In 1975, Francisco Franco died. Franco had been Spain’s leader since 1936, when he successfully overthrew a democratic government and, with the help of Mussolini and Hitler, installed his own brand of fascism. Spain restored the monarchy — a constitutional monarchy — and everyone thought that a long dark chapter of history had finally ended. In 1977, the new government passed legislation prohibiting any prosecution of crimes from the period of the Civil War or committed during Franco’s regime. That, it was thought, was a step forward in the healing process.
In the years since, Spain has alternated between Left governments and Right governments, social democratic parties and conservative, property oriented parties. In 2007, a social democrat government passed the Historical Memory Law, allowing for the rehabilitation of, and some compensation to, victims of the Franco era. Monuments to Francoism were to be removed. Mass graves were exhumed and the bodies formally reburied. Andalusia paid out around 9.5 Million Euros to people who had been held in concentration camps. Later, Andalusia awarded 1800 Euros each to women who had suffered from Francoist policies. But Andalusia had a social democratic government.Spain now has a Right-wing government headed by the Partido Popular, a party which voted to oppose the Historical Memory Law. The PP has refused to fund any more compensation and has forbidden the exhumation of mass graves. A monument to the International Brigades, who fought against Franco, has been ordered to be removed. The monument honors Stalin, says the PP. It may be that fairness dictates that no monument to either side in the Civil War be erected but, in that case, perhaps the giant Valley of the Fallen memorial — where Franco and many of the war dead are interred — should be torn down. The place has served as a meeting ground for Francoist groups for years. An effort by the social democrats to turn the memorial into a place of reconciliation failed. And, it should be noted, the Spanish government funds a Franco Memorial Association, whose purpose is to revere the dictator’s memory, as well as organizations for fascist veterans. Recently, a government minister travelled to Barcelona to honor the Azul Brigade, Spaniards who enlisted in the Wehrmacht to fight for Hitler.
There is no memorial at the bullet-scarred wall in Valencia where 2300 people were shot between 1939 and 1956. They were taken out in lots of fifty every so often, shot, and the day’s corpses thrown into a pit four meters on a side. After the reforms following Franco’s death, next of kin were allowed to place the names of those killed over the graves at Paterna, but they were not allowed to state the cause of death. Near Paterna, there is a plateau where many more bodies are thought to be buried, but now they will not be exhumed. Altogether, about 6400 bodies have been recovered from mass graves in Spain. That leaves, by best estimates, 107, ooo to go. The current glorification of Franco and his regime is part of a troubling turn toward the Right in Spain. Nativist political rhetoric has grown along with unemployment. Half of Spain’s youth is unemployed and the situation is unlikely to improve. This mirrors the rise of neo-fascism in Greece and other places hit hard by government austerity measures. Some analysts claim that Angela Merkel — who controls the European Union purse — has taken to austerity out of fear that an inflationary period like that which hit Germany in 1923 would re-occur. But perhaps there are other 20th Century spectres that she might better think about.