Monday, October 29, 2007

Who Benefits From Forgetting History?

It now looks reasonably likely that the proposed law on historic memory is going to get passed before the next election, after a very protracted negotiating process involving virtually all political parties – with one notable and unsurprising exception. Barring last minute obstacles, most likely to come from the conservative Catalan nationalists, the law should go through. The proposal is not as strong as some wanted it to be, but there have been interesting developments.

One of these is the move to oblige state or local institutions to remove symbols of Franco’s dictatorship from public buildings or spaces. It looks like Santander is finally going to lose its statue of the General. Another proposal is that organisations who receive public subsidies will also be obliged to remove such symbols. Now the most obvious institution affected by such a move is the Catholic Church, as thousands of churches around the country host commemorative plaques in honour of Franco and Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, leader of the fascist Falange. Unfortunately, I doubt that the church will receive any more than moral pressure to remove these, and morality plays little part in the outcome.

Valle de los way to treat a mountain

That the Spanish Catholic Church will probably be the last institution in the country to accept that the regime has gone was evidenced yesterday by the lavish beatification ceremony held in Rome for 498 “martyrs” of the Civil War. Nobody should be surprised to find out that none of the 498 were amongst those killed by Franco and his forces, even though some priests (especially in the Basque Country) were amongst those executed in the destruction of the Spanish Republic. Funnily enough, these ceremonies were not even held when the General was still alive, it has only been with the return of democracy that the Church has engaged in this selective and sectarian continuation of the war by other means. The favourite argument of those who oppose any attempt to rectify the imbalance of the transition to democracy is that it reopens old wounds. None of these people were heard saying this yesterday; they were probably all in St Peter’s Square. It goes without saying that no ceremonies are being proposed for those whose bodies are still lying in unmarked graves around the country.

Meanwhile, some 160 streets in Madrid are said to still bear names imposed during the dictatorship, there are no longer any statues of Franco left but there are certainly significant monuments. The arch you see as you enter the capital via Moncloa was built as a tribute to Franco’s victory, and then of course there is El Valle de los Caidos. This act of monumental fascist/religious vandalism which defaces a whole mountainside in the Sierra de Guadarrama is also touched by the proposed law, although sadly only to the extent that it will be “depoliticised”. Hopefully this at least means that those running the place will no longer be allowed to pretend that it was constructed as a monument to peace, perhaps they will even be obliged to recognise the existence of the political prisoners who died building it. Is it any wonder that the sons and daughters of the dictatorship are so keen to maintain the amnesia of the transition, to keep playing this game which allows them to present themselves as democrats at the same time as they carefully tend and preserve the symbols of the regime. It’s time that game was ended, being honest about the past helps you to move forwards.

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