Friday, December 5, 2008

Civil War legacy divides Spain


July 17, 2006
By Danny Wood
BBC News, Madrid

Spain is marking 70 years since the start of the Civil War.

The military uprising against the democratically elected government on 18 July 1936 led to three years of war and then four decades of fascist dictatorship under Gen Francisco Franco.

The anniversary of the beginning of the conflict comes as Spain's government prepares to approve a law designed to rehabilitate the victims of the Franco regime.

Some historians say there is a strange amnesia in Spain when it comes to seriously coming to terms with the Civil War. Seven decades later, Spaniards are still very divided about the causes of this conflict and how to deal with its consequences.

This three-year struggle is often regarded as a rehearsal for World War II.

Nazi Germany helped the Spanish generals attack their government, while Soviet Russia came to the aid of Spain's democratically elected administration. Thousands of foreign volunteers fought on both sides. About 250,000 people died during the conflict.

For Spain's military, backed by conservative political forces and the Roman Catholic Church, the Civil War was a battle against communism. For the Republican government the conflict was a struggle against fascism.

Historical amnesia

But despite the importance of this Civil War, one survey shows that 50% of Spaniards have not talked about it at home. And 35% say they were never taught what happened in 1936, at school.

This amnesia has been actively encouraged at a political level.

Thirty years ago, Spain's emerging new democracy felt so threatened by the ghosts of the Civil War and the recently defunct Franco regime that there was a 'Pact of Silence' between the left and the right of politics not to raise the issue or seek reparations for crimes committed by the dictatorship.

But now attitudes are changing. On the streets of Madrid, many people think its time to seriously debate this important part of their history, but with concern for the sensitivities on both sides of the political fence.

Meanwhile, Spain's government is about to approve legislation that will recognise the victims of the Franco regime.

But even just before it gets a tick of approval, it is still not clear what exactly is in this law. According to critics, the government is running scared about the possible right-wing backlash this initiative might cause.

The way this legislation - called The Law for the Recovery of the Historical Memory - has been drafted, has also angered those on both the left and the right of politics. The content has been decided by members of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government in consultation with academics.

There is a feeling from other left-wing political parties that an important law like this should have been drafted more collaboratively.

The conservative Popular Party refused to participate at all and is against the legislation. For supporters of the conservatives, introducing this sort of law is unnecessary meddling with the past.

"Our transition from dictatorship to democracy is an example in Europe and I think that we've got to cherish this and not re-open wounds that have already been able to be cured, wounds that are healed," said Gustavo de Aristegui, a spokesman for the Popular Party.

"You know, leave things be, it's not an issue any more, I mean people on the street are not worried about these things any more."

But the families of many thousands of people, victims of Franco's authoritarian government who still lie in unmarked mass graves across Spain, would disagree with the Popular Party.

"If we look at the past and we know the past we can be more free," says Emilio Silva, the head of a group that six years ago started locating and exhuming these bodies for reburial.

"I think it's like a psychoanalysis because we have to talk about our past to be a healthy society and I think it's very important."

The legislation will provide compensation for those who suffered under the dictatorship and is also expected to makes changes to General Franco's most imposing legacy: The Valley of the Fallen, the former leader's colossal burial chamber on the outskirts of the capital.

One suggestion is to convert part of the monument into an education centre about fascism. And, for the first time, the local authorities are expected to have guidelines to help people locate the bodies of family members, still missing, who were murdered during the Franco regime.

The government says its Law for the Recovery of the Historical Memory is not about rewriting history, or making people responsible for crimes of the past. But for many Spaniards it represents a new willingness to examine the truth about their history.

8 comments:

Edward said...

The question of whether opening these old wounds will help Spain recover from the trauma of the Civil War is a very hard question. In such instances as South Africa, with the "truth and reconciliation" council, there was a lot of progress made in the recovery process from apartheid. However, Spain as a country is very divided with different cultures, languages and national identities and this may lead to further divisions. Personally, I feel that providing the victims of the Civil War with some kind of compensation is a good idea, I feel there should be some sort of repayment for the suffering that these people faced, but the effects may be unpredictable.

Matt A said...

I think this article is very interesting. I think that it makes some intriguing points when it talks about how the Spanish civil war was a "rehearsal" for WWII and that there is "historical amnesia" in Spain. However, the idea of providing compensation for victims is great but it is tough. Who will determine who gets to receive this compensation and how much? The civil war is a touchy subject in Spain and the fact that the article points out that 50% of Spaniards don't talk about it at home and that 35% were not taught it in school proves that. This could have unpredictable effects as Ted said and I feel too much time has past and it should be left alone. I also think it is too hard to determine who will receive compensation, especially with the limited amount resources available to the government right now.

CB said...

I think the ideas behind this law are positive. However, I agree with both Ted and Matt in that it would be hard to decipher who deserves the reimbursement, and how much. If too little, it could be seen as a pity pay which could be more offensive than just leaving the issue be. As for revisiting events and history from the civil war and Franco's regime, I think that it is an important step. Understanding previous troubles, experiences and issues is important to knowing how to prevent them later on in life. Furthermore, the Spanish Civil War and the repercussions it produced shaped much of what Spain is today.
In my family's house they refuse to discuss the war or Franco, which I think is sad because the youth will never understand what occurred in their country less than a century ago. I think people would better be able to understand the older generations and the culture if they understood how previous times would be.
All in all, I think it is ignorant to disregard history and ignore it in attempt to guard feelings. It will only lead to the same mistakes.

CB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nick said...

Sup guys? Compensation will certainly be a tricky matter. As Matt said, it would be tough to decipher who get money and who does not. It seems that most people were directly affected by the war, being that it is still a touchy matter, so lots of people are going to want some compensation. It might be best to not do the compensation, unless it is compensated to those alive during the war, which means not many people. Compensating families is not a great solution. The solution should be in educating people about this matter. In Germany, I'm sure they learn about the Holocaust, and that's one hell of a touchy matter. As it was said in family guy while Stewie and Brian were on a German tour and asked why there was no information from 1931-1945, the guy said, "We were on vacation!" Still, it is important. They should be taught.

Cate said...

I think that it is foolish not to discuss the past. From not discussing the past how will people ever learn from what happened? Aren't people always saying, "history repeats itself?" I think that it is important for families to discuss what has happened, especially because many people of the older generation are alive to tell the first hand accounts. Clearly there is still tension about the Civil War if some families will refuse to mention it at all. However, I do agree with what the boys said about the compensation for the families. It is a good idea in theory, but now that so much time has passed how would they work out all of the logistics?

Micki said...

When reading this article I could not help but think about how the disagreement about the Law for the Recovery of the Historical Memory parallels the disagreement of political parties throughout all of Spanish history. The socialists, left wing republicans and conservative republicans, and all the various parties in between, could never agree upon the way in which the republic should be run, ultimately cumulating in the Spanish Civil War itself, the exact subject of this discussion. I personally have witnessed the hesitation and awkwardness that comes with the introduction of a discussion about the war and what exactly happened when I decided to discuss it with mi madre at home. This concept of keeping this under the rug seems very counterproductive to me, as the history and learning from previous experience is the most effective way of constructing a better future. I think it is important for schools to discuss the politics of the war so that children can grow up with pride because Spanish history is very complex and certainly something to be proud of.

Micki said...

When reading this article I could not help but think about how the disagreement about the Law for the Recovery of the Historical Memory parallels the disagreement of political parties throughout all of Spanish history. The socialists, left wing republicans and conservative republicans, and all the various parties in between, could never agree upon the way in which the republic should be run, ultimately cumulating in the Spanish Civil War itself, the exact subject of this discussion. I personally have witnessed the hesitation and awkwardness that comes with the introduction of a discussion about the war and what exactly happened when I decided to discuss it with mi madre at home. This concept of keeping this under the rug seems very counterproductive to me, as the history and learning from previous experience is the most effective way of constructing a better future. I think it is important for schools to discuss the politics of the war so that children can grow up with pride because Spanish history is very complex and certainly something to be proud of.