The history of Spain is instinct with fraternal malevolence and bloody rifts. The unification of the country was achieved through the eviction of the Moors and the Jews and the distribution of their goods and property to Ferdinand and Isabella’s Christian soldiers. The myth of pura sangre gave a sense of natural entitlement to a population in whose veins the blood of expelled races was likely to remain. Modern, ideological racism began in the 15th century when Spain insisted on social and religious conformity, which was enforced by the Inquisition. The notion of freedom and tolerance was close to heresy. Spain’s rulers, secular and ecclesiastic, fostered a society in which believers prospered and dissenters went, literally, to the wall or to the stake.
Jeremy Treglown’s important, lively and appetisingly varied new book analyses at length, with a wealth of demythologising detail, the sanguinary aftermath of the Spanish Civil War of 1936–9, about which, he makes it clear, there are attitudes and memories so divergent that today’s democracy continues to suffer from sometimes violent schizophrenia. The paradigmatic moment in post-Franco Spain came at 6.23pm on 23 February 1981, when Antonio Tejero, a lieutenant colonel in the Guardia Civil, burst into the Cortes, the Spanish parliament building in Madrid, at the head of a posse of armed men, fired shots into the roof and seemed ready to murder any deputy who failed