The international dimension of Southern European Dictatorships

International Workshop. 19 June 2012


Less than half a century ago, three Southern European countries still lived under right-wing dictatorial rule. Spain, Portugal and Greece were the last European countries outside the Soviet orbit to emerge from the shadows of dictatorships and join the democratic nexus of Western Europe. Although their dictatorial regimes varied considerably in terms of implementation, duration, nature and practice, they did nonetheless share a number of common characteristics. These included sharp social divisions and relative economic underdevelopment, as well as the contemporaneousness of their demise and a democratisation process within a relatively short amount of time.

While a burgeoning corpus of scholarly literature devoted mainly to various domestic facets of those regimes has emerged over the years – focusing especially on their establishment, collapse and subsequent transition to democracy – the ramifications of the international environment in which those dictatorships functioned have not been adequately explored, certainly not within a comparative context. Ironically, this lacuna may mask the regimes’ vulnerability to international circumstances and the influence of broader Cold War trends.

Internationally, the critical period of the late 1960s and early 1970s was marked by a widespread pursuit of new approaches to old conflicts. The two superpowers USA and Soviet Union sought to bring relief to decades of escalating tension through détente – an array of negotiations and treaties recognising each other’s ‘interests’. Initiatives such as the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), the Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions talks (MBFR) and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) raised hopes for a more peaceful future. In turn, the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system in 1971 and the oil price shock of 1973 ushered the end of almost thirtyyears of Western European economic prosperity. Simultaneously, the rise of mass media facilitated an outburst of protest movements against local and global manifestations of capitalism, imperialism and colonialism.

The aim of this workshop is to examine whether and to what extent the three southern European right-wing dictatorships were exposed to these strong international currents, including political, economic and cultural effects emanating from powerful actors, most notably within the Western sphere of influence. The workshop will also look beyond traditional governmental agents into the resistance movements and social protest in order to broaden our understanding of the dynamics of this period. The discussion will thus address the existing scholarly dearth by exploring the linkages between international factors and domestic developments, taking advantage of the increasing availability of archival sources from within and outside the region.