Gibraltar Chronicle Logo

50 years on

Today marks the 50th anniversary of a painful milestone in our modern history, but also a key landmark in our collective identity.

When the Spanish dictator General Franco shut the border in 1969, he believed Gibraltar would fall like a ripe fruit.

Instead, this community hardened its resolve and came together, men and women alike, working side by side, often in difficult circumstances and not just surviving, but ultimately thriving.

The pages of today's edition and our special supplement are filled with recollections of a period in which lives were upended virtually overnight, families and friendships torn apart by the political whims of a dictator and Spain's obsession with the Rock.

The dictator and his gate are consigned to the history books, but the Spanish preoccupation with Gibraltar remains. At times it is tempered, but on other occasions – remember Margallo – it is as abrasive as it ever was.

But something else remains too, perhaps stronger than ever, and that is our resolve as a community to determine our own future in partnership with Britain.

Today's anniversary comes a day after Prime Minister Theresa May stepped down as leader of the Conservative party in the UK.

The race is now on to find a successor who can unravel the Gordian knot that Brexit has become.

The result of that messy process will have profound implications not just for Gibraltar, but for La Linea and the surrounding Campo too.

This week, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar and the mayor of La Linea stood side by side to reflect on the border closure 50 years ago. They did so in a spirit of friendship.

Gibraltar has always wanted to work in partnership with its closest neighbour. There are many in Spain who want that too and are willing and capable of respecting our position and our red lines.

But trust is a fragile thing. Hard work to resolve the challenges of Brexit can be lost in a second with yet another unlawful incursion, another set of insults, another unwarranted legal challenge.

In an interview with this newspaper, La Linea mayor Juan Franco said Spain’s strategy had not changed in over 300 years and “has achieved nothing”. Perhaps someone in La Moncloa or the Palacio de Santa Cruz should take note.

On Thursday, Fabian Picardo and Mr Franco shook hands in front of the same frontier gates that Spain slammed shut in 1969.

Except those gates are now in Gibraltar. It was a surreal, poignant reminder of the fortitude of this community, but also of the resilience of La Linea and its people, long forgotten by those in Madrid.

History is important because the past has shown us the sorrow and trauma of a closed border. But it has also shown us the determination of a people to overcome hardship collectively.

Faced with the uncertainty of Brexit and the rise of populism and the far right, it is a lesson that should focus minds on the potential pitfalls of the future, and how to avoid them.