The sobriquet of Artful Dodger can easily be placed upon Francisco Franco, for the caudillo who ruled Spain 'by the grace of God' was certainly graced by something. A master of evasion, he held sway over one of the largest countries in Europe well into the 1970's. He controlled a Spain that lingered in a dark past, a country that was a throwback to the ravages of the mid twentieth century, which in so many ways was a political dinosaur in comparison to the rest of Western Europe.
Bizarrely, Franco maintained his dictatorship while Europe crept around in silence, afraid to point at the oddity in the room. Indeed, Spain still has not fully addressed the issue and must be one of the few democratic countries not to create a governing body to redress the grievances of the past. Franco in many ways remains the unmentionable, the vast majority still skirt the issue while condemnations of, or allegiances to, are vague at best. Often even Spaniards under the same roof argue competing histories; Franco is as reviled as he is lauded.
The terrain is confusing, the ground is grey, it is not as straightforward as post Hitler or even post Mussolini. This apathetic atmosphere regarding facing their history is paradoxically not helped by the passive transition from Franco to the Juan Carlos inspired parliamentary democracy. The fact that passions were not flared, that the dictator was allowed fade out in his bed may have inhibited Spaniards to be bombastic and insist that the past be dragged up and pored over.
Perhaps Franco survived as long as he had, because he did not implement a fascist state. Instead, he kept things conservative and traditional. Perhaps this was the true leanings of the man or perhaps he realised that the population would be sedated with such, that a hectic jolt from what they knew would have been too much and that such a move may have sparked a revolution against his power. No matter, he remained a symbol of the Western World's failure to act decisively during the Spanish Civil War, his lingering act ensuring that nobody could ever forget.
It is nothing short of incredible, just how seamlessly the transition from Franco to democracy occurred and that it has being maintained since. For Spain was a country that could only learn from what others had done, having only experienced complete democracy for a brief stint in the 1930s (and which was far from a model par excellence). 1970s Spain was completely novel to the democratic order and was compounded by provincial fractures and regional nationalism. And yet the country succeeded magnificently, perhaps indicating that the shadow of Franco had been very dark and that Spaniards were willing to do their utmost to make the fledgling democracy work.
This resolve was most definitely also strengthened by the memories of the failure of the Second Republic and the subsequent horrific bloodshed that ensued. The path was far from easy, Spain had become accustomed to almost full employment under Franco, but from the mid-Seventies, the dole queues grew and grew, peaking at the terrifying figure of twenty-four per cent in the mid 1990's. Yet the Spaniards stuck with it, the government managing to keep the majority engaged with an innovative programme of economic reforms.