RELIVING THE PAST; General Franco Is Dead: Long Live Franco. Modern Spain Collides with Its History. Who Speaks for the Future? Certainly Not Its Current Political Leaders

By McGuire, Stryker; Pape, Eric | Newsweek International, December 27, 2004 | Go to article overview

RELIVING THE PAST; General Franco Is Dead: Long Live Franco. Modern Spain Collides with Its History. Who Speaks for the Future? Certainly Not Its Current Political Leaders


McGuire, Stryker, Pape, Eric, Newsweek International


Byline: Stryker McGuire and Eric Pape (With Mike Elkin in Madrid, Jacopo Barigazzi in Milan and Jenny Barchfield in Paris)

The aftershocks of the Madrid bombings continue to roil Spanish society. Just recently Spain's former prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, charged the current government with having "lied and engaged in manipulation" to bring down his administration after terrorists blew up four trains last March, killing 191 people. The new prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, quickly fired back and accused his predecessor of deliberately wiping out official computer records pertaining to the government's handling of the crisis. The venue was a parliamentary inquiry that over the past months has become a bitter political circus, used by political enemies to justify themselves and vilify rivals. But as the hearings were wrapping up late in December, a scathing voice cut through the blame game. Dressed in black, the grieving mother of a 20-year-old man killed in the attacks bore witness on the tribunal itself. Vain and empty "schoolyard" theatrics accomplishing nothing, she called the proceedings. "Do not ever again use the pain of victims for partisan ends!"

Pilar Manjon's dramatic "J'accuse," televised live, captured the emotions of the nation. Members of the commission apologized, some with tears in their eyes. But if the politicians were stunned into momentary silence, the lull is likely to be brief. Rather than uniting Spaniards, the Madrid bombings have ripped open wounds that have festered since the Civil War of the 1930s--shattering the civility that has characterized Spanish political life since the death of the Fascist dictator Francisco Franco nearly 30 years ago. Suddenly the country's moderate center no longer holds. The newly governing Socialists and the now opposition Popular Party, founded by Franco loyalists, have retreated to the left and right. "Three or four years ago, I thought I was living in a modern country, a new Spain," says a former senior adviser to Aznar. "Today our politicians are refighting the Civil War."

That history is always just round the corner in Spain. Sometimes literally: a massive equestrian statue of Franco lords over the Plaza San Juan de la Cruz in Madrid. His name and those of his henchmen adorn plaques and, by one count, 167 streets in Madrid alone. Even in Barcelona, the heart of the anti-Franco resistance, a street commemorates the dictator's brother Ramon, a pilot who bombed anti-Fascist forces during the Civil War. All across Spain, pro- and anti-Franco factions are engaged in legal battles to erase, or protect, statues, street signs and other symbols of the past. "It's clear that franquismo was a black and dark time in Spanish history," says Jose Luis Ayllon, a Popular Party spokesman. "But we will not get over it by removing statues."

Zapatero, on the other hand, seems quite happy to revisit history. His Socialist forerunner, Felipe Gonzalez, governed until 1996 by playing the role of a centrist unifier. "We are all children of Felipe," Zapatero has said, but he has adopted a more confrontational style. It's partly personal. Zapatero's grandfather, Juan Rodriguez Lozano, was executed by Fascist troops as Franco's forces rose up. …

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