Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Persecution Of Baltasar Garzón

It takes something for a judge to be the subject of a film or a TV show. Baltasar Garzón is neither an eccentric figure of the Wild West (Judge Roy Bean) nor a fictitious and unrealistic character such as Judge John Deed. He is grounded and real. He is grounded in more than just one sense. Level-headed, he has also been suspended since last May, while awaiting trial on an allegation of "prevaricación", which is a Spanish legal concept which isn't really as it sounds; it can be taken to mean misconduct in office or possibly perverting the course of justice.

The documentary film, "Listening to Judge Garzón", is more than simply a look at his life and times and his fears arising out of his suspension. It is also representative of the support Garzón has from the liberal arts. A week ago, in Madrid, there was a demonstration, one by artists, unionists and politicians, calling for an end to the "persecution" of Garzón. Under the banner "truth, justice and reparation", the demonstration rejected the attempted criminalisation of Garzón and criticised the inaction of the government and tribunals.

Garzón, who, by appearance, has something of a chubby Sven-Goran Eriksson about him but who has not been guilty of Sven's peccadilloes or indeed those of Judge John Deed, is far from uncontroversial. To call him a judge is misleading, in English terms. He is an investigator, more than he is an arbiter. It is through the nature of his investigations that he has aroused controversy and the attentions of opponents as diverse as the Spanish right wing and the US Government.

The Spanish legal system allows for investigations that go beyond national jurisdiction. Consequently, Garzón has brushed up against the American authorities for seeking to pursue torture allegations and Henry Kissinger. But it was one investigation in particular, one in Spain, that brought about his suspension. It was that of calling for exhumation of graves and for charges of crimes against humanity related to incidents during and after the Civil War.

Garzón, so goes the allegation, exceeded his authority in ordering this investigation. It was said to go against the amnesty that was granted after Franco's death, one that, until relatively recently and the introduction of the law of historic memory which was designed to strip Spain of vestiges of the Franco era, had caused a kind of collusive, national amnesia.

The argument that the investigation contravened the amnesty is dubious. Its drafting was intended to clear those who had been imprisoned by the Franco regime; not the Francoists and Francoist judges who had put them into prison. Amnesia and selective memory have surrounded its actual terms ever since. The selectivity has been one of interpreting the amnesty to suit purposes.

The investigation was itself suspended. But this didn't stop Garzón being indicted. And the impulse for his being so has widely and correctly been seen as one that has come from the right. The Partido Popular has been accused of willing his neutering, while the ones to actually file a lawsuit were from a right-wing trade union called Manos Limpias ("clean hands"). Other hands involved with bringing Garzón to trial were those of the Falange.

It is the dark forces of the extreme right that hang over the Garzón affair. Though Garzón could well be accused of courting his own publicity and seeking self-aggrandisement, the case reveals much of what lurks beneath the surface in Spanish society and of the dichotomy between liberalism and the pursuit of justice and a reactionary neo-Francoism.

It also reveals much about the politicisation and partiality of the legal system. Garzón is not completely immune to charges of political bias; he is a member of the PSOE socialist party. But one of the judges selected to investigate the charge against Garzón contributes to a magazine with pro-Franco sympathies. Last year, more than 1500 judges issued a declaration condemning the influence of political parties in the legal process.

It is against this background that you have the current situation in Mallorca in which two parties, the now former Unió Mallorquina and the Partido Popular (neither to the left of the political spectrum), have been levelling allegations of political interference and judge and prosecutor bias in cases of corruption. The PP's Balearics leader, José Bauzá, has come out and said that "cases of supposed corruption" directed at the party have been pursued with the "clear agreement and rigour" of the judiciary.

Whatever the truth or not of bias and interference, from either left or right of the political spectrum, there is undeniably an underlying politicisation, and it is one that threatens an undermining of what should be an independent institution - the judiciary. More than this, however, and as the Garzón affair exposes, influences on the legal system go to the centre of Spain's democratic institutions and to a battle for the country's heart and soul. If Garzón is indeed being persecuted - and he is to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights - then it is worrying. And not just for Garzón.

Any comments to please.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

i love this article. i am researching a novel set in the Spanish civil war - I am using Garzon has a fictional modern character. 'The Ghosts of Spain' by Giles tremlet is a must read for anyone interested in this period of history. Would love to hear from anyone who could help me with research - (and, in my dreams an interview with Garzon)! julie-ann corrigan