New liberties, old wounds: Spain’s days of decision

New liberties, old wounds: Spain’s days of decision

David Baird November 27 1978
New liberties, old wounds: Spain’s days of decision

New liberties, old wounds: Spain’s days of decision

David Baird November 27 1978

New liberties, old wounds: Spain’s days of decision

World News

David Baird

It had all the bleak unreality of yester day's justice. A bespectacled 18-yearold youth nervously faced his judges-a

colonel and five infantry officers—in a cramped barracks courtroom in northern Spain. Though a civilian, Ramon Sagaseta was being tried by the military. His crime: insulting the Span-

ish flag. Three times, alleged the prosecution, he had wiped sweat from his brow and twice he had blown his nose with the red and yellow national colors while taking part in a Maoist youth group’s stage show.

That was enough to earn Sagaseta a one-year jail sentence this month. But he has the consolation of knowing that he is unlikely to complete it. For his was a historic case, the death rattle of General Franco’s implacable regime. Three years after the dictator was laid to rest in the Valley of the Fallen bas-

ilica, the grotesque Wagnerian monument built outside Madrid with his enemies’ blood, Franco’s “fundamental laws” are about to be buried too.

On Dec. 6, 25 million Spaniards— including 1.4 million between 18 and 21 who have just been enfranchised—will vote on a new constitution that contains enough civil liberties to send tremors through the 492-foot granite cross atop

Franco’s tomb. The nation is expected to pronounce a resounding “«Si”to a document that abolishes the death penalty, allows religious freedom, recognizes the right to strike, admits the possibility of divorce, enshrines a parliamentary system and does away with trial by court martial for civilians.

Perhaps even more important than what the constitution says, however, is

the way in which it evolved. Fourteen months of painstaking negotiation by the political parties were needed to reach a consensus. In a country frequently ravaged by deep historical antagonism between poor and privileged, the constitution has been hailed as a landmark and supported by most shades of opinion. Said one young Marxist-Leninist militant: “It has a capitalist slant but it gives plenty of elbow room. It would be ridiculous not to accept it as a major step forward.”

For its architect, Prime President Adolfo Suárez, it “contradicts the idea of two irreconcilable Spains and es-

tablishes a reasonable, peaceful, ordered basis for living together.” Yet, as a blizzard of propaganda urges the people to “vote freely” in the referendum, those who want to keep old wounds open are busy rubbing at the sores. Last weekend, it was disclosed that four army officers had been arrested, reportedly for plotting to hold hostage members of the cabinet. Die-hard Francoists claim a new crusade is needed to save Spain in face of all the changes.

Today, King Juan Carlos can hold intimate conversations in his Zarzuela Palace with socialists and Communists; newspapers lampoon government figures; citizens besiege council offices with their grievances; porno films and sex shows have invaded the cities; and an estimated two million women in Catholic Spain are on the pill, which next year will be dispensed free at family planning clinics. That is too much for some. Says a Málaga shopkeeper, Miguel Velasco: “There’s no respect anymore, for family or for government. What this country needs is a 28-yearold Franco.”

It is a minority view, but nostalgia for the past plays into the hands of rightwing rabble-rousers who often have sympathizers within the police force. They yearn for the sepulchral peace of the Franco years and point to rising crime and widespread feelings of insecurity as the penalties of democracy. They warn that recognition by the constitution of regional nationalities such as Catalans, Basques and Galicians will lead to the country’s disintegration.

Rightand left-wing extremist attempts to sabotage the democratic proc-

ess promise to reach a climax before the referendum, particularly in the Basque country where a large percentage is expected to abstain from voting. Already certain central powers are starting to be turned over to the soon-to-be autonomous Basque and Catalan regions. But that is not enough to satisfy many stubbornly independent Basques. The wave of terrorist outrages, chiefly by Basque separatists, recently sent Defence Minister General Gutiérrez Mellado on a barracks tour to strike a calming note among the restless military. “I assure you that there is not going to be a coup d’etat,” he told the press. Jeered before several hundred officers at a briefing last week (he ordered the arrest of the civil guard general concerned), the laconic Mellado has played a significant part in smoothing the path to a more egalitarian society, though his style contrasts sharply with that of Suárez, whose suits are as neatly tailored as his public image.

With amazing agility—and the unflinching support of King Juan Carlos— the 46-year-old president has switched from being a Franco functionary to the role of engineer of democracy. Crowned chief of the ruling Centre Democratic Party at last month’s cleverly orchestrated congress, Suárez has angered Christian Democrats in the party he created by taking a social democratic course in a bid to undercut the powerful Socialist Party of Felipe González. If more than 70 per cent of the voters approve the new constitution, Suárez may risk an election. His most likely move, however, will be to form a new government after submitting himself to parliamentary approval. Support could come from Eurocommunist Santiago Carrillo, who sees no advantage in early elections, and a new rightist group formed by former Franco minister Fraga Iribarne.

The average Spaniard, however, is less interested in such manoeuvres than in action to solve the problems besetting his daily life. Pressing economic problems, labor troubles, more than one million jobless, health and education scandals will be howling at the door of the new government.

Trade union leaders are arguing over a new pact to contain inflation—down from 26 per cent last year to a probable 16 per cent this year—and to encourage business. But government hopes to cut it to ldper cent in 1979 may break down in face of Communist union leader Marcelino Camacho’s demand for wage increases of 16 to 17 per cent.

Nevertheless, Camacho’s presence at a ministerial negotiating table is a measure of how much Spain has changed. Three years ago he was in prison, his party was banned and thousands of Spaniards were still in political

exile. Now, like most of his countrymen, he wants peaceful solutions.

One of the returned exiles, historian Salvador de Madariaga, showed his indignation recently at terrorist actions which this year have resulted in more than 70 deaths—including that of a judge last week. Said De Madariaga: “Violence is not a peculiar characteristic of the Spanish people, a people who are patient and reasonable and know how to listen and reply.” Indeed. Spaniards have shown a restraint and maturity that Franco insisted they did not possess. The general desire for harmony has so far proved stronger than a stubborn minority’s mania for discord, a desire that the tense coming weeks will put to the test. And then, perhaps, Ramon Sagaseta can go home.