Closeup/The World

The Spanish Renaissance

Democracy resumes, but not without its problems

David Baird May 30 1977
Closeup/The World

The Spanish Renaissance

Democracy resumes, but not without its problems

David Baird May 30 1977

The Spanish Renaissance

Closeup/The World

Democracy resumes, but not without its problems

David Baird

Flamenco con destape proclaim wall posters in the villages and towns of southern Spain. Pictures of senoritas showing a good deal more than their castanets emphasize the message—striptease (destape) has invaded the world of gypsy music. That is surprising enough to anyone who recalls the frigid Franco era when sex was next to godlessness. But Concha and Lolita are far from the only ones who are baring all in the Iberian peninsula. In an intoxicated outburst, the nation as a whole is displaying emotions and frustrations that it has had to repress for the past 40 years.

In the 18 months since that amalgam of iron and ice, General Francisco Franco, was laid to rest in the Valley of the Fallen, Spain has been bom again. And in the turbulent transition period That will, with good fortune, transform the country from a dictatorship into a democracy the country has become a centre of feverish political activity. The ferment will reach a peak June 15, when the nation votes in the first free elections since 1936.

For the average Spaniard, the times are worrying as well as exhilarating. But most of all they are confusing. Shielded from open political debate since the end of the Spanish Civil War in April, 1939, he is baffled by the profusion of slogans, symbols and cries for reform. As one businessman sighed: “Everything used to be so simple. The Reds were evil. The Church watched over our morals. Franco protected us. Now we are expected to think for ourselves.”

Among the younger generation, however, better fed, better educated than their parents and unscarred by personal memories of the Civil War, there is a burning enthusiasm for “democracy.” The young refuse to accept the right-wing arguments that Spain’s 35 million people lack the maturity to be governed without the aid of club and gun. In his lifelong crusade against what he saw as the twin threats of Communism and freemasonry, Franco made ample use of these weapons. Opposition was ruthlessly crushed and the press reduced to sycophancy. Strikers were shot or beaten up, intellectuals chased abroad.

Since the old dictator died, however, a steady process of liberalization has lifted the curtain on a new Spain, one which is ready to enter the mainstream of European life and forget the wounds of the past. Amid emotional scenes, thousands of exiles have returned to the homeland that denied them a welcome for 40 years, among them historian Salvador de Madariaga, anarchist leader Federica Montseny (the only woman ever to hold a cabinet

post in Spain), Communist leader Santiago Carrillo, and Rafael Alberti, Spain’s greatest living poet.

Many of those who have returned can scarcely recognize their surroundings. From a poverty stricken country with little industry, Spain has grown into one of the world’s 10 leading industrial nations. Much of the change dates from 1957, when a disastrous financial situation forced Franco to turn to so-called technocrats, many of whom were members of Opus Dei, the Catholic society known for its se-

cretiveness and elitism. Their economic policies caused millions to flood to the cities and abroad. These workers formed a cheap labor force for burgeoning industry; and those who toiled in the factories of West Germany and France sent home much needed foreign currency.

Though many of the guest workers have returned to swell the ranks of the unemployed, Spaniards still live better than they have ever done. But a heavy price has been paid for the helter-skelter, haphazard growth. From the Costa Brava to the Costa del Sol, the Mediterranean coast has been blighted by a wall of concrete in order to accommodate pale-faced north European vacationers, 34 million of whom came in

the record year of 1973. Cities such as Madrid and Barcelona are a jungle of highrises and nerve-shattering traffic jams and are ringed by dismal apartment blocks, thrown up by speculators, often without proper health, education or even transport facilities.

In the past 10 years two million workers have quit the land, leaving their whitewashed villages to the cats and the old folk. Yet while most of Spain confronts typical, 20th-century problems, some areas still suffer near feudal conditions. The great landowners in such backward areas as Andalusia still devote themselves to hunting and rearing bulls, while thousands of workers, many of them illiterate, move with the seasons to wherever temporary jobs are available.

Since Franco’s demise the problems that were brushed under the carpet have surfaced, thanks largely to an unfettered press which for the first time is permitted to focus attention on gravely inadequate health services, deep-rooted corruption and social injustices. Spain’s women are on the march, scandalizing traditionalists by campaigning openly for the legalization of divorce, abortion and the sale of contraceptives. The law decrees that a woman who submits to an abortion can be jailed for 12 years, but up to 500,000 are estimated to take that risk every year; and, though the sale of contraceptives for other than health reasons is illegal, at least 800,000 women are on the pill.

While social change is coming, along with the drastic political reshuffle, family and church influences are still powerful. A Seville housewife recalls: “I did not want a baby as soon as I married. But when I was still not pregnant after six months the priest kept asking after my health—and then the family put such pressure on me that I gave in.”

Spain’s tragedy is that social and political upheaval coincides with economic crisis. The world recession cut back returns

from tourism and sharply reduced remittances from migrant workers. A round of pay increases to newly militant industrial employees contributed to the country’s galloping inflation which is likely to climb more than 30% this year. Once Spain was the bargain centre of Europe, it is that no longer: rents and food prices are approaching levels in other countries. Unemployment is expected to rise toward one million and the balance of payments shows a $3.5 billion deficit.

Thus, despite their spiritual revival and intellectual renaissance, the coming of democracy is likely to mean for most Spaniards a period of unwelcome belttightening. Fortunately Franco’s chosen successor, King Juan Carlos, has shown a sense of statesmanship few foresaw. Many Spaniards are fervent Republicans—they tossed out their last king, Alfonso XIII. in 1931—but Juan Carlos has presented a liberal image without dabbling too openly in politics.

The king’s most sagacious move appears to have been his appointment last July of Adolfo Suarez as president. A politician from his sleek black hair to his impeccably burnished shoes, Suarez has proven himself a master operator. As a former leader of the National Movement, the only party allowed under Franco, he knows better than anyone the workings of the system. “Though he’s not a great intellectual, he has a political instinct. He is capable of making a 180 degree turn in 24 hours,” says one Madrid commentator. At 44, Suarez is of the same generation as Juan Carlos and the two are close friends.

Suarez seems to have mesmerized the hard-liners on both the right and the impatient left. Last November, the Cortes (parliament), a chamber noted for its antidemocratic stance, was nudged into approving the scheme for electoral reform. A

month later the nation approved the plan by a resounding majority in a referendum.

Suarez has since pushed ahead with other reforms. Almost all the political prisonersjailed under Franco have been freed, trade unions are now allowed to organize freely, strikes have been legalized (though within very restrictive limits), and in April the National Movement was dissolved.

The president has also managed to weather the storms provoked by extremists on both wings and the Spanish public has responded to their violence with a calmness and sense of moderation for which it has not previously been noted. The extreme left was dealt a heavy blow early this year when members of Grupo de Resistencia Anti-fascista Primero de Octubre (GRAPO) were rounded up. They had kidnapped a general and the president of the Council of State, but both were rescued by police. There followed a clampdown on right-wing extremists who had previously appeared untouchable, possibly because many of their members are suspected to be policemen.

But the gravest challenge to the government came in April when a revolt by the military was narrowly averted. The confrontation arose over the decision to legalize the Spanish Communist Party, a move seen as betrayal by those who recalled its Civil War status as an archenemy. Suarez feared that if he did not act, the socialists and others might boycott the elections; but the result was that Navy Minister Admiral Gabriel Pita da Veiga resigned, and though the army’s supreme council expressed its “repulsion” it was prepared to accept the change for reasons of patriotism. A collision seemed likely since many Spaniards felt the military were, unforgivably, meddling in politics. But Suarez turned his charm on the irate generals and the crisis blew over.

Spain’s military leaders have been a bulwark of Francoism and a number are veterans of the Blue Division that fought for Hitler on the Russian front. Many of the generals grew fat during the Franco years, benefiting from innumerable privileges and occupying influential positions in big business.

Lieutenant-General Gutierrez Mellado, Suarez’s defense minister, however, is known as a moderate, in marked contrast to such members of the “Bunker” (as the far right is called) as Lieutenant-General Carlos Iniesta, who once said that Francoism would last 1,000 years. To such old-style Franco men Spain is sinking under a wave of pornography and Red propaganda, and the more extreme fight back bitterly. “We are ready to die and to kill for Spain,” recently declared Blas Pinar, 59-year-old leader of the ultra-right Fuerza Nueva (New Force), who boasts of his fascist sympathies.

Over on the far left are a variety of parties, noue of which is likely to be legalized for the elections. The anarchists, who at one time had considerable support, have

made a comeback and recently filled a stadium in Madrid at their first rally in 40 years. But the main electoral struggle involves four parties or groups: the neoFranco Alianza Popular (Popular Alliance) who may get up to 20% of the vote, according to some polls; the Democratic Centre 20% to 30%; the Socialists 20% to 25%;and the Communists 7% to 15%.

While the two best organized parties, the Alianza and the Communists, have been pushing ahead with their campaigns, the centre group (Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals) have been dissipating their impact in haggling over candidates and policy. Confused by the proliferation of similar-sounding parties and by manifestos that are similar in many respects, the voters are likely to opt for personalities rather than programs. In the case of the Alianza, they will certainly know for whom they are voting. The leaders— known as “The Magnificent Seven”—are all Franco men whose watchword is continuismo.The Alianza declares that amendments only are necessary to Franco’s grand plan. They emphasize strong government, free enterprise and “law-and-order.” The guiding light is 55-year-old Manuel Fraga Iribame, a ruthlessly ambitious, onetime interior minister and former ambassador to Britain. Respected by some, feared by many, Fraga himself maintains that the Alianza is a centre party similar to the British Conservatives or the French Gaullists and sharply denies any wish to become a dictator.

Much of the Alianza’s support will undoubtedly come from those who benefited from the previous regime, from members of the Movement, big business, rural landlords. It will certainly not come from such voters as the Madrid truck-driver who snorted at the mention of Fraga’s name: “Those who have bought a house or a car may vote for him for fear they may lose it if the Communists take over. But Spain doesn’t need The Magnificent Seven’— they’re a cancer that needs cutting out.”

In contrast to the Alianza’s Madrid headquarters—a modern office block— the Communist Party occupies a dingy building on the Calle los Peligros (literally: Dangers Street). Two policemen are on permanent guard at the entrance. A notable achievement in the Communists’ long clandestine struggle was the building up of an illegal trade union movement. Carillo, now 62, spent his exile directing affairs from Paris. Spain’s best-known political exile, party president Dolores Ibárruri, known as “La Pasionaria” (the passion flower), took refuge in Moscow after the Civil War. She had become a legend after her rallying of the Republicans defending Madrid with the cry “No pasaran” (they shall not pass). Now 81, she has been waiting for her passport in Moscow so that she can return to Spain. Carrillo has been carefully fostering a more moderate reputation, attacking the lack of human rights in Eastern Europe, advocating democracy

and, recently, affirming the monarchy.

For those who find this hard to swallow, a more acceptable alternative is presented by the Socialist Workers’ Party, the PSOE, led by one of the brightest young voices in Spanish politics, Felipe Gonzalez, 34, from Seville. The PSOE has a long and honorable tradition in the struggle for workers’ rights and Gonzalez, always tieless, always eloquent, comes over as an intelligent moderate in his travels around the country and Europe.

Fearful of violence and anxious for a moderate answer to their problems, many Spanish voters are expected to vote for the centre bloc which has been trying to form a coherent group to face the Alianza challenge.

The Roman Catholic Church in Spain has resisted the temptation to involve itself in the elections. Traditionalist clergy will leave their flocks in no doubt about the dangers of socialism and Communism. But a new breed of radicals, to be found in the working-class suburbs, identifies with the left rather than the right. After being closely linked with the Franco state, the church is now seeking to sever its ties. Some of its leading bishops have been at pains to advise king and government of their duty to liberalize Spain.

Dozens of regional parties add a complication to the elections. Franco’s response to regional aspirations was an iron-fisted attempt to crush their will, cultures and languages. This succeeded only in provoking bitter resistance, particularly in the most cruelly repressed area, the Basque country. There Marxist separatists—the Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna (eta)—Basque Homeland and Liberty—answered police beatings with bullets, official torture with bombings. While spurning violence, more moderate parties are united in demanding a degree of autonomy.

Finding a reasonable solution to these demands will be but one of the problems confronting the new government. Persuading the newly organized trade unions to accept a range of austerity measures that will probably include a wage freeze, import restrictions and a 20% to 30% devaluation of the peseta is another. Then there is the unfinished task of dismantling Spain’s totalitarian system. The arrogance fostered by 40 years of untrammeled power lives on among many policemen, among the privileged hierarchy, the cushioned bureaucracy. Will they yield to the decisions of a possibly unstable, multi-party legislature? Could 1936 happen over again?

The difference today is that Hitler and Mussolini are dead, the rest of Europe and the United States wants a democratic Spain, and the Spanish people have grown up. Franco was always ready to tell his people “Spain is different.” Today Spaniards have the opportunity to prove him right, but in a very different sense, by shifting from dictatorship to democracy without the aid of revolution. Q