At 6.23pm on Monday 23 February 1981, a group of right-wing soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel Antonio Tejero burst into the main hall of the Spanish Parliament building and fired shots into the air. Spain was then at a critical stage in its transition to democracy. Adolfo Suárez, the prime minister appointed by the king after Franco’s death in 1975, had recently announced his resignation, though he was still officially in power, and indeed was presiding that Monday evening over an investiture vote to confirm his successor. Spain’s first years of democracy had been generally untroubled, with Suárez overseeing such important developments as the creation of Spain’s regional autonomies and the legalisation of its Communist Party. But by February 1981, a combination of the country’s economic problems, escalating ETA violence and a general lack of confidence in the government had led to the growing dissatisfaction that came so dramatically to the fore that evening.
The seventeen and a half hours between the storming of the parliament and the release of the deputies at noon the following day were – in the words of Javier Cercas – ‘the most confusing and most decisive … of the last half-century of Spanish history’. Though the