The coup d’état of February 23, 1981 was the most important warning that the project that was then underway in Spain could fail, but the young democracy managed to stop it and showed that it had come to stay. Despite its weaknesses, and in a context of severe crisis – the ruling party was breaking down, the economic situation was bad, terrorism was hitting viciously, society was disenchanted – the institutions endured the riot and the head of state, When the Legislative and Executive powers were kidnapped in Congress by the civil guards of Tejero, he acted decisively and his initiatives served to stop the attack. King Juan Carlos knew how to transmit with determination to the military leadership that his duty was to defend the Constitution, he favored the coordination of different teams that immediately organized to ward off the rebellion and he addressed the Spanish on television to make it clear that democracy was not she was going to be defeated. And it was not defeated.
Much has been written about what happened on 23-F and the version defended by the extreme right to justify its failure has been reinforced by other sectors, both from the left and from nationalist circles, who have found enough shrapnel in their arguments to discredit the democracy that in those days finally settled. Since they took their first steps, the coup plotters tried to convey the idea that the King supported their initiative, in order to add support that could be decisive in this way, and even when the conduct of the head of state drastically denied that false lure, it has remained there as a a ruse that favors the readings that some celebrate so much of a failed conspiracy. There was no such. The most rigorous historians have accredited this when reconstructing those hours of immense unease: King Juan Carlos knew that his place was on the side of the Constitution and he put all the mechanisms at his fingertips to guarantee his survival.
Those nostalgic for Francoism have found in the critics of the current parliamentary monarchy a disturbing complicity when it comes to reinventing what happened 40 years ago today. It is very tempting to tell yourself the past in black and white and use it in the present to side with the chosen ones for a cause, whatever it may be. The current discredit of Juan Carlos I favors an emotional reading of those dramatic moments that serve to erode the current democracy. With its many imperfections, however, it is the one that has guaranteed during these last 40 years – in addition to much progress – the freedoms that even allow some to question it today in such a radical way.
Unfortunately, several parties will be absent from the commemorative event. It is difficult to understand the reasons why they decline to participate in the memory of the collective victory of the Democrats in the face of the brutal coup. Criticism is, in a democracy, always welcome. That is precisely why it is important to celebrate that the 23-F coup failed. And that the Constitution won.