Thursday, April 27, 2017

Good Morning Democracy

On this day in 1978, the country of Spain became a democracy after 40 years of fascist dictatorship. Spain had been under the control of Generalissimo Francisco Franco since 1939, when he led right-wing Nationalist forces to victory in the Spanish Civil War and promptly set about turning the country into a totalitarian state.

Franco had lingered near death for months, his demise breathlessly watched by news media around the world. The attention to his imminent death became so pronounced that when he finally died in 1975, the American comedy show Saturday Night Live began a running gag in which Chevy Chase, in his role as news anchor on the recurring sketch Weekend Update, would inform viewers, “Franco is indeed dead” and “still dead.”

Not one head of state from a democratic country attended Francisco Franco’s funeral.

Under Franco, Spain had been a one-party state. He established concentration camps, forced labor, and executions as a means of political repression. Under Franco’s rule, a woman could not testify in a trial, become a judge or a university professor, or establish a bank account without having her husband or father as a co-signer.

Francisco Franco had assumed that his handpicked successor, Juan Carlos de Borbón, the great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of the French King Louis XIV and son of the last sitting Spanish king, would continue the authoritarian regime.

Indeed, many naysayers believed Juan Carlos to lack the necessary education and competency to rule, and his nickname became “Juan Carlos the Brief,” an allusion to how long he was expected to last.

Instead, Juan Carlos immediately began to dismantle the fascist government of Spain. He became king two days after Franco’s death and the first reigning monarch since 1931. The country held its first open and free elections in 1977, with over 150 political parties represented. The Communist Party was officially legalized. Juan Carlos granted amnesty to political prisoners. Languages like Catalan, Gallego, and Euskera, which had been forbidden, were now freely spoken.

On December 27, 1978, King Juan Carlos I signed into law the Spanish Constitution, which began the country’s official slide into democracy. On that morning in December of 1978, newspapers around the country ran headlines reading, “Good morning, democracy.”
-Writer's Almanac