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Still in Franco's Shadow

Article compiled based on wire reports (nda)July 15, 2007

The Spanish government's attempt to settle the nation's accounts with the 1939-75 dictatorship of General Francisco Franco is at the risk of failing.

Franco's dictatorship continues to divide Spain much as it did during his reignImage: AP

A draft law aimed at rehabilitating the memory of Franco's victims was tabled 18 months behind schedule, got bogged down in parliamentary wrangling and may not be submitted for definitive approval in time before the March 2008 parliamentary elections.

The so-called Law of Historic Memory is one of the most controversial initiatives launched by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government.

It is rejected by the opposition conservatives, who accuse the Socialists of trying to rewrite history and say a re-evaluation of the Franco era would reopen old wounds.

For far-left and regionalist parties, on the other hand, the planned law does not go far enough in redressing the wrongs committed by Francoists.

The law has divided parliament, with parties proposing nearly 200 amendments to it.

In contrast to other countries which had Fascist regimes, such as Germany and Italy, Spain has never made a clean break with its one-time dictator.

After the death of the Caudillo (leader) put an end to his rule in 1975, democratic parties agreed to leave the past behind to heal a divided nation, and an amnesty was granted to Franco's collaborators in 1977.

A truthful picture of Franco?

Spanien entfernt eine der letzten Franco-Statuen
Removing Franco's statue in Zaragoza did not erase him from historyImage: AP

Critics say school history books still do not give a truthful picture of the 1936-39 Civil War, which was sparked by Franco's military uprising against the legal republican government, and of his subsequent dictatorship.

About half a million people from both sides were killed in the war, and afterwards tens of thousands of republicans died in reprisals, prisons and labor camps.

Tens of thousands of republicans remain buried in anonymous mass graves around the country.

The government thought the time was ripe to finally lay Franco's ghost to rest, but it seems to have been wrong.

The conservative People's Party (PP), which grew partly out of Francoist roots, opposed plans to rehabilitate and compensate the republican victims.

"Spaniards do not want to know anything about Franco," PP leader Mariano Rajoy said. "They are more concerned with education and health care."

Removal of Franco-era monuments not enough

Franco-Scherge stellt sich der Wahl
Franco, left, led an uprising which led to the civil warImage: AP

The far-left party Izquierda Unida (IU), however, found the government's plans far too timid. It was backed by regionalist parties such as the ERC in north-eastern Catalonia, whose culture was oppressed by the Franco regime.

The IU and its allies, for instance, have asked the government to finance groups exhuming remains of republicans to give them honorable burials, instead of just encouraging city councils to do so.

The most controversial part of the draft law concerned summary verdicts handed out by Francoist tribunals to tens of thousands of people who were executed on charges of being communists, trade unionists or the like.

The government rejected the IU's request that the law open the door to the judicial revision of individual sentences, which could have overburdened courts and led to a questioning of other laws dating from the Franco era.

The two finally agreed on a general condemnation of the Francoist verdicts, but the compromise has not been approved by all the parties supporting the law.

The IU and regionalists also want the government to tackle the sensitive issue of the Valley of the Fallen, Franco's huge mausoleum near Madrid, which was built by republican prisoners.

They are concerned that a number of statues and street names still pay homage to Franco, though many such tributes have been removed from cities governed by the political left.

The government has struggled to find a law that would be acceptable to all, but the result has left nobody satisfied, and it seems possible that the law could be shelved after the end of the current legislature.