Yesterday Adolfo Suárez, former Prime Minister of Spain and Duke of Suárez, was posthumously awarded Spain’s highest civil honor: the Collar of the Royal and Distinguished Order of Carlos III. Engraved on the golden cross of the Collar are the words Virtuti et Merito (Virtue and Merit), highlighted with the blue and white colors adopted by the Order from the image of Immaculate Conception, as depicted by Sevilla’s 17th century painter, Murillo.
The virtue and merit of Adolfo Suárez will be remembered forever. Soon after he took office in 1974, Don Adolfo succeeded in bringing Spaniards from all political corners and all walks of life together to agree on building a new democracy for Spain, after the long dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
In 1976 Adolfo Suarez was tapped by King Juan Carlos to lead the transition of Spain to a democracy. Don Adolfo was tasked with what seemed the impossible: to reach understanding and consensus among military falangists, communists, social democrats, liberals and other factions in the new post-Franco era. While he was not erudite or academic in nature (he always struggled with his studies and barely graduated from the University of Salamanca), he certainly had a natural talent for winning people over. In what started as a bitterly divided landscape, he won the first two democratically held elections in Spain since 1936.
Many Spaniards to this day still wish he was 43 again right now – the age when he first took office as Prime Minister of Spain. But suffering from Alzheimer’s in recent years, Adolfo Suárez would be incapable of witnessing the current polarization of Spain’s democracy, the democracy that he helped build.
But even if Don Adolfo might be unable to remember his incredible accomplishments, let all admirers and lovers of Spain always keep in our memories his invaluable contributions: virtue and merit.
Qualities which are perhaps best remembered with words written by Antonio Machado, and spoken by Adolfo Suarez himself, as he was chosen by King Juan Carlos to lead Spain’s transition in 1976:
The original, in Spanish:
Está el hoy abierto al mañana
mañana al infinito.
Hombres de España:
ni el pasado ha muerto
ni está el mañana ni el ayer escrito.
And in English:
Today is open to tomorrow
tomorrow to infinity.
Men of Spain:
neither has the past died
nor has tomorrow nor yesterday been written.
Remembering Adolfo Suarez Gonzalez, September 25, 1932 – March 23, 2014