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The Tejero coup, North Africa and back-slapping

Josep Ramoneda looks at how Spain has celebrated the 30th anniversary of the foiling of the February 23 Tejero attempted coup, against the backdrop of the ongoing turmoil in North Africa, and he doesn’t like what he sees.


That day is widely seen as a turning point in modern Spanish history – the moment when the country’s commitment to democracy was bolstered following the firm action of King Juan Carlos in putting down the putsch.

But in his column Ramoneda identifies an exaggerated sense of self-congratulation in the memory of that day now, charging that “we commemorate 23-F in a tribe-like way, without being capable of thinking for one minute about those who today fight for democracy.”

And those who fight for democracy today are on Spain’s doorstep. Spain and Europe have failed to send a clear message to North Africa in recent weeks, Ramoneda charges. Spain is a country with particular responsibilities in this regard due to its geographical, historical and economic links to the likes of Morocco and Algeria. And yet, the government has issued little more than banalities on the subject.

“Spain, like Europe, is behaving like an exhausted, paranoid and hypochondriac democracy that has lost the ability to establish any empathy with those who fight for freedom,” he writes.

It’s certainly true that three decades on from the transition, the back-slapping and self-satisfaction of those who witnessed or took part in it can start to grate, especially on these kinds of anniversaries. Former Communist Party leader Santiago Carrillo repeatedly tells television cameras and journalists how “lo hicimos muy bien” (we did it very well) as he recounts the years after Franco’s death during which he played a key political role. A generation of older politicians harping on like that eventually can make them seem pompous and even irrelevant.

This year, being such a major anniversary, and moreover coinciding with some of the biggest regional upheavals the world has seen in recent years, makes the celebrations particularly ironic. Some commentators have suggested that Spain, with its experience of moving from dictatorship to democracy, should be at the forefront of those counselling the likes of Egypt, Tunisia and conceivably Libya, on how to move successfully away from tyranny.

Spain itself enjoyed substantial foreign support as it implemented its own lauded transition. Presumably Africa’s newly liberated nations will not seek meddling from abroad, but a clear and firm show of support would demonstrate that Europe’s own democracies are alive and well.

In Spain’s case, while its politicians certainly haven’t forgotten how to celebrate the success of keeping their democracy alive 30 years ago, they seem to have trouble remembering how difficult it was.

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Published: Feb 28 2011
Category: Iberoblog
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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