la Transacción del 78 no pudo superar la insoportable grieta entre vencedores y vencidos

Spain tackles Franco’s ghost (again)

Government to unveil Democratic Memory Bill, focusing on a range of issues linked to Spain’s past.


9/15/20, politico

MADRID — Nearly a year after exhuming his body and 45 years after his death, Spain’s government is presenting new legislation that seeks to tackle the legacy of Francisco Franco.

The leftist coalition administration of Pedro Sánchez is to unveil a Democratic Memory Bill on Tuesday, focusing on a range of issues linked to Spain’s past, which many argue have never been fully addressed since the transition to democracy.

According to leaked reports ahead of the law’s debate by Cabinet, it will call for the appointment of an investigator to probe human rights abuses during the 1936-39 civil war and the right-wing dictatorship that ensued. It will also see the Spanish state take on more responsibility for the identification of tens of thousands of victims of Franco still lying in unmarked graves, creating a DNA database to help with that task.

In addition, reports say the law will seek to convert Franco’s former mausoleum, the Valley of the Fallen, into a site of historical interest, outlaw organizations that promote the dictator’s image and investigate the seizure of property during the civil war and dictatorship.

“I think this can contribute to tackling, with justice, one of the big pending problems of Spanish democracy,” Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias said of the bill. “There is work to be done, in terms of democratic memory, in terms of public policy — all of which has been a taboo until now in Spain.”

The Valley of the Fallen, outside Madrid, was intact until October 2019, when the Sánchez government moved the dictator’s coffin to a low-key cemetery.

The content of the bill will be subject to change by Cabinet and then parliament, which the government hopes will approve it by the end of the year. However, this legislation is expected to be bolder than a 2007 Historical Memory Law, which was drawn up by the Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero but received widespread criticism from the left for lacking bite.

That legislation sought to remove symbols of the Franco regime. It also offered a vaguely worded “moral redress” for victims of the dictatorship.

Many statues and street signs were subsequently taken down. However, plenty of signs still remain bearing the names of the dictator and his generals due to a refusal to comply by town halls. The Valley of the Fallen, outside Madrid, was intact until October 2019, when the Sánchez government moved the dictator’s coffin to a low-key cemetery.

The new law reportedly opens the door to the exhumation of José Antonio Primo de Rivera, another far-right icon buried at the Valley of the Fallen.

The leftist coalition Adelante Andalucía is campaigning for the remains of Franco’s notoriously bloodthirsty general, Queipo de Llano, to be exhumed from Seville’s La Macarena basilica and buried elsewhere.

Activists argue that the most glaring unresolved issue related to Spain’s historical memory is the unmarked graves of victims of repression. The Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory (ARMH) estimates that around 114,000 such victims are yet to be exhumed and identified. For the past 20 years, ARMH volunteers have been digging up these graves across the country, at the behest of relatives of those killed, using donations to finance the bureaucratic, archaeological and genealogical processes required to identify remains.

One dig currently taking place is seeking to identify the remains of 17 civilians who were ambushed by pro-Franco troops at the beginning of the civil war in the town of El Espinar, in Segovia.

“The most direct relatives of those who are lying in ditches and unmarked graves are getting old and are dying,” said Irene Herrera Insua, granddaughter of one of the victims, Eugenio Insua. “They’re going to keep waiting and keep dying.”

But she is skeptical about the new law.

“What this does is it makes things happen very slowly without directly solving the problems,” Herrera Insua said, pointing out how last year’s moving of Franco’s remains had been beset with legal obstacles. She finds the idea of the new law being debated in Congress by the far-right Vox party unsettling. Although not familiar with the bill’s detail, Herrera Insua said she is concerned that it will not go far enough in terms of supporting and financing the exhumation of unmarked graves.

“It seems as if the victims of Franco are still second-class victims,” she said.

Many statues of Franco have been removed over time | Rafa Rivas/AFP via Getty Images

Historical memory has long been a politically divisive topic in Spain. While the left has broadly tended to favor efforts to legislate, the right has opposed them.

The conservative Popular Party (PP), the main opposition force, was highly critical of the 2007 law, claiming it needlessly reopened old wounds. In 2018, the party’s leader, Pablo Casado, lambasted the Socialist government’s plan to move the body of Franco, describing it as part of “the sectarian rewriting of history, which sows bitterness in Spanish society.”

The PP would not comment on the new bill ahead of its presentation, although a spokesman said: “We have always said that we have to look to the future and to the idea of concord. This is not a priority.”

Given the contrasting views of the government and opposition, the Democratic Memory Bill’s upcoming parliamentary debate is likely to be fierce.

Vox, the third-biggest party in Congress, has also expressed hostility to the government’s plans, with its leader, Santiago Abascal, claiming that Sánchez is preparing “a totalitarian memory law.”

Given the contrasting views of the government and opposition, the Democratic Memory Bill’s upcoming parliamentary debate is likely to be fierce.

However, it is not the only contentious reminder of Spain’s recent past. An Argentine judge, María Servini, has been investigating alleged human rights abuses from the latter years of the dictatorship, using the premise of universal jurisdiction.

Earlier this month, Rodolfo Martín Villa, a Spanish government minister in the 1970s, testified via videolink before the judge. Servini is probing accusations that Martín Villa, now 85, was responsible for the deaths of 12 civilians at the hands of security forces during social unrest that followed Franco’s death in 1975. He denies the charges and has received public support from several high-profile Spanish personalities, including four former prime ministers.

Spain is looking to tackle Franco's legacy | Hulton Archive/Getty Images