Monday, 7 January 2008

Spain's Past: A rude awakening

An open letter to the Editor of The Economist on their article on the Spanish Historical Memory Law

Dear Sir,

Re. your article on the Spanish Historical Memory Law, I certainly hope Franco is turning in his grave. I am absolutely sure that many others are also turning in their unidentified roadside graves, along with those who were summarily tried and executed by military tribunals. The latter are still recorded as being criminals, and their descendants have suffered all sorts of discrimination through the years. In fact, this is one of the candent issues not dealt with by the Historical Memory Law: that these victims are not cleansed of the implications that having been found guilty by a military court brings. The Law may be to the satisfaction of Spain's prime minister, but it only qualifies the hearings as “illegitimate”, and nothing further. It does not explicitly annul the trials, leaving the victims’ descendants to bear the costs and burden of going through the administrative bureaucracy of having each hearing made void in order to clear their forbearers’ names. This is still worse for those whose sentences were not execution, and who have lived through a life of discrimination, including not being able to claim war pensions because they fought on the “wrong” side. Likewise, the widows of those who have since died, along with those of the executed, have never been able to claim war widows’ pensions and many have suffered consequent impoverishment. You mention that El Pais implies that the victims never lost their dignity. Is there any dignity in a life of discrimination and being forced into destitution?

Where in Italy or Germany, the authorities would not even dream of maintaining statues and other monuments to Mussolini and Hitler, throughout Spain one finds statues, memorial plaques, street names, etc. commemorating Jose Antonio, the founder of Spain’s equivalent of the Nazi party, many right-wing generals who supported Franco’s rebellion against the democratic government, as well as others paying tribute to Franco himself. These are not “few”, as you say in the article: just look up calle or avenida Jose Antonio or Francisco Franco in Google Maps. And that’s just street names. Can you imagine just one “Hitler Ave.” or a “Dr. Mengele St.” in Germany, or a “Mussolini Sq.” in Italy?

As to the repeal of the Francoist laws you mention, about time say hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens. The fact these laws still exist after over thirty years of democracy, and that the governments that have come and gone have not found it convenient to repeal them because of the so-called “pact of forgetting", just goes to show the lack of understanding that some parties have of the deep, long-lasting pain suffered by the victims of the Spanish Civil war, brought about by an army uprising aligned with the fascist Axis powers the Allies fought later, and the dictatorial regime following that.

To paraphrase the Armenian guide you quote in your article on Turkish and US policy, “Our objective is not to attack this or that political party. It is to ensure recognition of the victims of the first total war of the 20th century, that of the Axis upon the people of democratic Spain.”

1 comment:

Tom said...

George - I've just found your blog by way of an entry at Rab's blog. It's nice to read someone else writing in English and in support of Catalonia, progress and against Spanish nationalism. Unfortunately, some of the most 'popular' commentators writing from BCN seem obsessed by towing a PP line, despite the fact that this ignores reality. Cheers.