The Danger of Spain’s Democratic Memory Law

Debate

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This risks reopening old wounds between rival camps

by Jorge Gonzalez-Gallarza

This man is playing a dangerous game. Credit: Getty

Over the past week, Spain has embarked on a controversial effort to confront its Francoist past. The so-called ‘Democratic Memory Law’, which was passed by Spain’s lower house of parliament last week, is an attempt to drastically upend the nation’s official record of its recent past. In doing so, he risks reawakening animosities long since extinguished.

When General Franco died in 1975, representatives of all political parties – some newly legalized – launched a democratic transition based on the ancient Athenian imperative against mnesikaken, or “wielding memory as a weapon”. By pardoning all the seditious acts committed against the Franco regime while erasing the crimes of this regime against opponents, the amnesty bill adopted in 1977 hoped to relegate the civil war (1936-1939) and the 40 years of dictatorship of Franco in the dustbins of history, never to be stirred again.

But after Pedro Sánchez came to power in 2018, everything changed. He and his coalition partners – a constellation of far-left and regionalist parties – saw the civil war as a Manichean enterprise where morally blameless progressives fought to protect freedom and democracy from a coup. squalor of Hitler’s Spanish allies. It is a simplistic reading of Spain’s past, which is reflected in the bill. It begins by outlawing Francoism itself and all of its court decisions, unheard of since the Spanish legal order was fully reborn in 1978. It then goes on to greatly expand the category of “victim” to include political exiles. , the anti-Franco guerrillas, however violent they may be. — and sexual minorities. It is also stepping up state-led efforts to recover an estimated 114,000 missing bodies — Republicans only — through a DNA repository and map of known mass graves. And finally, he opens Franco’s crimes to the jurisdiction of international tribunals and orders a revision of school curricula.

But perhaps the oddest feature of the bill is a rider added by Bildu, the far-left Basque independence ally of Sánchez. The runner sets up a commission of inquiry to investigate the rights violated between Franco’s death and 1983, which includes the first year in power of former Prime Minister Felipe González, who is himself a socialist. During this window, González’s Interior Ministry was notoriously in cahoots with GAL, a right-wing paramilitary group fighting ETA, a Basque terrorist group. What is this extended time window for? Many fear that this is to validate as an act worthy of anti-Franco resistance the gratuitous terrorism of ETA against innocent civilians, something that would help to whitewash Bilduhis own links with the terrorist group.

Beyond the Orwellian attempt to remember Republican crimes against worshipers and other innocent civilians throughout the Civil War, the bill marks a critical step in Pedro Sánchez’s plan to undermine what Spaniards call their “1978 diet”. This dispensation had sought to reconcile the Spaniards by throwing the civil war into oblivion. The news amounts to re-weighing the moral ledger of the war with a predetermined verdict in favor of Sánchez’s coalition, thus pitting the Spaniards dangerously against each other.