34 Years Ago Today, Spain Took a Deep Breath

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34 years ago today, it was time out for Francisco Franco.

Franco was the Fascist dictator during Spain’s darkest hour. He ruled Spain as Head of Government with an iron fist from 1938 to 1973. Of course, he had already taken power in October 1936, instigating the Civil War in Spain, and he still was the power behind his successor, after 1973, until his death in 1975. Six years before his death, he had already named his successor, Juan Carlos de Borbón, the son of the legitimate heir to the throne, Juan de Borbón. Juan Carlos I. is the present King of Spain.

General Franco was born Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo Franco Bahamonde, commonly abbreviated to Francisco Franco or Francisco Franco Bahamonde, and also known as Caudillo (the leader) or Generalissimo (the General).

After winning the Civil War, Franco dissolved the legally assembled Spanish Parliament, establishing an extreme-right regime that lasted for over forty years, until 1978, when a new constitution was drafted. During the Second World War, Franco maintained a policy of neutrality, although he assisted Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on a small scale, most famously by sending troops. Of course, he owed both, Germany and Italy, for their military support during the Spanish Civil War (see Durango and Gernika, amongst others).

Before the start of the Second World War, Franco and Hitler met in Hendaye in France in October 1940. In addition, during the years of the Cold War, the United States established a diplomatic alliance with Spain, due to Franco’s strong anti-communist policy. American President Richard Nixon toasted Franco, and, after Franco’s death, stated: “General Franco was a loyal friend and ally of the United States”.

Many view Franco as a pragmatist rather than an ideologue. I beg to differ. Too much blood was shed on both sides to talk of pragmatism.

After his death, Spain began a transition to democracy. Pre-constitutional symbols from the Franco regime (such as the national flag with the Imperial Eagle) are today legally banned.

Franco’s legacy is still intensely controversial. Some Spaniards remember him as a strong leader who pacified Spain, whereas many others remember him as a harsh dictator. The older generation still seems to regard him with high esteem. Many Spanish cities still have a statue erected in his name, and even more towns still have an important avenida or plaza named after him.

But the good news is, that Franco is still dead.

I am not in a position to comment in any depth on Spain’s dark history for lack of sufficient knowledge but, living in Spain for 20 years now, I sense that until very recently, the Franco years were shrouded in secrecy. A period that is still regarded by many as a taboo, divides the country into two camps until this day, a taboo that is waiting to be finally lifted.

But reconciliation is in general not yet forthcoming, often within one and the same family. Therapists working with Family Constellations report that there is a substantial phenomenon of distress and traumatic pain effecting a large portion of Spain’s younger generation.

Only in the last year or so, some coherent historical books have been published about the Franco years and the Spanish Civil War, amongst which a very readable book by Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain.

Earlier this year, Spain celebrated 30 years of Democracy. Let’s all hope, that the presently peaceful period will last for a while longer.

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