Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero, shortly after the break in the Chamber of Deputies, on the afternoon of February 23, 1981, which started a coup in Spain with the seizure of Parliament and armed uprisings in several cities. Its failure eventually consolidated the recently restored democracy. Photo credit: RTVE.MIAMI, February 22nd (IPS) – Forty years ago, on February 23rd, 1981 (later known as 23-F), in the middle of the afternoon in a cold Madrid atmosphere, the heaviest attack on the reborn Spanish democracy took place . An armed contingent of more than 200 civil guard agents marched into the Congress of Deputies and threatened the dissolution of the government and the establishment of a dictatorship.
Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero, the invaders used a regulating pistol to interrupt the voting process for the new President of the Council of Ministers, Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, to succeed Adolfo Suárez, who had resigned a few days earlier. Tejero claimed that his action was approved by King Juan Carlos I.
The dramatic incident was started by the invaders firing machine gun shots on the roof of the building while the parliamentarians were instructed to lie on the floor under their seats. Only three MPs stood upright: President Suarez, Communist leader Santiago Carrillo and the outgoing Vice-President of the Government and Minister of Defense, General Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado.
Joaquín RoySuárez, who in 1978, with the approval of the new constitution, had been the architect for the restoration of democracy together with King Juan Carlos, was exhausted in an environment full of confrontations, mainly caused by the harassment of the terrorist group ETA in the political context by imposition Attacks against police, civilians and the military.
The grave event was resolved after hours of action when King Juan Carlos made a statement on television clearly reminding the coup plotters and their possible collaborators as head of state of their obligations.
The previous context of the major events was full of danger signals which have been confirmed. Among the details that prompted the king to make the drastic decision, the surroundings of his family stand out; it was overflowing with historical errors that were dearly paid for. This panorama extended both in time and space.
First was the mistake Juan Carlos’ grandfather made, Alfonso XIII. The most distant incident in 1923 occurred in the 1920s, when he was pressured by the military and eventually took over the role of General Primo de Rivera.
A few years until 1930 were enough to exhaust its influence and witness the evolution of national policy towards the triumph of the left in the major cities in the 1931 local elections. The Second Spanish Republic survived until the coup of General Franco’s armed forces, which sparked the civil war from 1936 to 1939 and the subsequent establishment of the Franco dictatorship until 1975.
Juan Carlos also had the latent effects of such a political mistake on the family of his wife, Queen Sofía. Her brother, King Constantine of Greece, could not withstand the pressure of the military, to which he handed the initiative to power in 1967. This decision later marked the end of the Greek monarchy and the establishment of a republican regime in 1973.
The atmosphere that prevailed in Madrid on February 23 was based on the memory of the monarchical mistakes of the past. Avoiding the jerky decisions of the past therefore prevented historical tragedies from being repeated.
Given the apparent survival of certain social and political instabilities amid an economic pandemic crisis, today’s circumstances suggest an analysis of the feasibility of a serious and drastic resolution of political discrepancies. It is therefore appropriate to meditate on attempts at indiscipline in certain military sectors as expressed in manifestos issued by sectors of military leaders under the Retirement Act.
A calm analysis of these incidents deserves evaluation as they are limited to the sectors headed by a nostalgic minority. In contrast, it claims the professionalism of the sectors that have served in peace missions, development aid and even support in the fight against the pandemic over the past few decades. However, this does not completely remove the latent danger of dissatisfaction that accompanies the poor performance of political parties on new threats.
It is therefore with some concern to watch the deterioration in the exercise of the once important position of the People’s Party, whose advantage at the national level has diminished markedly. Besides the fact that the PP has practically disappeared from the Catalan scene was the failure of the centrist parties (UCD was the best example of the transition), which could act as hinges for liberal-centrist formations in some European countries, such as the UK and Germany.
The knockout for Ciudadanos (which wanted to be a super-modern UCD) coupled with the stratospheric rise of the ultra-right VOX should be placed at the center of meditation on the instability of the political fabric.
It must also take a top spot in speculation about the threat of a coup d’état, be it hard or soft, or just plain expendable. The 23F Anniversary is a great opportunity to discover Tejero’s latent presence on the Congress floor or to consider that the removal of Franco’s body from the Valley of the Fallen means something permanent.
Joaquín Roy is Jean Monnet Professor and Director of the Center of the European Union at the University of Miami
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