"The Crown, symbol of the permanence and unity of the country, cannot tolerate in any way actions or attitudes of people who try to interrupt by force the democratic process that the Constitution voted by the Spanish people determined in its day through referendum ". These were the words that Juan Carlos I pronounced in the early morning of February 24, 1981, barely a few hours after that 23F, Civil Guard Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero entered the Congress of Deputies with a gun to try to carry out a coup against the then young democracy, less than six years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco.
The 23F tanks in Valencia: 40 years later, the unknowns about the coup plot remain
Since then, the official account has always considered that the coup failed because of that "essential role" that the then monarch maintained, when he remarked with those supposedly improvised words that same night his commitment to democracy as the highest commander of the armies. 40 years later, however, Juan Carlos I has fled Spain due to judicial investigations into his finances, the quality of Spanish democracy is openly questioned by the left and nationalism, which supports protests in the streets, and the third The country's political force is Vox, a far-right party that accuses half of the government and the independence movement of "carrying out a coup in slow motion ".
All that context blurred the brief official act in memory of the coup attempt held this Tuesday, February 23, 2021, in the Congress of Deputies. The great absentee was, precisely, Juan Carlos I, while the protagonism was acquired throughout the day by the deep division and the reproaches crossed between the different political parties for what happened that 23F, for the role of the monarchy and for the defense or rejection of the 1978 Constitution that Juan Carlos I claimed to defend after the coup.
His son, the current king, arrived at the Congress at 1:00 pm sharp and was received "cheerfully" by a small group of citizens gathered at the doors of the hemicycle. Much of the groups represented in the Lower House, however, declared themselves openly Republican throughout the morning. The vice president and leader of United We Can, Pablo Iglesias, came to assure, a few minutes before the act began, that "40 years after" the attempted coup, "it is very difficult to say that the monarchy is a necessary condition of democracy ". He also requested the declassification of the documents on 23F, to know "the truth" of what happened.
One of the last acts of Lesmes
For "institutionalism", he said, his group participated in the event in which the Government, the president of the Senate, Pilar Llop; the president of the Constitutional Court, Juan José González Rivas; and the interim president of the Supreme Court and the General Council of the Judiciary, Carlos Lesmes. The public appearance of the latter was produced in full negotiations between the Executive and the PP to renew the highest governing body of the judges and, therefore, it may be that this February 23 was one of his last acts in office.
About six kilometers from Congress, in the Moncloa Palace, the Government spokesperson, María Jesús Montero, took advantage of the press conference after the Council of Ministers to respond to Iglesias that "if you consider that there is any particular matter that should be known "about 23F" is within his right to raise it ", although he remarked that" the events surrounding 23F have been the subject of much exposure and study ", as well as that" the information that exists in this regard is sufficient and interesting for "Similar events are not replayed," reports Irene Castro.
In the hemicycle, PSOE, United We Can, PP and Vox were the four large groups represented in the official act, which lasted barely half an hour and which was held in the Lost Steps hall of the Lower House.
There was another alternative call for seven pro-independence parties with parliamentary representation that signed a document in which they consider that "40 years ago, after the events of 23F, a State operation reinforced and shielded the pillars and values of the regime established in the so-called transition Spanish democracy, with the figure of the king and the Army as its greatest guarantors ". "Beyond the official version, there are well-founded indications that the 23F coup was something planned not by four discontented soldiers, but by an entire State operation that would save the regime of 78", they maintain, in their manifesto, signed by ERC, Soberanistes, Junts, BNG, EH Bildu, the CUP and PDeCat.
The PNV expresses its "bewilderment" for "celebrating" 23F
In addition to the aforementioned parties - some of them, such as ERC and EH Bildu, partners of the Government for the investiture or in the Budgets -, the PNV, another habitual ally of the Executive, was also absent from the act. "It is not about any contempt or slamming doors on anyone. The presence of the king is not what motivates us not to go to the event," clarified his spokesman, Aitor Esteban, at a press conference, where he expressed his "bewilderment" by that a coup d'etat was "commemorated" and that Congress organized the event without counting on the opinion of parliamentary groups.
For the independence parties, on the other hand, "as long as the Spanish State continues to be supported by the same political, judicial, police and monarchical estates as 40 years ago" and "as long as the right of self-determination is not recognized and there continue to be political prisoners, exiles and repression Nor will there be democratic normality, nor will this State be considered a full democracy. "
The attempt of the two participants in the official act in memory of 23F, the president of the Congress of Deputies, Meritxell Batet, and King Felipe VI himself, was precisely the opposite: to emphasize that Spain is a full democracy.
The monarch claimed "respect for the social and democratic state of Law in which Spain has been established since 1978 "and which has been built" for more than four decades, step by step and shoulder to shoulder, is a prerequisite and necessary for that coexistence and for the progress of our society. " Hence, all of us –citizens and Institutions– must feel committed and obliged to defend, protect and preserve our coexistence in democracy and freedom, "he added.
The debate on the quality of democracy
"Defend it, because we know how difficult it was to achieve it and that there are always risks that can threaten it. Protect it, because we have learned that democracy is a delicate asset that requires the greatest care and permanent respect and dedication on the part of all; because We are aware that its erosion puts in question and, therefore, endangers the rights and freedoms of citizens. And to preserve it, because we also know that, according to our values, it constitutes an inalienable premise for the full development of our country and for the progress, well-being and prosperity of our citizens, "he concluded.
Democracy, the monarch concluded, "through its representative institutions, must always know how to face, with a constructive spirit and without losing its foundations, the new challenges that society faces." Iglesias, who last week opened a debate on democratic quality in Spain, avoided applauding the king's speech on Tuesday.
In the same vein as the monarch, Batet had affirmed the following minutes before: "We proclaim that Spain is a State of Law willing to move decisively forward in the recognition of rights and social justice, a modern and fully democratic country. There is no democracy. without institutions, there are no institutions without politics, nor politics without respect and trust. Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to continue winning the future for Spain ". Both the president of Congress and the king spoke of "head of the opposition" to refer to the leader of the PP, Pablo Casado.
The two mentioned briefly the great absentee of the act: the emeritus king. "King Juan Carlos I assumed as Head of State his responsibility and his commitment to the Constitution so that - and I quote - 'all the necessary measures to maintain the constitutional order within the current legislation' were taken. This was communicated to all the Spaniards in a televised message that is already part of our collective memory. Their firmness and authority were decisive for the defense and triumph of democracy ", highlighted the current monarch. His words were barely a three-page paragraph of speech.
Mentions of Juan Carlos I
"We thus commemorate the determined reaction of our public institutions that, headed by His Majesty King Don Juan Carlos, assumed the defense of democracy in the face of the threat of the coup and effectively used their constitutional capacities to defeat the coup plotters," he limited himself to pointing out Meritxell Batet. After the Council of Ministers, the Government spokesperson, María Jesús Montero, also highlighted the "role" of Juan Carlos I to stop the coup attempt. "No one can doubt the contribution he made to democracy in this country. His appearance marked a turning point. There is no discussion about the role he played in the consolidation of democracy," he concluded.
Also for the PP to speak of 23F "is to speak of the parliamentary monarchy and full democracy." His spokesman in Congress, Cuca Gamarra, claimed "the role of all those who played a decisive role in the failure of the coup, including the king emeritus." "It is impossible to celebrate the triumph of democracy without bearing in mind King Juan Carlos, who played an indisputable role," said the PP spokeswoman, before warning that "any plan that seeks to weaken democracy is doomed to failure."