The Low Countries shared the general European prosperity and the common problems. In Belgium, which enjoyed great material well-being, the chronic difficulties between the minority of French-speaking Walloons and the majority of Dutch-speaking Flemings continued to worsen and to threaten stability.
The Netherlands at first enjoyed prosperity and stability, though there, too, student unrest, terrorist outbreaks, and serious environmental pollution created persistent problems. Mass emigration from Indonesia and Suriname, which became independent in 1975, revealed racial prejudices for the first time within the Netherlands. A political scandal over the business activities of Queen Juliana (r. 1948-1980), which contributed to her abdication in favor of her daughter Beatrix (1938— ), challenged even the monarchy.
Spain under Franco had taken major steps toward modernization and a few mild measures to relax political tyranny. Low wages and bitter government opposition to the Basques prevented full economic or political stability. Five languages were accorded formal recognition: Spanish, Catalan, Basque, Galician (a Portuguese dialect), and Valencian (a Spanish dialect).
Franco arranged that after his death the monarchy would be restored under Prince Juan Carlos (1938— ), grandson of Alfonso XIII, and in 1975 Juan Carlos became king. The actual government remained in the hands of political parties, since Juan Carlos was a constitutional monarch. Still, it was Juan Carlos who presided over the dissolution of many of Franco’s institutions.
The first free elections since the Spanish Civil War took place in 1976, returning moderates and democratic socialists to office. As Spain turned from agriculture to industry, and as tourism grew larger in its balance to payments, the need for stability became paramount. To this end Spain attempted in 1982 to come to a peaceful settlement with Britain over a longstanding dispute concerning ownership of Gibraltar, and the Spanish government granted substantial home rule to Catalonia and the Basque lands in 1980.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean democracy was also restored. In 1968 the Portuguese dictator Salazar, too ill to continue, passed the government to a successor. In 1974 a military coup by radical Portuguese army officers brought down the dictatorship. For a time the army junta worked in alliance with Portuguese communists, who were supported by the trade unions, the peasants of southern Portugal, and much of the press.
However, in the elections of 1975 the Socialists won the largest following. Portugal was faced with formidable problems: a continuing colonial war that was feeding the highest rate (34 percent) of inflation in Europe, unproductive agricultural practices, and the absence of a solid industrial base. As the war in Africa went badly, unemployment in Portugal was forced upward by an influx of refugees from the colonies.
Portugal became dependent on foreign loans, and the Socialists had to incorporate the center and some right-of-center elements into a coalition government to remain in office. In the 1980s, with the colonial war over and the former colonies now independent states, the inflation rate began to moderate, but political stability continued to elude the Portuguese people.
Greece, too, had been ruled by a military junta. The 1950s and early 1960s had been prosperous years. By 1965 industrialization had become more important than agriculture, tourism was producing a large income, and the Greek merchant fleet prospered. Aid under the Truman Doctrine had stabilized both Greece and Turkey, and the Americans continued to support Greece, regardless of the government in power, as an important bulwark against the Iron Curtain countries. With the end of the Greek Civil War in 1955, a succession of ministries had struggled for authority until April 1967, when several army officers (later called “the colonels”) staged a coup and established a right-wing military dictatorship. The king went into exile, the colonels suspended civil liberties, and the government became increasingly brutal.
World opinion was turning against the colonels when they decided in 1974 on a gamble intended to win nationalist support. They tried to overthrow Archbishop Makarios III (1913-1977), the president of Cyprus, who, the colonels felt, was not sufficiently aggressive against the Turkish minority on that island. This led to a full-scale Turkish invasion of Cyprus and its occupation by Turkish forces, subjecting the large Greek majority (75 percent of the population) to military rule. The Greek regime was humiliated.
It had lost its war, lost the Greek Cypriots, driven a wedge deep into NATO (since both Greece and Turkey were members), and angered the United States. Elections late in 1974 brought back civilian government under Konstantin Karamanlis (1907— ). The monarchy was abolished, the galloping inflation rate was brought under reasonable control, and the Western nations attempted to mediate the hostility between Greece and Turkey. However, they were unsuccessful, and the Greek coalition governments of the late 1970s to mid-1980s continued to be marked by political instability.
The general exception to this instability was Scandinavia. The three constitutional monarchies of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden were progressive, democratic, and highly prosperous. The Scandinavians went further and more rapidly in providing full equality to women than had any other countries in the world. Standards of living soared, to become among the highest in the world. To varying degrees the Scandinavian countries embarked on substantial social-welfare programs.
Denmark and Sweden in particular committed themselves to the international marketplace, requiring all schoolchildren to learn English, the new international language of trade. Denmark set the pace in design, especially of furniture, kitchenwares, and fabrics. By the 1980s the Danish per capita income was well above that of the United States, once the richest nation in the world.
Sweden, which had enjoyed industrial growth as a neutral during World War II, experienced similar prosperity. Its steel, automobile, shipbuilding, and machine industries were modernized and progressive, as were its labor policies. Heralded as representing “the middle way,” Sweden became a democratic and socialist state with a per capita income third only to Denmark and Belgium.
For forty years the Social Democratic party ruled in Sweden, but by 1976 inflation had begun to soar, and grave doubts about social policy at home and foreign policy abroad introduced a period of modest political instability. By the 1980s the troubles the Swedes had seemed to have avoided were upon them: Soviet submarines were found spying in Swedish waters; the domestic crime rate was rising dramatically; and in 1980 a massive series of strikes almost brought the country to an industrial standstill.
The assassination in Stockholm of its internationally minded and popular socialist premier Olaf Palme (1927-1986) marked a growing sense of doubt about the Swedish political future. While still maintaining one of the world’s highest per capita gross national products, Sweden found it was not immune to the problems that plagued other democracies.