The meeting which Prime Ministers Aznar and Blair will be holding tomorrow is one more step in the tightening of relations between Spain and the United Kingdom. And this has a special meaning for Spaniards.

In previous generations, young Spaniards at school felt a subtle hatred towards the British, centred above all on the interpretation of history made by the books in the Franco period. The most “painful” point was the defeat of the Invincible Armada of Felipe II, which failed to invade England in the 16th century “because of the storms.” This subtle hatred found its way into sport. When the Spanish national team was playing the English team, pro-Franco radio and television presented it as a “special“ event.

In 1950, when Spain defeated England 1-0 in the World Cup in Brazil, the commentator said “we have conquered perfidious Albion.” In fact, the Franco system used this subtle hatred because it considered the British the chief culprits in the loss of the Spanish Empire. And the Franco regime was established, for domestic consumption, as a movement which suppressed democracy to reconstruct the empire under the dictatorships of Hitler and Mussolini.

But in reality, Franco had no cause to hate the British. In fact, in 1936, he started the war leaving from the Canary Islands for the African colonies in an English plane; the money which he had been given by bankers in case the adventure turned out badly was deposited in an English bank; it was the British government which set up the Non-Intervention Committee which prevented the democracies from helping the Spanish Republic. And the quote from Churchill in that period is famous: “Let the Spaniards stew in their own juice.” But once the Civil War was over, in 1940 Franco thought that Hitler would win World War II and his hatred was kindled. He dreamed of recovering Gibraltar and putting an end to the British Empire.

And this feeling was only mitigated in the Sixties, with the mass arrival of tourists from the United Kingdom which helped mitigate the impoverished Spanish economy.

But this anti-British feeling still persists among Spaniards above the age of 50. And it is good that Aznar and Blair understand one another. They are the future.

Joan Riera

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