Spain, like many Mediterranean countries, is multicultural at its core, the product of successive migrations and invasions through the centuries. Iberian cultures were among the earliest to arrive, some 35,000 years ago; Phoenicians, Egyptians, early Greeks, Romans, and Arabs all played a role.
With a history of multiple invasions, Spain in turn became the invader; its seafaring skills renowned, the country’s ‘conquistadors’ ultimately took over the majority of Latin America – introducing a class system, slave trade, Spanish language, and Catholic religion, taking a good deal of gold and other natural resources – and establishing an empire.
Spain’s entire history has been one of migration – of others into (and, in the case of both the Moors and Sephardi Jews, expelled from) the Iberian Peninsula, and of themselves to other parts of the world. Today’s population is 12% immigrant, the top 4 of which are Romanian, Moroccan, British, and Ecuadorian.
Spain unified, somewhat uneasily, from multiple small kingdoms into a republic; organised into autonomous regions, fully 5 self-identify as distinct nationalities. Spain is thus not only multicultural and multilingual but also ‘plurinational’ – the Basque and Catalans, in particular, still aching for independence.
In the 1930s, Spain was fractured by a civil war; General Franco, backed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, succeeded and ruled as a dictator for 40 years. Following his death in 1974, and the ousting of his party some 4 years later, Spain entered a period of wild abandon as they celebrated their freedom.
Spain today maintains a secular parliamentary democracy and a parliamentary monarchy, a somewhat unique hybrid of governmental models that has emerged in antithesis to the Franco era.
Post-Franco Spain has focused increasingly on human rights; as an example, the country is widely considered #1 for LGBT acceptance. Asked how a Catholic country could so easily accept marriage equality, the answer is always: the family comes first – my son is my son, no matter whom he loves.
In matters of gender, Spain’s progress is uneven: recent high-profile rape cases have highlighted violence against women, and the country’s ranking on global gender indices hasn’t changed since 2005. Change is in the wind: as of May 2019, Spain’s parliament now has the highest percentage of women in all of Europe.
Once considered one of the poorer countries of Europe, Spain now has the world’s 14th largest economy, and is 16th for purchasing power. It’s also rich in history and culture: 3rd globally for UNESCO world heritage inscription.