This is the first of a series of articles where I’ll explain some probably not so well-known facts about the state of democracy in Spain and the way it affects Catalonia.
In 1969 Franco himself appointed the Bourbon (the current King of Spain) as his successor. The Bourbon swore to the principles of Franco’s “movimiento” after Franco’s death on November the 20th, 1975 to become the head of state. He never swore to the current Constitution of Spain from 1978.
Historically the period after Franco’s death is known in Spain as the “transición”, meaning a transition from dictatorship to democracy. However, more precisely it should be called the “restauración”, the restoration of the Bourbon King.
The Spanish, Catalan and Basque nations were never asked whether they were happy to have a Bourbon back and were never given the opportunity to organise themselves as a Republic instead, which had been the democratically legitimate regime before the Civil War.
The problem is that the legitimacy of the previous fascist dictatorship was never questioned and the whole process was carefully overlooked by the still powerful fascist state structures, especially the military. In any case, the monarchical restoration indeed served to give a layer of legitimacy to the Spanish State after 4 decades of dictatorship in the eyes of the international community.
However, new cracks are constantly appearing on the foundations of the Spanish state caused by the shortages of the restoration. For example, none of the crimes committed by the fascist regime during the dictatorship, which prosecuted the illegalized left wing parties and the Catalan and Basque nations, have been investigated to date. Unlike in the rest of Europe Spain’s fascists have not yet been prosecuted (in catalan and in english). Falange, Franco’s party, is still legal in Spain as of 2010. More about this here.
To illustrate this, Spain’s legal system rates 60 out of 133 in judicial independence just after Nigeria in the Global Competitiveness Report 2009-2010 by the World Economic Forum.
Another dark chapter of the Spanish restoration was the coup d’état of February the 23rd 1981. A group of armed “guardias civiles” occupied the Spanish Parliament and were supported by general Milans del Bosch who took the tanks out in Valencia in an attempt to go back to a military regime.
The official story made the Bourbon appear as a hero to the public opinion, saving Spanish democracy. However, there were many grey areas in the resulting investigations and the visible leaders were set free in the early 90s. As a result of the attempt much of the Catalan self-government granted by the Catalan Statute of 1979 was further limited using a law called LOAPA.
The concessions to Franco’s ideals in the current Constitution of Spain are many. It contains several articles explicitly aimed against future possible Catalan and Basque national claims. For example:
Article 8, which explicitly allows military action against any secessionist attempt Article 8 “1 . Las fuerzas armadas (…) tienen como misión garantizar la soberanía e independencia de España, defender su integridad territorial y el ordenamiento constitucional” The mission of the armed forces is to guarantee Spanish sovereignty and independence and defend its territorial integrity and constitution.
Chapter III Article 145 which blocks Spain from becoming a federal state. “1. En ningún caso se admitirá la federación de Comunidades Autónomas” Under no circumstance the federation of Autonomous Comunities (Catalonia and the Basque Country fall within this category) will be admitted
Also, the right of self-determination of the nations is not contemplated. Even though Spain signed the Charter of the United Nations which explicitly states the right of all nations to self-determination.
In all this, Catalan politicians are also to be partly blamed. Most of them enthusiastically collaborated during the restoration seeing this as an improvement over the dictatorship and decisively contributing to the political stability in Spain for 30 years while they tried to convince us Catalans that once Spain was rich it would become modern and open minded and Catalan national ambitions would eventually be fulfilled.
Historical Catalanism was aimed at converting Spain in a real confederation of Iberian nations, mainstream Catalan independentism is more recent. But now after 150 years of trying it’s clear for us that not only has Spain not changed but it is now showing in all crudeness its true colors. At least, Catalans can’t be blamed for not having tried.
But unlike Basque politicians, who didn’t agree with the Spanish Constitution and abstained, like the main basque party, PNB, or voted against it, the two main Catalan parties CDC and UDC naively didn’t realise how much they were giving up by accepting those terms and campaigned to vote yes. Only ERC campaigned against it. A full study on what each party campaigned for can be found here (link in Catalan).
The worst Catalan politicians did was that once the damage was made instead of showing us the reality of the situation they tried (and keep trying) to hide it and make the public opinion believe that the Spanish Constitution was a sort of pact between Spain and Catalonia when the reality is that the Catalan autonomy is a gracious concession of the Spanish state. For example, Catalonia has the same degree of autonomy as La Rioja, a region which has never been a nation.
Personally, I still don’t understand how a country with so very little democratic quality made it through to become a member of the European Union. Perhaps the other European states also believed, as we once did, that a richer Spain would slowly change. In any case, the reality is quite different.