The Spanish Civil War as Cultural Representation and Historical Memory
Semester One Assessment
To what degree can it be said that the Transition silenced memory?
In recent years, in a climate of prosperity and under a consolidated democracy, a discussion about memory has emerged in Spain, historical memory. A new generation of historians and victims groupsadvocate the recovery of historical memory, including the exhumation of those murdered and buried in mass graves during the dictatorship, economic compensation for the victims and their families, the removal of all symbols related to Franco and above all, the recognition and testimonials of the victims to their suffering during the Civil War and Franco’s repressive regime. But why, more than 30years after the end of the dictatorship, has this issue aroused such interest in Spain? It appears that after the death of Franco in 1975, during what is known as the period of the “democratic transition”, there was a so-called “policy of oblivion”, some even speak of a "Pact of Silence", as it was called in 1988 by the Spanish poet, novelist and journalist Jose Antonio Gabriel y Galán. Such apractice, according to those that proclaim its existence, would have prevented justice from being served, crimes from being prosecuted and the deaths of thousands of people fighting for peace and democracy from being dignified. It is important to consider to what extent this really happened as opinions are somewhat divergent and how the democratic transition silenced the past of Spain. It isinteresting to first consider specific details of this period that possibly drove this amnesia and then demonstrate that those aspects of silence were chosen not imposed to finally analyze the country’s past and present historical and political context to better understand the causes and consequences of this choice.
Even though protests against Franco’s regime had increasingly grown during the lastyears of his life, Franco died in bed from natural causes, with all his institutions and his repressive forces still in place. His political movement, the Falange, however, lacked a real robust political agenda. The opposition, despite not being in power, had greater popular support and a more definite plan for the future. Certain extremist groups wanted a complete break with Franco's regime, butgiven the political climate, this was dangerous and fear of a second civil war remained present. The policy adopted was one of transformation, from an authoritarian regime then in place to a democracy. One thing that stands out is that Spain became democratic constitutional monarchy despite the fact that it was Franco who had chosen Juan Carlos I as his heir. If the logic had been that of a ruptureand Spain had retreated to what it was before the dictatorship, the country would be a Republic. However the Republicans were silenced and the Republican period was ignored, a choice that according to Isabelo Herreros was made to avoid a drastic change (Herreros, 1995). José Bergamín, writer, essayist, poet and Spanish playwright with communist tendencies defined that time as “la Monarquía delchitón”.
The democratic transition subsequently went through a period of negotiation, inspired by continuity rather than rupture. “Sin duda una de las claves de su éxito, fue la declaración de continuidad de la democracia emergente con la dictadura anterior” (Alvarez Junco, 2009). A series of agreements were reached between politicians from all sides. At an international level this transition isconsidered an example of moderation and ability, and at that time, it was supported by the majority of the Spanish public, despite the fact that it could be seen as a pact made by elites. But of course, the process was not perfect. “Antes que una insuficiencia o una imposibilidad de recordar, el pacto del olvido denotó una decisión de suprimir, neutralizar, des-enfatizar referencias dentro del...