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Spanish History: a primer (part 2: Constitutions)

by Migeru Tue Dec 6th, 2005 at 08:22:36 PM EST

December 6 is Constitution Day in Spain. On this date in 1978 the latest democratic Constitution was approved in a referendum. As I explained in part 1 of this series, Spain's national holiday is celebrated on October 12 but I personally identify much more strongly with December 6.

This year's Constitution day is a sad one for me. On the one hand, the Constitution has become a political battleground in Spain. On the other hand, the raging CIA secret flights/prisons scandal, in which Spain's government is behaving as duplicitously as all others, reminds me of the GAL state terrorism scandal that severely blemished Felipe Gonzalez's tenure as Prime Minister of Spain. It would seem that Spain's polity did not learn the lessons of that scandal, and that does not bode well for the future.

Follow me below the fold for a short constitutional history of Spain, the sad tale of Spain's state terrorism after Franco's death, and my reflections on the future.

That's me on the left-hand side, barely 3 years old and just back from the polling station 27 years ago. "Do I stand like this, dad?" You will notice the nice comic book about the Constitution. That's about the level of sophistication with which the European "Constitution" was discussed in Spain before this year's referendum.

Spain and its Constitutions

Spain got its first Constitution in 1812, in the process of shaking off Napoleon's occupation. It was during this Spanish war of independence that the term guerrilla was coined. The constitution of 1812 was a compromise between liberals (inspired by the French Revolution), moderates ("enlightened" but not revolutionary) and absolutists (supporters of the _Ancien Régime). The Constitution was in force between 1812 and 1814, when the Bourbon heir Fernando VII was greeted to the cry of "hail our chains!" (so much for the Spanish people's desire for freedom).

In 1820 a pronunciamiento by Lieutenant Colonel Riego led to the restoration of the Constitution of 1812 for a period of three years. In 1823 France, Austria and Russia sent in an army called the 100,000 children of Saint Louis to restore the absolute monarchy of Fernando VII (thanks, Europe!). Fernando VII then unleashed a brutally repressive 10-year reign dubbed the ominous decade.

The reign of Fernando VII sowed the seeds of four decades of instability, including three civil wars between supporters of Fernando's daughter Isabel II and her cousin Carlos. The Carlistas, whose motto was "for God, Fatherland and King" had a strong following among the very catholic Basque country and Navarre. The roots of Basque nationalism are a topic for another diary.

In the middle of the 3rd Carlist war, Spain was briefly a Republic from 1870 to 1872. This weak regime had four different Presidents in quick succession.

To this followed the Restoration of Isabel's heir, Alfonso XII. In an attempt to balance the conservative and progressive tendencies within Spain, the political system of the Restoration was based on a fake two-party system where the parties alternated in holding power at regular intervals. Corruption was rampant, as each party was patron to a cluster of clients which went in and out of the state bureaucracy as the parties alternated in power. This bizarre system was remarkably stable, lasting 50 years and being able to weather the "disaster" of the 1898 Spanish-American War, the succession of Alfonso XII by his son Alfonso XIII, anarchist uprisings in 1909 and 1917, and neutrality during WWI.

What unravelled the political system of the Restoration was Spain's last colonial adventure, Morocco. Already the 1909 revolt had been in reaction to an unpopular draft for a disastrous 1908 campaign. In 1921 the Spanish army was routed at Annual, and as a result of the subsequent crisis Miguel Primo de Rivera became dictator in 1923. The fact that Alfonso XIII stayed as King through Primo de Rivera's rule was a key factor in bringing about the Second Spanish Republic after Primo de Rivera resigned in 1930.

In 1931, parties opposed to the monarchy won the April municipal elections in the main cities. Rural districts were under the sway of local caciques (strong men) and voted majoritarily for monarchic parties. The King abdicated and the 2nd Spanish Republic was proclaimed.

The Constitution of the Second Spanish Republic recognised human rights, social and democratic liberties, rule of law and secularism (laïcité); established the election and impeachment of all public officers; and provided for a unicameral legislature. During 1931-1933 the Socialist majority in parliament gave women the right to vote. However, the single most important feature of the Republican constitution was that it enabled groups of provinces to constitute themselves into an Autonomous Region. Catalunya (1932) and the Basque Country (1936) did so, and Galicia was in the process of drafting an Autonomy Statute when the Civil War broke out.

The (current) Spanish Constitution of 1978 establishes Spain as a "social and democratic State, subject to the rule of law". It includes an advanced bill of rights and recognizes the right of provinces to organize themselves into Autonomous Communities. Neither the Basque Nationalists nor AP (the precursor to the modern centre-right People's Party) were totally satisfied with the new Constitution.

Today, the political bickering around the Constitution is, unfortunately, deafeningly loud.

State terrorism in democratic Spain

In 1984-86, frustrated with the lack of French cooperation in fighting ETA (the French basque Country was a notorious safe haven for ETA activists), part of Spain's Interior Ministry carried out a state terrorism operation under the name GAL (Antiterrorist Liberation Groups). I could pull an analysis out of my hat, but instead (and since it's getting late) I'll just quote a few sentences from this article:

It has now been clearly established that the Socialist Party (PSOE) administration in the 1980s set up a series of death squads known as the GAL (Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación -- Anti-terrorist Liberation Groups). The GAL operated almost exclusively in the French Basque Country, where ETA maintained its organisational bases.

The death squads targeted leading members of ETA, but at least a third of their victims had no connection with terrorism.

This dirty war strategy seems to have been directed at least as much at persuading the French authorities to take a tougher line against ETA as at decapitating the organisation itself. The GAL ceased to function in 1986, at precisely the moment when Paris began to implement a much more vigorous extradition policy.

Ironically, however, the GAL were a major factor in ensuring ETA's survival into the 1990s and beyond, because this blatant use of state terrorism by Madrid was a propaganda bonanza for the supporters of radical nationalist terrorism.

If a policy of extra-judicial killings alone were not enough to make Spanish socialists lose sleep, the modus operandi of the GAL should have been the stuff of nightmares for any democrat.

Their first operation was the kidnapping of two young ETA members, Joxean Lasa and Joxe Zabala, in Bayonne in October 1983. They were taken across the border to a disused palace belonging a PSOE leader, Julen Elgorriaga, in San Sebastián. There they were tortured by members of the Guardia Civil for several weeks. They were then stuffed into the boot of a car, and driven 800 kilometres to Alicante. Taken to a lonely desert spot, they were shot in the back of the head and buried in quicklime.

Many of the GAL's subsequent attacks were terrorist in the most classic sense, ranging from leaving bombs on busy streets to shooting up bars where children were playing.
González's notorious statement that democracy is defended in the sewers as well as in the salons is only the most striking of a whole lexicon of phrases which seemed to justify the use of death squads while denying any connection with specific crimes.

As the judicial evidence pointing to Socialist Party involvement mounted inexorably, the stubborn refusal of the PSOE to accept any political responsibility for 27 murders not only debased Spanish political discourse. It also put the Spanish government -- González remained in power until 1996 -- under corrosive pressure from a bizarre coalition of blackmailers, which included disgraced bankers, sacked intelligence agents, and corrupt policemen sick of carrying the can for their political masters.

There is plenty of reason, then, for Spanish democrats, socialist or otherwise, to lose sleep over the GAL's dirty war. Whether Carmen Romero was right in suggesting that dirty tricks are normal in very many countries is another question, and one which must still be fully investigated in regard to collusion between British forces and loyalist terrorists in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

In stark contrast to the failure of the Spanish parliamentary system to come to terms with the GAL, however, it is precisely in this field of investigation that another arm of the democratic state has distinguished itself in Spain.

The judiciary has played a quite exceptional role, aided by the media, in uncovering what Madrid's agents were doing in the sewers in the 1980s. In no other European country has an Interior Ministry had to submit to such a rigorous examination.

To invert Romero's position, this is indeed an abnormality Spanish democracy can be proud of.

What I do know is this, when the GAL was active in 1984-86, people didn't seem to care. It was only after 1989, when a PP victory in the 1993 elections seemed at hand, that the political and media pressure mounted, not because of any moral qualms, but for reasons of pure power politics. I dare say that no tears were shed for Lasa and Zabala, and that the only thing that most Spaniards regret about GAL is how incompetently their operations were carried out, and all the collateral damage they caused (most notably, the kidnapping of Segundo Marey by mistate).

Where is the outrage?

There are many parallels between the GAL dirty war and the Bush administration's war on terror. For European political purposes, it is the CIA rendition flights and secret prisons that are more relevant. This quotation from the Financial Times

"I am not disposed to putting a government which is a friend and ally in the pillory on the basis of suppositions and rumours," said José Bono, Spain's defence minister, after the allegations emerged.
is particularly painful to me, as it indicates that Spain's PSOE has not learnt anything from the GAL affair. If the Spanish experience is any guide, I suppose it is not surprising that the CIA's human rights violations on EU soil, and the apparent indifference, if not complicity, of our governments, do not elicit a stronger outcry from the people, the media, or our political representatives. Our only hope, as in Spain 15 years ago, is that the judiciary will do their job. Don't expect political leadership, and don't expect a popular movement for human rights. Dirty war is, indeed, perceived as necessary to preserve our way of life. Condi Rice will feel at home this week. How disgraceful.


A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 7th, 2005 at 03:25:50 AM EST
After this diary I'm restricting my contributions to the weekly EU (p)review. I almost didn't write it and it came out worse than I hoped.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 7th, 2005 at 04:05:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If this is your worse kind of writing, I am wondering what your good writing will be. I learned a lot, I did not know about GAL. So I hope you will write more.

Btw. you look really cute. :-)

by Fran on Wed Dec 7th, 2005 at 04:12:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You'd be disappointed, I'm much uglier and meaner now... Years don't pass in vain.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 7th, 2005 at 03:38:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]

If I would have to give a history class I will use this diary.

It is great. The part of news and commentary is clearly delimited. The sentences go to the core of the point. The surrounding base of thought well-limited....excellent piece.. so I guess that if you say that it came out worst than you expected there are two options: either you are kidding or you are kidding :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Dec 7th, 2005 at 05:44:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I repeat kcurie in this, but what? This is clear, concise, informative writing which has a good storyline. Not to mention a great attention grabber at the start with that picture! You need to write more! Because.... I want you to! There will be largy hairy creatures pestering and hunting you if you don't!!!!! Wraaaah!

Really, are these entries Wikied? They should. I'd like a separate section about Spain anyway on EuroTrib.

by Nomad on Wed Dec 7th, 2005 at 01:45:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I just had a bad Constitution Day yesterday.

The picture is a great endorsement of Kodak color, isn't it?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 7th, 2005 at 01:47:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry for the day....

And I love the picture.. you know I have another one exactly with the same colour and then an older one with a much more better colour....which is very weird...It clears up the question if the transition from this wonderful tonality to a more normal one was smooth....

In any case I have a picture of your age with a perfect picture

You are older than me nay nay nayna ya naynaynay.. chincha rechincha nay nay naya

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Dec 7th, 2005 at 02:40:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, so you are younger, but I am one of the chosen few who was born after Franco was (officially) dead but before Juan Carlos was crowned. Ain't that cool?

Chincha rabiña que tengo una piña que tiene piñones y tu no los comes!

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Dec 7th, 2005 at 02:46:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let me join in with the "eh?"

This was a great post for those of us with lesser knowledge of this period in Spain.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Dec 7th, 2005 at 03:26:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't stop your history posts, please...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Thu Dec 8th, 2005 at 10:10:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is good stuff.

Particularly with GAL.  So few knew about this, and you really have to know this to understand the passion persent in the basque country.  

About the Carlists.  I've always though them to be somewhat less evil than the Falange.  If Franco hadn't forcibly merged the Falange with the Carlists during the Civil war, the Carlists might have been a major opposition to the regime.  Many Carlists were and are attached deeply to the idea of the fueros, traditional rights of the Basque provinces only allowed in Navarra now, which are not all bad. The fueros are fascinating, and are a big part of what makes Navarra and the Basque country unique in that they form a protoconsitutionalism for the region.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Thu Dec 8th, 2005 at 11:24:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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