Time to give Spain some credit

Okay, their king is an arrogant pissant. But the country as a whole is not the King, and the parliament has just done something long overdue and very decent:

The Spanish parliament has passed a law of “historical memory” which condemns Franco-fascism and rehabilitates the memory of the victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship.

The law, which will come into effect in a few days after its publication in the official gazette, was approved on Monday night by the Senate, which rejected the veto petition of the Popular Party (PP) and the Leftist Republic of Catalonia (ERC).

The PP considers the law to be a “divisive element”, while the ERC considers it to be insufficient.

The law will not provide for annulment of the trials of the Francoist tribunals, as requested by the ERC. But the United Left (IU), whose votes made possible the passing of the bill, interpreted it as in effect allowing the reopening of the cases, without impunity.


Translation mine.

Here’s an English version which elaborates a bit more.

Campaigners said the new deal improved on an earlier Socialist proposal which shied away from annulling sentences and prevented the naming of those who administered Franco’s political courts until his death in 1975.

The law would concentrate on the victims of Franco’s nationalist side during the civil war rather than on the victims of the republic’s mainly leftwing defenders, according to Mr Llamazares. Those killed in republican areas included more than 6,000 priests, monks and nuns.

Spain’s rightwing opposition People’s party accused Mr Zapatero, whose grandfather was shot by Franco’s firing squad, of stirring up confrontation and of betraying a tacit agreement in democratic Spain not to rake over the coals of the civil war.

Some coals, I think, could stand a little raking over. Especially since the former prime minister, Aznar, is the son and grandson of ardent and high-ranking Franco-fascists, and his party is basically the Franco party minus his name. That would be the PP, of course.

Meanwhile, I would say Zapatero’s executed grandfather stands as eloquent testimony to the need for this law.

Burying fascism is no way of moving beyond it, as the victims of the Chilean and Argentinian dictatorships know all too well as they continue to search for their “disappeared” and piece together their broken stories. The same is true in Spain. And one Spanish filmmaker decided to dig up those bones–literally–and put some flesh on them:

As a toddler, film-maker Sandra Ruesga, was taken by her parents to visit the tomb of the man whose bloody and vengeful rule still haunts Spain.

But nobody had ever spoken to her about life under the man whose regime dominated the lives of her parents and her grandparents. Like most of her generation, she had never really been taught about him. ‘I inherited a falsified history imposed by silences,’ says Ruesga, whose generation is now questioning the silence that has surrounded the man they call El Caudillo since his death from natural causes 30 years ago.

Her comments, and harsh questioning of her parents’ attitude to a man who was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of opponents, matched the experience of half a dozen other young film-makers brought together to make the documentary. Silence about Franco, and about the military uprising he led against the Republican government, was part of a ‘pact of forgetting’ that underpinned the transition to democracy after his death.

But now, in a country that has avoided truth commissions or prosecution of members of Franco’s regime, the socialist government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has pledged to do something but has already missed several deadlines for announcing a package of measures.

‘It keeps delaying coming up with measures for elderly people who have little time left to wait for the compensation they deserve,’ the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, which has dug up 500 victims of Franco’s death squads from mass graves in the past five years, said yesterday.

The association wants the sentences of Franco’s military tribunals overturned and history teachers obliged to tell their pupils the truth about the repressive nature of his regime. Among those to have backed its calls is Amnesty International.

To hell with any “closure” to be had from burying and forgetting–have the wounds of the survivors “closed”? Has burying the past and refusing to confront fascism as an evil brought them justice or inner peace? And more to the point: what good is burying and forgetting if it leads to inexcusable things like this?

Ignorance about Franco runs deep. A poll run by the Cadena Ser radio station last week found that one out of three Spaniards did not know that Franco had overthrown a democratic government.

Just over half of those questioned, however, said that they thought Franco’s influence could still be felt.

A third of all Spain didn’t know the truth about Franco–and more than half says his influence can still be felt. It’s pretty obvious that it’s being felt most in the malfunctioning memories of the people.

Which is all the more reason why this law needs to go ahead and the past must be reopened and old wrongs, if not redressed, then at least admitted.

Godspeed, Sr. Rodriguez Zapatero.

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