G is for Golpe de Estado 23-F 1981

I don’t know how it happened.

This year I missed the anniversary – maybe I was out for most of the day and busy all afternoon, but I missed the anniversary of one of the scariest days of Spanish democracy and just when I was getting to writing about the event for the AtoZ book, I realised. It’s gone, I missed it.

Adolfo Suarez, who had been at the head of Spain’s new democracy since 1976, resigned in 1981 feeling like he was losing the support of the people. He was passing on the role of president on 23rd February 1981 to Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo, when suddenly, there was some noise outside the Congress building. Some commotion, a bit of noise and then this guy with a mustache and a military hat oh wait, and a gun in his hand, came into the hall and said

Todos al suelo.

Nobody knew what was going on – was it a stunt? Indeed, if you look now at the footage, he looks like a clown but then it was really scary. I can tell you, cause I was 9 and I was watching it on TV. (In his book, Calvo Sotelo says that he actually thought it was a group of terrorists dressed up as guardias civiles that had entered the building.)T is also for Tejero, he was “that guy”. The sense of parody increases Gutierrez Mellado (part of the military himself and Minister of Defense at the time), stands up against them and you can see they don’t have a clue about how to react. Luckily they just pushed him around a bit, instead of shooting him in the head.

This military coup kept Spain breathless for one day. The mother of one of my school friends, who was foreign, called my house to ask for advice. What should she do? Send the kids to school the next day? Keep them at home? What was going on?

Luckily, the King stepped up. He asked the Spanish population to back democracy. Luckily, the military did too.

Do watch the videos: the first one has about 30 seconds of normality, making it all ever so powerful. The second one has the commentary of the journalist – even if you don’t understand what he’s saying, you’ll hear the panic in his voice as he sees the machine-guns come out.


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