Archive for April, 2010

Restoring the Republic

In response to the Garzón affair, a coalition of human rights groups in Argentina has filed a writ with the courts in Buenos Aires. El Público has an interview with the lawyer, Carlos Slepoy, who made the filing. Below is a translated excerpt:

What is the basis?

The application of the principle of universal jurisdiction, which is the same principle according to which judge Garzón instructed proceedings with regard to the crimes committed during the Chilean dictatorship.

Why now?

There is a sense of paying back the huge favour that Spanish Justice performed to put an end to impunity in Argentina.

What are you demanding?

This is a request for evidence from the Spanish government, which will have to give information about the ministers, still living, that participated in the Francoist governments. We will also request an account from the heads of the Armed Forces, the Civil Guard, the Police, and the Falange.

Will you request other details?

The certification of the number of disappeared of those for whom there is a record, of the number of mass graves that have been found, of the bodies that were covered, of the children kidnapped, etcetera.

Do you have figures?

They are in Garzón’s decree. The Spanish judge talks about 113,000 disappeared and 30,000 children kidnapped.

What is going to be judged?

The main accusation is the crime of genocide but this does not exclude crime against humanity (lesa humanidad).

What is the difference?

In genocide, the purpose of the repressor is to exclude different groups that comprise society with the goal of remodelling it, and, as such, it seeks the elimination of all groups that oppose this purpose. They exterminate individuals with the desire of destroying those groups of which they form a part. Crimes against humanity, on the other hand, imply an indiscriminate attack on the civil population.

Can you give an example?

The bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were crimes against humanity, but they did not aim to reorganise that society nor to eliminate identified groups, something that was done by Francoism and the Argentinian dictatorship. This differentiation is very important because it casts light on the causes, the beneficiaries and their responsibilities.

Who are the plaintiffs?

Darío Rivas, whose father, Severino Rivas, was shot, and Inés García Holgado, who has three murdered relatives, one uncle and two great uncles: the first disappeared and the other two shot.

Why does Spanish justice not wish to investigate?

What is happening in Spain happens in all countries where mass crimes of this nature are committed. The crime is followed by impunity, even through a pact with those who were victims. In Spain, the Amnesty Law was signed, which was supported by different political parties, even by those in Argentina who are descendants of those who were victims. This is how it has happened in places like Argentina and Chile. It is not an exclusively Spanish situation.

What is being pursued in Spain with the possible suspension of Garzón?

Those who committed these crimes in Spain, who control their societies precisely because they achieved this through their genocidal processes, are trying to stop these facts from being investigated. To throw silence, oblivion and impunity over them. As a consequence, what is happening with Garzón is this. He dared to comply with what internal Spanish law and international law demand, which is to investigate those crimes. Immediately all forces of the old Spain turned against him, managing not only to paralyse the process, but also to open a shocking process to suspend him, which discredits Spanish justice internationally in an incredible manner.

In a piece titled ‘The last cackle of Francisco Franco‘ on Mexican news site La Jornada, Luis Hernández Navarro, a son of Spanish republican exiles, talks how on news of Franco’s death he and his family uncorked bottles of cava that had been chilling for several days. He talks about his enormous laughter at finding out finding out how Franco’s death had been announced by a tearful Carlos Arias Navarro (then President of the Government) on Spanish television.

Here’s the moment he’s talking about:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Right enough, it is pretty funny.

Although his parents were exiles, Hernández Navarro says he never felt nostalgia for a country that wasn’t his, but

for a cause that still has not been won because in its place there was a monarchy installed: the restoration of the Spanish Republic.

He goes on to note that he finds Baltasar Garzón to be

a dubious and ambiguous figure

This image is taken from the Presidency of Arg...
Baltasar Garzón

but that he

cannot but approve of the intention of the judge to give satisfaction, through the courts, to the families of victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship of Francisco Franco who do not accept that the remains of their ancestors remain unidentified in mass graves.

Focusing on the figure of Garzón, he notes that:

Whereas for some he is a disinterested fighter against injustice and terrorism who deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, for others he violates elemental human rights and carries out his work with exhibitionism and in a twisted manner, particularly on the matter of the Basque Country. The defenders of both points of view have presented evidence that back up their claim.

He goes on to note that:

In the kingdom of Spain there was an amnesia about the Francoist past which regaled an amnesty to the criminales who held on to power during decades. The political class and a part of the intellectual world refused to look back and opted only to look forward. In the meantime, the reds became pink, the Francoists transformed into “democrats”, the falangists became entrepreneurs and the conservatives dressed up as progressives without a hint of regret.


Today it is obvious: the repressed past has returned to Spanish society and politics to demand justice, and impunity has replied, demanding it should maintain its grip on the wheel.

And finally:

Perhaps because he was already a mummy in his lifetime, the burial of Franco was full of absurdities: several days of rehearsals were needed to conduct the funeral proceedings; one of the mourners fell into the tomb and was knocket out; apart from Augusto Pinochet, no important head of state attended the funeral; the civil servants in the Valle de los Caidos [massive fascist mausoleum built with slave labour in honour of the winning side of the Civil War- HG] sweated blood to find a tombstone of the same height that covered the tomb of José Antonio [Primo de Rivera, mentioned here the other day]. As such, [I think..] faced with the outrage of the Garzón case, some 35 years on from his death, the caudillo, in an act of vengeance, cackles from his sepulchre: justice in the kingdom of Spain does not punish the crime of criminal disappearances, but the person who investigates them. A sign that it is time to restore the Republic.

You can see more coverage of Franco’s death here:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Note the prominence of the Catholic Church in proceedings. Wait for the aerial footage at the end of the monumental obscenity of the Valle de los Caídos.



Down the street yesterday evening I came across a new book titled Dublinesca (Dublinesque) by Enrique Vila-Matas, an author of whom I have read nothing. His website tells me he will be participating in a couple of events in Dublin this weekend as part of the Franco-Irish literary festival.

Of the book, he says (I translate):

If I’m talking with a friend,  I feel freer and I don’t tell him about the plot and I speak to him, for example, about a melancholic gravitas, a uniform and sublime tone like that of the last quartets of Beethoven. I speak to him about an autumnal book (Gracián spoke of an autumn of the vigorous age, in which one could glimpse the frozen horrors of Vejecia [Vejecia is a pun: vejez in Spanish means old age, and the name is one letter removed from Venecia – Venice -HG]), of a consummate style, like the one analysed by Edward Said in On Late Style: Schonberg, Rothko, Picasso, surpassing himself, defeating his young self.

Dublinesque – I tell this friend- is a sort of private stroll the length of the bridge that links the Joyce’s world of near excess with the more laconic world of Beckett and which, in the end, is the main journey of the great literature of the last decades: the one that goes from the riches of one Irishman to the deliberate penury of the other; from the era of Gutenberg to Google, from the existence of the sacred (Joyce) to the sombre era of the disappearance of God (Beckett), from the epiphanic to aphonia.

If I’m speaking to the gentleman who has sat down beside me on the train from Dublin to Barcelona and simply wants to know what my novel is about, I tell him “It’s about someone who gets bored and who wants to celebrate a funeral for the world (for his own world too) and discovers that the ceremony gives him something to do. That is, he finds his future in the apocalyptic

Here’s the video that goes with it:

Seems promising enough. I shall read it sometime before 2025, all being well.


More on the Garzón case. A group of prominent cultural figures are staging an indefinite lock-in in the Faculty of Labour Relations in Madrid’s Complutense university.

Actress Pilar Bardem said that “in this street we used to meet up against Francoism. Arriving here today I have felt a sort of negative nostalgia. I did not believe that at the age of 71 I would be locked into the same halls where they locked me in when I was 18. Perhaps it is crazy to say this, but this is the most serious thing to have happened in democracy since 23-F” [the attempted coup d’état of 1981]

The biggest fish among them is Pedro Almodóvar.


El País reports Almodóvar as saying that “Society has a moral debt to those who lost the war and to the family members of those 113,000 corpses that lie in the ditches. If Falange places Garzón in the dock it would be as though Franco had won once more, and that is very difficult to digest.”

Have any cultural figures in Ireland, which prides itself on its cultural weight -writers, artists, musicians, actors or directors- of even a tiny fraction of Almodóvar or Bardem’s prominence taken anything approximating a militant step against the country’s evisceration by corporate raiders? Have they fuck. Though Damien Rice did write a piece for ‘Renewing the Republic’.

At The Margins

Popular thinking on crisis swept aside – The Irish Times – Tue, Apr 13, 2010

I cite these two examples in order to suggest that something extraordinary has happened to our public discourse about the crisis. Given the right-wing domination of our political and media cultures, it is not at all odd that radical dissent has been marginalised. (Even the word “marginalised” suggests, wrongly, that it was anything but marginal in the first place.) What is much harder to grasp, however, is that mainstream, rational analysis has been marginalised too.

‘Public discourse’ in Ireland is a sick joke. Perhaps Fintan O’Toole thinks he’s living in the last days of a liberal democratic state in which Arnoldian sweet reasonableness can win the day every now and again, rather as a genteel ambassador in some far-flung clime might emerge from under the wreckage of a devastating earthquake, still clutching, intact, the bottle of sherry he was about to pour out for his associates.

Well, good for him. The airwaves and the newspapers are thronged with middle-class national-corporatist drones whose notion of democratic politics derives in equal parts from The Scorpions’ Wind of Change and this one time their father cornered them in the bathroom about what a great man TK Whitaker was. Do you think they give a fisted pig about anything so grand as democracy, justice or reason? Do you think they ever did? If you do, I have some asbestos sleeping bags in my van which provide a sound night’s sleep at very reasonable prices.

Ireland is not a ‘democracy’: it’s an oligarchy with democratic pretensions, one of which is to allow for a few whirling dervishes of mildly radical inclination to do a nice animated dance before the public, a nice little sideshow to the main event of people who count getting on with the business of deluding and screwing the working class. For their own good. ‘Twas ever thus, I suppose, but its quality was never so unadulterated.

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.


A few months back, when the scaremongering Prime Time programme about immigrants making fraudulent welfare claims was shown in advance of the budget, I planned on writing another piece about Seán Quinn, to whom I had referred rather obliquely in my review of the programme.

Roughly put I was going to discuss why Quinn was treated with such widespread reverence by contrast with lesser plutocrats. There had been a moment on a Frontline programme round about that time when Jack O’Connor made reference to how Seán Quinn’s children had received €200 million for their own portfolios as an example of how there was still substantial wealth in the country that could be taxed. Pat Kenny, ever ready to offer the knucklehead apologia for his fellow millionaires, countered that Quinn employed thousands of people and therefore how could you blah blah. (At the risk of your head imploding at the sheer improbability, close your eyes and try and imagine Kenny arguing the converse: that the fact that thousands of people were working in order to maintain Quinn’s fortune is an excellent argument for him to pay more tax)

But the awed reverence went beyond media shitheads like Kenny, or Shane Ross or the latterday convert Matt Cooper. Even Fintan O’Toole described him in Ship of Fools as Ireland’s canniest businessman. It was standard fare among politicians too, and the reverence is still on display among the county councillors in Quinnlandia:

Thousands protest in support of Quinn – County Leitrim Today

Newtowngore Fine Gael Cllr John McCartin told the paper that the actions of the Financial Regulator have seriously undermined confidence in the entire Quinn Group of companies, both among consumers and suppliers. Questioning the wisdom of such a move McCartin said, “If the Quinn group is making a profit of over €20m per month, it will take less than a year for it to recover the €200m asset gap in cover for policy holder’s liabilities. If this is the case, the Financial Regulator’s suggestion that the Company may be sold is completely over the top.”

McCartin concluded,”Sean Quinn built his empire with his own money and the Quinn group has had an immeasurable positive impact on the entire country. The Financial Regulator must not let populism, public blood lust or it’s own past ineptitude taint it’s attitude to Quinn Insurance.”


West Cavan Councillor, John Paul Feeley [Fianna Fáil – HG] said “It is important to recognise the immense economic and social impact of the Quinn Group on the Irish Economy, especially in the Cavan and Fermanagh areas and in the surrounding counties. The Quinn Group have been dynamic and innovative, bringing competition and quality to the consumer and employment to thousands in this region. Government Policy to protect existing jobs and seek to create employment does not seem to feature in the reasoning of the Regulator.”

Mohill Cllr Gerry Kilrane [Fianna Fáil – HG] said, “Regardless of the right or wrongs of the situation the consequences for this area are simply catastrophic. The Quinn Group has provided much needed employment in Leitrim and West Cavan for nearly 40 years. Sean Quinn has provided an opportunity for thousands of young people to live here and rear their families at a time when The Troubles were at their height and this country was in the last recession.

But there are plenty of ordinary people out there who thought Quinn could walk on water. I know a couple of people who know him personally, and who quaked with excitement at the mere mention of his name.

There is a good book out at the minute, Storytelling by Christian Salmon. It focuses on how storytelling by polticians and corporations in the United States is an instrument of power, definitively manipulating the way voters, employees and consumers think, feel and act. It highlights James Carville’s account of how Republicans have dominated storytelling in the field of politics, so that whereas Democratic politicians pre-Obama may have simply produced a list of items, like clean water, better health care and so on and so forth, Republicans were able to create a compelling narrative to shape voters’ perceptions, preying on their fears and desires. In his words, Republicans like Ronald Reagan were saying “we’re going to save you from the homos in Hollywood and the terrorists in Tehran”. In the field of business, consumers are drawn in by the storytelling strategies of the likes of Steve Jobs, the rebel who started out in his garage and who now appears as an evangelical figure. For workers in cororations too, massive amounts of money are placed in the service of making them feel they are engaged in the continuation of a narrative flow: both Vodafone and Hewlett Packard (these weren’t mentioned in the book, but I know this for a fact) to name two, ply their employees with fairy stories about the corporate behemoth’s humble origins: the rebels who took on the establishment. Corporations use consultants to put the right narrative strategies to work, guys who know about Roland Barthes and I can’t remember who else.

It’s unlikely Seán Quinn knows who Roland Barthes is. If prompted, he’d probably guess he was a golfer. But at the same time, the Quinn ‘story’, told by a cast of thousands, had a similar epic function, as a sustaining mythology. Here’s this down-at-home guy who started out small, leaving school at 14, digging in his da’s backyard, who then went on to fell on the big monopolies, all the while staying true to his roots, drinking in the local pubs and so on and so forth, while always looking out for the little guy. The story showed that the little guy who pulls the brass out of the muck can triumph over the megabucks overlords and the faceless bureaucrats, and that the invisible hand of capitalism, left to its own devices, will drag heroes out of the Irish soil.

 Paul Lafargue: Simple Socialist Truths (1903)

S. How many workers does he employ; men, women and children, all included?

W. A hundred.

S. What wages do they get?

W. On an average, about a thousand francs, counting in the salaries of managers and foremen.

S. So that the hundred workers in the work receive altogether a hundred thousand francs in wages, just enough to keep them from dying of hunger, while your master pocketed a hundred thousand francs for doing nothing. Where did these two hundred thousand francs come from?

W. Not from the sky; I never saw it rain francs.

S. It is the workers in his works who have produced the hundred thousand francs they received in wages, and, besides, the hundred thousand francs profit of the master, who has employed part of that in buying new machines.

W. There is no denying that.

S. Then it is the workers who produce the money which the master devotes to buying new machines to make them work; it is the managers and foremen, wage slaves like yourself, who direct the production; where, then, does the master come in? What’s he good for?

W. For exploiting labour.

S. Say rather, for robbing the labourer; that is clearer and more exact.

Boom Time

In which a bunch of cool kids hop on their bikes and ride in to blow up the centre of Chicago. Rise Against’s last album, Appeal to Reason, appears to have drawn its title from the American socialist newspaper of the same name which had a ‘weekly circulation of 550,000, and a subscription base of 450,000 in 1910’.

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April 2010
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