Today is the 29th anniversary of the failed coup attempt in Spain. It's not news. Literally: I see no references to it in the Spanish papers this morning. It got plenty of attention back in 2006, at the time of the 25th anniversary, and it will get a little attention next year, but time goes by, and this too fades from public consciousness. Last year I read a truly wonderful book (Anatomía de un instante) on this event by novelist Javier Cercas. Cercas' book makes for fascinating reading and had, for me anyway, a wonderful pendular quality to it: a narration of expansive detail which in turn leads to reflections on big questions, such as the nature of history. For example, is history a question of huge, abstract forces beyond the grasp of individuals? I believe not! Decisions made by individuals at particular moments in particular circumstances make huge differences. Cercas certainly makes a good argument for that belief. His review of the behavior of the protagonists in the "23F" episode, as the coup attempt is known in Spain, makes a convincing case that things could have turned out very differently were it not for very small acts performed and decisions made by individuals at specific moments. His interpretation of Juan Carlos' role is especially interesting. In Cercas' reading, which I find quite convincing, the King is both villain and hero. How's that? Well, the King's statements (and silences!) in the months preceding the coup attempt contributed greatly to creating conditions that encouraged the golpistas. Then, on the night of February 23rd, the King "saved the day" for democracy by very explicitly not endorsing the coup. He found some redemption.
Do we learn from our mistakes? Maybe a little, but whose to say the pessimists are not largely justified by events all around us? And what will historians say about the unfolding of our presidential election in 2000? Were we, as we say in Spanish, "up to the circumstances"? (In the photo, an infamous image of an assault on democracy.)