Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Treating The Amnesty On Spain's Amnesia

On 20 November in two years time there will be a fortieth anniversary. Forty years are not normally marked out for particular commemoration, but for some Spaniards 20 November 2015 will be worthy of commemoration. For others it will be worthy of condemnation. For others still it will be worthy of being ignored. Spaniards divide between those who revere the memory of Franco, and so therefore the anniversary of his death, those who most certainly do not and those who would rather forget about him.

Forty years do not represent a long time. They are half a lifetime. A similar length of time to which Franco ruled. Forty years also don't represent a long time in the past. It is why so many Spaniards remember but also why so many would prefer to forget, but they can't forget because the spectre of Franco hangs over Spain. His memory cannot be shaken off. If at times it has seemed as though it might be, it comes back again. But even shaking the memory off requires an awful lot of memory and an awful lot of argument, emotion and raking over the past.

Where does Franco exist in current-day Spain? He is there, though he is not wanted, in Catalonia and so, by association, in Mallorca too. He is there in the Catholic Church. He is there in education, with the national government wanting to give equal weight to religious studies at high-school level. He is there in Opus Dei. He is there at the bullfight. He might even be said to be there at Real Madrid. He is there in a part, a very small part, of the Iberian Peninsula, and a part which isn't Spain. He is there in Gibraltar.

Franco is also there in "in Franco's day", the one that carries the caveat which goes something like "I know he was a dictator, but". Franco is also there in the law. There is one which is devoted to him, the law on historic memory. Franco is also there in the courts and in jealousies among judges. Baltasar Garzón can tell you all about these.

The law on historic memory, introduced by Zapatero's socialist government, is still on the statute book, but it is neglected. The Partido Popular government does not fund it, citing financial reasons. Whether it was a good law is perhaps debatable. Those many Spaniards who would rather forget would not have been happy to have a legislative instrument devised in order to make them remember and examine their own historic memories. They might have preferred that there were no arguments over the names of streets that echoed with the barbarity of an otherwise obscure military figure.

It was a law that did, nevertheless, attempt to make Spaniards face up to the past. The national amnesia that was the product of the amnesty law after Franco's death had to be treated. Collective and wilful forgetfulness does not serve a democratic society or one which protests that it is. Democratic society has to confront its history, both good and bad, to learn from it, to not repeat the same mistakes, to not have citizen fight citizen.

The amnesty law, though it may have been passed with the best of intentions, brushed too much under the nation's carpet. There was no truth and no reconciliation. Zapatero's historic memory law did not address the amnesty law. It was one aimed at symbols of Francoism rather than justice or truth. Nevertheless, because Baltasar Garzón, a PSOE sympathiser, was riding high during the Zapatero period, he would have felt emboldened in challenging the amnesty law, in ordering exhumations, in seeking truths about the disappeared from the Civil War and its aftermath. He was wrong. Not because Zapatero abandoned him but because his rivals and elements within the Partido Popular went gunning for him, citing the amnesty law and so eventually having him disqualified.

Now, the United Nations in the form of its Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances have brought Franco back into the frame. This group has contacted the Spanish Government and told it that it must revoke the amnesty law and set in motion a plan to look into what happened to all those Spaniards who disappeared. It has told the government that it has international obligations to meet and that far too little is being done to investigate incidents which could and perhaps should be tried in court.

Will the government take these demands seriously? What do you think? Catalonia, Catholic Church, religious studies, Garzón, "I know he was a dictator, but".

No comments: