The construction of continuity in post-Franco Spain The representation of Spanish national history in commemorations 1940-2000

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The construction of continuity in post-Franco Spain

The representation of Spanish national history in commemorations 1940-2000
Spain was as if suspended, waiting for a life to end

so that it could rejoin European history

Henry Kissinger1


When Franco in the summer of 1969 named Juan Carlos to be his successor and coming King of Spain, he might have thought that all problems regarding the succession of his rule had been resolved. Indeed, referring to the succession issue, he said in his new years address: “all is lashed down and well lashed down”2. He, however, ended the address with a rather explicit promise to stay in power as long as he would live. By reinventing the monarchy, Franco himself was probably confident of having secured the continuity of his regime. Yet by perpetuating his personal power till the time of his death, he implicitly prepared for discontinuity. The Spanish were subjected to what would be the long and slow process of his death and when it happened in late 1975 the epochal separation between a Spain of Franco and a Spain after Franco was a generally shared perception; discontinuity in some form was unavoidable.

I would therefore argue that during the last years of Francoism all the main actors in Spain were preparing to fight either for continuity or for a transition, which would involve some kind of reconstruction of an imagined community, to use the term of Benedict Anderson. One of the ways this struggle was being carried out was through a rewriting of the national history.

As the regime change was taking place it was baptised with two different names: reforma pactada seen from the government, and ruptura pactada seen from the opposition, a terminology that signals the struggle between continuity and change. The difference between reforma, which stands for continuity, and ruptura, which stands for discontinuity, marks the different ideological interests of those in power and those wanting to get in power. The presence in both terms of pactada, however, signals the will on both parts to compromise and find a ‘middle way’ between the schism of continuity and discontinuity. Paradoxically, the real discontinuity of the Spanish transition in relation to Spanish history was to carry out a change of regime without rupture through building bridges to the former regime and at the same time reforming it.

The concept of continuity

Etymologically the term continuity comes from Latin continuus meaning uninterrupted. This, however, does not mean immobile; it means gradually evolving without perceivable ruptures. In this sense the concept is connected to reform instead of revolution, and similarity instead of difference.

I believe that there exist two usages of the concept of continuity: one, which connects distant epochs due to their perceived similarity and a second, which on the contrary stresses the continuos flow of time. Quite often, however, the two usages seem to melt together. Distant epochs or events are portrayed as continuous and in this sense representing the ‘real’ time, the ‘real’ sequence of events. The period or events in between are represented as deviations or indeed perversions of the ‘real’ course of history, which, nevertheless, flows unaltered and unalterable underneath these perturbations on the surface. Both usages, however, are ideological arguments, which contain specific representations of history.

Continuity is intimately related to the concept of identity. The concepts work in similar ways: when identity is constructed with something, difference is constructed with something else. Likewise, when continuity is constructed with a certain period or event, discontinuity is constructed with other periods/events. These constructions of continuity are at the same time constructions of identity, of “we” and “them” groups. I thus conceive of the inquiry into constructions of continuity as a specific kind of identity study, which deals with arguments about the relationship between the present and the past/history in representations of history.

Problem and central questions

My main interest in this project is to explore how the representation of Spanish national history in public discourse changed during the transition to and the first decades of democracy. My principle focus will be on how the representation of history was used to explain the present and its relationship with the past national history. The overall aim is twofold: to contribute to a better understanding of what happened to the Francoist nationalist discourse as well as of what discourse(s) is sustaining the post-1975 democratic Spain, and whether that can be called nationalism.

The Francoist rhetoric had connected the idea of discontinuity with civil war and violence in order to give legitimacy to the continuity of the regime. But when discontinuity of some kind became unavoidable with the death of Franco this representation of the national history became unattractive and dangerous as a tool to understand reality. It is therefore a basic assumption of my project that the transition was perceived of as a coming crisis, which led to the activation of a range of discursive strategies to counter and overcome the threatening chaos. It is these strategies, their underlying discourses and the way in which they are constructed, which are the object of my analysis.

It is my hypothesis that the change from the Franco regime to the democracy implied and at the same time was made possible by a series of changes in the representation of Spanish history. It took several years for this new discourse to shape and cement itself. Therefore it is a secondary hypothesis that the representations of the national history also were affected by developments in post-Franco Spain like the failed coup attempt in 1981, the electoral victory of the socialists in 1982, the membership of the EEC in 1986 etc.

Research strategy

I investigate a broad spectrum of public discourses, which were struggling to define the new post-Franco Spain and were claiming to represent “the people”. At the time, however, the range of discourses was most probably being perceived of as a cacophony. Therefore the attempt to establish order and typologies can only be constructions ex post facto, which I nevertheless perform in order to structure my exposition.

For the purposes of this project, I understand representation of history primarily as explanation of the present, which is always accompanied by arguments about the ‘real’ course of history. Therefore the questions I ask my sources concern legitimacy, pride and their opposites. Where is legitimacy situated? What periods are the Spaniards to identify with and feel pride towards? And on the contrary, which periods are to be forgotten or remembered uniquely to avoid their repetition? It is also important to critically ask how continuous is that which is represented as continuity, and how much does actually change in that which is represented as discontinuity.

I principally use press material, that is, a range of different newspapers that cover the political spectrum. In them I investigate a series of anniversaries that all relate to events in the history of Spain, such as the Civil War. Due to their value as representations of Spanish history they have acquired symbolic meaning or have been subjects of attempts to be invested with such meaning. Focusing on concrete events it becomes possible to better analyse how the different discourses manifest themselves, inter-relate, and try to impose their interpretation of the event and the symbols attached to it on the other discourses.

One first group of anniversaries refers to representations of the distant Spanish history for both the Franco regime and the Constitutional Monarchy:

  • 2nd of May – anniversary of the uprising which marked the beginning of the War of Independence (1808)

  • 12th of October – Día de la Hispanidad, anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1492)

A second group of anniversaries are all related to the 1930s. For the democracy this represents the more recent past, whereas it for the Franco regime represents the present glories (the Civil War anniversaries) or its antithesis (the anniversary of the Second Republic):

  • 1st of April – anniversary of the victory of the Civil War (1939)

  • 14th of April – anniversary of the proclamation of the Second Republic (1931)

  • 18th of July – anniversary of the military uprising, which marked the beginning of the Civil War (1936)

The third group of anniversaries is related to the transition itself (except for the anniversary of the death of José Antonio Primo de Rivera) and these dates are therefore not commemorated during the Franco period. To the Constitutional Monarchy these represent the present glories:

  • 15th of June – anniversary of the first democratic elections (1977)

  • 20th of November – anniversary of the death of Franco and of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange (1975 and 1936 respectively)

  • 22nd of November – anniversary of the proclamation of Juan Carlos I as King of Spain (1975)

  • 6th of December – Día de la Constitución, anniversary of the constitutional referendum (1978)

As I devote special attention to the transition I cover every year from 1975 to 1978. In the following period I have selected blocks of two years out of every five. This is an intentional choice as it can be made to coincide with major events like the failed coup attempt in 1981, the entry of Spain into the EEC in 1986 etc. As the Franco period is somewhat more homogenous the same ‘tight’ coverage is not needed and I have therefore selected every tenth year3. This is, however, not a rigid scheme, as I also cover important anniversaries, which would have otherwise not been included like the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the 10th and 20th anniversary of the Constitution.

Although the newspaper material will constitute the most important empirical source I intend to also study other sources, which are important for understanding the representation of Spanish history. Certain legislative and parliamentary texts like parts of the constitutional debates and specific laws like Law of the Flag contain valuable information on the struggle between different representations of Spanish history. Textbooks on Spanish history, monuments, and electoral programs of political parties might also be useful in this sense.

Lastly, as this investigation deals with discourses, which claim the existence of and struggle to represent the Spanish nation it is beyond the scope of this project to deal with the peripheral national identities in Spain and their representations of Spanish history in detail. This, however, does not mean that I intend to leave it out, but that this aspect will be based on the works of others.

The construction of continuity and the representation of Spanish national history in press discourse on the first anniversary of the death of Franco in 1976


The 20th of November being the anniversary of the death of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Falange, was already commemorated in Francoist times, although it did not hold a very important place in the official calendar. But with the death of Franco, on the same day of the year, it acquired central importance for the transition. Franco’s death was the event, which marked the beginning of a new historical epoch in Spain and afterwards the anniversaries were used to make a balance of the regime of Franco and what had happened since his death. Furthermore, the anniversary was occasion for reflecting on Spanish history, independently of whether the recent events were interpreted as continuity or change. It thus became an important episode in the constant rewriting of the history of Francoism and the creation of new foundation myths for democratic Spain.

According to the thorough study of Paloma Aguilar Fernández, the Franco regime in the beginning tried to base its legitimacy on the victory in the Civil War and the supposed charismatic character of Franco. Of these two, the former element was the most important and it was quickly turned into the foundational myth of Francoism. This kind of legitimacy, which Aguilar Fernández calls legitimacy of origin, founded on the victory of one part of the population over the other, however, was problematic, and around the end of the 1950s it lost its protagonism. Instead focus was put on a new myth centred around the long period after the war characterised by peace, stability and development, which were interpreted as the achievements of Francoism due to its efficient administration of power. This legitimacy, which Aguilar Fernández calls legitimacy of exercise, however, was also somewhat precarious insofar as it implicitly entitled the people to dismiss the Francoist regime if the conjuncture were to change radically. Therefore, according to Aguilar Fernández, the Franco regime never abandoned and never could abandon the legitimacy of its origin, the victory in the Civil War, totally4. As we shall se below, both types of legitimising myths appeared in the press in the years following Franco’s death.

Another theme, which appeared with frequency, was what has been called the myth of the ungovernable character of the Spaniards. It is related to the myth of the victory but has a history going back to the XIX century. The central idea is that there is something in the character of the Spaniards, which makes them ungovernable, and therefore they are incapacitated for democracy. This myth was instrumentalised by the Franco regime as another fundamental source of legitimacy. As the Spaniards were unfit for democracy they needed a dictatorship labelled “organic democracy”, which as a result could not be said to be abusive; on the contrary, it was a way of rescuing the Spaniards from their own dangerous tendencies. Ramón Serrano Suñer, in an article in El País, gives a perfect example of the deployment of the myth when describing the Spanish people:

“(…) the adult Spaniard of our days (…) contains, together with the finest vital virtues like heroism (…), other defects and corruptions that make him as fit for civil war as he is unfit for the task of constituting an orderly and prosperous community, which knows its own destiny.”5

This supposed built-in inertia in Spanish society, which inevitably leads towards civil war if it is not controlled, was the core of the Francoist self-legitimisation. The Civil War together with the experiences of failure connected with both the Constitution of 1812, the First Republic in 1873, and the Second Republic became the evidence needed for this theory, which served to convince the Spanish people that they needed a dictator.

El Alcázar6

In El Alcázar the myth is generally believed to be true, i.e. that the Spanish are not able to govern themselves, which is hardly surprising given the close connection between the newspaper and the Francoist hard-liners. Therefore, inorganic democracy to these authors means a return to what they perceived as the chaos of the Second Republic. The background of almost all the articles is a generalised feeling that the present political situation is running out of control, and that there is a patent threat of a return to the pre-Civil War situation. A few examples:

“Everybody shouts frenetically, confused and pretentious dogmatists, and chaos is installing itself.”7

“(…) the forces that fight to avoid that already known situations should reoccur, which would facilitate the entry of Communism into Spain, which is, whether one wants it or not, the danger that threatens her [Spain] (…).”8

Behind this fear the myth of the ungovernable character of the Spaniards is working in an unconscious manner leading the authors to interpret political debate as chaos and the beginning of pre-civil war situation. The principal perceived threat is the return to inorganic democracy and party politics, which to their minds were responsible for the development during the Second Republic.

Generally, national pride is uniquely found in the construction of Francoist Spain, which is, of course, sought projected into without any changes. At the editorial level, the oblivion into which the figure of Franco has fallen is only implicitly present, but in the supplements published on the occasion of the anniversary, however, the historical amnesia surrounding Franco and his regime is mentioned explicitly in several places:

“(…) it is still not a year ago that you died, and yet it seems as if you had not existed, and as if your life work had not meant anything for Spain and the Spaniards (…).”9

This amnesia is deplored, and generally the authors express nostalgia towards Franco and his regime fighting for the recognition of its achievements. Legitimacy is built up around both the types found by Aguilar Fernández stressing on the one hand the victory as a rescue from the Republic as well as from Communism and on the other the Francoist “constitutional and social politics”.

As democracy is totally deprived of legitimacy in their eyes it is seen as an extremely dangerous development. There is almost a feeling of siege among these authors; they feel impotent and that the people is being deceived. To explain that the development seemed to be leading towards democracy they construct a theory of conspiracy against Spain and the Spanish people, which has as its goal to implement a “democratic change” from above:

“(…) the change would have to be implemented from above; (…) to achieve the disappearance of the Francoist Regime forcing on the people an adverse regime of political parties, which it never asked for. (…) numerous foreigners, with the appearance of colonial inspection, (…) came to verify how what they called “democratic change” was being implemented in Spain advocating a return to the Party System of 1936, which had maintained Spain paralysed and colonised (…).”10

Being so contrary to democracy it becomes central to answer why they did not rebel against the development towards democracy. They did of course campaign for a no in the referendums on the Law for Political Reform and on the Constitution, but they stayed within the system, which in the long run meant accepting democracy as a system.

A fundamental explanatory fact is that they, according to their own military logic of loyalty towards Franco, remained loyal to the King. The “instauración” of the Monarchy was interpreted as Franco’s way of securing the continuity of his rule, which is seen in the fact that in this early phase of the transition the institution is often mentioned as “the Monarchy of the Movement”. They simply saw it as ‘their monarchy’. The restoration of the Monarchy is another source of legitimacy of especially the late Franco regime. In an article which depicts Franco in an imagined final judgement before God it is together with the long period of peace the reason for entering heaven:

“And he reached the gates of heaven and he looked at his empty hands. He stopped for a moment seeming to not want to continue his path. He thought of 37 years of peace, he thought of a king, which he left prepared for many more years… Would that count? And then he entered.”11

As a contrast to the general situation, which is most often described as appalling due to the development towards democracy, the King and the institution of the Monarchy appear as points of salvation, of unity between past and present. We might even talk of the construction of a myth of the Monarchy as the guarantor of continuity or at least of lack of rupture:

“Those of us who remain loyal towards your person [Franco] (…) will remain loyal towards the principles of the Movement, surrounding with our hearts the person of our King Juan Carlos and what he signifies. Today more than ever his exceptional person needs our support because subversion, traitors of Spain, believe that once the State has been destroyed it will be easier to do away with the Institution that you, my General, instituted. (…) being loyal to the person of our King we are loyal towards you, my General (…).”12

We see here a direct connection between Franco and the King, and with the military discipline learned under Franco what the King said or did became orders to be obeyed and ideals to be followed. It thus seems that they were ‘caught’ in their own loyalty to the King when afterwards the King began to actively support a development towards democracy.


At editorial level in ABC we find mentions of both the two basic legitimacies of the Franco regime found by Aguilar Fernández, when making a balance of the regime. The legitimacy of origin is connected with the peace Franco “gave” to Spain after winning the war, and the legitimacy of exercise is related to the building of what ABC calls a constitutional framework as well as to the economic development and social transformation. This progress, i.e. the legitimacy of exercise, is interpreted as the reason why the Spaniards in the near future will gain more liberty and participation14. This conclusion draws implicitly on the myth of the ungovernable character of the Spaniards in that it accepts that, at least for a period, the Spaniards were not able to govern themselves. Therefore they needed the leadership of Franco. This interpretation accepts authoritarian leadership as a temporary solution but is at the same time directed towards inorganic democracy in the long run.

Principally, patriotic pride is found in the Franco regime itself, and especially in what is interpreted as the achievements of it. It is not questioned whether these achievements can be attributed to Franco or whether they happened independently or in spite of his government. The democracy, which was in the making, is seen as the fruit of Francoism, as a natural development of it. Therefore the editor is able to advocate continuity and still not appear anti-democratic, but it is of course different from the continuity the Francoists want.

Very often the general scene in ABC is that retaliation, revenge, and aggression threaten the peace laboriously built up during Francoism. This representation is also founded on the myth of the ungovernable character of the Spaniards inasmuch as the fear of eruptions of violence represents the fear that the Spaniards might not be able to govern themselves, i.e. that the myth should (still) be true. The demonstration to commemorate Franco on the first anniversary of his death, for example, is seen as a challenge to the convivencia of the Spaniards. The myth of the ungovernable character of the Spaniards is working below the surface in the fear of uncontrolled eruptions of intransigence and violence. Eventually, however, pride is found in the fact that events did not develop violently15.

In ABC there is a certain ambiguity between a rather aseptic editorial line and a stronger militancy in the articles. Illustrating this point, the Francoist politician Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora refers to the myth of the ungovernable character of the Spanish in an interesting way when commenting on the same demonstration. He sees the impressive show up at the peaceful demonstration as a proof that:

“(…) our population is beginning to realise that it now has to pull the chestnuts out of the fire itself and that it no longer can expect it all from above.”16

The Spanish people are portrayed as a lazy bunch that has taken advantage of the forty years of “effective paternalism” and which are only now realising that they have to solve the problems themselves. Fernández de la Mora not only uses the myth to legitimise the Franco regime; he actually blames the Spanish people for being behind it in that they did not want to govern. It is, however, interesting that he in the end accepts democracy and finds legitimacy for it in the way the behaviour of the people is developing. So the myth legitimises the Franco regime, and the change of behaviour in the people legitimises the coming of democracy.

Both the fear of outbursts of violence and the insistence on moderation, common understanding etc.17 as well as the fact that this perceived threat was seen to be overcome by reason, peacefulness, and measure are a first indication that the myth of the ‘peaceful’ transition is beginning to work. This new myth gives legitimacy to the transition towards democracy.


In Ya there is less focus on justifying the Franco regime than in ABC, and therefore there is much less emphasis on the myth of the ungovernable character of the Spaniards. Discussing the legacy of Franco at editorial level both the legitimacy of origin and the legitimacy of exercise are present in the list19. But the inability of Franco to arrange for the succession of his regime in proper time, which to the editorialist would have been in the 1960s during the economic boom, is attacked quite severely. The uncertainty of the period is thus not related to the question whether the Spaniards are capable of democracy or not. Instead it is blamed on the failure of the Francoist system to provide for its own succession, the only palliative being that Franco did secure the succession of his person as Head of State by instituting the Monarchy.

On the whole, Ya manifests less fear that the present situation should disintegrate into chaos. Instead it is emphasised that the new democratic system will bring the system in closer convergence with the society, or, with other words, that the State will move closer to the national community:

“The Spanish Parliament has approved the project of political reform. (…) this has been the most important decision in the history of the Parliament (…). A step towards the new legality that is in agreement with what the country is and with what the country may demand has been taken.”20

“This society is much better prepared than half a century ago to achieve living peacefully together through constructing a system that corresponds with what the mentioned society is and demands. This is the task to which the Monarchy is committed.”21

Although the myth of the ungovernable character of the Spaniards does not appear very much in Ya, it is nevertheless manifest in the affirmation that Spanish society is better prepared than half a century ago to organise its own life. The Spaniards, at the time of the Second Republic and the Civil War, are thus seen as ill prepared to govern themselves. The present Spaniards, however, are able to accomplish this, according to Ya.

The proposed new democratic system will bring the system in convergence with the society. Underlying this interpretation is a negative evaluation of the last Francoism, which is understood as a period when the society and the system drifted further and further apart in a dangerous way, increasing uncertainty, and the possibilities of unforeseeable events. Franco represented an important phase in Spanish history, but now he and his regime are history:

“(…) Franco already belongs to history; (…) Francoism died with him; (…) any attempt to prolong it could have had its time, but this hour passed (…).”22

This is clearly an argument against continuity with Francoism. The present Spain has changed irremediably and there is no way back; Franco and his regime belong to history23. I would contend that this representation is a version of the myth of the peaceful transition because it uses the same elements and serves the same purpose, namely to make possible the transition without violent ruptures. The difference between one use of the myth and another resides in at which state of the development Spain is believed to be. In Ya it is celebrated that Franco now belongs to history, finally allowing the Spanish nation to develop again. The danger of a return to a Francoist order is thus interpreted to be insignificant. The most dangerous thing would have been if Francoism had continued any longer, and therefore the greatest danger has already been overcome.

El País24

Like Ya and ABC, El País uses the anniversary of Franco’s death to sum up the inheritance after the Franco regime. The historical explanation of the regime rests on a series of judgements about the Second Republic and the period leading up to the Civil War, which are not substantially different from the evaluation traditionally made by Francoism. Although the myth about the un­governable character of the Spanish is not cited directly, it is used to explain the Civil War. Spain was “incapable of incorporating itself into the modern cur­rents”25, divided as it was between an egoist leading class, a reactionary church and a revolutionary and utopian opposition. Therefore Franco and Francoism is seen as the result of a series of errors and non-sensical decisions in Spain:

“Franco is the symbol of a collective frustration, the result of a Spain that was exhausted by internal divisions and ended up surrendering itself, to the fear of some and the enthusiasm of others, to the general.”26

Interestingly, El País thus uses the same myth, not as a legitimisation of the 40 years of dictatorship but as an explanation of the historical factors leading up to it. This interpretation of the period leading up to the Civil War blames all the actors of not having been able to transcend their divisions in order to solve the problems of the country. The myth dominates the interpretation to the extent that other causes remain unsaid; the ungovernable character appears as the only cause of the problems related to the Republic and the war. The preceding chaos and the cruelty of the war made people accept a regime that did not respect any of the basic liberties. The criticism is thus directed just as much towards the Spaniards in general, who accepted it, as it is against the dictatorial regime. Specifically, the victory of the Civil War is not mentioned as a source of legitimacy of the Franco regime.

With regards to the economic development achieved under Franco, which constituted its other principal source of legitimacy, the editorial acknowledges that it took place. However, according to El País, the development was not attributable to the regime, nor was it hampered by the regime, it simply happened during its time in power. This interpretation fundamentally undermines the basic legitimacy of the last phase of Francoism.

In another editorial in the Sunday supplement with the significative title “Franco, the most forgotten man of post-Francoism”27 the historical revision of the Franco regime continues. The general argument is that the Spanish society has come much further in the short period of time since Franco died than what could have been expected then. The oblivion into which the figure of Franco has fallen is thus an understandable result of this process and, at the same time, serves as an indicator of it. The editor, however, also warns against forgetting the Francoist period, because a historical judgement of it is needed, which takes into account both the dictatorial power of Franco as well as the consent of the majority of Spaniards to his regime. There thus exist two kinds of forgetting, a ‘good’ one and a ‘bad’ one, the difference between them being the purpose they serve. The forgetting generally performed by Spanish society that has served to change reality is good, whereas the forgetting of some sectors of Spanish society that serves to obscure the past and delete responsibilities is bad.

The representation of Spanish history, at least of the 20th century, is generally rather negative. Only once does the editorial refer to a glorious past and it serves uniquely as a contrast to the Franco regime, which was able to install itself “in a country with five centuries of existence and a long liberal and humanistic tradition”28. What this long liberal tradition consists in is not explicated, and it seems to be just a feeble attempt at assuring the Spaniards that they also have a past to be proud of even though most of the 20th century does not belong to that category. In reality, the present and the capacity of the Spaniards to overcome Francoism remain the only real reason for feeling pride:

“(…) several generations born during Francoism have demonstrated that an autocratic Government can repress but not do away with the hopes of young, lively and vigorous society like the Spanish.”29

The final judgement of the Franco regime is thus not at all favourable. The regime is denied its two main sources of legitimacy as found by Aguilar Fernández. El País accepts the myth of the ungovernable character of the Spaniards as an explanation of the historical process, which lead to the Civil War and the Franco regime. But the myth does not legitimise the dictatorship nor does it liberate the Spaniards of their responsibilities. Principally pride is found in the present in the fact that Franco is being forgotten so quickly and that, from ‘beneath’ Francoism, is appearing a vital and powerful society. This indicates the existence of the myth of the ‘peaceful’ and rapid transition that later becomes the foundation myth of democratic Spain.

In the interests of an objective historical revision of the Franco regime El País claims to start an open debate between former followers and opponents of Franco30. The articles present a range of different constructions of continuity. Manuel Fraga Iribarne excuses the Franco regime and Fraga himself focusing on the evolution of the regime31. He argues that the reform, which was then underway, had been prepared by the late Franco regime, among other things through the Ley de Prensa designed by Fraga himself. He thus constructs an image of continuity through the entire dictatorship into the reform period, the present, projecting it into the future. Ramón Serrano Suñer also excuses himself making a point of the fact that he left the government in 1942 and therefore does not belong to the category of people who stayed at Franco’s side and afterwards complain that the authoritarian character of the regime did not let them govern32. The dictatorship in this perspective becomes an authoritarian parenthesis and continuity is constructed with the pre-Franco period or at the most with the early Francoism while the Falange still held a prominent place. This becomes clear when he describes the task of the present in fascist terms:

“Recompose a new Spanish man, firm and awake in his own conscience, less satisfied with his inculture and arrogance, less daring, more peaceful and laborious; more honest and more tenacious, more apt for solidarity, also with respect to other human beings.”33

Pedro Sainz Rodríquez distances himself from Francoism in much the same way as Serrano Suñer by emphasising that he that he from the beginning made it clear to Franco that he would leave his government as soon as the war was over34. Like Serrano Suñer, he emphasises the responsibility of the different forces that united behind Franco and accepted to rule without ruling, thereby giving cover and legitimacy to Franco’s personal regime. The forty years of Francoism as outcome of the Civil War were made possible by the untimely death of general Sanjurjo35, who would have been a challenge to Franco. The history of Francoism is explained in the terms of a series of unfortunate events and once again the dictatorship is reduced to a parenthesis.

The opponents have less interest in distancing themselves personally from the Franco regime and are more openly critical towards it. Neither the historian Manuel Pérez Ledesma nor the former republican politician José María Gil Robles hesitate to call the Franco regime a dictatorship36. Pérez Ledesma maintains that the regime fabricated its own version of Spanish history with the help of “apologetic” historians, apologistas. The myth of the ungovernable character of the Spaniards was part of the legitimisation, which helped the regime to stay in power by maintaining a generalised fear of repression, of another civil war, of democracy, of Europe etc.

It is questionable whether an open debate is really taking its beginning. The opponents are very critical and the former collaborators of Franco display an apologetic attitude towards themselves and sometimes towards Franco, but never in order to defend Francoism as a viable option, only to explain. All the articles place distance between the present and the Franco regime converting it to a parenthesis in history.

El Socialista & Mundo Obrero37

In El Socialista the occasion of the anniversary is used to reflect on the first year since Spain’s “liberation of the personal dictatorship” of Franco38. The editorial merely treats the political situation referring to the reform proposal of the government and the political position of Socialist Party; it does not touch upon pride or shame. The attitude is clearly in favour of rupture with Francoism although the past only is referred to indirectly. The position of PSOE represents a balanced future for Spain between the aesthetic contemplation of the revolution, which clearly hints at the Communist Party, and positions of political ambiguity, which hints at the unclear position of the government vis-à-vis the Francoist past. Neither the myth of the ungovernable character of the Spaniards nor the myth of the peaceful transition is mentioned.

The only mention whatsoever of the first anniversary of the death of Franco in Mundo Obrero is a short letter from a reader on the contradiction between Franco’s repression of Communists and the fact that he never seemed to be able to do away with the Communists39. The reader thus constructs continuity between the pre-Franco past and the present. But neither in this case does any of the myths appear.


One first observation is that all the newspapers investigated show that the legitimacy of the Franco regime and thus of continuity with it as an option had dropped generally. The best indication is that those in favour of this kind of continuity were on the defensive fighting for the recognition of Franco and his work and lamenting the oblivion into which the figure of Franco seemed to have fallen. In the above we have seen how the myth of the ungovernable character of the Spaniards was present in nearly all the discourses and how the new myth concerning the forgetting of Franco and the transition itself was being created. The difference between the various uses of the myth of the ungovernable character of the Spaniards is the period to which the different discourses apply the myth. El País uses the myth principally to explain the historical factors leading to the Civil War and the Franco regime. After that, the myth looses its legitimacy as a valid representation of Spanish history and the fact that it was instrumentalised by the Franco regime is characterised as abuse. Fernández de la Mora, on the contrary, makes use of the myth to explain the behaviour of the Spaniards until the very transition. The problem to him clearly is the people, not the regime, which in order to legitimise its authoritarian power maintains and spreads the myth. Finally, the discourse of El Alcázar is still unconsciously based on the myth, which marks it by a feeling of certainty that the Spaniards will fail to govern themselves. This discourse does not realise that the Spaniards were using the memory of the Second Republic and the Civil War to invent a new way of tackling a situation of transition like the one Spain was going through. However, all make use of and accept the myth at some point as a valid representation of Spanish history.

The fear of violence and the insistence on moderation etc. in ABC and other media is an example of the discursive construction of a threat constituted by outburst of violence, intolerance, intransigence etc. Whether the threat was real or not does not concern us here, but the fact that it was believed does. This shows us that the myth of the ungovernable character of the Spaniards was effective both as a basic source of legitimacy of the late Francoism but also of the transition. With the help of the myth a story of a threat against the democracy in the making was constructed so that every day without a revolution or a riot could be celebrated as a victory for the transition. This leads directly to the myth of the peaceful transition.

In El País pride is found in the fact that Franco is being forgotten so quickly, in the sense that the Francoist system did not have the inertia that had been feared. That Franco and his regime are thus placed firmly in history is, both to El País and to Ya, a reason for feeling pride, which becomes a part of the myth of the peaceful transition.

In the case of El Alcázar there is no trace of the new myth of the peaceful transition and the general attitude is rather that of alarm confronted with the development towards democracy. As said above, the explanation of the fact that this discourse stayed within the system, which in the end meant accepting democracy, has to be found in the perceived role of the Monarchy. The King and the institution of the Monarchy appear as points of salvation, of unity between past and present, and I therefore contend that it is possible to talk of a myth of the Monarchy as the guarantor of continuity. In no other place do the Monarchy and the figure of the King appear as massively in connection with the anniversary of the death of Franco as in El Alcázar, which confirms the special role that the Monarchy had for this discourse. To the other discourses this myth was not necessary, even though the King and the Monarchy are mentioned there too. The attitude towards the Monarchy is more that of acceptance, but it holds a much more peripheral position.

In the case of the two opposition papers, El Socialista and Mundo Obrero, neither of the myths are cited. This is connected on the one hand to the fact that both discourses deny the Franco regime any legitimacy and thus do not enter into any explanations of the advent or the longevity of it. On the other hand, at the time both also maintained a much more critical position vis-à-vis the development towards democracy and therefore did not participate in any significant way in the construction of the myth of the peaceful transition, which were to become the foundation myth of democratic Spain.

1 The description was made by Kissinger during his years as Secretary of State after visiting Spain with President Nixon in October 1970 (Henry Kissinger: White House Years; Boston: Little, Brown and Company; 1979; p. 931).

2 “(…) todo ha quedado atado, y bien atado” (Francisco Franco Bahamonde: Discursos 1968-1970; Madrid; 1971). According to Pedro Sainz Rodríquez, a friend of Franco since several years before the Civil War and minister in his first government, Franco was worried about the continuity of his regime from the very beginning. Preoccupied with not repeating what he considered to be the errors of Primo de Rivera he wanted to leave a permanent legacy, which points directly to the obsession with “todo queda atado y bien atado” (“Franco nunca quiso ser un poder interino”; El País semanal, 21-11-1976, pp. 5-7). I personally found mentions of the phrase “todo queda atado…” in Franco’s speeches as early as 1962. It later became very famous and was used as a catch-phrase, especially after the death of Franco as it became clear that everything was in fact not so well lashed down.

3 This results in a research plan covering all the anniversaries the following years: 1940, 1950, 1960, 1970, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, and 2000.

4 Paloma Aguilar Fernández: Memoria y olvido de la Guerra Civil española, Madrid, Alianza, 1996

5 Ramón Serrano Suñer: “Los orígenes del franquismo”; (El País semanal, 21-11-1976, p. 9)

“(…) el español adulto de nuestros días (...) encierra en sí, junto a las mejores virtudes vitales como el heroismo (…), otros defectos y corrupciones que le hacen tan apto para la guerra civil como inepto para constituirse en comunidad ordenada, próspera y conocedora de su destino.” (The translations of the all the quotations are mine).

6 El Alcázar was published by the National Confederation of Combatants (Confederación Nacional de Combatientes) and therefore close to certain sectors of the “hard-liners” among the Francoist. Generally it stood for continuity with the regime. During the core years of the transition, 1977-1981, El Alcázar held between a 7th and a 9th place, excluding the newspapers dedicated exclusively to sports, in the ranking of OJD that measures the diffusion of newspapers (Anuario de El País, 1982, p. 150). During the 1980s, however, El Alcázar suffered increasing difficulties, finally closing in September 1988. The name refers to its foundation during the siege of the Castle (Alcázar) of Toledo by the Republican Army in September 1936, one of the mythical events of Francoist memory of the Civil War.

7 Sabino Arnaiz : “"Francisco Franco, dominando el furor"”; (El Alcázar, 20-11-1976, pp. 8-9)

“Todos vociferan frenéticos, dogmatistas, confusos y vanidosos y se está instalando el caos.”

8 Raimundo Fernández Cuesta: “Franco y José Antonio”; (El Alcázar, 20-11-1976, p. 20 (extra supplement))

“(…) las fuerzas que luchan por evitar se vuelva a caer en situaciones ya conocidas, que puedan facilitar la entrada en España del Comunismo que, se diga o se calle, es el peligro, que se cierne sobre ella (…).”

9 Jerjes: “¡Francisco Franco Bahamonde! ¡¡¡Presente!!!”; (El Alcázar, 20-11-1976, p. 20 (extra supplement))

“(…) todavía no hace el año de tu muerte, y parece como si no hubieras existido, y que tu obra no ha representado nada para España y los españoles (…).”

10 Higinio Paris Eguilaz: “El último recuerdo de Franco”; (El Alcázar, 20-11-1976, p. 20 (extra supplement))

“(…) habría que realizar el cambio desde arriba; (…) conseguir la desaparición del Régimen franquista, imponiendo al pueblo un régimen contrario de Partidos políticos, que nunca pidió. (…) numerosos extranjeros, con aires de inspección colonial, que venían a comprobar como se realizaba en España lo que llamaban “cambio democrático” (…) propugnando la vuelta al Sistema de Partidos de 1936, que había mantenido a España paralizada y colonizada (…).”

11 Luis Hernández del Pozo: “El juicio de Dios”; (El Alcázar, 20-11-1976, p. 8)

“Y llegó a las puertas del cielo y se miraba las manos vacías. Se paró un momento sin querer seguir su camino. Pensó en 37 años de paz, pensó en un rey que dejaba preparado para otros muchos años… ¿Valdría eso? Y entró.”

12 Jerjes: opus. cit.

“Los que seguimos leales a tu persona [Franco] (…) [s]eguiremos fieles a los principios del Movimiento, rodeando de corazón la person y lo que significa nuestro Rey D. Juan Carlos. Hoy más que nunca necesita su egregia persona de todo nuestro apoyo, porque la subversión, los traidores a España, piensan que, deshecho el Estado, sería más fácil acabar con la Institución que tú, mi General, instauraste. (…) siendo leales a la persona de nuestro Rey, lo somos a tí, mi General (…).”

13 ABC is a conservative and monarchical newspaper. During the Francoist period it remained loyal to the regime. It is also the oldest existing daily in Spain. It appeared for the first time in 1903 as a weekly and from the 1st of June 1905 as a daily. ( consulted the 27th of November 1998). During the years 1977-1981 ABC held either the 1st or the 2nd place in the ranking of OJD that measures the diffusion of newspapers (Anuario de El País, 1982, p. 150). Since the beginning of the 1980s ABC has kept the 2nd place, being relegated to a 3rd place only in the early 1990s after the appearance of El Mundo in 1989.

14 “Franco”; (ABC, 20-11-1976, p. 3)

15 “Lecciones de concordia”; (ABC, 20-11-1976, p. 3)

16 Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora: “La mayoría menos silenciosa”; (ABC, 20-11-1976, p. 3):

“(…) nuestro pueblo está empezando a darse cuenta de que ya es él mismo quien ha de sacarse las castañas del fuego y que ya no puede esperarlo todo de arriba.”

17 Other examples of this tendency are Santiago Galindo Herrero: “Serenidad y unidad”; (ABC, 19-11-1976, p. 3) and Nicolás Franco Pasqual de Pobil: “Francisco Franco”; (ABC, 20-11-1976, p. 4). Both advocate moderation and pragmatism with regards to the commemoration of Franco as well as with regards to politics and the task of finding an adequate solution to Spain’s future regime.

18 Ya was a rather conservative newspaper owned by and therefore close to the Spanish Catholic Church. During the years 1977 to 1981 Ya held a consistent 4th place, excluding As dedicated exclusively to sports, in the ranking of OJD (Anuario de El País, 1982, p. 150). During the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, the newspaper suffered increasing difficulties finally closing in the second half of the 1990s.

19 “Primer aniversario”; (Ya, 20-11-1976, p. 7). In fact, the editorial lists four main components: 1) the victory of the Civil War, 2) the successful ‘neutrality’ of Spain during the Second World War, 3) the successful autarchy during the international ‘siege’, and 4) the transformation of Spanish society in terms of economic development and literacy.

20 “La reforma, adelante”; (Ya, 19-11-1976, p. 5)

“Las Cortes Españolas han aprobado el proyecto de reforma política. (…) [É]sta ha sido la decisión más importante en la historia de las Cortes (…). El paso hacia la nueva legalidad que esté de acuerdo con lo que el país es y con lo que el país exija ha sido dado.”

21 “Primer aniversario”; (Ya, 20-11-1976, p. 7)

“Esta sociedad está mucho mejor preparada que la de hace medio siglo para lograr la convivencia nacional mediante un sistema que corresponda a lo que dicha sociedad es y exige. Se trata de la tarea en que está empeñada la Monarquía.”

22 ibid.

“(…) Franco pertenece ya a la historia; (…) el franquismo se acabó con él; (…) cualquier intento de continuarlo pudo tener su hora, pero que esta hora pasó (…).”

23 As if to reinforce the relegation of Franco to history appears another article on the same page by the historian Ricardo de la Cierva with the title “Franco, a stage in Spanish history” (“Franco, una etapa en la historia de España”; Ya, 21-11-1976, pp. 7-8)

24 The first issue of El País appeared on the 4th of May 1976, and it is very directly linked to the appearance of the democratic system and the leftwing. It represents the institutionalisation of a discourse, which very consciously sought to influence the public in favour of democracy. During the years 1977 to 1981 El País advanced from a 4th to a 1st place, excluding As dedicated exclusively to sports, in the ranking of OJD (Anuario de El País, 1982, p. 150). Since then El País has been able to keep this position as the most widely diffused newspaper in Spain.

25 El País: “Un año después” (20-11-1976, p. 6)

“(…) incapaz (…) de (…) incorporarse a las corrientes modernas”

26 ibid.

“Franco es el símbolo de una frustración colectiva, el resultado de una España agotada en divisiones que acabó entregándose, entre el temor de unos y el entusiasmo de otros, en las manos del general.”

27 “Franco, el hombre más olvidado del posfranquismo” (El País semanal, 21-11-1976, p. 8)

28 ibid.

“(…) en un país con cinco siglos de existencia, y una larga tradición liberal y humanística.”

29 ibid.

“(…) varias generaciones nacidas bajo el franquismo han demostrado que un Gobierno autocrático puede reprimir pero no acabar con las esperanzas de una sociedad joven, viva y pujante como la española.”

30 There are articles written by Franco’s right-hand and brother-in-law, Ramón Serrano Suñer, by one of the late Francoist ministers, Manuel Fraga Iribarne, and there is an interview with one of the ministers of Franco’s first government when the Civil War was still being waged, Pedro Sainz Rodríquez. Furthermore there is an article on the cultural life during Francoism by one of the then prominent intellectuals Julián Marías. From the opposition against Franco participate José María Gil Robles, the founder and leader of the principal rightwing party of the Second Republic, C.E.D.A., and the historian Manuel Pérez Ledesma.

31 Manuel Fraga Iribarne: “La era de Franco, en perspectiva”; (El País semanal, 21-11-1976, p.13)

32 Ramón Serrano Suñer: “Los orígenes del franquismo”; (El País semanal, 21-11-1976, p. 9)

33 ibid.

“Recomponer un hombre espanol nuevo, firme y despierto en su propia conciencia, menos satisfecho de su incultura y de su petulancia, menos osado, más sosegado y laborioso; más puro, más sincero y más tenaz, más solidario también respecto de los otros hombres.”

34 “Franco nunca quiso ser un poder interino” (El País semanal, 21-11-1976, pp. 5-7)

35 General José Sanjurjo headed the failed uprising against the Republic in 1932. He was condemned, amnestied and exiled in Portugal. He died when the airplane that was carrying him to lead the insurrection in July 1936 crashed.

36 Manuel Pérez Ledesma: “El franquismo, ante la historia”; (El País semanal, 21-11-1976, p. 20) and José María Gil Robles: “La esencia de la dictadura”; (El País semanal, 21-11-1976, p. 13)

37 El Socialista is the official organ of the Spanish Socialist Party, PSOE, and Mundo Obrero is the official organ of the Spanish Communist Party, PCE. Both have a history as newspapers before Franco and were published clandestinely at a more or less regular basis during Francoism. After the death of Franco El Socialista was published fortnightly, from spring 1977 weekly and from the mid-1980s again fortnightly. Mundo Obrero was published on a weekly basis until it in November 1978 became a daily disappearing again in June 1980 due to economic difficulties.

38 “Un año después”; (El Socialista, No. 74, 10-11-1976, p. 1)

39 Manuel Sánchez Molbatán: “Primer aniversario. Cambiar la vida. Cambiar la historia.”; (Mundo Obrero Semanal, 17-11-1976, p. 10)

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