The importance of Burgos and the Spanish Democracy

Burgos is one of the principal cities in Spain, it has a large population, a famous cathedral, biting arctic winds that freeze one to the marrow and, at the moment anyway, a town hall where the mayor and his councillors govern with an absolute majority awarded them by the voters of Burgos. Spain has been a democratic country since the death of Franco and the subsequent modelling of the Constitution. It is not a one-party state, nor is it a dictatorship. A democracy requires local or national government given a majority, absolute or minute to keep the peace, obey laws even if they hurt, because the assumption must be that if the people vote overwhelmingly for a party to govern them, they shouldn’t grumble.

The town council spent more than two years talking with citizens’ committees, traffic experts, local opinion makers, unions etc. before announcing they would spend a lot of money on making a main thoroughfare into a pedestrian-only precinct. The ‘Búlevar’, a Castilian rendering of the French word ‘Boulevard’ would follow the same pattern used in many Spanish cities in the Peninsula and the Spanish islands since the early Eighties. In some cases, the pedestrianizing of formerly heavily-trafficked streets has been successful. In others, as for example the town of Puerto de la Cruz on the island of Tenerife, the reform has proven disastrous, with every one of the small businesses formerly making a good living out of being on that street, now permanently closed. This seems to indicate that strolling about on a wide, vehicle-free street does not necessarily encourage buying and selling. On the same island, the town hall at La Laguna has made virtually all the originally popular and populous great streets into pedestrian precincts, converting this ancient cathedral city into a very beautiful ghost town. The only businesses open are bars with terraces, always full.

Following the city fathers’ announcement in Burgos, serious rioting broke out, with attacks made on the police, windows smashed, vehicles rolled over and all the other concomitant horrors so popular with mobs for a thousand years. It seems that agreements reached between the population and town council enjoy no legitimacy in Burgos. In fact what has happened there is the clearest challenge to the Spanish mode of democracy since a group of army officers attempted to change the government by forcibly occupying the Madrid Congreso in February 1981. The situation becomes worse, however, when we learn that the mayor and councillors have backed down and announced that the planned pedestrianizing will not now take place.

I do not intend to go into the rights and wrongs of removing vehicular traffic from key streets. There are sensible people on both sides of that argument. My point is that the ruling party in the Burgos Town Hall was elected democratically by the citizens of Burgos, with the added advantage of an absolute majority. If this wholly legal and elected administration is to be opposed by the usual rent-a-crowd of mostly unemployed trouble-makers (a profession it seems in modern Spain), using violent methods and dire threats, when it holds an absolute majority, then such things are empty, useless and vain. What happened to Spain between 1936 and 1939 started in a similar atmosphere.

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