Friday, June 03, 2016

Reclaiming The Past: Mallorca's War Graves

The reclamation of the disappeared during the Civil War and the Francoist dictatorship on the islands. It's something of a mouthful for the name of a law, but the mouthful is worth it. I'm not convinced that I have the translation absolutely right, as I struggle with the Spanish "recuperación" which is the original word (or rather "recuperació" to be linguistically correct in a Catalan style). Recuperation - restore to health - that doesn't seem right. Recovery? Possibly so in as much as what will be recovered. But reclamation seems to possess greater strength and moral correctness: a reclaiming of what was lost. Lives in this instance.

This is what had been proposed as the war graves (my words) act, though even this was stripped back to the titular barest bones (and I really don't mean a pun) of just "pits". The change to the title reflects a rare occurrence. Often cited, too often cited to be genuinely credible, consensus has nonetheless prevailed. And for once it is genuine enough. So it should be. Genuine, that is. One is talking about people who were murdered. That shouldn't be forgotten.

It had been the Partido Popular (and Ciudadanos) who had proposed the changed title. By doing so the law would appear less one solely driven by Republican sentiment. There would be a recognition that there were two sides and that two sides were capable of atrocity. Inclusion of "the Civil War" permits a nuance of the bipartisan: the two parties to the dreadful events of the second half of the 1930s. The insertion of "the Francoist dictatorship" enables the political right to observe its own revulsion. There may still exist - not may, do - Francoists on the political right, but the contemporary right has for the most part come to terms with the need to distance itself. And generally, it does so with sincerity.

The Balearic political parties stated their views. With consensus sought, found and delivered, there was a lack of stridency. The views were conciliatory. Margalida Capellà, the Més parliamentary deputy who was the chief sponsor of the bill, spoke of issues on which you cannot win, only convince. It was a day of celebration but also the saddest day in the parliament's history. Miquel Jerez for the PP said that the law will serve to "reclaim" the forgotten victims, to remind us of humanity and of memory that is life.

It was Maria Antònia Oliver of the association Memòria de Mallorca, which has been pressing the case for the exhumation of mass graves, who expressed things the best. "The approval of the law through the consent of all parties is a sign of democratic normalisation. This is not a political issue but one of humanity." Amen.

Someone of course did have to go and spoil it. Baltasar Picornell of Podemos displayed a Republican flag. Why? Why do that? The Republican sentiment is and was lost on no one. Why resort to symbolism at a moment of reconciliation?

But is this what it is? Reconciliation? Not as such. There has never been such a thing. It's partly why the Civil War still hangs over Mallorca and Spain: a cloud on the past which officialdom attempted to erase through, for example, the amnesty (aka amnesia). No, this was and is a belated recognition. It will be styled as one by the right, but the law's title facilitates a recognition by the left as well. Consensus as opposed to reconciliation. As it is with the insertion into the text of the adjective "possible". Possible crimes against humanity. This replaced the definitive. There had been no possibility, only certainty. One can never, at the distance of some eighty years, always be certain.

We are of course only weeks away from the eightieth anniversary of the start of the Civil War. A law to permit the exhumation of graves, to provide closure for the families of the disappeared, to raise the "possibility" of pursuing crimes against humanity is as close as there will be to any form of celebration. Just as apposite, if not more, is the thirty-ninth anniversary of the Amnesty Law. The UN has been pressing for Spain to meet obligations on crimes against humanity. The Balearics have now done so. There is no statute of limitations under international law.

Yet while the Balearic parliament, with mostly commendable dignity, has been enacting legislation, in Palma we have had the ongoing controversy of the Feixina monument. A dignified solution for this had been made six years ago: a monument to all victims. Now, the stridency of the left (and the right) is in contrast to the considered reflections of parliament.

Symbols like the monument cannot be ignored. It is perhaps too easy to overlook how deep the feelings remain among some: the genuine ones as opposed to the outraged expressions of politicians. It is for this reason that the monument should be debated with greater dignity. The war graves act offers consensus and a form of reconciliation that have come about through empathetic discussion. Baltasar Picornell says that it is a "big step to closing wounds". Quite so. The monument, on the other hand, is re-opening them.

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