By Carlos Alberto Montaner
There is no point in reviewing history. But in these times of demolished statues and far-fetched anger it is worth reviewing what is happening in Spain.
I came to Spain in 1970 to do a doctorate, with my wife and my two children. I was psychologically prepared to meet a wounded and poor society, but it wasn’t like that. Except for the university in Madrid, which was a passionate focus of leftism, ordinary society saw the future with optimism and had already reached 80% of the European Economic Community per capita income. What I felt was a happy society.
I was there until 2010. Forty years. I lived in an exciting period. Luis Carrero Blanco, Franco’s designated successor, was assassinated by the ETA in late 1973. Two years later, Franco himself died in his bed. He was 83. He had ruled from 1939 until November 1975.
He was succeeded by King Juan Carlos as Head of State. If Franco believed he had the future of Spain “tied and well tied,” he was wrong. The changes began within a few months of his death. The intention was to create a constitutional monarchy within the broad spectrum of “liberal democracy,” as was the case in much of Western Europe. Francoism was a legacy of the conflict between fascism and communism of the 1930s and 1940s. There was no point in continuing to carry that vision through the mid-70s.
Within the “liberal democracy” all fit. From the presidential republics, like France, to the parliamentary monarchies, like Sweden or the UK. There was room for Social Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives and Christian Democrats. Even communist and fascist totalitarians fit in, provided they respected and complied with current law.
First, Carlos Arias Navarro, appointed by the Caudillo after Carrero Blanco’s death, continued to govern, but only for a few months. He was a skillful lawyer who had to announce in a trembling voice Franco’s death on television. As soon as Juan Carlos felt strong in his new position, Arias Navarro resigned, and it was Adolfo Suárez’s turn. It was a change “from law to law.”
The real transition began with Suárez and his Democratic Center Union. It was a center-right party made up of different political groups, although dominated by three families who ended up estranged: the reformist Francoists, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals. Then came Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, who ruled a couple of years after Suarez’s resignation, until the end of 1982.
That’s where I wanted to get. It was at the end of that year that Felipe González, as head of the PSOE, closely followed by Alfonso Guerra, assumed the leadership of the government, and stayed there until José María Aznar defeated him in 1996.
For González, who had an absolute majority in the 1982 elections, it would have been easy to decree the revision of history and blame Francoism for his heavy hand during the Generalissimo’s long period, but fortunately he refrained from doing so.
Felipe knew that in the two Spains that had faced each other from 1936 to 1939, there had been terrible crimes. And he knew that Franco, far from being generous, continued to kill and imprison people after the war. But he also knew that the truly important thing was to overcome the past, and not delve into it, because the vital thing was to save the future and that task involved a kind of official amnesia.
It seemed to me that everyone had a brilliant attitude. The right wing officially forgot the thousands of crimes committed in Paracuellos del Jarama, and the left did not invoke the thousands of executions committed in the Badajoz bullring by the nationalist forces. It was true that the rabid Falangists had taken Federico García Lorca’s life. It was also true that the reds had done the same with Ramiro de Maeztu and Pedro Muñoz Seca.
The important thing was to turn the page and let civil society examine the facts. They did it with persistence and without criminal consequences in newspapers and magazines, in publishing houses and in the cinema, but an “official truth” was not established because that would have opened a Pandora box and it was also useless. In neighboring France -- Spain’s model -- they had seen how Napoleon had gone from a murderous rogue to an illustrious ruler venerated by the masses.
However, that climate of civic cordiality ended in Spain under the presidency of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, with his Law of Historical Memory, revisited under the government of Pedro Sánchez and his vice president, the disastrous Pablo Iglesias, a confessed Leninist that has Venezuela as a role model, as he said before the television cameras in Caracas.
It is a pity that they have not understood the message of the transition: the future is what matters. The “official truth” gets in the way. It’s totally useless. ©FIRMAS PRESSCarlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest novel is A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected." His latest book is Sin ir más lejos (Memories), published by Debate, a label of Penguin-Random House.