Spain is still struggling to come to terms with its past. This issue comes back every year on October 12, a national holiday that reopens the wounds of centuries of colonialism that have never really been worked through, and it happens every time the topic shifts to the Civil War and the horror of Francoism. The country that, thanks to its pioneering law on universal jurisdiction (crippled by the PP in 2014) had been able to catch the bloodthirsty dictator Pinochet off guard for the first time, has never been able to shed light on its own dark past.
The law on historical memory, passed by the Zapatero government in 2007, had been the first very timid attempt to reconstruct the role of the protagonists of one of the darkest pages of Spanish history. The current government, after having made the historic gesture of exhuming and removing the body of the dictator from the Valle de los Caídos monument, is now trying, amidst myriad difficulties, to pass a new “law of democratic memory,” a little more courageous than the previous one.
But in addition to the eternal enemies from the ranks of the right and the ultra-right, which now also have a parliamentary forum, this law has a bumpy road ahead. On Thursday, the examination in the Chamber began, and the first skirmishes have already made it clear that the road is all uphill.
All the parliamentary partners of the government have supported the alternative proposal presented by Esquerra Republicana, the most combative party on this issue, which basically calls the government and its proposal “cowardly.” Appealing repeatedly to the “anti-fascist esteemed members of the chamber,” Esquerra’s passionate spokesman Gabriel Rufián called for:
- an end to impunity
- repealing the infamous amnesty law voted in 1977 to cover up the crimes of Francoism
- declaring the dictatorship itself illegal, which arose from a coup against the republic, not just deeming some of its courts “illegitimate”
- and giving economic and patrimonial compensation to the victims of Francoism, not just a generic recognition
However, the government proposal has passed the first hurdle, but Unidas Podemos has already made it known that it will intervene with a series of amendments aimed at improving the structure of the law.
The government’s proposal also features many positive innovations, such as:
- the creation of a DNA bank for the victims, which would help identify the thousands of bodies that still lie in mass graves on the roadsides of many Spanish towns
- the creation of a national census of victims (as of 2021, none yet exists)
- the exhumation of the body of Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Phalange, also buried in the Valle de los Caidos, which in turn will be “re-signified”
- the identification of all the graves that have not yet been excavated (i.e. most of them)
- banning the Francoist foundations, though for now the text only mentions those that “humiliate the victims”
- and declaring some of the repressive trials null and void
Actions that glorify Francoism will be prohibited, including the Francisco Franco Foundation, which exists for this sole purpose.
It is no coincidence that the latest film by Pedro Almodovar, Parallel Mothers, has just been released, which, among others, also touches on the theme of the pain of all those families who for years have tried to identify the remains of their family members killed by Francoist forces during the Civil War. It’s enough to consider that the first opening of a grave took place only 20 years ago, and, as in the film, it was at the expense of private individuals. That the state will take up the commitment to offer this form of reparation is nevertheless highly symbolic – even if very late.
Minister of the Presidency Felix Bolaños has asked Parliament to support the law “as a moral imperative,” explaining that “it is not ideology, it is justice, it is democracy, it is humanity,” and that the law “does not aim to open wounds, but to close them once and for all.”
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