POLITICAL ROUND UP BY MURIEL PILKINGTON – 8th September 2008

Garzón rides again

Last week Judge Baltasar Garzón asked the Church to instruct all the parishes in Spain – some 23,000 – to allow the Judicial Police access to their registers of deaths as a first step towards drawing up a list of all the people who were executed by the Franco regime during and after the Civil War. The judge is currently trying to decide whether the National Court can try the Franco dictatorship for the crime of genocide. The government backs the judge and his attempt to “close wounds”. The opposition accuses him of re-opening old wounds to distract people from the country’s current economic crisis. One former regional president, Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra, a Socialist, said he thought a census of the victims of the Civil War would be a good thing but added “what Garzón is doing is suspiciously bad”. He said he had never trusted the judge and suspects that his current “crusade” is aimed at getting him the Nobel Prize for Peace. This is the same judge who used the Law of Amnesty passed during the Transition in 1977 to squash an attempt to try Communist leader Santiago Carrillo – the political commissar for Madrid during the war – for the mass execution of some 5,000 suspected Franco sympathisers in Paracuellos, Madrid, over a period of one month from November 7th December 4th, 1936. These people had been jailed on suspicion of supporting the military uprising that started the civil war on July 18th that year and included members of the military, priests and nuns, members of the Falange and other right wing parties. The vast majority were simply guilty of belonging to the bourgeoisie – you could be arrested for reading the “wrong” newspaper in those days – and none of them were ever formally accused or tried before a judge. They died simply because gangs of ideological ruffians – known as checas – had taken upon themselves the task of rooting out all “Franco supporters” in “defence of the Republic”. The checas modelled themselves on the Russian forerunner of the KGB, and there were 227 checas in Madrid alone. Carrillo escaped judgement because article 6 of the 1977 amnesty law states that no-one can be held responsible for political crimes committed before the date the law was passed. The purpose of the law and the so-called “pact of forgetting” (pacto del olvido) which was reached during the Transition period was to avoid putting members of both the Franco regime and Republican politicians like Santiago Carrillo in the dock. This would have seriously hampered the efforts of all those people actively involved in the transition to democracy to put the past behind them and get on with forging a democratic future. Garzón’s latest “crusade” threatens to re-awaken all the bad memories, as letters and blogs in the press over the past few days testify. What many people fear is that the bones of those who were buried in mass graves will be given a martyr’s treatment once they are identified and ready for a proper burial, which no-one would deny them. But several judges have already pointed out that not all those people were innocent. It’s probably safe to say that the men who pulled the triggers at Paracuellos who survived long enough to be caught, tried and executed by the Franco regime were buried in common graves. In every village and town, there are people still alive who remember who did what to whom. After the civil war broke out, the Republicans rounded up and usually executed alleged Franco sympathisers. In Coín where I live, 83 people were killed for that reason. A few months later, when Franco’s troops took the town, they executed 160 people in reprisal, and probably got most of the men who’d killed the first batch. This happened all over the country but especially here in Andalucia where the Communists, Socialists, anarchists and all other anti-establishmentarians were strong. One of the worst examples happened in the beautiful little town of Ronda, where Republican gangs beat 512 members of the upper and middle classes before throwing them into the gorge during the first month of the war, an incident which Earnest Hemingway used in his novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls (The Spanish Civil War, by Hugh Thomas, page 233). As soon as Franco’s troops took a town or city, the relatives of those killed by the Republicans were usually able to retrieve their bodies from the common graves. Today, Garzón and his fellow Socialists claim they are merely trying to do justice for the Republican dead but the message that comes across is that all the Republicans were angels and all the rest were devils. The Socialists frequently claim that the opposition party, Partido Popular, is the continuation of the Franco regime and extremely right wing (both untrue). Could it be that by keeping the bad memories alive, they hope to frighten people into voting them into power for ever and ever?

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