When 13,000 troops marched past King Juan Carlos on Armed Forces Day a week ago in Barcelona there was wholesale enthusiasm from the tens of thousands standing 10 deep along the main avenue. But as the dust settles it is sobering to recall who received the greatest cheers.
It was not the smartly turned-out naval cadets in the northeastern seaport. Nor was it the spectacular Spanish Foreign Legion units who swaggered down the parade route at a cracking 160 paces a minute, their shirts unbuttoned almost to their navels to underline their hirsute macho image and a wild boar mascot bounding along beside them trying to keep up.
The carnations thrown by the spectators and the vivas were reserved for the paramilitary Civil Guard.
By any standards it was a superb reception for a corps that has at least earned the suspicion of civilians since rebel guardsmen stormed parliament Feb. 23 to spearhead what proved to be an unsuccessful military coup. The sobering assessment of a week of military festivities in Barcelona and its region of Catalonia is that the prestige and influence of the military unquestionably has been boosted.
The liberal Madrid newspaper Diario 16 recently posed the question: In terms of the stability of Spanish democracy, is it a good or a bad thing that this should have happened? Diario 16, which has done more than any other publication to pursue the ramifications of the attempted coup, suggeested coyly in an editorial: "If we have a contented Army that is satisfied with its social importance it will be more difficult for it to be tempted into coup d'etat adventures."
It then rebutted its own argument saying, "The opposite thesis is just as valid: the greater the authority that is afforded to the armed forces, the greater is the risk that they will become used to having a decisive influence over the course of the political process."
Events in Spain during the past three months already provide ample evidence of increased military influence. Although political leaders staunchly maintain, as one said, that "the armed forces are in their place and so is the government in its," frequent meetings between the premier and the armed forces chiefs suggest, if not a power sharing, at least broad exhanges of views.
"It is not that the Army tells the government what to do, it is that the government now tends to act in a way geared to please the Army," the editor of a Madrid newspaper said privately. Peridis, an incisive Spanish cartoonist who runs a political strip in the daily El Pais, has since February taken to drawing in a military sword of Damocles that hangs over the heads of squabbling politicians.
Uppermost in the minds of politicians and informed Spaniards is the nagging worry that the officer class represents a bastion of support for the policies of the late dictator Francisco Franco and as such it constitutes a continual point of reference for those who, disenchanted with democracy, would be tempted to return to an authoritarian past.
A parallel political development in the hundred days since the coup attempt has been a proposal among key politicians in the governing centrist party to move the party platform to the right and to team up with conservatives, forming what is referred to as a "natural" or "national" majority. The thinking behind the new strategy is that the government has lost touch with broad center-right opinion and that the credibility gap has grown to the point where middle-class opinion may question the continuation of democracy in its present form.
It was precisely such opinion that sustained Francoism for nearly four decades and, before that, it was the alienation of the conservative vote in the 1930s that led to the Francoist rebellion against the republic and the Spanish Civil War.
There can be no doubt about the ideological framework of the Spanish armed forces. The officers are not just socially and politically conservative as the forces tend to be throughout the Western world. They are positively intoxicated with Francoism. The Army is still led by men who fought alongside Franco in the Civil War and the ideals and beliefs that were fashioned by the Civil War machinery are passed on to succeeding generations through the military academies.
A glance at the statistics of the Spanish armed services reveals that they are weighted toward the Army and are top-heavy with senior officers. Of the close to 346,000 Spaniards in uniform last year, 246,000 belonged to the Army, the vast majority recruits serving their 18-month obligatory national service. There are 1,328 generals in the three services, just over half on the reserve list. In the Army alone there is a field grade officer -- from lieutenant colonel to general -- on the active list for every 30 or so soldiers.
Close observers of the serving officer caste distinguish between the more professionalized Navy and Air Force, both of which, although politically conservative, have little impact on national politics, and the Army -- whose moods and sensitivities are duly noted by politicians.
Under the constitution, the three branches of the service are charged with ensuring the sovereignty and unity of Spain and the observance of the constitutional order -- a provision that leaves open, in theory, interference by the services in civic affairs. Actually, it is the Army top brass, and in particular the captain generals who have command of the 11 military regions into which Spain is divided, who jealously guard their role as guardians of the constitution.
An experienced analyst of the political role of the Spanish armed forces is former Army major, Julio Busquets, who resigned his commission in 1977 to run for Congress on the Socialist ticket and now divides his time between politics and teaching sociology at Barcelona University.
"At the start of the 1970s, I could count the number of democratic officers with the fingers of one hand," says Busquets. "In general, my colleagues retained the extremist ideology they had been taught at the [military] academy."
This disturbing inside view was recently corroborated by three serving officers -- a colonel, a major and a captain -- in a rare unofficial talk with a reporter. The three disputed the official Defense Ministry line that the armed services were four-square aligned with Spain's democratic process.
The consensus of the three liberal-minded officers was that the government should have reasserted its authority rapidly after the putsch attempt and meted out punishments to those involved. Three months after the event, 30 officers have been indicted on charges of military rebellion but no date has been set for the court martial, which some observes say may not take place until next year, if at all. In the meantime, the alleged rebels are spared no comforts in the different barracks where they are held.
The officers interviewed said general criticism and discontent with the government, and by extension with democracy, remained the norm among officers. At times, such as early last month when terrorists killed a general, injured another and killed another six members of the armed forces and police in one week, tension rose to a level similar to that immediately before the February coup attempt.
The three officers said a current of opinion within the armed forces broadly draws on the Francoist model of a strong, authoritarian national state and rejects both parliamentary democracy and King Juan Carlos, who is seen as the foremost supporter of the present system.
There is also reluctance within the Army to support the government's policy of seeking entry in the North Atlantic Treaty Orgainization. What most irks senior Army officers is that supporters of the policy justify it by saying membership in NATO will deflect Army interest in internal politics.
The interviewed officers stressed that the main forces behind the February attempted putsch were not the rebel Civil Guardsmen who stormed the parliament but officers who sought to capitalize on the seizure of engineer a "soft" coup that would redirect the alleged excesses of the democratic process but retain a "civilized" facade to the rest of the world. These officers had depended on gaining the support of the king, and the coup was aborted when Juan Carlos decisively rejected them.
While grumbling and criticism continue, and apparently are the order of the day among average officers, potential plotters reportedly are few. It would be inaccurate, however, to dismiss the Spanish Army as a sleeping giant who will snore on and ignore the extremist calls of the coup advocates. Modern Spanish history underlines the traditional meddling of the armed forces in politics.