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July 1945: Franco fixes the rights, liberties and duties of Spaniards

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About six years after his victory in the Spanish Civil War (July 18th, 1936-April 1st, 1939), on June 30th, 1945 Generalissimo Francisco Franco signed in Madrid the third of seven Fundamental Laws of the Realm (Leyes Fundamentales del Reino) under his rule, which was approved by the Legislative on July 17th and came into effect the next day.

They were a set of de facto constitutional laws organizing the structures in the new State created on the ruins of the defeated leftist republic. Rather than a constitution, the laws were fueros, a distinctly Spanish legal concept dating back to medieval times, as they had not been developed or approved by elected representatives.

Complemented by other norms of minor range that defined some limits, the Fuero de los Españoles fixed the rights, liberties and duties of the Spanish people, while real power remained with Franco as head of state.

As a special characteristic, it referred to the individual protected by the Fuero using the term “Spaniard” and not “citizen”, establishing norms directed at a distinctive national group.

Less than a year after his death on November 20th, 1975, during the transition period from authoritarian to democratic rule, the Spanish Parliament adopted an eighth law with the same status as the others on November 18th, 1976.

This law established the minimum conditions for the election by universal suffrage of new Cortes Generales, a bicameral legislative chamber that consists of the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. It was approved shortly afterwards by referendum on December 15th.

The existing legal system was used to create a parliamentary monarchy. Therefore, the last one ultimately became the basis for revoking all the old main ones. Minor laws originating from these were later reformed, but basically remained valid.

Article 2 asked for loyalty to the fatherland and the head of state as well as for obedience to the law. Article 6 declared Spain to be a confessional State, Catholicism to enjoy official protection and that ceremonies or external manifestations by any other religion wouldn’t be permitted.

Article 10 stated the right of all Spaniards to participate in representative public functions through the family, the municipality and the (vertical) labor union. Parties weren’t explicitly mentioned. Article 12 encouraged the free expression of all those ideas that didn’t contradict the principles of the State.

In article 22 the State recognized and protected families, founded on the indissolubility of matrimony, as a natural institution and the base of society, especially larger ones.

Although private property was recognized and protected by the State in Article 30, all of its forms remained subordinated to national necessities and public good. Article 33 was a reminder that the exercise of these rights couldn’t undermine the spiritual, national and social unity of Spain.

Article 35 indicated that rights like the confidentiality of correspondence, the freedom to choose residency all over Spain, the inviolability of the home, the freedom of assembly and the protection against arbitrary detention could temporally be suspended, totally o partially, by a decree-law which defined the range and lengths of such measures.

Critics noted that it was a cosmetic device that failed to establish Franco’s democratic credentials with those powers that had just defeated Spain’s former allies Germany and Italy in World War II. Diplomatic isolation lasted for almost a decade, until the Cold War played into Franco’s hands.

By all means, it rallied support for the regime and strengthened national unity when the wounds of the fratricidal war were still very fresh. This should be remembered in times when the break-up of Spain is becoming a realistic option thanks to ruthless separatist forces.

Spain in any case looked less autocratic, and even if it was just an intent to convey the impression of formal democratization to the outer world, the “organic democracy” based on Stoicism that had been installed in July 1942 served the country very well for another three decades.

Instead of a Constitution, from 1945 until after Franco’s death, the Fuero de los Españoles fixed rights, liberties and duties in Spain.

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