For Spaniards who remember 1981, the storming of the Capitol looked eerily familiar | US Capitol breach

Stress was excessive, safety was weak and a bitter handover of energy was beneath manner when violent intruders pressured the folks’s representatives to cease their debate and cower on the ground.

Future generations of People will determine this as an outline of occasions on the Capitol in Washington DC on 6 January 2021. For Spaniards, nevertheless, it suits an earlier second in historical past – an assault on Madrid’s parliament, the Congreso de los Diputados, on 23 February 1981.

Spain’s attackers – reactionary followers of the dictator Normal Francisco Franco, who had died six years earlier – have been additionally led by males in foolish hats, though Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero was sporting the patent leather-based tricorn of Spain’s civil guard paramilitary police pressure quite than a pair of buffalo horns.

Comparisons principally finish there. Tejero was waving an actual weapon. A number of the 200 troopers and civil guards with him peppered the debating chamber ceiling with machine-gun fireplace.


This was a correct coup try, not a shambolic human tidal wave containing costumed followers of an egomaniacal conspiracy theorist. In Spain, tanks rolled down the streets of the jap metropolis of Valencia to assist the coup. Some folks started packing for exile. Others apprehensive about firing squads, recalling the strategies employed by Franco.

Reactions within the Spanish debating chamber have been additionally completely different. The outgoing prime minister, Adolfo Suárez, and the deputy prime minister for defence affairs, Normal Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado, refused orders to hit the ground, whereas the latter angrily commanded the armed assailants to desist. They ignored him.

The communist chief, Santiago Carrillo, was the one different deputy to stay in his seat, slouching calmly and chain-smoking. “Previous, disobedient and smoking away,” is how Javier Cercas describes him in his masterpiece of literary non-fiction, The Anatomy of a Second. “He understands that if he survives the gunfire, the golpistas [coup leaders] will execute him.”

In Spain, there was no want to induce the pinnacle of state to make a tv tackle condemning the assault. King Juan Carlos organised that himself, donning his commander-in-chief uniform and rebuking the “actions or attitudes of anybody who needs to interrupt by pressure the democratic course of … voted on by the Spanish folks”.

He didn’t say, like Donald Trump, “We love you. You’re very particular.” But it appears Juan Carlos may have unwittingly inspired the plotters prematurely, since many have been satisfied he was on their aspect. “Within the King’s title!” some shouted through the assault.

Those that stormed the Spanish parliament thought a navy junta was able to take over, led by a mysterious determine often called White Elephant (most likely the now deceased former royal aide, Normal Alfonso Armada).

When the gunmen burst in (failing to show off a TV digicam that recorded the entire thing), there have been good causes to consider folks would die, however ultimately no one was damage. White Elephant didn’t reveal themselves and, after 18 hours holding the deputies hostage, the attackers surrendered. The coup had flopped.

I as soon as met a musician who claimed that, throughout his navy service, he had taken half within the coup. He recalled being bundled right into a truck and deposited exterior the parliament constructing, however he sneaked off to purchase cigarettes whereas his unit awaited orders. When he returned, they’d gone. A policeman advised him they’d entered the parliament constructing, so he ran in and joined them. For Spaniards, then, there was a spooky aspect of deja vu within the scenes transmitted stay from Washington on Wednesday, not least as a result of they mixed actual hazard with farce.

The excellent news, although, is that Spain’s coup was an finish, not a starting. When it failed, Spaniards realised they now not needed to worry a military that had been the spine of Franco’s regime. Democracy and its establishments proved resilient, simply as they’ve in the USA. The assailants went to jail, even when their shadowy backers principally escaped identification and retribution.

The truth is, aside from just a few frights within the Eighties, Spain has barely witnessed any additional navy stirrings within the post-Franco period – till final month. In a 6 December “patriotic” letter, 34 aged generals and admirals, and a whole lot of different ex-officers, claimed the Socialist-Podemos coalition authorities led by Pedro Sánchez was intent on imposing a type of communism.

Publication of the letter, which was additionally signed by the 1981 coup plotter Major Ricardo Pardo and one in all Franco’s grandsons, adopted revelations of a gaggle Whatsapp chat amongst retired officers wherein one participant wrote that “there isn’t any different selection however to start out executing 26 million sons-of-bitches”.

The reactionary outdated Spanish navy officers clearly really feel emboldened by a worldwide normalisation of far-right, anti-democratic rhetoric, however their threats are empty. A 12 months after the failed 1981 coup, Spaniards voted of their first leftwing authorities because the Thirties. The socialist prime minister Felipe González stayed in energy for 14 years, overseeing a exceptional and stable transformation in Spain.


The trauma, then, needn’t final. The truth is, an incident like this may be purifying and clarifying. For Spain it marked the bounds of violence and the definitive finish of the rotten period of Francoism.

In time, one can solely hope the occasions in Washington on 6 January could seem simply the identical.

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