Monday, March 31, 2014

Forget Me Not: Historical memory

Adolfo Suárez's death last week ushered forth a generally positive appraisal of his premiership. As is often the case when a major political figure passes away, there was some selective memory being applied. Though Suárez is now remembered for his achievements in helping to found democracy in Spain, his time as prime minister came to an end because of a lack of consensus, something which conflicts with how the obituary revisionists have portrayed his prime ministership (even if this consensus was evident with the Moncloa Pact of 1977 that was important in the immediate post-Franco period). But his Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD) was a shaky coalition and it fell apart, he having already gone down with it by the time it was dissolved. One faction within it had criticised Suárez for not being democratic enough and for showing uninspired leadership.

That period in Spain's history was volatile for different reasons. One was industrial relations strife. Symbolically perhaps, what had promised to be a stormy UCD congress in Palma was cancelled because of an air-controllers' strike. Suárez, who had faced the prospect of a hostile gathering, didn't need the meeting to tell him that the writing was on the wall. He resigned anyway, less than a month before the coup attempt in February 1981.

The nonetheless successful transition to democracy obscured what arguably was Suárez's greatest failure. Though a reformer and moderniser, he was a product of Francoism. It took the coup attempt to bring home to the new democrats this failure: one which had not looked Francoism straight in the eye and dealt with it square on. The period from 1977 to 1981 was dubbed the politics of amnesia, and these were politics which were produced by the "pacto de olvido" (the pact of forgetting).

It is too easy to argue with hindsight that Suárez should have taken a different course and that there shouldn't have been this forgetfulness. The course that was taken was essentially pragmatic. Francoism most certainly did not die along with the Generalísimo. The coup attempt confirmed this, and indeed pressures from the military are sometimes cited as a reason why Suárez resigned.

I stated above that there was some selective memory with the tributes for Suárez, and memory - or its absence - has been a key factor in Spain since the Civil War. The politics of transition demanded that there was amnesia, but in applying this forgetfulness, Suárez and the rest of the political class were adopting a similar course to that which the Franco regime had. It airbrushed Republicanism from the memory and from the physical landscape of Spain. Its symbols were torn down and destroyed. It never existed.

The amnesia is often said to have lasted well into this century, but that isn't strictly accurate. Events of 23 February, 1981 heralded two decades of the "accommodation period". Acknowledgement of the past was made but without anything officially being done to reverse the forgetfulness pact or the Amnesty Law which had in effect pardoned repression and those who had committed offences during the Franco era. As these two decades went on, though, the pressure grew for some form of official recognition of the past and for official abandonment of the forgetfulness.

It wasn't until the Zapatero PSOE administration introduced the Law of Historical Memory that this recognition was made official. The law included the removal of Francoist symbols from public places, a condemnation of the repression, and state aid to exhume graves. As a process of reconciliation, it has been praised, even if it had taken 30 years for it to occur.

Between 2006 and 2010, almost 20 million euros were made available in the form of government grants for reconciliation funding. With the change of national government, these grants came to a halt. They may not have been necessary in any event (or affordable in a time of austerity), but reconciliation has proved to be shortlived. The law has not been the success that some would suggest it has been, and the politics of right versus left have conspired to undermine whatever success it might have achieved.

Like the Franco regime removed symbols of Republicanism, symbols of Francoism have also been removed, but not in the destructive manner with which the fascists attacked the Republican symbols. The removal of the symbols has been a physical sign of the implementation of the historical memory law, but there has not been consistency. In Llucmajor, for example, the mayor is under pressure to insist that the parish church removes a Francoist shield replete with the legend "fallen for God and for Spain". It is a small reminder of a past that some would like to cling to, a testimony to the strength of memory not to the weakness of officially induced forgetfulness. What would Suárez have made of such a little symbol? We'll never know.

Index for March 2014

Berlin travel fair politicians' no-show - 8 March 2014
Bono seeks support for Spain - 9 March 2014
Capdepera tourism - 6 March 2014
Carnival - 1 March 2014
Catalan book week - 4 March 2014
Council of Mallorca: Bauzá - 3 March 2014
Cycling tourism - 28 March 2014
Emigration and crisis - 23 March 2014
Eurovision and English - 12 March 2014
Farm bill - 5 March 2014
Farm reform and tourism - 24 March 2014
Law of Historical Memory - 31 March 2014
Mining law - 13 March 2014
Pollensa and university: landscape improvements - 2 March 2014
Rafael Nadal honorary doctorate - 29 March 2014
Sa Pobla's bell - 24 March 2014
SICTED quality - 21 March 2014
Sleep and Spanish kids' education - 26 March 2014
Son Real - 11 March 2014
Spring in Mallorca 1936 - 22 March 2014
Threat to certainty of Mallorca's tourism - 7 March 2014
Touristic zones in Mallorca - 27 March 2014
Tramuntana website - 30 March 2014
Women in Spain - 10 March 2014

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