July 20, 2006

It Was 70 Years Ago Today

From Crikey:
A poll for Spain's El Mundo this week found that 30% of Spaniards still believe Franco's revolt was justified, including fully half of those who vote for the centre-right opposition. Although the restoration of democracy in Spain was based on a tacit agreement to forget the past, the current government has taken steps to revive discussion of the war and rehabilitate the victims of Franco's rule. As one activist said, "it's like a psychoanalysis because we have to talk about our past to be a healthy society".

It's a discussion that could usefully be repeated in other countries, because there are lessons for both sides of politics from the Spanish experience. The left needs to remember that in an important sense it's not "the economy, stupid"; what really fires people's loyalties, what they will fight and die for, is something much deeper. Democracy, progress, secularism, the masses versus the elite – these were the ideals of the left in Spain, and no party can claim to be on the left if it abandons them.

The right in turn has to question why so many of its leaders were able to embrace fascism, just as in more recent times they have supported right-wing dictatorships across the world. If today they wonder why so many people are sceptical, for example, of George W Bush's claims to be spreading democracy in the Middle East, they should look at their own history, and consider whether the demon of fascism has yet been completely exorcised.
From El Pais:
El PaĆ­s paper has carried out its own poll (in Spanish) which found that 64% of those questioned wanted bodies buried in communal graves to be disinterred, identified and possibly reunited with relatives. Broadly mirroring the results of El Mundo, the paper also found that PP voters were most keen to let bygones be bygones while supporters of the ruling socialist party, the PSOE, wanted alleged war crimes to be investigated.

Both polls reflect a growing willingness among the majority of citizens to move away from the policies of silence and forgetfulness that have characterised successive Spanish governments during the past quarter of a century. Following Franco's death in 1975, the dictator's ruling administration agreed to a peaceful transition to democracy on the tacit understanding that they would not be hunted down.

"This is the first time there's ever been a proper debate about the civil war," said Antony Beevor, author of The Battle of Spain. "The wound has to be aired, otherwise it's going to continue to fester."
I lived in Madrid for a year while teaching English. I remember watching from a balcony as swarms of angry, flag-waving Fascists march through the streets on Franco's anniversary. The next day I asked my 18-year-old students about it. They were normally a talkative mob, but on this subject none of them wanted to speak.

"Everybody has their own opinions," one of them explained to me carefully.


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