Thursday, November 01, 2007

Spanish parliament condemns Franco

By DANIEL WOOLLS, Associated Press Writer
Wed Oct 31, 3:41 PM ET
I have a great respect for Spain who can reach into the past for reconciliation with the present. However the denial stance that Turkey is deliberately taking towards Armenians with open support by the American Administration fills me with contempt.
MADRID, Spain - Parliament condemned Gen. Francisco Franco's nearly 40-year dictatorship Wednesday in historic legislation addressing a dark chapter of Spanish history that had been largely off-limits.

The bill sponsored by the Socialist government and passed by the lower house of parliament also makes symbolic amends to victims of the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War. It formally denounces Franco's regime, mandates that local governments fund efforts to unearth mass graves from the Civil War and declares as "illegitimate" the summary military trials that led to the execution or imprisonment of thousands of the general's enemies.

The legislation orders the removal of all Franco-era symbols such as streets and plazas named after him or generals who fought for him. There are dozens of such symbols in Madrid alone.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose grandfather was among the tens of thousands executed by Franco's forces, had made the legislation a top priority and cobbled together an agreement between his ruling Socialists and several smaller parties.

Conservative critics complained angrily that the bill digs unnecessarily at old wounds and does away with a spirit of reconciliation that accompanied the transition to democracy after Franco died in 1975.

The bill pays tribute to all victims of the war, including Roman Catholic clergy and others executed by militia loyal to the elected, leftist Republican government that Franco rose up against in 1936.

It also bans political rallies at a site know as The Valley of the Fallen, which includes Franco's mausoleum. The site is the most potent symbol of the dictatorship and is a magnet for yearly processions of right-wingers nostalgic for Franco's rule.

The legislation, known as the "Law of Historical Memory," must still pass the Senate — considered a formality — and be published in the government gazette before it becomes law. That is expected in November.

The legislation passed despite the fierce objections from Zapatero's conservative opponents, who accused him of being driven by vengeance to rekindle national acrimony doused during Spain's transition to democracy. The culmination was approval of a democratic constitution in 1978.

The process featured an unspoken pact among parties to put the suffering of the war years behind them in the interest of rebuilding. No war crimes trials were held.

Other countries that lived through wartime atrocities did hold trials — junta-era Argentina, or post-Nazi Germany, for instance. But for the most part, Spain is now trying to atone for the past by simply honoring victims, without punishing anyone.

Proponents say the new legislation was a long time coming.

"This is a very important moment for Spain," said Emilio Silva, president of an organization that leads efforts to exhume the bodies of civilians killed by Franco's forces in the war.

"But this law is the beginning, not the end, and it is long overdue. Many, many victims and relatives of those killed have already died without receiving any justice," he said.

Polls show that many Spaniards see the law as divisive.

"For me this reopens wounds I thought we had agreed to close in 1978," said Gonzalo Lopez Orozco, a 34-year-old lawyer. "I don't know what this'll be good for."

Eduardo Zaplana, a spokesman for the conservative opposition Popular Party, denounced the bill as "unnecessary" and "prejudicial to national harmony."

Angel Acebes, No. 2 in the Popular Party, was even more blunt in the run-up to the vote.

"Zapatero wants to divide Spaniards and turn them against each other," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega chided the Popular Party for its stance.

"There isn't a single line of this law that couldn't be backed fully by a democrat." She said the opposition arguments against the law amounted to "shadows."

"The truth, like the light, always makes its way through," she said.

While the Popular Party has pushed itself toward the political center in the three decades since Franco's death, it was founded by a top Franco minister.

The Civil War left a half-million people dead, becoming a proxy fight between Hitler's Germany and the Italy of Benito Mussolini — both of whom backed Franco — and Communist forces including the Soviet Union, which backed Spain's elected left-wing government.

Atrocities were committed on all sides, though the victorious fascists are generally considered to have committed the lion's share.

Many see the Spanish conflict as a precursor to World War II.


Associated Press Writer Paul Haven contributed to this report.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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