RONCESVALLES, Spain — Here in a famous pass through the Pyrenees Mountains that had long been considered a southern border of Europe, it is easy to understand why Spaniards are treating their impending entry into the European Community as a momentous step in their history.
A kind of euphoria has raced through the political life of Spain ever since the announcement at the end of last week of the agreement on the entry of Spain and Portugal.
King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sophia honored Foreign Minister Fernando Moran and his negotiating team with a reception at their palace. Juan Carlos spoke movingly of "the emotion I feel both as a Spaniard and as a king."
Moran, a donnish professor who likes to sit in the corner of an old Madrid cafe and read his newspapers, has often been the butt of political jokes in Spain. But Cambio 16, Spain's leading news magazine, celebrated him this week with a cover story. While the cover drawing depicted him as a Don Quixote, the headline proclaimed good-naturedly: "The Conquistador of Europe: Moran Wowed Them."
ABC, the most influential right-wing newspaper in Madrid, headlined its main editorial "A Historic Day." El Pais, the most influential left-wing newspaper in Madrid, headlined its main editorial "Hallelujah for Europe."
ABC said the entry ranked with such events in 20th Century Spanish history as the Civil War and the restoration of democracy. El Pais said that entry will "rupture the traditional isolation that has been hanging around our necks since the religious wars" of the Middle Ages.
Politicians of all parties hailed the move. Newspapers on all sides carried special supplements explaining the European Community and European affairs. The Madrid daily Diario 16 promised, over an explanatory article: "All That Worries You and All That You Want to Know About the Entry Into the European Community."
As far as Spain is concerned, the entry into the community, including the Common Market, has little to do with economics but everything to do with history and psychology. At long last, Spaniards can feel themselves part of Europe.
Here in Roncesvalles, the reality of the Pyrenees etches the separation between Spain and the rest of Europe. An old European joke has it that "Europe ends at the Pyrenees," but this was hardly a joke in the early years of the Middle Ages.
At that time Spain was ruled by Arab Muslims. The pass at Roncesvalles was used by Arabs trying to extend their power to the north and by European Christians trying to drive them back. In 732, the Arabs, waging a jihad, or holy war, crossed into southern France, captured Bordeaux and stopped only after they were defeated in the central French town of Poitiers.
'Song of Roland'
Later in the 8th Century, Emperor Charlemagne crossed the Pyrenees in a crusade to drive the Muslims out of Spain. The crusade failed, and Charlemagne's lieutenant, Roland, and his troops were annihilated as they tried to retreat through the pass at Roncesvalles. Ironically, these retreating troops were not killed by the Arabs but by Basques, who rolled rocks down on the French soldiers. The battle was glorified in the "Song of Roland," France's first epic poem.
For Europeans, the pass at Roncesvalles, with its breath-taking, snow-capped, jagged beauty, was for centuries a forbidding means of entry into Spain. Even the millions of Christian pilgrims who crossed through Roncesvalles on their pilgrimage to the holy Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela in the Middle Ages knew that danger and deprivation awaited them. A restored shrine and crypt, where dead pilgrims were buried centuries ago, still stands in the pass.
The history of separation was reinforced in the 20th Century by 40 years of dictatorship under Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Franco, the only fascist dictator to survive World War II, was the pariah of Europe, and Spain became more isolated than ever.
Many Spaniards now feel that full entry into the European Community--a first concrete step into Europe--will consecrate the democratic system that has taken hold in Spain since Franco's death in November, 1975.