A healing process?

20th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

A government commission aims to find justice for the victims of the Franco regime. But will it heal scars or stir up more bitter feelings over the Spanish Civil War? Graham Keeley reports.

To outsiders, they might have appeared like two old war veterans, walking side-by-side, proudly celebrating Spain's National Day.

Lluis Companys, a Catalan 'martyr'

But the pensioners who took part in the military parade in Madrid last week could hardly have been less innocuous.

For each had served on different sides of a bitter divide that still grips Spain.

Angel Salamanca, who fought with the Spanish Blue Division on the Russian front alongside the Nazi troops, walked side-by-side with Luis Royo, who was part of the Republican Leclerc Column, who were among the first to liberate Paris in 1944.

The veterans themselves said they were on different sides...but fought for Spain. Others did not see it the same way.

"It's like asking a holocaust victim to appear in a parade with a former Nazi," said Gaspar Llamazares, the leader of Spain's left-wing United Left party.

Many Spaniards, including Llamazares, chose to boycott the festivities as a result.

Civil War 'victims' were buried in unmarked graves

But the Spanish Defence Minister, Jose Bono, defended his controversial decision to invite all Spanish veterans to the annual event.

"Look, I'm a socialist. I fought against Franco. I don't support the Blue Division but I do support Spain and this is a part of Spanish history.

"On National Day, one should be generous. And think about it - if you left out all the Spaniards you may not agree with: the Reconquistas, the Carlists, the Fascists... You wouldn't have many people left. It's all Spain."

Bono said he planned the gesture as a symbol of reconciliation, of peace and harmony in modern Spain.

But some believe it just emphasised the deep political rifts that still exist in Spanish society and that date back to the Spanish Civil War.

Raul del Pozo, a columnist with right-wing daily El Mundo, wrote: "The parade aired all the resentments of the 'two Spains', stirred up by the political blockheads and the anger of the bitter."

*quote1*The Socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is under increasing pressure to provide some sort of closure to all Franco's victims, including those who never even came before the summary tribunals, but were simply shot and buried in mass graves, which remain unmarked all over Spain.

Zapatero's government has set up an all-party commission, which sat for the first time this week, to find justice for those who were apparently denied it under the dictatorship.

Relatives have asked the government to exhume them and to get historians to clarify exactly who did what to whom in a bloody war when all sides committed atrocities.

A famous republican poster designed to rally troops

Estimates vary, but 350,000 are thought to have died in battle or in jail, or by bombing and starvation.

The past government of the conservative People's Party, led by José María Aznar, refused to bow to demands by all the other parties to do something for Franco's victims.

Zapatero made a significant gesture towards starting the reconciliation process last week.

Sixty-five years after the civil war ended in 1939, and almost 30 years after the death of Franco, the government agreed to review the case of Lluis Companys, the former president of Catalonia who was executed in Barcelona by one of Franco's firing squads.

Many Catalans see Companys as a martyr for their 'nation'.

On the 64th anniversary of his death, deputy prime minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Paz said a committee of ministers would consider annulling the verdicts against Companys and other victims of Franco's military tribunals.

*quote2*She pledged "full moral satisfaction to those who found themselves submitted to criminal cases that clearly did not meet the minimum rules for a fair trial".

Companys was shot in 1940, following a conviction for "military rebellion" after he was brought back to Spain from France by the Gestapo.

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