Barcelona (ACN).- All the political reactions to the death of former Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez highlight his crucial role leading Spain from Franco’s Dictatorship to Democracy, as well as his capacity to listen to everybody and build consensus. Suárez died on Sunday in Madrid, aged 81, from a long Alzheimer’s illness. Madrid-based politicians are stressing how he worked for the unity of Spain and conviviality among its citizens. Meanwhile, Catalan parties are emphasising Suárez’s courage in putting an end to Franco’s laws, and how he worked to institutionalise what was already normal in the streets. After paying respects at his lying in state in the Spanish Parliament building in Madrid, the Catalan President, Artur Mas, pointed out how Suárez restored the Catalan Government and Catalonia’s autonomy in September 1977 “before the approval of the Constitution” in December 1978. Many voices have been comparing Suárez’s courage in changing existing legal frameworks and finding consensual solutions to the inflexibility and lack of proposals offered by the current Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, regarding Catalonia’s demands for self-determination.
Adolfo Suárez was appointed Prime Minister by King Juan Carlos in June 1976, seven months after Franco’s death. Suárez had reached top positions within the dictatorial regime in the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as Director of the Public Television Broadcasting Service, Civil Governor of Segovia (in charge of police in that province) or Secretary General of the Dictatorship’s only socio-political organisation, called “Movimiento”, which included the only legalised political party and trade union. However, Suárez represented the most moderate faction of Franco’s Regime and he piloted a change from the inside. In fact, there is a wide consensus on his essential role in guaranteeing Spain’s peaceful transition from Dictatorship to Democracy. It is often said that he managed to bury the dictatorship’s institutions but without sidelining their people.
Suárez restored the Catalan Government more than a year before the approval of the Constitution
In November 1976 Suárez managed to pass the Law for Political Reform, eliminating the dictatorship’s parliament, which was ratified by the Spanish people through a referendum in December 1976. He legalised political parties, including the Communist Party, and paved the way for the first democratic elections, held in June 1977, which elected the Constituent Parliament. Meanwhile, in September 1977 he approved the restoration of the Catalan Government, which had been eliminated by Franco in 1939 after the Civil War. In October 1977, the Catalan President Josep Tarradellas returned from almost 40 years of exile and formed a Catalan Government Cabinet sitting in Barcelona for the first time since 1939. 14 months later, in December 1978, the Constitution was approved. In March 1979 Suárez won the elections and was re-elected Prime Minister.
Suárez was the person who coined the constitutional formula stating that “Spain is formed of nationalities and regions”. The word “nationalities” had been the compromise made with Franco’s Fascist and Military Regime to recognise Catalonia’s nationhood without derailing the democratisation process. In exchange, the old dictatorship establishment imposed the attachment of “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation” to the word “nationalities”. Back then, only the Franco regime forces did not recognise Catalonia’s right to self-determination and nationhood status.
Therefore, the Constitution was approved with the implicit agreement that, once the dictatorship forces had been removed from the institutions of power, the recognition of Catalonia’s nationhood and self-determination would follow gradually. Instead, there was a military coup in 1981 and, after it, the Spanish establishment granted autonomy to all the regions in order to dilute Catalonia’s specificities. Suárez premiership ended the exact week of the military coup, when the Spanish Parliament was debating the appointment of his successor, Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo.
Furthermore, from the late 1990s, Spain’s nationhood has been increasingly emphasised while Catalonia’s has been increasingly denied by Madrid-based forces, mainly the People’s Party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). The situation gradually deteriorated until the 2010 breakup event: the trimming of the new Catalan Statute of Autonomy by the Constitutional Court, denying Catalonia’s nationhood. Back then, many Catalan parties and citizens considered that the Constitutional consensus build by Suárez in 1978 had definitely been broken. Since that moment, support for Catalonia’s independence from Spain grew rampantly.
Nowadays, many people are already talking about the need for a Second Transition in Spain, referring to the first Transition that passed from Dictatorship to Democracy. However, Rajoy is not acting like Suárez and he is trying to impose his vision, trying to recentralise and homogenise Spain.
The Catalan President praises Suárez’ political courage
The President of the Catalan Government, Artur Mas, travelled on Monday to Madrid to attend Suárez’s lying in state and pay his respects to the former Prime Minister and his family. While leaving the Spanish Parliament’s building, Mas stated that he wanted “to point out that one of the greatest proofs of President Suárez’s political courage and vision – together with the King – was to restore the Catalan Government as Catalonia’s self-governmental institution, with the return of the President Josep Tarradellas from exile before […] the approval of the Spanish Constitution”. At this point, Mas particularly emphasised the word “before”. The current Catalan President insisted that “in the face of great challenges, great solutions are needed, which might not be the same as old or classical ones”. “It is necessary to develop, as he did, a great imaginative power and a great political courage to deal with these situations, which are partially dating from older times but which are also partially new”, said Mas.
Other reactions from Catalan parties
The Left-Wing Catalan Independence Party (ERC) asked the PP and PSOE to follow Suárez’s example and vision to improve democracy in Spain. The ERC praised Suárez’s “vision for change” and recognised him as one of the main actors that brought Democracy to Spain. However, the ERC decided not to attend the lying in state event because they “do not feel comfortable” with the tributes that are fostering Spanish nationalist feelings and the current status quo.
The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) highlighted Suárez’s political dimension and his attitude of willingness to talk. The PSC defined him as “a central figure” of the Spanish Transition from Dictatorship to Democracy. “In the current time, when citizens are asking for greater democracy and the relationship between Catalonia and Spain is going through hard tensions, people such as Suárez are needed”, stated the PSC. At the same time, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, Secretary General of the PSOE – to which the PSC is federated – praised Suárez’s “commitment to freedom, democracy and the constitutional order”. Rubalcaba insisted that the former PM had managed “to build a Spain into which everybody could fit”.
The Catalan branch of the People’s Party (PP) pointed out that Suárez had given “a democratic lesson”, “working from the democratic consensus” and “respect for the legal framework”. “Now, more than ever before, we have to remind ourselves of the lesson offered by Suárez”, stated the PP.
The Catalan Green Socialist and post-Communist Coalition (ICV-EUiA) pointed out that Rajoy is “the opposite of Suárez” because he is “inflexible” and “does not listen to the streets”. The ICV-EUiA wanted to point out Suárez’s shadows, as he had been part of Franco’s dictatorial regime in the first part of his political career. “We fought against Suárez but we appreciate the efforts he made to bring about a parliamentary democracy; he was a crucial man”, stated the ICV-EUiA. In this vein, they highlighted that “the best actions” he did were “breaking the laws” in place under Franco’s regime, and listening to everybody.