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Mediterranean Quarterly 11.3 (2000) 30-61

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Spain 2000:
A Normal Country?

Howard J. Wiarda

For most of modern history, Spain has lagged behind the rest of Western Europe and has often been referred to as "different," "unique," and "distinctive." Spain not only lagged economically and sociologically, but because it was largely bypassed by all the great revolutions we associate with modern times--the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Protestant Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, the revolution in science and learning, and democratization--it was believed to lag its neighbors politically, religiously, intellectually, psychologically, and even morally. Spain was seen as the land of the Inquisition, the Counter-Reformation, royal absolutism, Jesuit theology, closed-mindedness, traditionalism, reaction, and ultimately, the culmination of all these ills, Franco-style fascism. European attitudes toward Spain were long summed up in the phrase "Europe stops at the Pyrenees, and Africa begins there," words that not only grated on the oft prideful Spaniards but that were tainted with political, social, religious, and, because of the long Moorish occupation of Spain during the Middle Ages, racial prejudice. In turn, Spain's reactions to these slurs bred resentments, a whole panoply of national inferiority complexes, defensiveness, and for long periods, a desire to thumb its nose at Europe and go it alone in the world, regardless of what the rest of the West thought. 1 [End Page 30]

Now all this has changed. Arguably, no country in the world has changed as much in twenty-five years as Spain. It is one of the great success stories of modernization; those who knew the country before 1970 would find it unrecognizable today. Spain has been transformed from top to bottom and in all particulars; its political system has been democratized; its political culture has been transformed; and its social system has been modernized. Economically Spain has moved from being one of the poorest countries in Europe to a position where its per capita income is now approximately 80 percent of the European Union average. Spain is no longer the country of quaint customs, fiery flamenco dancers, and long siestas of our fathers' or grandfathers' memories; it is alive, dynamic, urban, sophisticated, and very, very hip. 2

Spain voted to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1986 and was admitted to the European Community (EC) the same year. Its eager, almost unquestioned adherence to the Maastricht requirements has demonstrated that it wants to be included in the EU not just on economic grounds but for important national political and psychological reasons as well. Overcoming its past complexes as well as real, tangible measures of underdevelopment, Spain now considers itself and wants to be considered as a normal European country: democratic, economically advanced, and socially and morally progressive. The question we wrestle with here is whether Spain has actually reached that elevated plane, if and how and to what degree it still lags behind, and what the implications are of both the vast changes that have taken place and the continuities with past behavior.

The change processes in Spain have been going on for a long time and are not quite so dramatic as they are sometimes presented. Our image of Spain is often that of a country dominated, at least until Franco's death in 1975, by the unholy trinity of army, oligarchy, and reactionary church and unalterably backward. But in fact industrialization in Spain, though retarded as compared with Britain, France, and Germany, began in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth, even while the reactionary monarchy was still in power. Economic quickening led to vast social changes in the early twentieth century and an "explosion" of political [End Page 31] participation during the First Republic, 1931-36. 3 Franco's regime was, of course, based on authoritarianism and a turning back of the clock in the political sphere and, initially, autarky in the economic; that did not prevent him from initiating an economic opening in 1957 that paved the way for a decades-long rise in prosperity. 4

Similarly, the political controls were relaxed somewhat...


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