Thursday, November 13, 2014

What Do These People Want?

In a year's time Spain faces a Franco issue. "El Caudillo" died on 20 November, 1975. Does the fortieth anniversary merit some form of honour, if only an acknowledgment? It is doubtful that it will, but there will nevertheless be those who consider the anniversary worthy of more than a footnote to official business.

Franco may be long dead, but his memory lingers. The Amnesty Law which followed his death can be dubbed the amnesia law, as it assisted in creating the collective loss of memory decreed by the newly democratic but unreconciled Spain. But this memory loss didn't extend to the extinguishing of all Francoist sympathies or indeed the evidence of physical manifestations of the regime. It wasn't until the Zapatero administration sought to remove these concrete or symbolic reminders via its law of historic memory that the statues started to be pulled down. The current government reduced the budget for this to zero.

The shadow cast by this lingering memory is such that for some Franco never died. As with Elvis, who followed him a couple of years later, there is doubtless a guy working down the chip shop who swears he's Franco. The years of linger are reminiscent of the months of linger prior to his passing in 1975. These were such that US television news would make repeated reference to Franco still being alive. Chevy Chase on "Saturday Night", the comedy show which was to later become "live", adopted and rephrased this - "Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead".

Those months of lingering death and indeed years of failing health represented a period of uncertainty not just to the future but also to the present. Who was in charge and what actually were they in charge of? It was also a period during which a dying regime and its fellow travellers would show their spite and attempt to assert their fading authority, and there were two incidents which occurred forty years ago this month which demonstrate this.

At around about a quarter past midnight on 22 November, 1974 a bomb exploded at the offices of the "Diario de Mallorca". There were no injuries, but it was the third attack of some description on the newspaper in less than a month, the second of which involved the daubing of graffiti that was reproduced elsewhere in Palma. It read: "Tácito. No. Falange". Tácito was a reference to a group of intellectuals, politicians and journalists who, as the death of Franco neared, sought democratic solutions and who took to print in espousing them. The Falange, Franco's one-time Thought Police, didn't take at all kindly to them.

The Falange was very much one of the regime's fellow travellers, but it had been on the death bed a lot longer than Franco. Its power had been diminishing from the early 1960s, but it also lingered. It is a mark, however, of the extent to which the Falange was distanced from the regime that the conservative "ABC" newspaper could openly report the bombing as the work of the Falange. As such, it was indicative of the extent to which the full apparatus of the Franco dictatorship had been undermined and had been crumbling from the 1960s when tourism and pressing economic needs had brought about new thinking. Yet, it was an element associated with the dictatorship which viewed the potential for democracy with horror and so made its desperate final attempts to assert itself.

The other incident concerns Mallorca's greatest folk singer, María del Mar Bonet. On 7 November, 1974 she was arrested in Barcelona, accused of having been spreading subversive propaganda. It was not the first time she had encountered problems. In 1971 she had been arrested after a concert in Zaragoza and had been subjected to, in her words, "an horrific interrogation". She was held overnight and no longer, and nothing was to really come of her detention three years later. But it was a reminder of how the regime, though in its death throes, could still not stomach any criticism. Her main crime was to have put the music to and have sung "Què volem aquesta gent?" (what do these people want?), a song dedicated to Enrique Ruano, a student, anti-Franco militant who had died in police custody in 1969.

But what the regime could stomach even less than the criticism was Bonet's popularity. She was by then nationally and internationally acclaimed. Her arrest in 1974 was proof of its desperation and of final displays of malice, which brought scorn from the international community and increasingly from a Spanish one as well.

Franco believed that Juan Carlos would carry his legacy forward. He was wrong. The spitefulness of the bombing and the arrest, the rise of Tácito were all evidence of a regime and ideology on the point of collapse. There was to be no other way than democracy.

Photo: Maria del Mar Bonet in her younger days.

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