Spain passes “Historical Memory” law on Franco era

The Spanish parliament Oct. 31 passed a landmark bill that condemns the 1939-75 fascist dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco and mandates restitution to its victims. The Law of Historical Memory, approved by the lower house, will expand benefits to victims of Spain’s 1936-39 civil war and nearly four decades of dictatorship that followed. Approval by the Senate is considered a formality. Right-wing opposition politicians bitterly fought the law, arguing it reopens wounds that would further divide the country. The Socialist government of Prime Minister JosĂ© Luis Rodriguez Zapatero—whose grandfather was among thousands executed by Franco’s forces—maintains that while Franco supporters who suffered during the war have been honored and compensated, those who opposed him faced only persecution. Details of the bill from the LA Times:

* Sentences handed down by kangaroo courts during the dictatorship, which sent thousands of dissidents and opponents of the regime to jail, will be formally declared “illegitimate.”

* Local governments must help locate, exhume and identify the bodies of victims from mass graves. Tens of thousands of Republican partisans are believed to be buried in clandestine common graves throughout the country, their fates never officially established.

* Demonstrations are banned at El Valle de los Caidos, or the Valley of the Fallen, a mausoleum and tourist attraction where Franco is buried, sometimes used for fascist rallies.

* Spaniards who lost citizenship after the dictatorship forced them into exile can regain it; descendants of exiles will be allowed to apply for citizenship during a two-year period.

* Plaques, statues and other symbols honoring Franco “or statements in exaltation of the military uprising, the civil war or the repression of the dictatorship” must be removed from public view.

It is here that legislators made a last-minute amendment at the behest of the church, which asserted “artistic-religious” reasons for maintaining plaques that honor priests and nuns who fell victim to Republican forces. Many of these commemorations contain the insignia of Franco and the fascists. Churches will be allowed to keep these memorials.

If there is to be a measure banning display of symbols, this exception is fairly sinister. However, as we have pointed out re. European laws against Holocaust revisionism and denying the Armenian genocide, censorship and authoritarianism in the name of anti-fascism makes no political sense and is (we fear) doomed to backfire. We anticipate an ugly backlash from the Franco-nostalgists.

See our last posts on Spain and the legacy of Franco.

  1. Morocco recalls Spanish ambassador
    That didn’t take long. Is this a calculated message to appease the Spanish right in the wake of the Historical Memory law? If so, Juan Carlos should be careful—Spain’s claim to enclaves on the coast of North Africa nearly came to war in 2002. From Reuters, Nov. 2:

    Morocco recalled its ambassador to Spain after Madrid announced this week that King Juan Carlos would visit Spain’s two north African enclaves, which Morocco claims, Moroccan state news agency MAP said on Friday.

    Spain said the king and Queen Sofia would visit the small, densely populated enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on Morocco’s Mediterranean coast next Monday and Tuesday in response to persistent demands from locals.

    Zapatero himself visited Ceuta and Meililla in 2006—the first post-Franco prime minister to do so. We also viewed this at the time as a strategic tilt to the right after standing up to Spanish conservatives on greater autonomy for Catalonia.

    Meanwhile, on the subject of separation walls, Ceuta and Melilla are the site of two which don’t make the news that often, at least in the US—despite their typically deadly nature. But they were blasted in a recent report by IntermĂłn Oxfam, “Puertas al Mar” (“Gates to the Sea”), which found that “the current restrictions on the international movement of persons is a direct invitation to illegal immigration…and is the new face of poverty and exclusion.” From IPS, Oct. 24:

    The report says the migration policies of developed countries, which concentrate on policing borders, are costly, fuel illegal immigration, violate human rights and contribute to creating pockets of poverty and exclusion.

    One example of such costs is the high-tech razor-wire barrier along the 11-kilometre border of the tiny Spanish enclave of Melilla, in northern Africa, to prevent migrants entering from Morocco.

    The third stage alone of the fence, built in 2006, cost 20 million euros (nearly 30 million dollars). The same sum of money put to alternative uses could have eradicated malaria, which affects 11 million children in sub-Saharan Africa, the document says. In addition, every hour that a patrol boat and a spotter plane are in action costs 3,700 euros (5,200 dollars), equivalent to the annual income of 10 citizens of Sierra Leone.

    See our last posts on Morocco and the politics of the Maghreb.

  2. Spanish Civil War breaks out again —in Vatican City
    More from the former Cardinal Ratzinger’s Brave New Vatican. From Macleans, Oct. 31:

    Last Sunday in Vatican City’s St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict XVI performed a beatification ceremony for 498 martyrs of the war, the largest such ceremony ever conducted. The honourees were mostly clergymen and members of religious orders, killed by the Republican faction during the conflict after the Catholic Church sided with the right-wing Nationalists. Some 60,000 of the faithful thronged the square. Nearby, though, a group of protesters demonstrated with an image of Picasso’s Guernica — a painting that depicts the bombing of a Spanish village by the German Luftwaffe in support of the Nationalist forces — and raised banners that criticized the honouring of “those who tortured, exploited and killed.” Fighting broke out, and police were forced to intervene, arresting six.

    Because of its timing, the ceremony was seen by some as a provocation. It came during the run-up to Spain’s passage of the so-called Law of Historical Memory. Sponsored by the governing socialist party, it formally condemns for the first time the 36-year fascist rule of Gen. Francisco Franco, mandates the removal of all fascist symbols, dismisses the verdicts of the summary trials staged by the Nationalists during the civil war, and forces local governments to fund the excavation of mass graves. Francisco Perez, the Catholic archbishop of Pamplona, has spoken out against the law, urging victims of the war “to look for ways to forget.” The Church, however, which has been frustrated by the government’s position on issues like divorce and same-sex marriage, denies any political motivation for conducting its ceremony.