Posted by: MYPLACE FP7 | June 5, 2013

The dominance of “forgetting” in the Spanish memorial space

The MYPLACE project has completed its first major public deliverable: “Country based reports on historical discourse production as manifested in sites of memory.” These reports are available here: . Here Sanjin Ulezic and Mariona Ferrer, of Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, discuss some of the findings of the Spanish/Catalan report.

“Calling attention to what was experienced at that time is useful for honouring all the people who, at that time, didn‘t lose their lives, but were denounced and forgotten anyway.” (response from a young focus group participant within the MYPLACE project)

When considering memorial spaces in countries with a similar past, there are a few phenomena that stand out when we look at Spain. Following authors such as Paloma Aguilar, the central argument of this text will be that the key source for the conflicting memorial dynamic that forms some central political divides stems from a lack of a country-wide policy condemning the dictatorial Francoist regime in the transitional and post-transitional periods. Spanish D2_1 blog denounced and forgotten quoteThe open-endedness of the narratives has produced what has often been dubbed ,intentional forgetting‘, where not only have institutional developments been practically paralysed, but where the emergence of new developments regarding issues from the Francoist period have in turn produced endless disputes both in the public sphere, as well as in academic and professional circles.

 When the dictatorship ended in 1975, and the transition period began (the conclusion of the transition period is not clearly defined, and several events are considered as representing it), certain developments already pointed towards what the memorial space in Spain would resemble for the coming generations. Namely, in light of striving towards a reconciliation and a swift and successful transition to democracy, an agreement was made which would prevent a clear and open condemnation of the Francoist dictatorship. This was a product of a longer-running process of self-legitimation that was present during the dictatorship, but which also lasted long into the transition period. Therefore, while Spain moved from dictatorship to democracy without questioning Francoism, this is due in good measure to the dictatorship‘s power to impose its own account, even after it technically ceased to exist. Furthermore, on an institutional level, the leadership of individuals linked to the dictatorship had an undisputed effect, with especially the roles of Carlos Árias Navarro, Franco‘s last interior minister and prime minister until 1976, and Adolfo Suárez, who succeeded Árias Navarro as prime minister, adding to the continuation of the legitimation, and as such, to the marginalization of any attempts to formalize the condemnation of the dictatorship at an institutional level. Such political dynamics ultimately culminated in the Amnesty Law of 1977, which put a moratorium on the prosecution of any human rights violation committed during the Francoist period. As of today, this moratorium still stands, and is the source of controversial issues.

 There are several contemporary, but also continuous, phenomena that emerge from this. First, there is a highly diverse (and divergent) interpretation of the dictatorship that emerges on the regional level. Here, Catalonia and the Basque Country are at the helm, no doubt motivated by their own national heritages that were so clearly opposed to what the Francoist dictatorship and its undelying values came to represent, but also, because their increasing desires for sovereignty ultimately demand a quest for a legitimation of the distancing from ,Spain‘ as a concept. Second, there is a large discrepancy in the understanding of political parties on either side of the left-right divide as to what, if anything, should be done in relation to this legacy. Here, the right has been instrumental in the process of „forgetting“, not least because some high-ranking pre-transitional and transitional politicians represented the core of political parties from that political spectrum, whereas the left, such as PSOE, the Spanish socialist party, played a two-fold role. On one hand it was content with the simplistic appeasement and ,forgetting‘ for the sake of political progress – which was also a result of the quite sudden onset of a more prominent role for the left in Spanish politics in the transition period – but on the other hand, especially in recent times, it became instrumental in the institutionalization of clear anti-Francoist narratives, mostly with the Ley de Memoria Histórica [Historical Memory Law] of 2007.

 Spanish D2_1 blog transition and dictatorship quoteWhat is crucial is that these developments have not brought about a consensus regarding the negative legacy of the dictatorship, and in fact, the discrepancies in the views have often been used to herald specific political gains, adding to the already deep divide. As was mentioned before, a crucial factor in this was the presence of political elites from the dictatorship period in the transition period. The dynamics that this has produced has led to a defining characteristic of the Spanish memorial space, which is that what little memory there is of the past in popular discourse, it is of the transition, and the dictatorship from which one is supposed to have transitioned, is mostly disregarded. However, in the context of the current economic crisis and the high levels of political disaffection, a new position is emerging in the public sphere. Namely a critical review of the institutional design and of the informal agreements established during the transition process. The “culture of the transition”, which is a concept used by some intellectuals and the media, is being disputed by an increasing part of the Spanish population. Mostly present in the discourse of young people – those most disenchanted with current politics – this remnant is seen as an obstacle for the advancement of the quality of democracy in Spain. Furthermore, only a few days before the publication of this contribution, 30 organizations working in various capacity to bring to light the human rights violations under Francoism formed an umbrella organization, the Coordinadora contra la Impunidad del Franquismo. Spanish D2_1 blog historical justice quoteThe goals they are expressing can surely be regarded as positive, as they include both the raising of public awareness, and as such a recinding of the deep-rooted ,forgetting‘, as well as some clear institutional horizons – the removal of Francoist symbols, and most importantly, public oversight of the exhumation of mass graves from the Francoist period. It seems that historical justice has been given highly organized representation, and the era of wide-spread intentional amnesia is coming to an end.


[The research leading to these findings has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme ([FP7/2007-2013] [FP7/2007-2011]) under Grant Agreement number FP7-266831).]

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