Democracy without Justice in Spain: The Politics of Forgetting

Democracy without Justice in Spain: The Politics of Forgetting

Democracy without Justice in Spain: The Politics of Forgetting

Democracy without Justice in Spain: The Politics of Forgetting

Synopsis

Spain is a notable exception to the implicit rules of late twentieth-century democratization: after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975, the recovering nation began to consolidate democracy without enacting any of the mechanisms promoted by the international transitional justice movement. There were no political trials, no truth and reconciliation commissions, no formal attributions of blame, and no apologies. Instead, Spain's national parties negotiated the Pact of Forgetting, an agreement intended to place the bloody Spanish Civil War and the authoritarian excesses of the Franco dictatorship firmly in the past, not to be revisited even in conversation. Formalized by an amnesty law in 1977, this agreement defies the conventional wisdom that considers retribution and reconciliation vital to rebuilding a stable nation. Although not without its dark side, such as the silence imposed upon the victims of the Civil War and the dictatorship, the Pact of Forgetting allowed for the peaceful emergence of a democratic state, one with remarkable political stability and even a reputation as a trailblazer for the national rights and protections of minority groups.

Omar G. Encarnación examines the factors in Spanish political history that made the Pact of Forgetting possible, tracing the challenges and consequences of sustaining the agreement until its dramatic reversal with the 2007 Law of Historical Memory. The combined forces of a collective will to avoid revisiting the traumas of a difficult and painful past and the reliance on the reformed political institutions of the old regime to anchor the democratic transition created a climate conducive to forgetting. At the same time, the political movement to forget encouraged the embrace of a new national identity as a modern and democratic European state. Demonstrating the surprising compatibility of forgetting and democracy, Democratization Without Justice in Spain offers a crucial counterexample to the transitional justice movement. The refusal to confront and redress the past did not inhibit the rise of a successful democracy in Spain; on the contrary, by leaving the past behind, Spain chose not to repeat it.

Excerpt

William Faulkner’s famous dictum that “the past is never dead; in fact, it is not even past” aptly captures how the past looms over contemporary Spanish politics. In 2007, the Congress of Deputies approved the Law of Historical Memory with the intention of reconciling the dark legacy of the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), that epic interwar showdown between democracy and fascism generally regarded as a dress rehearsal for World War II, and the dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, whose 1936 coup against the popularly elected Second Republic set the Civil War in motion. Scores of mass killings committed by both sides of the conflict (the right-wing Nationalists and the left-leaning Republicans) earned the Spanish Civil War worldwide infamy. But the violence of the Franco dictatorship, less known outside Spain, was just as brutal and horrific. Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist for nearly four decades, from his declaration of victory over the Republican army on April 1, 1939 to his death of natural causes on November 20, 1975, with the bulk of the violence falling disproportionately during the early years of the dictatorship. With the major democracies of the day (Britain, France, and the United States) at war with Germany’s Nazi regime, Franco undertook a vicious policy of limpieza (cleansing) that resulted in the execution and imprisonment in concentration and labor camps of hundreds of thousands of left-wing sympathizers. This bloody campaign gave Franco bragging rights of being the Cold War’s most successful anticommunist crusader.

Spain’s encounter with the past in 2007 was long overdue given the unorthodox handling of the political excesses of the Civil War and the Franco dictatorship during the 1977 democratic transition. To coincide with the restoration of democracy, the national parties from the right and left negotiated . . .

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