Located at the crossroads of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, Europe and Africa, Spain’s history and culture are made up of a rich mix of diverse elements.
Through exploration and conquest, Spain became a world power in the 16th century, and it maintained a vast overseas empire until the early 19th century.
Spain’s modern history is marked by the bitterly fought Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, and the ensuing 36-year dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.
After Franco’s death in 1975, Spain made the transition to a democratic state and built a successful economy, with King Juan Carlos as head of state.
The constitution of 1978 enshrines respect for linguistic and cultural diversity within a united Spain. The country is divided into 17 regions which all have their own directly elected authorities. The level of autonomy afforded to each region is far from uniform. For example, Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia have special status with their own language and other rights.
Andalucia, Navarre, Valencia and the Canaries in turn have more extensive powers than some other regions. Asturias and Aragon have taken steps to consolidate language rights.
In 2006 a Catalan referendum backed by the central government gave the region greater autonomy.
The Catalans won nation status within Spain and the region’s parliament gained extra powers in taxation and judicial matters. The country’s regional picture is a complex and evolving one.
One of Spain’s most serious domestic issues has been tension in the northern Basque region. A violent campaign by the Basque separatist group ETA has led to nearly 850 deaths over the past four decades.
Eta declared a ceasefire in March 2006 saying it wished to see the start of a democratic process for the Basque region. The move divided opinion in Spain.
Tentative moves to negotiate a lasting peace were dealt a blow when Eta carried out a deadly bomb attack at Madrid’s international airport at the end of the year. In June 2007, Eta called off its ceasefire.
The group announced another ceasefire in September 2010, but this time, the government said it was not prepared to enter into negotiations unless Eta renounced violence for good.
International negotiators urged Eta to lay down its weapons at a conference in October 2011, seen as a possible prelude to Eta’s dissolution. Neither the Spanish government nor Eta was officially represented.
Until 2008, the Spanish economy was regarded as one of the most dynamic within the EU. However, the mainstays of the economy were tourism and a booming housing market and construction industry, and so the global economic crisis of 2008-9 hit the country hard.
The bursting of the housing bubble tipped Spain into a severe recession and by the end of 2011 the country had an unemployment rate of nearly 23% – the highest jobless rate in Europe. Austerity measures imposed by the government in an effort to reduce the level of public debt sparked a wave of protests.
Spain shares the Iberian peninsula with Portugal and its territory includes the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and two North African enclaves.
From Velazquez in the seventeenth century, through Goya straddling the eighteenth and nineteenth, to Picasso in the twentieth, Spain has the proudest of traditions in art.
Flamenco music and dance are widely admired around the world while Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote is one of the most popular ever written.
Cinema is much loved and the films of directors such as Pedro Almodovar attract huge audiences.
Source: BBC World Country Profiles (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/country_profiles/default.stm)