Friday, July 19, 2013

Franco In A Fridge

Things go better with Coca-Caudillo. They do if you are an artist who puts a replica non-Republican in a stand-up refrigerator with markings that bear a strong resemblance to those of a well-known, global American soft-drinks company. Or they do until someone comes along, takes a photo of Franco in the fridge and appends it to the text of a civil lawsuit that ends up in front of a judge in Madrid.

It was February last year when the vice-president of the Franco Federation got his smartphone out, snapped the gelid Generalísimo and declared that the artist Eugenio Merino had committed an "offence that no modern civilisation can tolerate". Well, at least he acknowledges that Spain is now a modern civilisation.

On Wednesday, the judge dismissed the lawsuit. Franco's honour had not been damaged. The foundation will appeal. It will go all the way to the Supreme Court if need be. The timing of the judge's decision was oddly coincidental. On 17 July 1936, the uprising had begun in Spanish Morocco, though 18 July, when it broke out on the mainland as well, is the date that Francoists celebrate. As it says on the Franco Foundation's website, in drawing comparisons with other dates in July that commemorate France's Bastille Day and America's independence, 18 July 1936 is "the date that best identifies the long and deep historical footprint of Spain ... it was a war of independence, at stake in which was not only the sovereignty of the nation, but the essence of the role Spain had played in the defence of Western Christian civilisation." More of that civilisation, then.

Putting a representation of the former and very long dead dictator into a fridge might, where the Franco Foundation is concerned, be considered a slur on the General's honour, but it is somewhat difficult to impugn someone's honour when he or she is dead and has been as dead as long as Franco has been. Even if it were easier, it's a fair question to ask what honour, as in honour in whose name? The majority of the Spanish people?

Where the foundation might have a case would be on the issue of Franco's intellectual property; the old boy's image rights. I confess I have absolutely no idea if there is such a thing as image rights as they may or may not pertain to one-time dictators. Perhaps former heads of state are considered to be in the public domain and so therefore rights can't be claimed, but the dead are not without such rights. Agatha Christie is one of the longer dead whose image rights are guarded jealously by her foundation. Woe betide any artist who were to put a replica of her into a fridge or a washing machine or a cooker or any other domestic electrical product.

The foundation had been seeking 18,000 euros in damages. Quite how this figure was arrived at I don't know. Perhaps Merino had sold his creation for that amount. That would be quite something. The wife goes out in the morning and returns in the evening to find Franco with sunglasses on and his hands folded across his chest, staring out of a large Coke container in the corner of the living-room. "What have you gone and bought now!?"

If the foundation is less than pleased with the creation, I wonder what Coke make of it. I mean, there they are, going around helping out the Tursespaña national tourism promotion agency by giving it marketing consultancy for free, and some artist goes and uses Coke-style branding for displaying a frosted dictator. Was the artist implying something? Who knows. Or maybe Franco was partial to a can of Coke. The foundation may know.

It, the foundation, does have a very substantial archive of historical documents, so it acts as a useful repository of the past. But you might be surprised that there is such a thing as the foundation. Its very being highlights the odd relationship between Franco and current-day Spain. There is no proscription, and indeed the foundation was once the recipient of government money - it was given a grant by the then Partido Popular administration in 2003, ostensibly for the upkeep of its archive.

The memory of Franco that the foundation wishes to preserve is that of the memory of 18 July 1936 when the national uprising was, to quote the foundation, "a civil-military response to the pressures and repression by the Marxist government of the Popular Front". That is a memory far removed from a Franco in a fridge.

Any comments to please.

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