Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Garzón Breaches The Wall Of Silence

A suitably heavyweight topic to mark what Blogger tells me is my 500'th post on this blog. No sooner has everyone returned from their holidays than judge Baltasar Garzón has grabbed national attention with his move to assemble a census of information on the victims of Franco's regime. The request by Garzón marks the beginning of a process which will determine whether there is a case to be pursued on the grounds of genocide. Several town halls in major cities have been requested to provide information they possess on those who were summarily executed or who simply disappeared without trace. The same request has also been made to the Church, which holds much of the data as well as having been an active and keen collaborator with Franco's regime.

The estimates of those from the Republican side who remain buried in unmarked graves around the country is generally put at around 25-30000. However, the number of victims of reprisals by Franco's regime is estimated at a much higher figure, Garzón's move should hopefully ensure that the available data on those who were killed is at last united. It is something that has been commented on ever since Garzón himself sought the extradition of General Pinochet, how can Spain actively take up cases concerning the disappeared in South America if it doesn't do the same with those who have never been accounted for here in Spain?

The reaction from the political right to Garzón's move has been utterly predictable. Partido Popular leader Mariano Rajoy reacted with the now traditional cliché about not reopening the wounds of the past. This popular right wing argument is always wheeled out when reference is made to Franco's victims, those who use it are not shy of coming to the defence of Franco's regime when it suits them or of fighting to maintain the public symbols of that regime. The dictatorship buried and honoured their dead, those whose political roots lie in that same regime have always argued that the dead on the other side should simply be forgotten. El Mundo led the charge against Garzón yesterday to such an extent that his fellow judges in the Audiencia Nacional came out publicly in his defence.

Once again the issue puts the spotlight onto the question of just how model a transition Spain really had from dictatorship to democracy. An implicit pact of silence during 30 years of democracy has meant that the mass graves lie largely untouched even though many of them are common knowledge in the nearby villages or towns. Much of the work that has been done to excavate some of these sites has been carried out by volunteers. An interesting piece by Jesús Maraña in Público at the weekend described quite well the unbalanced nature of the transition as agreements were reached under the ever present threat of military intervention if democracy looked like going too far. That the constitution and political arrangements resulting from that process should now be regarded as untouchable makes no sense. There is unfinished business, something that the case Garzón has opened demonstrates very clearly. Whether or not this case eventually proceeds, the census of Franco's victims marks a historical turning point.

9 comments:

Colin said...

Graeme

"the now traditional cliché about not reopening the wounds of the past. This popular right wing argument is always wheeled out when reference is made to Franco's victims, those who use it are not shy of coming to the defence of Franco's regime when it suits them"

Is it really a 'right wing argument'

Do all of those who use it [even on the right wing] defend Franco's regime?

Is it not possible to see it as a simple argument which is used/ overused/abused by SOME people on the right wing?

Is it really impossible to imagine people from the Centre or even the Left agreeing with it?

BTW - Only 5 letters required today. though it might be higher next time . . . .

Graeme said...

Yes Colin, it is a right wing argument. It is most used by those who are uncomfortable about talking openly about what really happened under Franco. The PP and fellow travellers have consistently used the argument to try and freeze or dismiss debate about the Civil War. There may be some people who are not right wing who use the same arguments, but I haven't met them. The counter argument is easy, pretending that the victims of the regime don't exist doesn't do anything to close the wounds of the past.

The number of letters for your comment verification has been reduced as a reward for good behaviour but always read the small print - what comes down can always go up again.

Colin said...

"There may be some people who are not right wing who use the same arguments, but I haven't met them"

This is generalising from the particular. Usually unwise. A market research sample of one, as they say, is useless.

As it happens, I agree with you that "pretending that the victims of the regime don't exist doesn't do anything to close the wounds of the past." but I still think your swipe is a tad broad. However, I may occasionally be guilty of the same thing. . . .

Back to 7 letters, I see.

Graeme said...

If anything I'm generalising from the lack of a particular - but I agree that the qunatity of people I know who use this argument is small. That may be because I mix in the wrong circles. However, there are too many in the PP who like to play the double game, they want to parade as democrats, keep their Calles del Generalissimo, and criticise anyone who tries to raise the question of the executed or disappeared.

Tom said...

Yeah, I think it is fair to class that argument as "right-wing". It might be that there are apathetic, uninterested or 'apolitical' people who use it but it is most certainly an argument propagated and supported by El Mundo, the PP and other right-wing mouthpieces. Think about it: 'let sleeping dogs lie' must surely be one of the best summaries of political conservatism, no?

moscow said...

Graeme,

I ahve always thought that any country needs to unearth it's "evil" past and cast light on it past "demeanors" in order to function as a nation, and even more so, in a democracy. But, I wouldn't blame the "transition" for trying to leav the past behind a bit. For the record, my family (the Spanish sidde) was as 'red' as it comes - communist party in Asturias and son. It shouldn't be fotgotten that this was acivil war, where sometimes members of the same family took different sides. Germans turned against their past admirably, but they were all on the same side.

Graeme said...

Moscow, I do think that the nature of the transition played its part in this forgetting, it created a certain pressure to leave the topic alone. After all, those who have relatives still buried by the road side have never forgotten what happened. I wouldn't use Germany as my comparison, although a bit of de-nazification wouldn't have done any harm. I think more about the cases in South America or South Africa where reconciliation of opposing sides hasn't been done by simply sweeping the past under the carpet.

Colin said...

So, if the USSR or Chinese government took the same 'sleeping dogs' line, it would still be a right-wing argument? Or just one used frequently by the victors of whatever [totalitarian] stamp, Right or Left?

Back to 8.

Tom said...

I'm not sure that the USSR or Chinese governments ever used the 'let sleeping dogs lie' argument about something of such great national importance. They lied, propagandized and said 'don't ask any more questions or you'll die' but that's another argument entirely.