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Spain History
Spain History -
For five centuries from 218 BC, Spain was under the rule of the Romans, and who left remnants of their culture throughout the country. Spain then came under the rule of the Visigoths, who rapidly integrated with the inhabitants until they were driven north by the invading Arabs. Muslim culture soon established itself, most notably in the south, where the region centred on Cordoba and Granada became a hub of Arabic culture and learning. The evidence of Arabic influence is still strong, particularly in the wealth of remaining Moorish architecture.

During the Middle Ages, Christianity gradually gained ground. Many kingdoms including Aragon, Castile, Navarre, Leon and Portugal, were established, most of them constantly at war.

The spirit of Reconquista, the fierce flame that burned throughout so much of the medieval period (roughly comparable to the Islamic concept of Jihad or holy war), produced heroes, legend, folklore, staggering architectural achievements and great acts of bravery and chivalrous folly. After centuries of intermittent fighting finally there was a triumph for Christianity.

In 1469, Ferdinand and Isabella, respectively King of Aragon and Queen of Castile, then the two most powerful kingdoms in Iberia, united by marriage – captured Granada, the last Muslim stronghold on the peninsula. The same year saw Columbus’ discovery of America, financed by Castile, and the beginning of Spain’s Golden Age as the centre of the far-flung Habsburg Empire of Charles V (Charles, or Carlos I of Spain).

The reign of Philip II during the late-16th century was also one of the most artistically fertile in the country’s history, with Cervantes, El Greco, Lope de Vega and Velazquez coming to prominence during this time. The Habsburg monarchy became progressively less able to deal with the serious political and economic problems of its empire during the 17th century, and the dynasty reached its nadir under the inept rule of King Carlos II. There was a revival under the Bourbons, notably Carlos III, but the late 18th and early 19th centuries saw Spain suffering from the protracted drain of the Napoleonic wars and internal political vendettas. The abdication of King Alfonso XIII in 1931 brought into being a left-wing republic.

This was short-lived and was effectively crushed by General Franco in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. His fascist regime lasted until his death in 1975, when the monarchy was restored. By March 1978, a democratic constitutional monarchy had been set in place.

During the 1980s and the early-1990s, domestic politics were dominated by the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Socialist Party), under the leadership of Felipe Gonzalez, an archetype of the new generation of Spanish socialists who favoured pragmatism and technocratic development in favour of ideology. The Socialists won four consecutive elections from 1982 onwards. Their main achievement in office was to establish Spain as a valuable and enthusiastic member of the European Union, which it joined in 1986 and from which it has benefited considerably. Spanish ratification of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union was completed in November 1992 and the single European currency was adopted upon its inception in January 1999. Gonzalez also took Spain into NATO in 1982 and continued membership was confirmed in a referendum held in 1986.

Corruption scandals fuelled growing popular disillusionment with the PSOE, and during the early 1990s, it was able to govern only in coalition with Basque and Catalan regional parties.

The withdrawal of the Catalan from the government precipitated an early general election in March 1996. At this point, the Spanish nation overcame its distrust of the right, a legacy of the civil war, and the PSOE was replaced as the largest party in the Cortes by the right-wing Partido Popular (Popular Party) under Jose Maria Aznar.

After initial difficulties, the new government found its feet after several years in office and became a confident and reasonably competent administration. The expected outcome, a third consecutive term for the PP, was dramatically undermined in the aftermath of a horrific terrorist attack 3 days before the poll. A co-ordinated series of bombings of Madrid commuter trains claimed 200 lives and many more were injured. The Spanish government immediately blamed the Basque separatist group ETA (see below), although there were strong indications that Islamic extremists were responsible. It held to this position over the following days, even as evidence of al-Qaeda’s involvement mounted. This appears to have had a crucial bearing on the election result as voters registered their anger at the PP government’s apparent dissembling to gain electoral advantage. Many also felt that Spain’s official support for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and to which the vast majority of Spaniards were opposed, had provoked the attack. The PSOE (Socialist Party) forms the new government under party leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Territorial problems have taxed successive Spanish governments, especially the Basque province and Gibraltar. Governments of both complexions have pursued a hard line against the Basque separatist paramilitary organisation, ETA. After undertaking spectacular attacks in its early years, notably the assassination of premier Admiral Carrero in 1973, ETA’s campaign has gradually been diminished by internal splits and attrition by the security forces. But while the Socialists were prepared to explore political options, the previous Azna government resolutely refused to seek any accommodation and was solely interested in a security-based resolution of the conflict. The pro-independence party, Herri Batasuna, which is seen by Madrid as the political affiliate of ETA, was banned by the Madrid government in 2002, after operating legally since the early 1980s. The political consequences of this are unpredictable and, although ETA has been relatively inactive of late, the organisation has been erroneously written off before.

The problem of Gibraltar has proved just as intractable, for very different reasons. A British colony since the 19th century, Gibraltar’s single-minded attachment to the UK has consistently frustrated the most inventive schemes of the London and Madrid governments to resolve its status. The Spanish have a similar historical anomaly of their own, in the form of the Ceuta and Melilla enclaves on the north coast of Morocco, along with a group of tiny island possessions. One of these latter, Perejil, became the subject of an odd, almost comical dispute between the Spanish and Moroccan governments in late 2002. Relations between Spain and Morocco have since thawed and both governments now plan a sub-Mediterranean tunnel linking them. Spain’s wider historical relations with the Arab world have been somewhat set back, however, by Spain’s keen support for the Anglo-American invasion in Iraq in 2003. Across the Atlantic, Spain naturally enjoys substantial and deep-rooted ties with the Spanish-speaking nations of Latin America.