Spain Deals with its Fascist Past | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 16.05.2005
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Spain Deals with its Fascist Past

The end of World War II didn't mean an end for fascist dictatorships in Western Europe -- in Spain, Francisco Franco ruled until his death in 1975. And only now, some say, is Spain truly confronting his legacy.


Confronting the past or wiping it away?

In a souvenir shop in the middle of Madrid's wealthy Salamanca district, there is a steady stream of customers who drop in to buy a pendant or a piece of memorabilia. But instead of plastic figures of flamenco dancers or matadors, this shop sells another type of souvenir -- those of the Franco regime.

There are bracelets and badges and flags, the eagle flag, various metal pendants and even an identity card of Franco, a pretend one with his thumb-print on the side. There is also a picture of Tejero, the man who attempted the coup back in 1981 that was an attempt to overthrow the democratic government of Spain.

Paco has run this shop for nearly thirty years. He says he's a proud supporter of the Falange, Spain's equivalent of the Nazis.

Split society

After decades of dictatorship, feelings in Spain towards its fascist past are very different to those in Germany, which has spent decades confronting its Nazi history. Many argue that only now Spanish society is really dealing with this part of its history.

For example, three decades after Franco's death, the government is finally willing to make changes to Franco's most imposing legacy: The Valley of the Fallen. This colossal burial chamber with its own church and monastery was built by Franco using republican prisoners of war as slave labor. Spain's government is about to make an historic decision that could change this
enormous monument into an education centre about fascism.

Francisco Franco

His legacy lives on

At the same time, a shop like this is very indicative of the contradictions in Spain's modern democracy, ones illustrated by the customers who come here. They're not neo-Nazi thugs or fascists, but mainstream Spaniards including lots of young people.

These days, large numbers of Spaniards on the right don't feel shame about or responsibility for their fascist past. And many on the left of Spanish politics -- those whose families fought for the losing republican side during the Civil War in the 1930s -- still feel that Spanish society is divided into the winners of that war and the losers. Those on the winning side reaped the benefits of the victory, access to the best schools and the best jobs; the losers were excluded from society and still feel the consequences of losing in the Civil War today. Emilio Silva, from a nationwide association called Recovering the Historical Memory says the fascist past still hasn't been properly dealt with.

"In Spain, we have a lot of consequences, cultural consequences of the dictatorship," he said. "If we look at the past and we know the past, we can be more free. I think it's like psychoanalysis because we have to talk about our past to be a healthy society and I think it is very important."

No accounting for the bodies

There is plenty of critical literature about the Franco years but there's been no official calling to account for the crimes of dictatorship and no official recognition for the thousands who disappeared during those repressive four decades. Many are still in mass graves scattered about
the country. Only now the government has decided to make significant moves to set the record straight. Within months, changes will be made to Franco's most impressive legacy: a huge monument just outside Madrid, including his burial chamber, a church and a monastery. Some political groups want the dictator's remains moved from the site. Most just want basic information telling visitors the historical facts about the monument.

But not everyone is enthusiastic about the proposed changes. Gustavo Aristegui is a spokesperson for Spain's main opposition party, the conservative Popular Party.

Freie Wahlen in Spanien

Freedom and democracy after four decades

"Our transition from dictatorship to democracy is an example in Europe and I think that we've got to cherish this and not re-open wounds that have healed," he said.

"Leave things be, it's not an issue anymore, I mean people on the street are not worried about these things anymore."

Read on to learn more about Franco's legacy

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