Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Discipline, order, security and calm

The Spanish royal family may be mired up to its well upholstered neck in the morass of corruption scandals which have stripped the Spanish establishment of what little credibility it had left but most commentators (and 'most' included some leftist bloggers) queued up to remind us that, whatever his faults, the soon-to-be-ex-King Juan Carlos I 'saved Spanish democracy.' It's a big achievement to claim and the truth, according to documents that have been in the public domain for some time, seems a lot more ambiguous than the heroic, official version:
The hero in this myth is King Juan Carlos, the villain Lt. Col. Antonio Tejero and his Guardia Civil officials, and the victim the democratic government and parliamentary members who were held hostage for 18 hours on 23 February. As the hero, Juan Carlos negotiated with the coup's ringleaders and all important generals by phone, and in a television address he announced that he did not support actions impeding the constitutional process, thereby "saving" the victim, the young democracy forged on 15 June 1977, two years after Franco's death.

The magazine Der Spiegel published communiqué 524, which had been sent by the German ambassador to Spain, Lothar Lahn. Lahn talked about the “understanding if not even sympathy” that Juan Carlos shared with the ringleaders of the plot commonly known as 23-F . Serving as Germany's ambassador to Spain between 1977 and 1982, Lahn was with Juan Carlos on 26 March 1981, when the king shared with him his thoughts about the attempted coup. In his report to authorities in Bonn, Lahn claimed that the king "showed no indication of either antipathy or outrage vis-à-vis the actors (in the plot) but, rather, displayed much more understanding, if not sympathy" and that the plotters "only wanted what we are all striving for, namely, the re-establishment of discipline, order, security and calm." According to Lahn, the king blamed Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez for failing to establish a working relationship with the military, which led to the military acting "on its own initiative." Juan Carlos believed that the coup leaders "only wanted what was best for the country" and that 23-F “should be forgotten as soon as possible.” Juan Carlos interceded so that "nothing too serious" happens to the coup plotters. 
rumors wiki

The official story of the fearless king saving his subjects from tyranny, motivated by an unshakable sense of duty and love of his people fits the facts, but more plausible explanations are available.

It looks to me as if the Tejero coup had little prospect of success, Juan Carlos knew it and simply chose what looked like the winning side. Consider the background:
  • Spain in 1981 was not like Spain in 1936. The rich and powerful weren't clamouring for a crackdown to curb the uppity workers and peasants, because Franco had already delivered that crackdown and ensured that the ruling elite were back in the saddle where they felt they belonged.
  • Europe in 1981 wasn't like Europe in 1936. Franco's Fascist buddies had been replaced by democracies, some of which had already got together to form a huge trade bloc and Spain wanted a slice of the action. It's a safe bet that members of the business elite who'd done very nicely under Franco wouldn't be too thrilled about a second coup that would have destroyed any chance of joining Europe's Common Market and threatened their businesses with sanctions and boycotts.
  • In the '30s, with a feeble League of Nations failing to prevent dictatorships pushing their victims around with impunity, the rebel generals could get away with using the shock and awe of exemplary brutality, along with the support of the Nazi and Fascist military machines to crush all dissent. A Spain that wanted to trade and join Europe's Common Market wouldn't be able to use atrocity and terror to subdue opposition and, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy no longer being the big kids in the military playground, there was only NATO to gang up with, an organisation which, for all its faults, would have been unlikely to let a Tejero-led junta join its gang, let alone prop up that junta with a NATO equivalent of the Condor Legion.
  • Juan Carlos wasn't risking much by opposing the coup - not only was it unlikely to succeed, but even if it had, Francoist thugs may have had the cojones to shoot powerless peasants in the back of the head in the dead of night, but they didn't have the deficit of either deference or sanity needed to put the King of Spain up against a wall for failing to cooperate. The worst Juan Carlos would have suffered would have been the end of his dynastic ambitions and a comfortably-off exile, a fate that would have become inevitable if he'd backed an unsuccessful coup.
To me, the official version sounds like a fairy story from lifted from The Big Book of The Great Men of History. Unlike most other commentators, Miguel-Anxo Murado in  the Graun seems to have got it about right this time.