Manuel Fraga is arguably the most significant Galician politician of the last five decades and trying to research some objective information about his life is far from easy.
Put simply, Fraga is either loved or loathed. Some see him as a revolutionary and fighter for Galicia, whilst others consider him nothing short of a political criminal and even a murderer during his Franco days.
Fraga, full name Manuel Fraga Iribarne, was born on 23rd November 1922 in the town of Vilalba in Lugo province. He was married (his wife is now deceased) and has five children. He entered politics in 1945, but is also qualified with a doctorate in law, politics and economics and has worked as a university lecturer/professor.
Although familiar in recent years for holding the post of "President of the Galician Xunta" (parliament), Fraga has a long and highly eclectic political career that appears to include political roles both promoting and castigating regionalism.
Fraga's first political incarnation was as a minister in fellow Galician, General Franco's fascist regime where he held numerous posts of ever increasing importance. Amongst his most notable achievements, or sins, was the introduction of a censorship law during his term as minister for Information. This law, which many felt was repressive, helped define what Franco and his government stood for and was alternatively viewed as restricting or promoting the press.
Also controversial was the Franco regime's view on regionalism in which Fraga played a key role. Although both Galicians, Franco and Fraga jointly felt that Spain needed to be unified in order to achieve its economic and political goals. To this end the teaching and official use of regional languages was restricted by law and the now "autonomous communities" of Spain had their legal identities removed. Ultimately this past repression has resulted in a far greater level of regionalism than would probably have otherwise been the case, but feelings still run high amongst many who lived through this period.
After the death of Franco and the emergence of democracy, Fraga used his chameleon qualities to forge a new and diametrically opposed political career as a democrat and later promoter of Galician regionalism. He also had a spell as the Spanish ambassador to Britain in the early seventies which may partially account for his excellent English.
His transition to the new political geography of democracy was not though without problems. When Fraga was made the minister responsible for overseeing Spain's move to democracy, his blunt and autocratic approach made him one of the most unpopular men in Spain.
Following these changes in the now "dictator-less" Spain, Fraga formed his own right wing party, but it never rivalled the new socialists until, after his resignation and the parties near collapse, he re-invented it. Today the "Peoples Party" Fraga founded is one of Spain's two political giants and equates politically to the Conservatives (UK) or Republicans (USA) in its political agenda.
Fraga's real claim to fame (at least in popularist terms) came when, in 1990, he was elected as Galicia's president. His party, the "Peoples Party of Galicia", held power until the elections of 2005 when he was finally deposed, but he vows to continue his political calling.
Although far from universally popular, most Galicians consider his time as president to have been beneficial to the region and his earlier "dictator like" style has also softened to one of an elderly grandfather. Questions do however arise over his failing health and, early this year (2006), he suffered from both dizzy spells and a fall.
Other achievements of M. Fraga include co-authoring the Spanish constitution of 1978 and dispelling the concerns of the people of Palomares by taking a dip in water, claimed by some to be contaminated with nuclear waste.
A couple of other interesting characteristics about Fraga are, his ability to lose his temper in a very demonstrable way and his continued support of the actions of Franco and his government in the "old days"
Fraga also made an appearance on British (Irish) TV chef's series "Floyd on Food", where he ate a Galician dish prepared for him by the TV chef. He also spoke, in English, during the show. I though he seemed quite a nice chap, but my wife's Galician family would certainly disagree.
If you want a different, subjective and altogether less complementary biography of Manuel Fraga, take a look at this link. The author is clearly not a fan, but you can get a dissenters view of the politician and also see a past and present photograph of him.
Foot note - Manuel Fraga died on 15 January 2012 at the age of 89.