This text was prepared only a year ago as part of the Introduction to an edited book provisionally titled 'Spain in Europe: Not the same as it was?'. The frantic dynamics of events has made the book already obsolete (and unpublishable). Yet the topic makes now worldwide front-pages so these words may help thinking and understanding what is going on.
Some aspects of Spain’s current crisis have their roots as dating back as far as two-centuries ago. The modern history of Spain is different from other European powers to a great extent because Spain was both very early in losing its overseas colonies and late in joining the European Union. As is well known, Spain had once been a great imperial power whose dominions expanded through Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa. But in contrast to the colonies of most European powers, most Spanish territories declared independence very early, during the first half of the nineteenth century. Spain was defeated by Great Britain and by France, as well as by the newly emerging United States at the end of the century.
For many decades Spain remained critically isolated from the rest of the world. A series of internal revolutions, coups d’etat, civil wars and dictatorships punctuated the trajectory of the country from the early nineteenth century on. For some foreign visitors of the time, “Africa began at the Pyrenees”. By the late 19th century the Conservative leader and Prime Minister Antonio Canovas del Castillo, apparently depressed by the erratic turnabouts of the country, quipped that “Spaniards are those who cannot be anything else”.
Already in the 1910s a Spanish philosopher, speaking for many, summarized that “Spain was the problem and Europe, the solution”. But Europe ended at the Pyrenees for a long while. Spain did not participate in either of the two World (actually mostly European) Wars, while it was engulfed in its own internal conflicts. When the European Community was founded in the 1950s, Spain, subsided then by dictatorial rule, was disqualified as a potential member. As most European states began to lose their colonial empires overseas --partly as a consequence of their own rivalry and conflicts--, they began to build a kind of internal, continental empire among themselves for economic and military cooperation. The fading of most of the European colonial empires overlapped in time with the building of the European Union (actually such colonies as French Algeria or the Belgian Congo, among others, were European Community territory before obtaining their independence). With this, most European states were saved from continuous inter-state wars and further mutual destruction. In contrast, Spain, long-deprived of the Americas and excluded from Europe, went whither for a long time like a castaway between two empires.