Farewell to Franco?

"Why shouldn't truth be stranger than fiction? Fiction, after all, has to make sense." -- attributed to Mark Twain

The Socialist government's 2005 proposal of a "Law of Historical Memory" has been a sharp poke in the myths of both sides in Spain's great Civil War of 1936-39. This is because the war and its aftermath are remembered in diametrically opposite ways by Right and Left, and because each has huge emotional and even economic investments in its version.

It's easy to see why the emotions are so involved; it's impossible to remain indifferent after looking at the photographs of combat, destruction and suffering, or the posters of the Republic (which had the best artists) or of its enemies the Nationals, or listening to radio recordings (hysterical sermons, tense bulletins, impassioned speeches) or the marches or folk songs given new, revolutionary or nationalist lyrics ("Ay, Manuela", "Los cuatro muleros/generales", etc.).

For the Falangists of the 30s and 40s and their contemporary defenders, the war against the Republic was a Crusade that saved Christian Spain from Godless Communism, and those who opposed it deserved whatever punishment they suffered. All their guys were heroes, all their fallen "martyrs."

For defenders and sympathizers of the Republic, the heroes and heroines were all on their side, defending democratic legality with the support of other heroes from all over the world in the International Brigades. Together they expanded, liberalized and de-ideologized education, extended medical service to those who had never had it, opened the vote and elective office to women, empowered trade unions and civic associations in an intense and active democracy, and made possible a great cultural flowering in drama, poetry and all the other arts. In this view, the Franco dictatorship was inhumane and antihuman, and any resistance, whether by words or bombs, was more than justified.

The two great myths were constructed to solace the survivors and descendants on both sides, ways to "make sense" of real events that were complicated and contradictory. The truth, as usual, makes less "sense": heroes viewed from another angle -- or at another moment in their history -- become monsters, and glittering ideals turn into caricatures of themselves. The Falangist Nationalists killed many more Spaniards than their foes, and did so with the aid of German Nazi and Italian Fascist troops and arms and Muslim Moorish infantry, making their "nationalism" suspect. Also, their denial of basic civil freedoms and even of food to the needy makes their version of Christianity hard to defend. But the Left also committed outrages, including the massacring of prisoners during the Falangist siege of Madrid (far fewer than the other side, but still indefensible), and arrests and killings by one leftist faction against another -- not everyone defending the Republic was a Republican, that is, a true believer in the institutions of a democratic republic.

Until Franco's death in 1976, Republican exiles in Mexico, Russia and other countries and other sympathizers constructed their memorials mainly out of words, building a library of novels, stories, plays and tracts. Those supporters of the Republic who had remained in Spain and survived hunger, imprisonment of close relatives and other humiliations, including many widows, were so traumatized that they tended to keep their memories to themselves, too ashamed or frightened to tell their grandchildren what they had seen and suffered.

The Falangist myth was much more solidly constructed. Its "historical memory" was implanted in Spain by school texts, obligatory hymn-singing in class, the renaming of streets for Falangist generals, heroic statues of Franco, and, especially, the enormous monument outside Madrid known as the "Valle de los Caídos" ("Valley of the Fallen"), constructed by Franco's prisoners of war, and dedicated to "...perpetuating the memory of the fallen of our glorious Crusade," according to the 1940 decree of its founding. And there lie the tombs of Generalísimo Francisco Franco and the founder of the Falange (Franco's fascist party), José Antonio Primo de Rivera (1903-1936), attracting commemorative ceremonies of present-day falangistas, complete with the stiff-armed salute.

Then, after the sweeping Socialist Party electoral victory in in 1982, some town governments began to commemorate Republican and other leftist heroes by putting their names on a few streets and parks. And some of the grandchildren began digging for information in archives of the dictatorship, struggling for access with curators who opened them only reluctantly and partially, and only to those who could demonstrate a personal connection to the papers sought. And with the aid of elderly peasants who now felt empowered to speak, they also began digging into the ground, uncovering unmarked mass graves of school teachers, trade-union members, town officials of the Republican period, poets and others -- even priests, killed by the Falangists for feeding or hiding suspected Republicans.

Even today the Right, including the Catholic hierarchy, wants only its own martyrs remembered, conveniently forgetting those priests slaughtered by Franco's people. And sectors of the Left will not be satisfied by anything less than thorough condemnation of the Falangist mutiny and dictatorship it established, the annulment of all summary trials that condemned opponents of Franco to prison or death, and compensation for the dictatorship's victims and their descendants -- pensions and indemnities that will run into millions of euros.

So it was an important and rather surprising achievement this week when the Socialists and other left parties gained the support of even the opposition Popular Party (which includes Franco's political heirs and other rightists) for parliament to approve legislation to open all the archives to any researcher (as in other European countries), increase indemnizations to Republican veterans and their heirs, permit the children and grandchildren of exiles to opt for Spanish nationality (which should benefit many in Latin America), and -- of greatest symbolic importance -- to redefine the Valle de los Caídos as "a memorial to all the fallen in the Civil War and to those who suffered repression" in the following years. The place will need some serious design reforms. A hammer-and-sickle beside the huge cross may be too much to ask, and a Socialist Party fist with a rose could hardly compete with either of those images. Or better yet: Just pull down the cross -- which in Spain has become a partisan banner -- and set up a representation of Spain's now-democratic constitution.

Photo, top: A crane removes the statue of Francisco Franco from the main entry to the General Military Academy of Zaragoza- EFE, from El País, 24/08/2006.

Photo, side: El Valle de los Caídos, from Falange web forum



I put this new widget thing up at the top of the page ("Bookmark") because an announcement said it would bring me more web traffic. But how do you use it? When I mouse-over, everything I click invites me to create a new account, but I can't see how I could use any of them. So I haven't, but maybe I'm missing something. Can anybody tell me if I should bother? Do YOU use it?

Bolivarian Alternatives

A reader has asked about "Hugo Chávez' ALBA" which I mentioned as an example of inter-state associations that can limit multinational corporations' activity (see below, under headline "Globalization"). Here goes:

The Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de América is one of a half-dozen or more political-cum-trade associations among Latin American countries, in their attempts to establish policies and resources independent of the United States. In name and intention, "ALBA" is a direct response to "ALCA" (Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas ), Spanish acronym for the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas.

ALCA/FTAA was founded at U.S. initiative in 1994 to reduce tariff barriers among 34 countries of the Western Hemisphere, that is, all of them except Cuba. Few, however, have actually joined, though the U.S. is still pushing the idea. Hugo Chávez has denounced it as another tool for imperialist exploitation by the U.S. The presidents of Brazil (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) and Argentina (Néstor Kirchner) have conditioned their participation on U.S. elimination of its agricultural subsidies (which appears unlikely), and there has also been loud objection to ALCA/FTAA's attempts to impose U.S. principles of "intellectual property" and patent protection, which the critics fear (with some historical basis) would be used to prohibit independent research and even exploitation of native plants which have been "patented" by a U.S. chemical company.

ALBA is the "alternative" proposed by Hugo Chávez. It does not exclude Cuba -- in fact, it was founded in Havana in 2004. (Just this week, Chávez surprised his Cuban hosts by proclaiming that "Cuba and Venezuela are really one government.") It does however exclude the U.S. It is "Bolivarian" both because Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) imagined a union of Spain's ex-colonies in America (he wanted to put its capital in Panama) and because it is Venezuela's treasury of bolívares (the national currency) that give it some plausibility. So far, besides Venezuela and Cuba, ALBA has negotiated agreements with Nicaragua, Bolivia, Haiti, and "bilateral agreements" (something less than full participation) with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, etc.

Along the same lines, but with more radical implications, Venezuela and Cuba (with Venezuela's money) have created a new alternative to the International Monetary Fund, from which Cuba was excluded and which Venezuela recently abandoned. It was launched in Haiti with with $1 billion of Venezuelan money. Most of the countries of South America have already agreed to participate in what has now been redefined as a development bank which (at Brazilian insistence) will limit its lending to South America (thus leaving out Nicaragua and Haiti and other Caribbean countries -- Venezuela presumably will continue lending to them outside of the new bank).


Newsvine & new media

I just discovered Newsvine & am using it in two ways: Posting articles to see if I get any more readers, and reading some of the interesting stuff they collect. (You can see my page, with the articles posted, here.) It's free and easy. Makes me worry about the future of news media, though. If newspapers disappear, or morph into electronic diffusion of free info, who's going to pay for serious investigation?

There will be a solution -- we humans have always found a way out of whatever jam we've created for ourselves -- but I don't yet see what it will be. Probably a mix of things: university-based think-tanks, foundations (like the Fund for Investigative Journalism only bigger?), or funds gathered by interested NGOs (which would include all the neo-fascists as well as the people we like). The changes in our world of information are immense. The pretense of objectivity of the select few papers (Le Monde, New York Times, El País, Herald Tribune, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and a couple of others have always insisted on their independence), while maybe never more than a pretense, will erode to nothing. Maybe that's all right -- in a free-for-all of people shouting at each other, some few thinkers may be able to filter the sensible from the insane. Diderot did it, in the 18th century, so maybe we can too.

See Poynter article, Facing the News Business Model Crisis.

Globalization: Ours & theirs

A friend writes, à propos my review of Ulrich Beck's book on globalization (also at Newsvine ): "I remain skeptical of globalization, a neo-capitalist plan to push American, British and other corporate countries markets into small countries around the world. With global warming, there may be a counter trend of people taking care of their own needs on a smaller scale as global trade may be come less and less plausible."

Here's my response:

Globalization: Since we can't beat it, we've got to figure out how best to use it. Interconnectivity among people all over the globe is not a neo-capitalist plan, or any kind of plan at all. It's been happening since the first navigators began exploring, or even earlier, and has been happening faster and faster since the steam engine, telegraphy, aviation and now electronic, wireless media. Our problem is that corporations know how to use it more effectively than most of us, but they are vulnerable in several ways that make them subjectable to pressure from citizen groups and even from states. Chiefly, they must sell their products to survive (in competition with other corporations), making them vulnerable to consumer boycotts and receptive to any "good" publicity that gives them an edge over the competition (My friend Charlie Kernaghan's National Labor Committee exploits this vulnerability brilliantly). Secondly, corporations can pressure governments by threatening not to invest, but they MUST invest somewhere, so states and combinations of states (Hugo Chávez's ALBA, for example) can severely limit their activity. And there are other vulnerabilities (the precariousness of CEO's positions, for example) that smart trade unions (Reuther was a genius) have been able to use.

Beck points out that the "anti-globalizers" are themselves enthusiastic globalists, organizing NGOs world-wide. Focusing on smaller scale, local needs while taking into account the the global is exactly what he advocates : "glocalization" is the ugly word for it, "cosmopolitanism" is (to my ear) much better. He uses both words, but emphasizes cosmopolitanism, which, he reminds me, is an ancient Greek concept: loyalty to and concern for the "polis", the local city-state, AND for the "cosmos", i.e., everything. Global organizations he mentions for praise most often include Amnestiy International and Greenpeace.