The Case of Spain
A Forgotten Genocide
A social movement has been growing in
When democracy returned in 1978, an informal pact of silence was made – an agreement to cover over the enormous repression that had existed under the fascist dictator. The democratic transition took place under conditions that were highly favorable to the conservative forces that had controlled Francoist Spain. It became obvious to the leadership of the former fascist state, led by King Juan Carlos (appointed by General Franco), and Suarez, the head of the fascist movement (Movimiento Nacional), that the fascist regime could not continue as a dictatorship. It was a corrupt and highly unpopular apparatus, facing the largest labor agitation in
This pact of silence continued until recently, when the grandchildren of those who had disappeared wanted to find out where they were buried. The young started asking questions. The right wing did not want people to ask questions. The Church, the Army, the Royal House, the conservative media (i.e., the majority of the media) said it was better for the country to forget the past. To look at the past, they said, would simply open old wounds – assuming, wrongly, that these wounds had ever closed. The leadership of the left-wing parties – the socialist and communists – had remained silent for all those years out of fear. They were afraid of antagonizing powerful forces, including the King. The Queen had actually defended Franco in a recent interview, denying that he was a bloody dictator. He was, she said, a soft, authoritarian figure, like a father to her husband, the King. And the King has repeatedly said that he would not allow any criticism of General Franco among his entourage.
The grandchildren of the disappeared, however, did not feel any commitment to this rule of silence. They started moving along the roadsides and valleys looking for the bodies of their disappeared love ones. More and more people joined them. And it soon became clear that there was an enormous popular sympathy for them. People helped them find the disappeared ones. Village by village, people began to speak about what they had never dared say: where the disappeared had been buried and abandoned. They even started identifying those who had done the killing. It soon became a popular movement, known as the “families and the friends of the disappeared ones,” forcing the socialist government to pass the Historical Memory Law. For the first time – 30 years after democracy was reestablished in
Many international and Spanish commentators also criticized several judges, including Judge Garzon, for trying to take the Argentinean and Chilean dictators to court over the disappeared in those countries while not doing anything about the disappeared at home, in
It was a bombshell! Within a few weeks, an enormous opposition had mobilized against him and against the case. This mobilization was led by Attorney General Zaragoza, appointed by the socialist government, who wanted to stop Garzon on the spot. The Amnesty Law had to be respected, he said, because it was the basis of “national reconciliation” between the winners and losers in the civil war. “Reconciliation” was a farce, however. It was not reconciliation but a forced acceptance by the losers of the power held by the winners of the Spanish Civil War. And the socialist government was still afraid to confront the Army and the Church (among other powerful groups), which had played a key role in repressing the democratic forces. The Church, for example, was responsible for taking babies and children away from mothers (“red mothers,” as they were called by the fascist forces, including the religious orders) who were jailed, exiled, or assassinated, and giving the children (without parents’ or families’ permission) to families close to the fascist regime who wanted children or to religious institutions as recruits for their orders. All of these children were given new names and did not know their true ancestry. As Dr. Vallejo Najera, the ideologue of the Spanish Army, indicated, this state policy was “necessary to purify the Spanish race,” stopping the contamination of children with the pathological values of their red parents. Many of these parents were in the Army’s concentration camps, where prisoners were the subjects of biological and psychological experiments. These camps were supervised by the German Gestapo, which later developed and expanded such studies in the Nazi concentration camps.
Two years ago, a Catalan public television channel produced a documentary on children who had been stolen from their “red” mothers. It received a number of international awards. In
Fear continues to exist in
The Spanish establishment, including Zapatero’s government, does not want this public trial of General Franco and his comrades-in-arms in the genocide. The trial would have had an enormous impact, threatening the basis underlying the Monarchy and the way the transition from dictatorship to democracy has taken place. This explains the huge mobilization to stop any such trials. But the grandchildren of the disappeared have enormous popular sympathy. Finally, people are losing their fear and are uncovering and discovering the bodies of the disappeared ones, and in so doing they are rediscovering their own history – buried, too, for so many years. We will see what happens. The story has not ended yet.
Vicente Navarro is Professor of Policy Studies and Public Policy, The