The Lost Spirit

Between the death of Francisco Franco on November 20th 1975 and the general election on June 15th 1977, Spain achieved in just 20 months what most of the world and many Spaniards had believed impossible – a peaceful transition from a dictatorship born of a very nasty civil war to a democracy that could hold its own with the best of them. Three men – King Juan Carlos, Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez and the president of Las Cortes (Parliament), Torcuato Fernandez-Miranda – correctly interpreted the will of a nation that wanted to put the old divisions behind them and get on with increasing the material prosperity that they had only just begun to enjoy. The King and his prime minister were only too willing to satisfy that desire, with the help of the Fernandez- Miranda who kept a Franco-appointed parliament at bay while the government introduced a series of political reforms that in earlier times would have led to bloodshed. Even the two main opposition parties – the Socialists and the Communists whose ideological shenanigans had contributed so much to the outbreak of the war – realised that the Spanish people were in no mood for political confrontation and became more conciliatory. Partly for that reason, they went along with the “pacto de olvido” (pact of forgetfulness) but they more influenced by the fact that their parties’ roles in the years before and during the Civil War were nothing to be proud of and wouldn’t bear close scrutiny. This new conciliatory mood also produced the so-called Pactos de La Moncloa. These were the agreements signed on October 25th 1977 by the Suarez government, the political parties represented in Parliament after the June election, the businessmen’s associations and the Comisiones Obreras trade union aimed at stabilizing the Transition process and adopting economic policies to contain the galloping inflation of 47% that afflicted the country. Just over a year later, the country voted in favour of the new Constitution which had been thrashed out in Parliament and which effectively drew the Transition to a close. What was considered a normal political life in other countries was about to begin in Spain. Thirty years later, and nearly 70 years after the end of the Civil War, the Socialists and the Communists (Izquierda Unida) want what they call a second transition – which involves righting the wrongs of the Franco era. Hence the Historical Memory Law and Judge Baltasar Garzón’s current crusade to give a decent burial to the Republican dead who were buried in mass graves. No-one in their right mind would deny the families’ wishes in this respect. However, Judge Garzón and his cohorts conveniently forget to mention that more than 2,000 bodies have been recovered from mass graves in the past eight years – a process which started under the Aznar government. It’s not a large number, when you take into account how many people were executed by the Nationalists (Franco’s side) during and after the war. However, nobody is quite sure just how many were killed. The records were largely destroyed during the dictatorship and no-one has ever bothered to try to compile a realistic list of the Republican non-combatant dead, which according to several historians ranges from at least 55,000 to 75,000 (Hugh Thomas) to 400,000 (Gabriel Jackson). Spanish historians tend to put the figure at around 75,000. Franco always claimed that one million died “to save Spain from Communism” and the other side went along with that figure because they could say “he climbed to power over one million bodies”. Judge Garzón is now attempting to compile that list, but only as a first step towards trying Franco for genocide. In the circumstances, what he should be doing is pressuring the central government and the local councils to do more to open up the known mass graves so that the families can start getting over their grief. However, some families are not keen on the idea. The family of Federico Garcia Lorca – one of Spain’s greatest-ever poets – has consistently refused to exhume his body and they must have their reasons. One would probably be that they know his exhumation will become a media circus – “Franco’s most famous victim”, etc., so on and so forth. But another reason could be more personal – an unwillingness to revive old family feuds. Lorca once described himself as “Catholic, communist, anarchist, libertarian, traditionalist, monarchist.” He never had any definite political affiliation, although he was pro-Republic, and there are still many unanswered questions surrounding his death – a recent theory being that he was betrayed by a jealous neighbour – which is probably why his family want him to rest in peace where he allegedly lies now. In these troubled economic times, the government would be doing itself and the country a favour by reviving the spirit of the Transition, and helping people – quietly – to bury their dead.


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