Shh! Don't think about the colossus

The crash of the construction industry with its bankruptcies and now soaring unemployment, the air disaster in Barajas last month (where we lost a good friend), the absurd and cruel distortions of the judicial system (people kept in prison because the judge forgot they were there, others never sent there although they were condemned and go out to commit more crimes, the divvying up of judicial slots to party loyalists), the constant arrivals of half-dead, and sometimes dead, would-be immigrants on the coasts -- Spaniards have a lot to think about these days. But there is one very big thing that they have been trying not to think about for nearly 70 years. And if, by misfortune or carelessness, they did think about it, they were afraid to mention it. Now -- seemingly all of a sudden -- people are daring to speak, mass graves are being dug open and analyzed and those long-silenced events are being treated as news, and to lots of Spaniards the wartime and post-war atrocities of Francisco Franco's troops, allies and government are news.

What took so long? Fear works, as we've seen in post-war Germany, post-dictatorship Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and other places. It works to silence people, sometimes because the trauma of extreme violence has left them in a state of semi-shock, unable to pronounce the horrible truth even to their own children; and sometimes because of fear of the consequences to those children if others know what happened to their parents. It has worked more thoroughly for longer in Spain than in those other countries, because the Franco fear regime lasted so much longer, almost 40 years: from the first massacres on June 18, 1936, until some months after the death of the monster in November 1975.

"Don't mention that! You'll just open old wounds!" protests Rajoy, leader of the Partido Popular. No, say the survivors and grandchildren of the massacred, our wounds have never healed and never will until we know just what happened to our loved ones and where their remains are now. It's a lot like Srebrenica, multiplied many times all over the map of Spain. Today's El País includes such a map, showing the location of known mass graves. Presumably there are many others yet to be discovered. The sons, daughters and grandchildren, plus other truthseekers -- including prominent historians and novelists like Dulce Chacón, Manuel Rivas and others -- have been pushing for years for an accounting, have coaxed terrified oldsters to murmur their horrid memories, and have formed associations pressuring local, regional and the national institutions for their records. Now finally a judge, Baltasar Garzón, after pursuing Pinochet, the Argentine generals and other miscreants abroad, has ordered the armed forces, the police and the Catholic Church (which knows more than it lets on) to open its archives.

If you want a comprehensive story of the Spanish Civil War, with a balanced treatment of the atrocities on both sides and ample demonstration that the White Terror was many times more brutal than the Red Terror, not just in numbers of victims but in the deliberate cruelty, you could do worse than read Antony Beevor's The Battle for Spain. I may have more to say about this book later. Especially important is his argument about the role of the Communists -- the Republic could not have survived without them, but also could not survive with them in the leadership.

Illustration: El coloso, long attributed to Francisco Goya but now thought to be by another hand.

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