1968 in Spain
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Introduction to 1968
The why of the events happening in 1968 has been debated over the past years. Several individual building blocks came together that year. One is that Europe had to do with an unusual surge in births after WW2, creating a large age demographic that were teenagers by the time 1960 came knocking. Second was the new awareness that for the parents the happiness of their children was important to others. Also the lowering of the threshold for a higher (public) education (Universities became accesable for much larger group) played a part. Technical innovations also were of influence. TV formed a window to the World previous generations did not have. TV also brought events like the Vietnam War and public events like the Civil Rights March to the living room. Cheap recordplayers offered the opportunity for musical artists to reach out to an enormous audience. Add that to growing unemployment and economical difficulties and you’ll have the ingredients for revolution

What was it all about in Spain

At this time in Spain the regime established by Franco was firm in place. The Spanish Civil War and WWII firmly rooted out any leftwing sentiments there were (or so he thought). A right winged military dictatorship, Spain saw its political parties banned, except for the official party (Falange). He also banned labor unions, and forbade any political display. The late 1950s were a period of economic and political change in Spain: the Franco regime ended its policy of economic autarky and Francoist Spain was admitted to the United Nations, which required the government to improve its image abroad. During the Cold War Franco's strong anti-communism naturally tilted its régime to ally with the United States. Franco's Spanish nationalism promoted a unitary national identity by repressing Spain's cultural diversity. In an attempt to establish this national homogeneity he used language politics thus abolishing the official statute and recognition for the Basque, Galician, and Catalan languages. However, by 1967 things were stirring at the universitie in Madrid inspired by the events happening in Paris, France. A New Left movement started to form and illegal meetings take place (resulting in the labormovement Comisiones Oberas and the New Student Party). The Minister of Education, Manuell Loratamayo takes action by closing the university, confiscating students’ admission fees and forcing them to reapply for admission (excluding the culprits of course). This leads to violent demonstrations in Madrid on January 11, 1968. Busses are overturned and students throw stones at the firefighters. A day later the 5 leaders of the Comisiones Oberas are sentenced to imprisonment for participating in illegal meetings. This does not stop regular outbreaks of protest in Madrid, with the vibe slowly spreading to universities in Barcelona, Seville, Bilbao and Santiago. Students demonstrate against the ‘grey’, the ‘political and social’ police but since too open critique againts Franco was dangerous the movement also focussed on the U.S., their military bases in Spain and the Vietnam war.

In March a bomb explodes outside the U.S. embassy in Madrid. Violent retaliations by the regime are the result. Later that month 1,000 workers hold a rally to protest government measures against the students. The workers carry posters reading, “The Yankees out of Spain” and “Yankee Bases Get Out of Spain and the World!”. Fearing more protests the regime warns workers against May Day demonstrations and the police are in state of emergency. The next day, despite the government’s warning, several demonstrations are arranged by workers in Madrid and in other Spanish cities. The mass mobilizations are arranged by distribution of pamphlets. It is the first May Day protest by the Spanish workers against Franco since the Civil War. The demonstrations again are violently struck down. On the 19th of May more than 5,000 students participate in a concert with the Catalan protest singer Raimon at the Faculty of Social Science and Economics at the University of Madrid. Leaflets against Franco are spread during the concert. Again violence and by this time it begins to attract the attention of international media. Franco is getting nervous and when the newspaper Madrid publishes an article about French president de Gaulle he sees that as an attack on himself by proxy. He bans the newspaper but forgets that it was published by the Catholic organization Opus Dei. Thus bringing the Catholic Church and the Vatican into the discussion. In need of some positive P.R. Spain unexpectaly wins the Eurovision song contest on April 6. The day after Franco gives concessions to the students and permission to establish representative bodies at three of the nation’s universities. A month later a signed letter by 168 journalists protesting against the restriction on the press under the Press Law and a plea by the Arch Bishop makes Franco to cut some slack on the press. These actions make the dust settle a bit in most parts of the country. But not in the Basque part of Spain where things took a grim turn when the ETA commits its first confirmed killing on June 7, 1968, when Guardia Civil, José Pardines Arcay was shot dead when he tried to halt ETA member Txabi Etxebarrieta during the course of a routine road check. Etxebarrieta was chased down and killed as he tried to flee. This led to retaliation in the form of the first planned ETA assassination, that of Melitón Manzanas, chief of the secret police in San Sebastián and associated with a long record of tortures inflicted on detainees in his custody. And so started a wave of violent terrorism that would last decades.

The impact in music

After WW2 Franco’s nationalistic course was that of an unitary national identity by repressing Spain's cultural diversity.  A softening of that course in 1960 gave room for new cultural projects. In Catalonia the Nova Cançó movement emerged focussing on Catalonian song and culture. In 1961, the record label Edigsa and the cultural organization Òmnium Cultural were founded. The Benidorm International Song Festival,founded in 1959 in Benidorm, became an early venue where musicians could perform contemporary music for Spanish audiences. This was followed by a wave of similar music festivals in places like Barcelona, Majorca and the Canary Islands. In 1963, at the Festival de la Canción Mediterránea, Catelan singer-songwriter Raimon appeared together with Salomé, who gave a feminine interpretation of the love song ‘Se'n va anar’. The song won first prize. From that moment, Catalan song, considered up to then a minority phenomenon of little consequence, began to receive the attention of the censors and of the institutions of the Franquistas, with the host of prohibitions that accompanied them. The EP release of ‘Se'n va anar’ featured three other tunes: the existential ‘Disset anys’, ‘Cançó del capvespre’ (Raimon's first setting of a poem of Salvador Espriu) and ‘O Ahir’, quickly known by its subtitle ‘Diguem no’. The song was a clear socialist protest against the political situations in World (as well as Spain): “We have seen the fear / become law for all / We have seen the hunger / of the workers / We have been locked in prison / men full of reason / I say no / We are not of that world.”. For live performances Raimon had to alter the  lyrics  and soften its overtly political message. Much later, Raimon confessed that he wanted to put ‘Se'n va anar’ and ‘Diguem no’ together because, if they banned the disc, they would ban the both of them. Raimon gathered much acclaim abroad and performed in Mexico, Germany, Switzerland, Cuba and the Paris Olympia. In 1968 he released the single ‘Indesinenter’ (a setting of a poem of Espriu) with the biting lyrics: We knew a single master / and we've seen how / he became a dog / Degraded by his stomac / by flattery to his stomach / by fear / he cowers under the whip / in foolish oblivion of the right / he has..”.  No wonder that his recital, at the University of Madrid caused serious trouble. Meanwhile, in a strange twisted way of charming the negative sentiments perhaps, the regime asked the other flagbearer of the Nova cançó movement, Joan Manuel Serrat, to represent Spain for the Eurovision.  He wrote ‘La, la, la’ in Catalan, to which the Spanish authorities would not agree. Defiantly, Serrat refused to sing the Spanish-language version, and was hurriedly replaced by Massiel. As a result, Serrat's songs were banned from radio and his records burned in the streets. Massiel won the contest in April but in recent years it is rumoured the contest was rigged in an attempt by Franco to turn the spiral of protest in Spain and polish his internationally damaged image. Officially this is never confirmed. Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the musical counterpart of the Nova cançó, the new Basque music was formed. Poet and songwriter Mikel Laboa founded the cultural group Ez Dok Amairu ("There is no 13"), which sought to revitalize Basque culture. His song ‘Txoria txori’ (A bird is a bird) was covered by Joan Baez using the original Basque lyrics. But even pop-acts singing in plain Spanish dared to put hidden textual twists in their songs like on Los Brincos’ ‘Contraband’ which featured songs like ‘El paseporte’ and ‘Nadie te quiere ya’ (Nobody wants you now). .

What happened next?

Contrary to most 1968 events the movement did get some results in Spain. Franco’s regime appeared out of obligation and international pressure to open itself to modernity. The restrictions on language are somewhat loosened (although behind closed doors censorship stays common practice), students get more rights, women can become local councillors, the press has a few more inches to move and negotiations between the Spanish government and United States about renewal of the base agreement are posponed. 1968 is also the year when the crown prince was born. The events saw Franco forced to finally announce in 1969 that Juan Carlos de Borbón would be his official successor. He waited with that decission since 1947. With the death of Franco on 20 November 1975, Juan Carlos became the King of Spain. He immediately began the process of a transition to democracy, ending with Spain becoming a constitutional monarchy articulated by a parliamentary democracy. For some regions the wait would be too long. The Basque ETA would stir regurarly with the most significant assassination being Operación Ogro, the 1973 bomb assassination in Madrid of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, Franco's chosen party successor and prime minister. After Franco’s death the ETA continued and intensified their violent struggle. The years 1978–80 were to prove ETA's most deadly, with 68, 76, and 98 fatalities, respectively. With it they placed Basque sung music into a difficult anarchistic limelight as well.

In 1974 Mikel Laboa was finally able to get his songs recorded and released on an album called ‘Bat-H-Iru’. In the new century the album was chosen in a reader poll by the local Diario Vasco newspaper as the greatest Basque album in history, emphasizing the importance it had on the local population. Meanwhile Serrat felt forced to record an album in Spanish. He again taunted the regime by basing the entire album on poems by Antonio Machado. Machado had been a leading figure of the Spanish literary and also was a dedicated socialist and republican. During the Spanish Civil War, he fled from Madrid to Barcelona. Finally, as Franco closed in on the last Republican strongholds, he was obliged to move across the French border to Collioure were he died a year later. His last poem was ‘Estos días azules y este sol de infancia’. At the turn of the decade (60 - 70) Franco kept sending curious entries to the Eurovision. In 1969 he again chose for a Catalan singer. This time Salomé performed ‘Vivo Cantando’, composed by Maria José Cerato and Aniano Alcalde, and wins. In 1973 the Basque Mocedades represented Spain with ‘Eres tu’. But recording and releasing in Spain would become almost impossible for Raimon, unless he conformed to the regime. He chose to record in France releasing several albums from across the border. Spain had to wait untill 1976 when La Movida Madrileña started the new era in Spanish pop and rock before the strangling grip on popular culture loosened..