Every year on February 23 someone reminds us that, miraculously and thanks to King Juan Carlos’ intervention, the 1981 military coup in Spain did not succeed. I myself have always thought that it did. To be precise, I have a feeling that on February 23 1981 we had several overlapping coups.
The most unlikely, farcical coup d’état, with gun-toting Guardia Civil sporting their triangular-shaped hats, and the coup that sent the tanks to the streets both failed. Or, rather, the real coup d’état piggybacked on them —deliberately or not— to ensure its own success.
This is the coup that set the limits of Spain’s political transition on the single most important issue, the one task with which —in his deathbed— General Franco entrusted his successor, King Juan Carlos: to preserve Spain’s unity. King Juan Carlos himself has admitted that much in a recent interview.
February 23 1981 is a pivotal moment. Up until then, the process was open-ended and we were still exploring how far the 1978 Constitution might allow us to go. But on that day, that avenue was closed off and clear boundaries were set. As a matter of fact, a regression of sorts began immediately afterwards: the Loapa Act 1 was passed and the jurisprudence of Spain’s Constitutional Court sought to water down the devolution process systematically.
By flexing some muscle, they had us believe that we had saved democracy, albeit at the expense of devolution. In fact, it is only now that the 1981 coup is beginning to fail. Now the avenue may be reopened. Thirty-five years on.
1 N.T. LOAPA was a Spanish law that aimed to water down some of the powers that had been devolved to Spain’s regional governments. It was widely criticised in Catalonia.