the Army doing a coup d'etat and marching in and taking over the entire government. They took the entire government hostage. February 23, 1981, known famously and simply in Spain as veintitrés F, 23F, like 9/11 is in our vocabulary.

Threaten Spain’s move to modernity, but the King in what has become his most breathtaking moment, refused to go along with the coups’ leaders. They were counting on his support. He was the head of the military. They just assumed that he was going to help them overthrow this liberal democracy and he didn't.

Decked out in his full military regalia, went on television at one thirty in the morning, two o' clock in the morning to address the nation with a message of support for democracy. The coup imploded and the conspirators surrendered. For days later, one million Spaniards marched through the streets of Madrid in an unprecedented outpouring of support for the King and for their democratic institutions.

In October 1982, Felipe González led his party to a victory in the national elections. Spain became officially a democratic Socialist state. Felipe, for many represented this new Spain. He was modern. He was youthful. He was charismatic. He was intelligent. This was the future and Spain's lot would be thrown in with Europe’s. Spain had managed to do what nobody thought it was capable of doing. It had transformed itself from a fascist dictatorship into a stable modern democracy. The world breathed a sigh of relief, applauded and invested heavily in Spain's future.

Spain in the 1980s was the coolest place on earth. Money flowed freely. Clothes were shed and all the rules of a conservative past seemed to disappear. The new business and political leaders exemplified the best of new economy as well as its worse excesses. A hundred and fifty dollar lunches at Spain's first three star restaurant became standard as well as did designer clothes, first class travel, and flashy living. Spanish nightlife, always the envy of the rest of Europe went on into the wee hours of the morning and traffic jams at 2 AM were not uncommon on Spain's central boulevards. And the partiers had to dodge the BMWs, Mercedes, and other yuppie cars. Spaniards took weekend shopping expeditions to New York where clothes and gismos were actually cheaper than they were at home.

Once blocked from membership in NATO, Spain entered the alliance in 1982 and the country ratified membership in 1985 although not without some fears. In 1986, it was admitted as a full member in the European Economic Community. And in January 1989, Spain assumed the presidency of the EEC. So if you remember what I told you about what had happened to them thirty years before, forty years before, these are rather dramatic turnarounds. Felipe González seemed to be at the top of his game.

Spain became an aggressively, even arrogantly, modern nation. In the old clichéd images of flamenco dancers and bullfights had been relegated to tourist spectacles or subjects for magazine photographers. It was western Europe’s fastest growing economy and it boasted of industries, which had been modernized. Corporate and banking profits doubled, then tripled. As William Finngen wrote in the New Yorker in 1992 and I quote, “For all the medieval images that still cling to this country, the real Spain is a thoroughly modern land, increasingly sexy and shock-proof and rich.”

By the late 1980s, the Socialists began to blunder and as a collective whole, they were blamed for a number of serious corruption scandals, which would end up bringing their government down by 1996. The scandals and the national debates about them paralyzed the Spanish government for a number of years. As we in this country did during Watergate, Spain really every morning waited for these new scandals to emerge. “Everyone off to jail” said one of the headlines in one of the country’s most enterprising magazines. Graffiti appeared, which turned Felipe’s PSOE into “corrupsoe”. Rosa Montero, Spain’s prime journalist, major novelist, and former U.Va. visiting professor said that Spain was living a political nightmare and that her country were, as she delicately put it, “Just pissed off.”

Felipe González himself was never accused of any direct wrongdoing, but he allowed himself to be surrounded by men and women who got confused about what is right and what is wrong. Who mixed social with personal gain and who got plainly greedy as they demanded their share of the new wealth. And so it was to the surprise of few that in the elections of 1996, Felipe and the Socialist Party were voted out of office. Their replacement, the more conservative Partido Popular, led by José María Aznar worried some observers and some participants in the beginning since his policies seemed to echo the old views of the most conservative segments of society, but Aznar has in fact, or did conduct himself with restraint.

Spain aspires to be one of the big five in the European Union, echoing something that the King himself said in his inaugural address in 1975. And I quote, “The idea of Europe would not be complete without a reference of the presence of Spain. Europe must identify itself with Spain. We Spaniards are European.” I might conclude this talk then with a return to the question I posed at the beginning. The insulting, “What has Spain ever done for Europe?” Now I think, he would have a very different response. Now he might be forced to say, “What has Spain ever done for Europe. Plenty. And there is more to come.”

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