MADRID, Oct 31, 2007 (AFP) – Spain’s parliament votes Wednesday on a draft law which would for the first time officially recognize the victims of the nation’s 1936-39 civil war and the ensuing right-wing dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.
Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose grandfather was executed as Franco’s Nationalist forces took control of northern Spain in 1936, made the controversial law a centerpiece of his first term in office. The legislators are expected to vote on the Law of Historical Memory at around 4:00 pm (1500 GMT) and, after months of negotiations, the bill has the support of several smaller left-wing and nationalist parties, ensuring its passage ahead of a general election in March 2008.
Only the main opposition Popular Party, which grew partly out of Francoist roots, has opposed the bill on the grounds that it opens old wounds and is divisive. The law would declare “illegitimate” the verdicts of the summary trials which Franco’s regime held against people suspected of opposing it, paving the way for sentences to be declared null.
It would also require statues, plaques and other symbols of the regime to be removed from public buildings while churches and other private institutions risk losing state aid if they refuse to remove them from their property. Historians estimate about 500,000 people from both sides were killed in the civil war, which was sparked by Franco’s insurgency against the democratically elected left-wing Republican government.
After Franco’s victory, 50,000 Republicans were executed by Nationalist forces and tens of thousands were incarcerated. While the regine honored its own dead, it left tens of thousands of its opponents buried in hundreds of unmarked graves across the country.
Following Franco’s death in 1975, all political parties tacitly agreed to
put the war and regime behind them and Spain granted an amnesty for crimes committed under the dictator’s iron-fisted rule. Spain adopted a democratic constitution in 1978 and is hailed as an example for other nations emerging from a dictarship.
But in recent years the “pacto de olvido”, or “pact of forgetting”, adopted after Franco’s death began to break as associations emerged which sought to recover the remains of those shot and thrown into unmarked mass graves. The new law is a reflection in part of the fact that Zapatero, 47, and other Spaniards of his generation did not take part in the compromises made immediately after the regime fell and do not feel bound to them.
“Finally a Spanish government dares to address the dictatorship and the past,” Emilio Silva, the head of an association that seeks to recover the remains of those buried in unmarked mass graves, told AFP. But like many other representatives of victims, Silva feels the law should have gone further, by declaring the verdicts of Franco’s summary trial void outright instead of just “illegitimate” for example.