Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón—called “Pedrito” by his supporters and “the Handsome” by himself—has gotten the Halloween season off to an early start by disentombing the body of former Spanish head of state Francisco Franco. Although traditionally a time to show respect for the dead in the Hispanic world, in this as in so many things, the self-proclaimed atheist Pedrito runs counter to the behavior and beliefs of the majority in Hispanidad. Of course, as is the norm in the Western world, the majority counts for little to its masters, this being the current definition of “democracy.” After a months-long legal struggle with the Franco family and the abbey where Franco was entombed, the Prime Minister took time out from dealing with problems like raging unemployment and Catalonian separatist violence to expel the one-time Caudillo from his resting place.
While no one would claim that Sanchez is the smartest of Spain’s post-Franco politicians, October 24’s exhumation marked a new low in his spotty career. To be fair, however, Pedrito was only carrying out a decision his party had pushed through Spain’s parliament over a year earlier, before his administration began. This is the culmination of decades of blackening Franco’s character and attempting to obliterate his memory. One can understand why the socialists would do this: they and the communists are, after all, the ideological heirs of the government that Franco and his collaborators overthrew. No one is nastier than a loser who regains power. One can hardly fault them for being bitter.
What is far more disturbing is the way this campaign has succeeded not only among those who should know better—both inside and outside of Spain—but even with many who benefitted from Franco’s actions.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
The first thing to bear in mind, before any other consideration is that, had Franco lost, Spain today would be another Romania or Bulgaria. After the flight of King Alfonso XIII in 1931, the Spanish republic began instituting various anti-clerical laws. Communists began killing clergy as early as 1934; by the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, as many as 72,344 souls had lost their lives in the Red Terror. As of this writing, 1,915 Spanish martyrs have been beatified and the causes of 2,000 more are proceeding. No regime or faction that produces martyrs can be called “good.” Think of the subsequent careers in the Soviet Union of such republican icons as Dolores Irraburi (La Pasionaria), with her penchant for hunting down Trotskyites in the diaspora. One can only imagine what would have happened to non-communists in Spain had she and her ilk triumphed. That the reprisals by Franco and his allies, during and after the conflict, were often quite as brutal is certain. But that is the nature of civil war, as our own quite clearly demonstrates.
It is interesting that the monuments of the Valle de los Caídos—the “Valley of the Fallen,” where Franco was buried at his death in 1975, and whence he has been uprooted—were built by prisoners of war. Yet, when it was finished, not only were they given their freedom: they were also guaranteed burial there. Indeed, the Valle shelters the remains of soldiers of both sides, rather as though Arlington National Cemetery had been open to Confederate graves from its inception. One need not be a member of Franco’s foundation or an advocate of his beatification to accept that his putting the Spanish Humpty Dumpty back together after the civil war was an astonishing achievement.
Not only did he face a vicious enemy, but Franco’s own supporters were severely divided among Carlists, Alfonsinos, Falangists, and others. Given the habit of the dying republic’s NKVD-led death squads to eliminate not merely Franco supporters but anarchists, Trotskyites, and socialists, in all likelihood Pedrito owes his very existence to the Caudillo; he certainly owes him his government job.
One may well argue over the merits of the restored monarchy Franco bequeathed the nation. The current situation certainly does not speak well for it, nor does the rapid secularization that has taken place with the usual attendant decline in morals and births. Nevertheless, one cannot expect elected officials to exercise a virtue with which they are utterly unfamiliar. Hence the old jibe that an honest politico “stays bought.”
However, there is something much more disturbing here. Civil wars leave deep wounds; the deeper they are, the more those wounds can fester, ready to reopen at the slightest rough touch—something that can be seen from Ulster to Bosnia to Chechnya. The only ways to heal them effectively are to either exile large numbers of the most active partisans of the losing side (as we did after the American Revolution) or else allow the survivors on both sides to mourn and honor their dead, celebrate their own victories, and commemorate their own losses.
In time, some of these celebrations may well become joint, thus assisting the healing process. This is why there are paintings and statues of both Royalists and Roundheads at Westminster, why Franz Josef allowed the Hungarian revolutionaries to erect memorials to their dead after 1848, and why Confederate monuments flooded the American South after 1865. Allowing your opponents their own version of the past is key to living with them in the present and thriving with them in the future.
But modern politicians are as shortsighted and ignorant as their confreres in media and academia. They cannot be expected to have any notion of the common good—only a fear of personal unemployment. So it is that, in order to deflect popular attention from their own failures and inability to influence events, they stir up the passions of their supporters by ripping apart long-emplaced cultural bandages. Pedrito and his kind in other countries are sowing dragons’ teeth. May they alone reap the harvest.
Photo credit: Getty Images