Yesterday, February 23, is engraved for ever in the Spanish mind as 23F. It is the name given to the failed coup d’état that started on 23 February 1981 and ended the next day on 24 February 1981.
It is also known as El Tejerazo from the name of its most visible figure, Guardia Civil Antonio Tejero, who conducted the most notable event of the coup by storming into the Congress of Deputies with a group of 200 of his fellow armed officers during the election of Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo as the new Prime Minister.
It was also the time when Spain’s King, Juan Carlos I, cemented his place in the nation’s hearts by giving a nationally televised address denouncing the coup and urging the upholding of the law and the democratically elected government.
As a result of the monarch’s decisive intervention against the uprising the coup soon collapsed. After holding the Parliament and cabinet hostage for 18 hours the hostage-takers surrendered the next morning and nobody had been harmed physically at least.
This year is the 28 th anniversary of the coup attempt. A number of television channels have chosen this anniversary to broadcast dramatisations of the events of 23F.
A sobering fact is that today as in 1981 Spain is in a state of crisis. Then there was 20 per cent unemployment plus 16 per cent inflation. It is a sign of Spain’s democratic maturity that those problems are now tackled by its politicians at home and in international forums rather than through the waving of guns.
But, yes there’s always one of my buts, what if the people of Spain finally become fed up with their corrupt politicians? What if they despair of being shunted from one corrupt administration to the next at national, regional and local level? What if the politicians do not clean up their mutual act? Then the successors of Tejero may again take up arms. Then Juan Carlos or a future King Felipe might not have the will or the ability to talk down a coup. Then the democracy, which so many Spaniards fought so hard to win, might be smashed by another Tejero – the tile maker. What then?