This week, Friday, December 6th, is a national holiday in Spain: the Day of the Spanish Constitution. It’s equivalent to our 4th of July holiday, though it’s not commemorated with fireworks, nor do people happily don the colors of their flag. But it is a day when everything is closed, and the Spanish will celebrate that it’s been 35 years since their constitution was ratified. My first year in Spain, the democracy turned 8 years old. It was pretty neat.
Having grown up in a country where even my great grandparents were not alive when the democracy was founded, it was extremely interesting to me to hear the stories of the young/old country of Spain. According to Wikipedia, modern humans first came to Spain about 32,000 years ago. It’s hard for me to imagine that! Different peoples lived there before the Romans conquered the Iberian peninsula around 2,000 years ago, including the Iberians, Celts (or Celtiberians—this explains the proliferation of very old bagpipe music in northern Spain), Tartessians, Basques (who are still there, of course) and even Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians (who also lived in France.) After the Romans came the Arabs, and after they were over thrown, the Catholic Kings and Queens ruled. There were different dynasties, and even a constitution of 1812. Spain became quite modern in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and there were many societal advances in all areas including science, art, education and women’s rights. Unfortunately, in the mid 1930’s, Spain underwent a very gruesome civil war, and was then subsumed under a dictatorship until Generalisimo Franco finally passed away in 1975. The country was kept in poverty and all of the “enlightenment” that it had undergone was systematically destroyed over the years. When the country finally emerged from this awful nightmare, it took a lot of work to bring itself into modernity. I applaud the Spanish for their immense work in picking themselves up by their bootstraps and turning themselves back into a first world country in the short span of under 20 years, an effort which I witnessed as I lived there from the mid ‘80’s till the end of the 90’s. They faced staggering obstacles, including an attempted military coup d’état in 1981, which could have led to another dictatorship, if not for the fact that the King of Spain, Juan Carlos, stood up and said “no” to the troops. Bravo!
It’s unfortunate that the world economic crisis of 2008 has taken a tremendous toll on Spain, and they are still reeling from the consequences. Unemployment is still more than 20%, and among the young, it is close to 50%. Many of their brightest young minds have to leave the country to find good work. This is such a shame! That’s why I cannot applaud generous and kind people like Bill Gates enough for investing in Spain, to the tune of $155 Million. Good for him! And I hope many others will do the same. Spaniards are a wonderful people, spirited, hard-working and resilient. And even through their difficult times, they still reach out and help others, as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation highlights in their article from February 2012.
So, please join me as I send my heartfelt congratulations to Spain for 35 years of democracy, and my sincerest wishes for a speedy and sound economic recovery. ¡Aupa España!
And, just so you know it’s not just my imagination, here’s a wonderful video that a friend just alerted me to about the wonderful Spaniards making it through this crisis. Let me say it again: ¡Aupa España!