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Not a linear progression

Fraga was a player on the Spanish stage for 60 years, and deserves quiet recognition

Manuel Fraga, who died on Sunday at the age of 89, was not as consistent as he always claimed to be. This enabled him to rack up a career that is contradictory enough to deserve quiet recognition now, from citizens of diverse outlook and ideology. A faithful servant of Franco's dictatorship, he later helped to dismantle the regime, and to turn its leftovers into the building blocks of democracy; this being his principal contribution to our national coexistence. But until Franco's death, it was impossible to discern in his behavior any sign of the will for reconciliation that some of his followers attribute to him.

He ended up as a conservative democrat, but did not start out as one. He placed his intelligence at the service of the perpetuation of the regime, to which end, as minister of information, he combined authoritarian and even cruel behavior with attempts at a controlled loosening of the system, in order to ensure its continuity. His proclaimed centrism was asymmetric: he was central enough, no doubt, in a Spain from which the left was excluded, or at least those sectors of the left most actively opposed to the regime.

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He never denied this past in word, though he did in deed. First, by helping to write an inclusive Constitution; later, by stepping down from the leadership of his conservative party when, around 1986, he understood that with himself at its head the right would never win a general election. A little earlier he had made one of his mistakes by refusing to support Spain's membership of NATO, in the referendum that then Prime Minister Felipe González had called with all the opinion polls against him.

A statesman? He was, rather, a man who defended the continuity of the state above a change of regime. Something that, in view of the experience of other countries, is now appreciated differently than it was then. Generous in integrating the clans of the center-right, and in stepping down in time; but only to reappear as a candidate in Galicia, where he hung on for many years despite his promise that his third regional legislature would be his last. He ran twice more.

A quiet, non-exhibitionist Catholic, when asked what sins he would forgive, he answered, "those of the flesh." His anti-communism, which led him to justify the 1963 execution of politician Julián Grimau, did not prevent him from presenting communist leader Santiago Carrillo in society, or going fishing with Fidel Castro. He said that the ikurriña (Basque flag) would be legalized over his dead body, yet in time he became a Galician regional nationalist of sorts, and held that the Senate should be reformed as a chamber of regional representation.

He could be at ease with persons of differing ideas to his own, and in writing up the Constitution got along best with Jordi Solé Tura, writer for the clandestine communist station Radio España Independiente. Tura's memoirs end with a remark made by Carrillo after Grimau's execution: "Some day we shall have to come to an understanding with some of those who are now our enemies."

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