student protest

   Spanish universities were, from the mid-1950s until the demise of Francoism, one of the principal sites of opposition to the dictatorship. The aim of student protest was, first, the democratization of student unions, and ultimately, the democratization of society itself. The events of February 1956, when police and students clashed in the streets of Madrid, were indicative both of the relative vulnerability of the government and of an increasing politicization of students, which facilitated the organization in universities of left-wing and Christian Democrat political groups, simultaneously with the development of worker organizations in the factories.
   The regime saw the universities as an important arena for the attempt to mobilize society in support of Francoist ideology, by means of the Falangedirected Spanish University Syndicate (Sindicato Español Universitario—SEU). The effectiveness of organizations like the SEU was, however, circumscribed by the relative weakness of the ideas it was charged with propagating, and by the changes occurring in Spanish society, which were often experienced initially among the educated young. As a compulsory state party organization, active in supporting the continuation of Francoism and perpetuating the legacy of the Civil War, the SEU gradually became devoid of meaning for those students who composed the post-war generation. From the mid-1950s, university students increasingly defined their personal and political objectives according to criteria far removed from the retrospective triumphalism of Franco's anti-communist "crusade".
   The first major political action by students occurred in 1951, when divisions within the local Falange in Barcelona provided an opportunity for the populace at large, led by university students, to protest at the crippling economic conditions. This set the pattern for future protests: a meeting would be held, from which the SEU representatives would be excluded (or expelled) and demands made of the university Rector. Police intervention would follow, and academic sanctions would be imposed on the instigators and their academic sympathizers. In-variably this would bring renewed protests followed by more violent clashes with the police. The faculty, or the university itself, would then be closed. The increasing rejection by students of the SEU led to its abolition by the regime in 1965. By the late 1960s the government was responding to student protest by declaring states of siege and a virtually continuous occupation of campuses. In the wake of the May events of Paris in 1968, student protest in Spain became increasingly radicalized. Although this radicalization provoked further repression by the regime, the culture of opposition was by then well established in universities, as lecturers and students joined in the wider protest movement calling for democracy. During the transition to democracy, from 1975 to 1982, students were prominent in public demonstrations, such as that called against the attempted military coup in February 1981. Subsequently they participated in other protest movements, such as the campaign against Spain's membership of NATO in 1986. By the late 1980s and the early 1990s, protest tended to concentrate on specifically educational issues, such as overcrowding, fee levels and poor facilities.
   Further reading
   - Maravall, J. (1978) Dictatorship and Political Dissent: Workers and Students in Franco's Spain, New York: St Martin's Press (the only account in English of student protest under Franco).
   - Pérez Díaz, V. (1993) The Return of Civil Society: The Emergence of Democratic Spain, Harvard University Press.
   MICHAEL RICHARDS

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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