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Jun 14 / Jon

The Quality of our Democracy

Translated by Tristán Niamath.

The source text is taken from an editorial in the Spanish newspaper El País. The skopos is to give brief summary of Spanish politics after Franco’s death. The article is obviously aimed at Spanish readers in general but should be translated for the rest of the world. Most people are unaware of the specifics of how Spanish government works and the political history of Spain in general.

Source text: “La calidad de nuestra democracia”.

The Quality of our Democracy
By Julián Casanova

Some of the powers that be intend to prevent political, legal and moral reparations to the victims of the civil war and the dictatorship. The pursuit and persecution of judge Baltasar Garzón proves this.

At 2:15 in the afternoon on Sunday the 23rd of November 1975, a granite tombstone weighing 3306 lbs was placed over the tomb that had been dug for Francisco Franco in the basílica de la Santa Cruz in the Valley of the Fallen near Madrid. The tombstone that sealed the grave was as heavy as the legacy that Franco left: four decades of genocide and civil unrest. Almost 35 years afterwards, we Spaniards are still debating (which is mostly just shouting with little discussion, and on very little grounds) over the virtues and defects of the democracy that we have constructed without feeling the need to demolish the framework of the dictatorship.

Political corruption, along with politicians that ignore it, along with the prosecution of judge Baltasar Garzón upon the ideological heirs of Franco’s regime, places us in the argument again. Let’s remember how it all started and where we are today.

Right after the death of Franco, many of his faithful supporters threw away their blue uniforms and put on the jacket of democracy. The scattering of the so called reformers or “progressives” in search of a new political identity was at this moment, slowly but surely, general. Many francoists as always, whether powerful or not, converted overnight into democrats for good. It must be said clearly, for this reason, against the biased opinion of a few illustrious ex-francoists that have taken to the transition to democracy, that the framework of the dictatorship that had power when Franco died did not contain the seed of democracy and neither the king, nor the new chief of state, offered the best guarantees in that moment.

The politicians and bureaucrats formed in the administration of the francoist state had in their hands the repressive machine and the consent of an important part of the educated population during the years of distrust towards political change, identified with the values of authority, security and order. Without Franco there wouldn’t have been francoism, but the francoists that led the democracy at the time, benefited from the fears of the public and their beloved dictatorship had disseminated throughout the decades: the fear of disorder and protest, the tiresome negative propaganda circulated about the “red” political parties and about the opposition, and the traumatic memory of the civil war, with the well-worn theory that it could happen again.

It’s true that from underneath there was a powerful social pressure that, exerted by associations of neighbours, students, unions, Christian communities, intellectuals and professionals, tried to break the ultra-conservative positions, of the deep rooted government, that prevented the transition towards a system of liberties. But the project of the Political Reform Law conceived by Adolfo Suárez and Torcuato Fernández Miranda passed through the francoist courts, behind offering important concessions to the group of dignitaries that, around Manuel Fraga, ended up founding the Popular Alliance (Alianza Popular), and was approved in a referendum on December 15, 1976 with an elevated participation, 77% of the registered voters, even though in the Basque Country it remained at 54%, and 94% were affirmative votes, even though the democratic opposition had requested abstention. The promise of peace, order and stability was Suárez’s great trick to set the rhythm and the rules of the game and to mobilize a great number of people. With this help to the political reform, they ruled out the “democratic rupture” and a popular inquest to decide on the continuity of the Monarchy.

In the following two years, the story started to accelerate amid agreements, pacts, fundamental decisions and democratic participation. The process of legal reform ended up in the celebration of the general elections in June 1977, 40 years after the last elections when the Second Republic was able to preside. The passing of the constitution at the end of 1978 was accompanied by the Law of Amnesty, passed on October 15, 1977. Because of this law, and amongst other reasons, they renounced both the opening of investigations and the demand for justice regarding “crimes committed by civil servants against the exercising of people’s rights.” There are those who believe that this forgotten political pact of the past, stamped by the elites coming from Franco’s regime and the forces of the opposition, was indicative of Spanish democracy. In reality, the fear of the Armed Forces, the traumatic memory of the war, and the repression conditioned the public voice and political culture (or rather lack thereof) of millions of citizens. At that moment, the stage was dominated by the economic crisis, social conflicts, the terrorism of both the Basque ETA and of the extreme right, and the threat of military involution. This democratic process was based on the deals and negotiations of the political elite with the left and right parties for rigid structures and closed lists that did not encourage the affiliation or participation of civil society. The majority of the people accepted this and the dissident voices could not advance by other means because they did not have the available resources either.

The consolidation of democracy since the socialist triumph in the elections of October 1982 brought enormous benefits to Spanish society. This lead to the development of the autonomous model, the expansion of the welfare state (with fiscal politics of the redistribution of wealth), the integration of Spain in the European institutions and the supremacy of civil power over the military. Militarism occurred throughout history and, in spite of the existence of ETA, violence became a legacy of the dictatorship that democracy has not been able to destroy. This violence is no longer a vehicle of political action between us.

But it would soon be confirmed that Spanish democratization and modernization was accompanied by high doses of corrupt practices, speculation, fraud, and private negotiations at the expense of tax payers by those who didn’t want to put a stop to the governments or the political parties. The parties, on the other hand, were surrounded by friends and loyal people who defended the leader and his own interests. They seldom came up with a plan of coherent decisions destined to last.

The political, social, economic and cultural evolution of the last three decades constitutes the major period of stability and liberty of the contemporary history of Spain. Little or nothing remains of the romantic and adventurous vision of the foreign travellers who, until not many decades ago, saw Spain as a preindustrial territory distanced from Europe. It was a country saddled between the tradition of a few distinct regions and the modernity of others, obstinate in its backwardness and incapable of overcoming its traumatic history. Around the middle of the 20th century Gerald Brenan still described it as an “enigmatic and disconcerting” territory.

Paradoxically, when democracy appeared the most absent, after leaving behind the most disastrous parts of the authoritarian legacy of Franco’s regime, new coercions and threats made us doubt our political model. Some of the powers that be prevent us from searching and freely investigating our violent past. This prevents the political, legal and moral reparations of the victims of the civil war and of the dictatorship. Many politicians, in addition to not doing anything to face this, show a cynical attitude towards the corruption that implicates them, proud of the protection that they exert on their electorate. We citizens are very distant from the places of political decision and the political parties concentrate power excessively within their leaders and closest friends. Nobody seems willing to launch the changes and reforms that better the quality of our democracy, place the democratic institutions above the corporative and biased interests, and strengthen civil society. That’s the way things are.

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Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada
This work by Spanish 401, UBC, Professor Jon Beasley-Murray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada.