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School of Modern Languages & Cultures
Department of Hispanic Studies


Modern Spain:

Chronology 1939-2008

Some comparisons between dictatorship and democracy in Spain

Key issues in the 2000s


1939 End of the civil war, the Franco government controls the whole of Spain and carries out extensive reprisals against supporters of the Republic.
1939-45 Second World War: Franco negotiates with Hitler, but Spain does not become directly involved.
1946 Spain is excluded from the newly-formed United Nations Organization.
1953-55 A concordat with the Vatican and a military/financial agreement with the USA put an end to Spain’s diplomatic isolation.
1958 The beginning of a process of economic reform and ‘stabilization’ designed to encourage investment, industrialization and economic growth.
1959 ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna) founded.
1966 A new Press Law (Ley de Prensa) relaxes the censorship system slightly.
1967 The Organic Law of the State (Ley Orgánica del Estado) establishes the definitive constitutional structure of the regime.
1969 Franco names Prince Juan Carlos de Borbón as his successor.
1973 Assassination of Franco’s Prime Minister, Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco.
1975 Franco dies, Juan Carlos becomes king.
1976 Juan Carlos responds to demands for democratization by appointing Adolfo Suárez as Prime Minister. A political amnesty is declared and a Political Reform Act passed.
1977 Legalization of the Communist Party (Partido Comunista de España). Suárez’s centrist coalition (Unión de Centro Democrático) wins the first democratic elections. Censorship is formally abolished.
1978-79 A new democratic Constitution is agreed and introduced (its provisions include constitutional monarchy, regional autonomy, disestablishment of the Catholic Church). The process of devolving power to the Autonomous Communities (Comunidades Autónomas) is set in motion; Basque and Catalan autonomy becomes effective at the beginning of 1980.
1979 Negotiations begin on the entry of Spain to the EEC.
1981 Suárez resigns as Prime Minister. An attempted military coup (el tejerazo/el 23-F) fails. Divorce is legalized. Spain joins NATO.
1982 The Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español) wins a large majority in the general election — the beginning of 14 years of PSOE government under Felipe González.
1983 First signs of the activities of the Anti-Terrorist Liberation Squads (Grupos Antiterroristas de Liberación — los GAL), later proved to be linked to the government and the police.
1985 Legalization of abortion (under strictly limited conditions).
1986 Spain becomes a member of the European Community. A majority vote in a referendum in favour of remaining in NATO backs the government’s shift from earlier PSOE policy of opposition to Spain’s membership. The PSOE wins its second term of office.
1988 General strike against the government’s economic policies. Licences are issued to the first commercial television companies.
1989 Third election win for PSOE.
1992 Spain hosts three spectacular international events: Expo 92 in Sevilla, the Olympic Games in Barcelona, and Madrid’s year as Cultural Capital of Europe. Expo 92 and other events focus on the quincentenary (Quinto Centenario) of 1492 (Columbus’s first landing in America, the end of Islamic rule and the expulsion of the Jews).
1993 The PSOE wins a general election but without an absolute majority, and is increasingly accused of corruption and abuse of power.
1996 The conservative Partido Popular (led by José María Aznar) wins a narrow general election victory, and depends upon the parliamentary support of the Catalan and Basque nationalist parties.
1999 Spain is one of the EU countries preparing for the introduction of the single currency.
2000 (March) The PP wins a second general election victory, this time with an absolute majority. Plans to reform immigration law and the university system generate intense controversy.
2001 The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), led by Juan José Ibarretxe, wins control of the Basque government for the first time.
2002 The peseta is replaced by the euro. Parliament votes to make the Basque separatist party Batasuna illegal on the grounds that it is connected with ETA.
2003 Aznar's government supports the US-led invasion of Iraq in the face of strong popular opposition in Spain.

2004  (11 March) Bombs planted on commuter trains in and around Madrid kill 191 people. The Government initially suggests that ETA is responsible, but the evidence points to Islamic terrorism and Al-Qaida later claims responsibility. In the general election of 14 March, the PP is unexpectedly defeated by the PSOE and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero becomes Prime Minister. Spanish troops are withdrawn from Iraq. The Basque parliament approves Ibarretxe's proposal for increased autonomy for the Basque Country, provoking a clash with the national government, which regards the plan as unconstitutional.

2005  The government introduces a policy allowing more illegal immigrants to obtain work permits; the foreign population of Spain has more than doubled since 2001 (to more than 3 million, making up 7% of the total population of 43 million). The proposed EU Constitution is approved in a referendum, but the turnout is low (42.3%). Reforms to the Catalan Statute of Autonomy agreed by the Catalan parliament are received warily by the central government (and condemned by the PP as threatening the unity of Spain). Same-sex couples are given the right to marry and adopt children.

2006  Restrictions on smoking in workplaces and other public spaces including bars and restaurants come into force. ETA announces a permanent ceasefire: it has killed more than 800 people since it was founded in 1959 but none since 2003; more than 400 of its activists have been arrested since 2003. However, the ceasefire is broken on 30 December with a car bomb at Barajas airport (Madrid), which kills two people. The reforms to the Catalan Estatut are approved in a watered-down form by the national and Catalan parliaments, and are supported by a large majority in a referendum in Catalonia. The UN publishes figures showing that the number of immigrants in Spain is now 4.8 million (11% of the population), around 4 million more than in 1990. Around 1.5 million of these are from Latin American countries. The government proposes legislation to provide recognition and reparations to the victims of the civil war and Francoist repression, and to remove Nationalist monuments from public places.

2007  The new Catalan Estatut is challenged by the PP in the Constitutional Court. A new Statute of Autonomy for Andalucía is approved in a referendum, but with a turnout of only 36%. A law designed to promote gender equality is passed: it establishes a right to 15 days of paternity leave, a requirement that electoral lists of political parties include at least 40% women, and measures to eliminate discrimination in the workplace. The Government’s decision to release from prison an ETA activist (Iñaki de Juana Chaos) on hunger strike leads to a massive demonstration called by the PP; de Juana had served an 18-year term for murder but was serving a further 3 years for making terrorist threats in newspaper articles.The law popularly known as the Ley de Memoria Histórica is passed on 26 December. It condemns the violence, imprisonment and exile for political reasons suffered during the civil war and the dictatorship; declares sentences passed by Francoist tribunals invalid; makes provision for compensation for victims and their families; recognizes the role of those who fought for democracy during the war and dictatorship; provides support for the identification of bodies in unmarked and mass graves; orders the removal of monuments and plaques glorifying the civil war and dictatorship; and creates a Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica y Archivo General de la Guerra Civil.

2008  Zapatero’s government is re-elected in March. Both the PSOE and the PP slightly increase their number of seats, at the expense of Izquierda Unida and small nationalist parties. Half of the members of the new cabinet are women. The Lisbon Treaty reforming the structure of the EU is ratified by the Spanish parliament in June. More than 5000 same-sex marriages have been celebrated since 2005, but the PP continues to oppose the measure. The Basque parliament’s plan to hold a referendum on independence is blocked by the Tribunal Constitucional. In August, 154 people are killed in a plane crash at Barajas airport.


For recent developments in Spain, see Inside Spain (newsletters written by William Chislett for the Real Instituto Elcano).


Some key points of comparison between the dictatorship
and the constitutional system established after 1975



Democracia orgánica



Monarquía constitucional

Partido único


Unidad nacional

Estado de autonomías, nacionalismos

Una lengua: el español (castellano)

Varias lenguas cooficiales

Estado confesional (catolicismo)

Estado secular

Educación religiosa

Educación laica y democrática

Posición subordinada de la mujer

Igualdad de derechos

Aislamiento diplomático

Integración en OTAN y CE/UE

Autarquía económica > apertura

Economía de mercado, convergencia con UE, globalización

Mando militar

Control civil de las Fuerzas Armadas

Control estatal de la cultura y de la prensa

Libertad de expresión

«España es diferente»

«España va bien»


Main social/political issues in the 2000s:

·         Basque and Catalan nationalism, the consolidation of the structure of the state, and the status of co-official languages

·         European integration (economic and political) and expansion

·         Spain's role in relation to the US-led 'war on terror'

·         The impact of immigration from outside Europe

·         The effectiveness of public services, especially education

·         Guaranteeing human rights (especially of women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities)

·         The impact of technological and economic development (on society and on the environment)

·         Coming to terms with the history of the civil war and the dictatorship (memoria histórica)

·         The role of religion in Spanish society



M.P. Thompson
Updated September 2008

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