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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Southern Europe after World War II

Southern Europe
During the 1970s and 1980s, the nations of southern Europe underwent major political changes. Italy, once one of the more stable European nations, experienced almost constant political turmoil. At the same time, Spain, Portugal, and Greece returned to democratic forms of government.

Italy. The world economic recession of the early 1970s hit Italy especially hard. For much of the decade, unemployment levels soared and inflation was rampant. During the same period, the country’s political system experienced a great deal of turmoil. None of the more than 14 political parties could gain a majority in the Italian parliament, so governments had to be formed through coalitions. Since few of these coalitions lasted very long, little could be done to lessen the country’s severe political and economic problems. Late in the decade, Italy experienced a wave of terrorism. These acts of terrorism only added to Italy’s problems.

Italy’s situation improved greatly during the 1980s. By the mid-1980s, the power of the terrorist cells had largely been broken. The economy took off after the introduction of a number of free-enterprise reforms.

By 1994, Italy ranked eighth among all industrialized nations and fourth among the countries of the European Economic Community. Its economy, however, remained burdened by a huge national debt. Moreover, a marked social division existed between Italy’s prosperous, industrialized north and the poor, mostly rural south.

In the mid-1990s, however, Italy continued to face serious political instability. Corruption scandals, particularly some that involved organized crime, racked the government. By 1997, the implementation of reforms, begun in 1994 concerning the allotment of seats in parliament, had lent Italy at least some measure of stability.

Spain. During the 1970s, Spain made the transition from dictatorship to democracy. On the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, Juan Carlos became king. Juan Carlos immediately set about the task of returning Spain to democracy. In 1977, Spain held its first free elections in more than 40 years. In those elections, moderate political parties led by socialists won the majority of the seats in the Cortes, or parliament. Spain’s new democracy was not yet secure, however. In 1981 a group of army officers tried to seize control of the government. Although the attempt failed, it demonstrated the fragility of democratic government.

Other challenges to Spain’s new democracy included the questions of Basque separatism and of economic development. The Basque people, who possess a distinct language and culture and inhabit a region in Spain’s mountainous northwest, have long sought independence from Spain. In 1980, they won self-government within Spain, but some remained unsatisfied. The Basque separatist group, ETA, demanded complete independence and resorted to the use of terrorism throughout the 1980s.

Spain also faced the same economic problems that confronted many other European nations: high levels of unemployment and inflation. One way in which Spanish leaders sought to improve the economy was through trade. In 1986, Spain joined the European Economic Community. Although the issue of Basque separatism lingered and economic problems persisted, in the mid-1990s Spain remained democratic and numbered among the leading economic powers of Western Europe.

Portugal. Like its Spanish neighbor, Portugal also made the transition from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1900s. Ironically, the process began with a military coup. In 1974, army officers led by General

Antonio de Spinola ousted the dictator Marcello Caetano. Spinola quickly granted independence to most of Portugal’s remaining colonies, including Angola and Mozambique. Spinola then resigned, after calling for elections. Portugal grappled with serious economic and political instability over the next several years. In 1986, Portugal joined the European Economic Community. At the same time, the government introduced a series of free-enterprise reforms. These measures helped spur economic growth and reinforce the stability of Portugal’s democracy into the 1990s.

Greece. During the late 1900s, Greece entered a period of political uncertainty. From 1967 to 1974, a repressive military junta ruled Greece. Its interference in the affairs of Cyprus led to its downfall. In 1974, Greek voters chose to make Greece a republic rather than restore the monarchy. In 1981 they elected a socialist government, which implemented various social reforms. Although a more conservative government in the 1990s promised closer cooperation with the West, Greece remained at odds with many Western governments.


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