Enemies of Truth

As I am temporarily out of place, perhaps it might be a good idea to cast a glance at the different landscape. I will do a few posts on Spain and things hispanic this week, if only as a means of transcending my current condition of contemporary ignorance.

I’m not the best go-to person on the Spanish legal system, so I will invite you to bone up on it in order to pick out the flaws in what follows.

A big story here at the moment is the case of Baltasar Garzón, an investigating judge famous beyond Spain for issuing the arrest warrant for General Pinochet back in the late 1990s. Garzón has a sort of liberal-left crusader legal persona. The Economist has gives good background to this here. Basically Garzón has been done in by ultra-right sympathisers of the Franco dictatorship in his efforts to investigate Francoist atrocities.

One of the groups, Manos Limpias (Clean Hands) are intent on making that no light gets shone retrospectively on the brutality of the Francoist regime. They mobilise the Spanish constitution’s language of liberal democracy on their website, talking about ‘our democratic struggle’, prosperity and solidarity, equality, political pluralism and justice, and so on and so forth, but at root they’re, well, a pack of fascists.

The other group, Falange Española de las J.O.N.S, is openly fascist, claiming direct lineage with the dashing, charismatic martyr figure of Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, who one year before his death in 1936, believed it was time to put an end to

electoral idolatry. The crowds are as fallible as individuals, and generally they make more mistakes. The truth is the truth (even if it only has 100 votes)

In 1933, Primo de Rivera claimed that

‘we do not struggle for a dictatorship that manages to patch up a sinking ship, that cures a seasonal ill and that involves a solution of continuity in the systems and practices of ruinous liberalism. On the contrary, we move for a permanent national organisation; a strong State; robustly Spanish, with an executive governing Power and a corporate Chamber which embodies the true national realities. We do not advocate the fleetingness of a dictatorship, but the establishment and permanence of a system’.

In essence, the eradication of the democratic principle, but there’s enough in there to appeal to the Sunday Independent.

José Antonio Primo de Rivera
José Antonio Primo de Rivera

So how did a fascist grouping manage to bring a halt to investigations into the crimes of the Franco regime? Franco died in 1975 and there was a rapid transition to a liberal constitutional order in the following years, and although Spain in general has a far more vibrant democratic culture than say, Ireland, vestiges -in the form of street names, monuments and other symbols, to say nothing of cultural practices- of the old regime abound.

This is too complex to explore in any great detail here, but a key idea dominating accounts of how quickly and successfully the transition from dictatorship to a liberal democratic order took place is that there was a ‘pact of forgetting’ among the political protagonists of the transition, whereby the crimes and atrocities of the past would be forgotten in order to allow for a new society to be forged: which, as it happened, turned out to be a happy enough arrangement for people from the side responsible for mass liquidations and slave labour camps, especially in the form of the Amnesty Law of 1977, which amnestied all acts of political character, including those of rebellion and sedition, as well as crimes committed by civil servants and agents of public order.

The resultant constitutional arrangement, which preserved the Spanish monarchy (Juan Carlos II had been Franco’s chosen successor) that the Republic ought to have done away with, tends to be celebrated to a far greater degree by right-wingers such as those in the Partido Popular. This idea of the ‘pact of forgetting’ invites the image of a tabula rasa against which equal participants got together to discuss how things would work out. It obscures any account of power relations as they existed at the time, and implies that, in so far as there were crimes committed, there was an equal distribution of these; again, fairly handy if you’d been been complicit in a fascist military dictatorship.

However, like Poe’s black cat, these things will not stay buried. Garzón’s attempts to investigate crimes committed under Franco (which are not bound by the Amnesty Law of 1977 since that precedes the existing constitution) form part of a wider tendency to dig up the past, marked in the political sphere by the election of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose grandfather was executed by Franco’s regime. The actions of Falange Española and Manos Limpias represent vanguard efforts to keep it buried.

Ian Gibson, Dubliner turned Spanish public intellectual, who led efforts to locate the mass grave containing the remains of poet Federico García Lorca, assassinated by rebel forces in Granada, characterises the current scenario in light of the Garzón affair thus (my translation, my apologies)

Above all, sadness. Desperation, anger, dejection, the feeling that everything has been useless, that it isn’t worth going on? That too, of course. Loads! But above all sadness, the sadness of finding out that the Spain longed for, the Spain reconciled, the generous Spain able to confront the horror of the Francoist genocide and consequently to build a future of stability and solidarity still has not come true, and that we are still living in a sort of policed democracy, that there is still a lot of fear and, dare I say it, a lot of cowardice not confessed. Was it naïve to believe, to want to believe, that, once the initial difficult obstacles were overcome, once Spain had been reincorporated in Europe, once more than three decades had passed since the death of the caudillo, there could finally be justice for the victims of that brutal regime, for the thousands and thousands of murdered dead who still lie in ditches and mass graves all over the country? Perhaps it was. Perhaps it was naïve. Perhaps it is this we are finding out.

Once and again, during the last years, we have had to listen to the vile accusation that, by wanting to rescue the remains of those sacrificed, the “secret agenda” of the associations who seek the restoration of memory has been to reopen wounds “happily closed”. And now it turns out that a couple of ultra-right organisations will manage to place Garzón in the dock, to the shame of Spain before the world. The damage could be irreparable, here and beyond, but the adversaries of the judge don’t give a damn. Sadness, then: deep, lacerating.

El Gran Wyoming, TV presenter and actor, on the same site, in a piece titled ‘The enemies of truth‘ (perhaps drawing from the Don Quixote quote that ‘facts are the enemy of truth’ looks beyond the ultra-rightist extremists to the courts entertaining their submissions:

The case opened against Garzón has brought to light something difficult to explain to foreigners: Franco strolls around the corridors of our courts. The unwillingness to get rid of the symbols of dictatorship, supported by all sorts of absurd justifications, which go from respect toward History to matters of aesthetics, are evidence of the admiration which that dictator arouses among many of our political leaders.

José María Aznar en Vigo

The spiritual leader of the Spanish Right, Jose Maria Aznar, used to spend part of his holidays in Quintanilla de Onésimo [‘Quintanilla’ is a name for a ranch used mainly for leisure; a possible translation would be Onésimo’s Ranch – HG] which owes its name to Onésimo Redondo, well-known fascist militant who in his writings preached anti-semitism, the abolition of democracy for being bourgeois and decadent, and violence as a strategy for taking power. In the days after the coup d’état in 1936, the one the curriculum designers for academics and teachers in the Comunidad de Madrid say did not exist, he founded the “dawn patrol” which boasted of killing 40 people daily. The yolk and the arrows [a prominent element of Francoist symbolism, still visible throughout Spain – HG] were a contribution of his. The democratic centrist ex-President of the Partido Popular can’t have been bothered by them, since he certainly didn’t call for their removal. Respecting traditions, I suppose.

We meet with the surprise that investigating crimes is an offence. The rule of law cannot put up with a law that erases facts or imposes lies. The apologists for the dictatorship feel an obligation to defend the honour of those criminals; good for them, but Justice cannot be delayed, not least at the hands of those charged with administering it.

In today’s news, the secretary general of Aznar’s party has denounced a demonstration of support for Garzón, organised by unions concerned with fascists steering the judicial system as an ‘assault on democracy‘. She claimed that the aforementioned Amnesty Law of 1977 which let the dictatorship’s agents of murder and torture off the hook was a ‘matter of pride for many Spaniards’. The last bit is certainly true, for fairly obvious reasons.


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