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MADRID, September 19 (Itar-Tass) —— The death of Santiago Carrillo, a historical leader of the Spanish Communist movement, has evoked a nation-wide response. The royal couple seldom visits a late celebrity’s family to offer condolences. Spontaneous words of sympathy and grief from members of parliament are rare. Far from always all political forces from the conservatives to the Communists recognize a late politician’s outstanding role in the emergence of democratic Spain.
Santiago Carrillo earned all these honors with his life, which lasted almost a century.
He was born in Asturia in 1915 to the family of a devout Socialist. It is not surprising that back in his youth he joined the Socialist Youth of Spain. In July 1936, when a fratricidal civil war broke out in Spain, Carrillo joined the Communist Party, one of the leading forces that was fighting with the onslaught of Francoism. Pretty soon Carrillo, a very young man who had not yet turned 22 then, became a member of the committee for the defense of Madrid and was appointed to be responsible for public order.
In February 1939, when the Republicans’ defeat became inevitable, Carrillo crossed the border into France and went into exile, which would last for 38 years. He lived in several countries, including the Soviet Union, to have eventually settled in Paris, from where he kept in touch with the Communist underground. In 1960, at the proposal of legendary Dolores Ibarruri Carrillo was elected the Spanish Communist Party’s general secretary to have stayed in that position for 22 years.
In those years he became one of the founders of what would be called “Eurocommunist” trend. Central to it was the conviction that the Communists of Western Europe should look for their own path of socialist reform, different from the Soviet experience and based on a wide coalition of left-wing forces. That concept triggered heated debates inside the Spanish Communist Party proper and in the international Communist movement. For the Soviet Communist Party, the CPSU, Carrillo would become “persona non grata” for many years, which caused the emergence of a variety of groups and trends inside the Spanish Communist movement, and their clashes sometimes cause splits and the appearance of ever more breakaway groups.
National reconciliation was part and parcel of Carrillo’s new political course. In other words, he campaigned for the unity of various political forces in their struggle against Francoism.
One year after Franco’s death in 1975 Carrillo returned to Spain illegally to spearhead the campaign for the legalization of the Communist Party. In the first democratic elections in June 1977 he was elected a member of parliament, and then became a representative of the Communist Party in the group of political figures who were destined to draft plans for the country’s democratic system after the 36 years of Franco’s dictatorship. It was in those years that Carrillo’s ability to conduct a dialogue and place national interests above the interests of one political party earned him the respect of different political forces, which these days are recalling the tremendous contribution of the Spanish Communists’ leader to the emergence of democracy in Spain.
On February 23, 1981, when a group of reactionary military seized the building of parliament while a full-scale session was in progress and fired shots in the air to force the legislators lie to the floor, Carrillo and Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez and General Gutierrez Mellado were the only ones who ignored the mutineers’ orders and demanded that they should leave the building.
In 1982, in the face of strong rifts among various trends inside the Communist Party Carillo resigned from the position of general secretary. Three years later he founded a new political organization, which would eventually enter the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, although Carrillo continued to describe himself as an “independent Communist.”
From that moment on Carrillo dedicated his whole life to journalism and to writing political books, in which he repeatedly criticized the leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for dogmatism and inability to understand and accept new processes in the European workers’ movement.
Santiago Carrillo lived a long life, and many of its twists and turns still require detailed analysis by historians. However, his name and his reputation of one of the staunch fighters against Francoism and of one of the authors of the current Spanish Constitution, which guarantees the country’s democratic development, will be written down into the history of Spain forever.