Spain Announce the Return of the Monarchy
- 29th October 1975 -
The Franco regime, it is claimed, led to the deaths of over 400,000 dissenters and opponents of his reign. This was mostly through forced labour and the concentration camps that he ran. His 36-year reign ended just before his death, when he was severely ill, when it was announced that the monarchy would return to Spain in the guise of Prince Juan Carlos.
The story starts back in the 1920s. Spain was ruled by a military dictatorship under General Miguel Primo de Rivera but due to the economic difficulties after the Wall Street Crash this regime collapsed in 1931. The Second Spanish Republic was then ruled by democratic means that veered from the Nationalists, made up of monarchists, landowners, employers, the Roman Catholic Church and the army, and Republicans. The Republicans, made up of workers, trade unions, peasants and socialists, gained power and offered political autonomy to the Basque region as well as Catalonia and Galicia. This is of particular relevance today with the attempts by the Catalans to secede. They also gave women the right to vote. In 1931 the King abdicated and both sides enjoyed stints in power.
In 1936 the army had had enough of Republican rule and rebelled, removing them from power. A Civil war ensued that lasted until 1939. Europe was divided about the situation. If Spain fell to the Nationalists France would be surrounded by Nationalist powers – Italy and Germany were now fascist states. The issue of whether they would invade France was a very real one. Spain held some strategically key naval bases in the Mediterranean and Atlantic that could control shipping. On the other hand, Communism was seen by the West as one of the great threats to world peace. Spain could easily become a Soviet backed state. Britain and France were not happy with either possibility and signed a ‘Non-Intervention’ treaty.
Hitler and Mussolini sent troops, money and equipment to Spain to help the Nationalists. The Soviets, although helping the Republicans, did not do so to such a quantity or degree. They were happy to keep the Republicans fighting as it distracted Germany from looking at eastern Europe. People from around the world with political affiliations came to Spain and over 15,000 were fighting at different stages of the Civil War in various International Brigades. However the Nationalists were better organized and equipped and won the day in 1939 with the capture of Madrid in March of that year.
General Francisco Franco took over as leader, calling himself ‘El Caudillo’. He ruled with absolute autonomy, control and ruthlessness. He persecuted political opponents, repressed the culture and language of the various regions – notably the Basque and Catalan regions – and censored the media. Although Franco largely stayed out of World War Two he did help the Axis powers by sending 50,000 volunteers to the Eastern Front as well as opening up his ports to German submarines.
After the war Spain faced political, diplomatic and economic isolation and sanctions. This started to thaw as the Cold War heated up. In 1953 Spain allowed the USA to build three air bases and a naval base in Spain in return for economic and military aid. As Franco aged he started to withdraw more and more from the political stage to spend more time fishing and hunting. Police control and press restrictions were gradually eased and strikes and protests increased. As well as this free market reforms were gradually introduced.
Already in 1947 Franco had declared that his successor would be a King and in 1969 he hand-picked Prince Juan Carlos as that person. Juan Carlos was the grandson of King Alfonso XIII and had spent some time with Franco, publicly supporting his regime. Franco suffered a number of heart attacks and his condition worsened. Doctors were keeping him alive and it was decided, on October 29th 1975, that Prince Juan Carlos would return. On 30th October Franco signed over control and he died three weeks later on 20th November. On 22nd November Juan Carlos became King. Immediately his talk was of restoring three factors – tradition, national laws and the will of the people, ideas that were around before the Civil War. This change was immediate and political parties were legalized. The first elections were held in June 1977 and, except for a brief 18 hour attempted coup in 1981, Spain has remained democratic ever since.
King Juan Carlos announced his intention to abdicated from the throne in June 2014. The Spanish parliament proclaimed Felipe, Juan Carlos’ son, as the new King on June 18th. As King he is the guardian of the constitution and, in effect, the Chief Executive of Spain. His father played a largely ceremonial role, acting as representative and taking the advice of the government. So far Felipe has followed in his father’s footsteps in this regard.
Franco’s regime has remained highly controversial in Spain. He is seen as an example of Fascism and as an example of an anti-communist leader especially in South America, and particularly by Augusto Pinochet, the leader of Chile. In 2007 the government banned official references to Franco and removed any statues, memorials or other visual references to the leader. The lyrics of the national anthem, introduced by Franco, have been removed – and any attempt to introduce new ones have so far come to nothing, which is why there is no singing of it. Others in Spain still see Franco as a force for good. History cannot be washed away and that period of Spanish history will always be lurking somewhere in the background.