Transition Beatriz Herraez

In trying to revise some of the more significant terms of the process of political transformation which took place in Spain from the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in the month of November 1975 to the passing of the Spanish Constitution in a referendum on the December 6, 1978, certain words arise which are repeated on a regular basis in the historiographical texts which analyze this period, words which try to define the moment of a radical change which occurred in a profoundly damaged territory, and which are the object of a permanent rereading even today. But in the attempt to “translate” the term on which this project is based—“transformation in Spain”—the key word to start with is without a doubt the Transición—Transition. This term forms part of the vocabulary necessary to understand and analyze the series of events which took place in the 1970s and 1980s, allowing for the extreme, but silent, transformation process which was experienced by Spanish society at the time.

Transition is the name given to the space of time that includes different political and social events which led to the changing of the dictatorial regime—which began in April 1939 at the end of the Spanish Civil War and ended in 1975 as already mentioned—into an established democratic nation. While there is no overall consensus on the exact dates which mark this period—framed between diverse historical moments such as the Spanish monarch’s proclamation in November 1975, the coming into effect of the Constitution in 1978, and the stipulation of its beginning as the moment when the dictator died—this is the term which has marked and identified, in a permanent way, the process of transformation experienced in the Spanish context.

It is difficult to compare this process of transformation with transformations in any other European country, if one bears in mind the almost four decades of the dictatorial period—conservative, opposed to any political freedom, nationalist and Catholic—which was imposed on the territory during a large part of the 20th century. This regime ultimately prevented the development of a modernity “permanently postponed.”

It is important to point out that this process of transition began in January 1977 with the passing of the “Law of Political Reform,” which guaranteed the exercise of fundamental rights and liberties, legalized parties and syndicates, and months later drove the controversial amnesty law of the same year forward. This reformist period has been defined as a model or “an example to follow” by official historiography because of the complex process of transformation that was experienced in a strongly polarized atmosphere, and without any kind of democratic tradition in the preceding decades. However, it is a fact, and an ever more present fact, that many unresolved conflicts have their origin in this transition period. The recent (2007) approval of a “Law of Historical Memory” by the socialist government establishes—as well as being a necessary step toward—the rehabilitation of those who “suffered persecution or violence during the Civil War and the Dictatorship.” Among other aspects, this legislation—of reconciliation—brings together the development of “public politics directed toward the knowledge of history and the promotion of a democratic memory,” and the “recognition that the various aspects related to personal and family memory, especially when affected by conflicts of a public nature, form part of the judiciary status of the democratic citizen … In this sense it recognizes the individual right of every citizen to a personal and family memory.”1

This declaration of intent is translated as the recuperation of the “repressed” rights of the individual, making possible the location of relatives (some buried in mass graves), the identification of missing people, and the granting of Spanish nationality to the descendents of refugees and volunteers of the International Brigades. This legislation also affects a series of measures taken in the public sphere, through the suppression of monuments and symbols commemorating the Civil War and the dictatorship still to be found in the streets “which are a motive for conflict, offence, or insult.”2

The controversy which arose in the three years since the approval of this legislation itself clearly demonstrates the contrasting processes which the Spanish nation has periodically undergone, as well as the necessary revision of many of the policies applied in a process that has been qualified as nontraumatic, a process of transformation/transition in which celebratory phrases alternate repeatedly with silence. Maybe this is one of the terms that fits the best, or which could be included in this Atlas of Transformation applied to the “Spanish case”; and specifically, in relation to the cultural politics developed in Spain territory during this period.

This form of politics can be defined as successive contrasts. It is precisely in the area of culture where the idea of “celebration” forms part of many of the proposed initiatives, answering to the need to build and export an image of Spain that will mitigate the recent history of the country, which is by no means festive. This image is attributed to various recent events which “define the artistic imagination,”3 such as Arco, a contemporary art fair launched in 1982. It is enough to point out that the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía launched its project, although in an incomplete form, in 1986 with a collection from the Museo Español de Arte Contemporaneo (MEAC). It had a celebratory spirit which complicated the visibility of critical positions in the face of the spectacularization of the implemented cultural projects. The cultural productions developed through the hegemonic discourse of the Transition will “renew”—through artistic movements as well, like the one labeled “Movida madrileña” (“the Madrid scene”)—the image of the nation as a modern, transgressive Spain, to a large extent neutralizing the transformative power of other practices.

La Movida would also become one of the key terms for the transitional period. Defined as a “sociological phenomenon which transcends its mere artistic meaning,”4 la Movida would bring together very different cultural agents which carried out their activities mainly in Madrid during the national government of Unión de Centro Democrático, UCD the Union of the Democratic Center (Spanish: “the Union of the Democratic Center”)5 and the Socialist Party in the city’s town hall.6 They are a diverse and controversial collective of practices and characters—including names like Pedro Almodóvar and Alberto García-Alix—which have gradually created abroad the image-brand of a “renewed” country. This movement also contained the practices of counterculture movements themselves, and would be characterized in cinema, literature, music, and visual arts by its use of extreme transgressive attitudes in the face of the ultraconservative values implanted during the dictatorship. Although this movement was to a large extent behind the implementation of a collectively imagined “other” in contrast with Francoist national Catholicism, it eventually became almost the “style” of the Transition, capitalizing on “a historic era whose fundamental project is to erase the immediate past to be able thus to think about and live through the democratic transition as a moment of foundation and origin, without hindrance from its predecessor.”7

Without getting into an evaluation of the culture producted by la Movida—many of its protagonists and its promoters never identified with this classification, and probably not with its effects either—it would in fact become one of the hegemonic cultural policies—very profitable for the media—in the nation’s transformation period. Paradoxically (or maybe not) it was precisely the right-wing government of the Community of Madrid which recently paid homage to the Movida—whose 25th anniversary in 2006 almost coincided with the passing of the aforementioned Law of Historical Memory, criticized by the representatives of the same political group.


1 / Law 52/2007 of December 26, in which rights were recognized and extended, and measures taken in favor of those who suffered persecution or violence during the Civil War and the Dictatorship, Official Bulletin of the State no. 310. Thursday, December 27, 2007.

2 / Law 52/2007.

3 / Alberto López Cuenca, “ARCO y la visión mediática del mercado del arte en la España de los ochenta,” Desacuerdos 1: Sobre arte, políticas y esfera pública en el Estado español, ed. Arteleku-Diputación Foral de Guipúzcoa, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona and UNIA arteypensamiento, Barcelona 2004. See also Jorge Luis Marzo, “Política cultural del gobierno español en el exterior (2000–2004),” Desacuerdos 2: Sobre arte, políticas y esfera pública en el Estado español, ed. Arteleku-Diputación Foral de Guipúzcoa, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona and UNIA arteypensamiento, Barcelona 2005.

4 / Juan Pablo Wert, La movida madrileña: creatividad libre y fundamentación de un sistema artístico normalizado durante la transición política española, Arteleku Public Art Center, (accessed January 17, 2009).

5 / The UCD is a political party created in 1977 which included different political parties during the Transition. Led by the then President of the government Adolfo Suárez, it governed from 1977 to 1982, the year of the first socialist government.

6 / The socialist mayor of Madrid, Enrique Tierno Galván, remained in the government from the first democratic elections in 1979 until his death in 1986. A doctor of philosophy and of law, and chair of constitutional rights, he was a key figure of the period. The author of numerous works, he also translated the work of authors such as Ludwig Wittgenstein into Spanish.

7 / Cristina Moreiras, La realidad in-visible y la espectacularización ‘(inter)nacionalista’ de la movida madrileña: el caso de la fotografía, Arteleku Public Art Center, (accessed January 17, 2009).