Pedro Fernández Barbadillo es periodista, crítico y escritor
La herencia de un imperio roto. Dos siglos en la historia de España, by Fernando Olivié, Marcial Pons, Madrid, 2016, 401 pages.
It is always a pleasure when a book which oneself has enjoyed, to the point of recommending it and looking for it in libraries, has been reedited. This is what has happened to me with La herencia de un imperio roto, which was published for the first time by Mapfre in 1992 on the occasion of the V Century and then by Fundación Cánovas del Castillo in 1999. The book has been discontinued for years, however, now Marcial Pons has launched a third edition. His author is the Spanish Ambassador Fernando Olivié, who not only brings to the book his experience as a diplomat but also his wide knowledge of the History of Spain. Many of the numerous notes are not bibliography references or cites, but brief texts as interesting as the general text.
The book starts with the Treaty of Utrecht, which meant not only the enthronement of a new dynasty in Spain, but the definitive loss of the status of first European power. Spain was expelled from the North Sea and the English Channel, while England became a naval power in the Mediterranean thanks to the appropriation of Gibraltar and Menorca. Since then, Spain had to defend its overseas empire from English attacks. Olivié remarks that London propelled the expansion of the US, which had recently achieved independence, towards the Mississippi Valley, which was a Spanish territory at that time, instead of towards Canada (“a monument to the Anglo-Saxon political talent”) and then took advantage of the wars against the French revolutionary and Napoleon to advance towards South America. New Spain (Nueva España), a huge political unity whose viceroys stopped the Russian expansion in the Pacific and the Anglo-Saxon one in the Caribbean, after the emancipation it was almost absorbed by the US and was still sub developed until a few decades ago. The atomization of the Spanish Empire (from four viceroys to a dozen and a half republics) was interesting both for the US and England to the point they opposed the unification project of Bolivar.
Nevertheless, the central issue of the book La herencia de un imperio roto is the political prostration of Spain since the independence war until the Agreements signed with the US in 1953. Olivié stresses that, during this long century, Spain lost its Empire in America, but, specially, Spain lost its national sovereignty because London and Paris started to control its foreign policy, and sometimes, even the internal one. According to the author, the bottom was reached in the interview of Eu (France) in 1845, between Queen Victoria and the King Luis Felipe, in which the monarchs decided who will marry Queen Elizabeth II and her sister: “our history, since then, is a long process aimed at overcoming that pothole”.
Olivié, who blames the internal conflicts and the lack of unity of the political class for the Spanish prostration, explains that, since the death of Fernando VII (1833), the only strategy that Madrid could assume was to “struggle between London and Paris to soften the price of that double influence in our public life”. During the XIX and XX Centuries the attempts to establish a partnership with the recently unified Germany, the great enemy of the United Kingdom and France, failed. In the end of World War II, Spain was again, just like in the Eu interview, alone and under the Paris-London axis.
We managed to leave this dependency situation thanks to the alliance with the United States. From 1945 broke out the Cold War. The USSR continued its expansion in Eurasia, while France and England were so weak they could not defend their colonies and Western Europe. Under these circumstances, the US could not return to aislationism like in 1918 and so it became the director of the western block. Olivié remarks that, then Spain, thanks to its geopolitical situation, became “crucial for peace”. The Agreements with the United States (1953), signed against the will of the French and British governments, not only allowed for the admission of Spain in the UN, but they also contributed to our economic development and gave political support to Madrid which lead to, thirty years later, the admission in the European Union.
The author concludes that when Spanish politics and society act together with a clear foreign policy they can surpass the internal and external obstacles. He adds that it is a risk to conduct an ideological foreign policy or not even conduct any kind of it, may it be because of fear or ignorance.
The updates of the Marcial Pons edition are its prologue by the Political and Moral Sciences academic José Luis García Delgado and the epilogue by the author which compensates for the almost twenty years since the first reedition. The prologue by Eduardo Serra, the Minister of Defense in 1999, is maintained and it has been unified the index of names and places in one.
Pedro Fernández Barbadillo is a journalist, literacy critic and writer
Traducido por María Maseda