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Spain emerges shaken but intact

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The drama played out in Madrid was a 17-hour cliff-hanger from which Spain's youthful constitution democracy has emerged intact -- if understandably shaken. For a brief interlude the stark passions, so much a part of Spain's rich history, burst loose from the extreme near-fascist right in a vain effort to demolish at gunpoint the parliamentary system painstaking put together over the past five years under the enlightened patronage of King Juan Carlos. But the system held, with the young King again in a key role in support of it.

The frustrated right-wingers set on putting the clock back saw an opening for themselves in the growing awareness across the board in Spain that democracy carries with it what can often seem liabilities and disadvantages.

For example:

* The recent devolution of power from the once all- powerful center to autonomous local governments in Catalonia, the Basque region, and Galicia can seem to the authoritarian-inclined as the beginning of the breakup of the splendid Spain of Philip and Isabella. It has led Andalusians to press (still unsuccesfully) for parallel autonomy, and a handful of revolutionary Basque separatists persists in terrorism despite the concessions granted their region.

* Against the background of a worsening Spanish economy as a whole, regional autonomy for Catalonia and the Basque region has disturbed much of the rest of Spain on economic rather than political grounds. The reason? It raises the question of division of the national pie, since Catalonia and the Basque region (together with Madrid) have the highest per capita incomes in the country.

* The recognition of languages other than Castilian Spanish in the autonomous regions runs counter to a tradition zealously protected by the conservative right and again raises the specter of the disintegration of "holy" Spain.

* The general liberalizing of society inevitably accompanying the introduction of democracy after 39 years of Franco's authoritarianism and censorship has opened the door to the spread of the permissiveness and pornography, so much a feature of the rest of the Western world over the past two decades.

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