Twenty-five years for democratic rule.

Spain yesterday celebrated the 25th anniversary of the birth of its modern democracy, which brought modernisation and prosperity after 40 years of right-wing dictatorship under Francisco Franco. Parliament opened its doors to the public on Saturday to conmemorate the elections of June 15, 1977, which took the Union of the Democratic Centre (UCD) to power and installed Adolfo Suarez as the first prime minister of the modern era. “The first word which comes to mind when remembering June 15 is joy. We approached the date with a party atmosphere. It was a Wednesday and a sunny day. There was a feeling that everything was new,” said Gabriel Cisneros, a veteran member of parliament and one of the fathers of Spain's 1978 Constitution. More than 18 million Spaniards went to the polls in 1977, 19 months after the death of Franco, in a peaceful vote which led to the representation of 13 parties in parliament. The UCD won 165 seats, with the Socialist Party (PSOE) emerging as the second strongest force with 102 seats. Its young leader, Felipe Gonzalez, was later destined to win election three times as prime minister. The Communist Party, legalised only two months earlier, won 16 seats, with a handful of regional parties, which had also been banned under Franco, picking up more than 20 seats. “The campaign was very peaceful. At rallies, the speeches were more educational than confrontational. There was a spirit of cooperation among politicians which was essential for the success of the democratic process,” Cisneros told Reuters. The country observed the anniversary as the opposition accused Spain's current, centre-right Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of abusing his parliamentary majority to push through tough labour legislation and political reforms. Union leaders have called a general strike for next week, a day before Uuropean Union leaders meet in the southern city of Seville to mark the end of Aznar's EU presidency. The return to democracy, repressed after Franco's victory in the 1936-1939 civil war, brought an end to Spain's isolation from its European neighbours and ushered in a period of greater social freedom in the conservative Catholic country. It paved the way for Spain's entry into the European Community in 1986 and led to a period of unprecedented prosperity, helped by floods of tourists to the country's coastal resorts which would change Spain forever. “In 1977, Spanish society was modernising and defending its progress and its freedoms. The only archaic thing about the country was its political regime,” said Cisneros. As crowds enthusiastically flocked to see Hollywood hits such as “Rocky” and “Stars Wars”, Spanish film-makers took advantage of the removal of state censorship to embark on a period of experimentation, in which almost any topic was an excuse for actresses to exhibit their breasts.


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