Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Franco On Trial

Judge Baltasar Garzón has decided that his case concerning over 100,000 victims of Franco’s repression can proceed and that he is competent to take it forward. His decision has provoked a hysterical reaction from the right wing media and the Partido Popular, and more seriously is being opposed by the state prosecution service. The judge’s decision opens the way for some of the many mass graves still left in Spain to be opened, including that where it is believed the remains lie of the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

Garzón is arguing that crimes were committed which are not affected either by a statute of limitations or the amnesty law which was passed in the late 1970’s to protect representatives of the dictatorship following the transition to democracy. The state prosecutors intend to challenge him on a number of legal technicalities. Apart from the amnesty law they will challenge the classification of crimes committed by Franco’s regime as crimes against humanity and are said to be even intending to argue that the military uprising that provoked the civil war means that those involved should be subject to military, rather than civil, justice. It’s a headlong clash between the two sides that is set to come up before a court of Garzón´s fellow judges for decision.

The reaction from the political inheritors of Francoism has largely been based around an attempt to ridicule Garzón’s case. The legal formality which requires the certification of the death of Franco and other leading figures of the dictatorship attracted their attention, with Esperanza Aguirre suggesting that Napoleon should also be charged for what his army did in Spain 200 years ago. On the media front El Mundo led the charge against Garzón, who was firmly scratched off their Christmas card list when he got close to destroying the paper’s attempts to promote the “boric acid” case. The same paper published a story the other day featuring some of the few who are still alive who they claimed could potentially be taken to trial. El Mundo portrayed the daily routine of these poor elderly “abuelos” who wanted nothing more than to be left in peace with their daily chupito and a game of dominos down at the local bar. Of course, once you apply the same logic to the Klaus Barbies of this world and the other elderly Nazi war criminals who were painstakingly tracked down, you might start to think more of those who never got near to the chance of enjoying such a peaceful retirement.

How much of the impetus behind the case is down to judge Garzón’s sizeable ego and his attraction to headline making cases? There’s undoubtedly an influence there, but that doesn’t mean that the arguments behind the case presented are necessarily faulty. A situation where human rights abuses could be pursued by Spanish judges if they happened in any country other than Spain is not sustainable. I suspect the case will be eventually thrown out by what is an overwhelmingly conservative judiciary, with legal technicalities masking the political reasoning that ultimately defines the position of most involved. The law of amnesty should in theory at least be vulnerable, it was passed before the Spanish Constitution was approved and in that political atmosphere of the transition where many things were accepted under the ever present threat of renewed intervention by the military. It’s sad to see that many of those who participated in that process end up making a virtue out of the necessity of the moment. The unfinished business of the transition is at least now on public display.


Troy said...

I have to admit that I had always wondered why Garzon stuck his nose in other people's business (Chile, Argentina etc) before getting his own house (Spain) in order.

I applaud his Quixote-like gesture at toppling the fascist windmills here in Spain but at the same time am extremely aware that those windmills are still very powerful here and whose power base makes up a large percentage of the population.

It has to be remembered, albeit distastefully, that unlike Chile and Argentina (and other brutal dictators around the world) Franco wasn't overthrown. There was no mass uprising against him, he simply died in his sleep. Sure there were parties celebrating his death, but there were also thousands of litres of tears shed for his passing too. While his regime has been condemned in parliament, the official opposition that received a large percentage of the vote in the last election still holds him as a hero.

As you mentioned, there is still a lot of unfinished business here. The fabled transition has got us to his point, but it was a farce, written under duress under open threats from the military. Just as the agreement with the Catholic Church is claimed to be post constitution, yet was signed only a few days after suggesting that it had been agreed upon only in the few days that passed in between?

If actions like these are seen as re-opening old wounds, well to take the metaphor further, let them be opened because what lies underneath has been festering for too long.

Graeme said...

Troy, I think there's actually quite a lot in common between the Spanish transition and some of the Latin American experiences. Pinochet may have left office a bit unwillingly but he also did something similar to the successors of Franco by trying to tie the hands of the new democratic government. As well as giving himself and friends immunity from prosecution and significant privileges.

Troy said...

True there were common threads, but I was referring more to how society reacted. In Latin America, the very rich were the ones who were mostly content under the various dictatorships, whereas here the dictatorship's followers were/are spread across economic divides.

Could be a result of our friends, the Men in Black here in Spain who had a very active role in supporting and proselytizing for the regime. Liberation theory clergy here in Spain aren't very common, not to say non existent.

Graeme said...

Having failed completely to collaborate with Garzón's investigation, I believe the MiB are now preparing yet another massive beatification ceremony in Rome for their martyrs.