MADRID – The Spanish historian José Álvarez Junco reflects in his new book ‘What to do with a dirty past’ on the magnitude and consequences in societies with a traumatic past, such as civil wars, genocides, or dictatorships, even in peacetime.
In his treatise, he also explains how the past and its consequences are likely to be manipulated. And, furthermore, used politically for current purposes. The focus of this 79-year-old writer is not only on the Spanish Civil War. But also on the part of the Franco regime that immediately followed during peacetime. He compares these periods with Nazi Germany, Pinochet’s Chile, the Colombia of guerrillas and paramilitaries, and the apartheid regime in South Africa.
“I have tried to place the Spanish case in the international context. That allows you to realise something that nationalism doesn’t show you: that we’re not that rare. We believe these dirty pasts only happen to us, but they happen everywhere.”
Terrifying Civil War
The researcher states in “What to Do With a Dirty Past” (Editorial Galaxia Gutemberg) that “even the most knowledgeable about the Spanish political situation in early July 1936 was unable to predict the terrifying civil war that was about to begin.
The distinction between history, memory, and myth
The historian explains in El País: “I try to distinguish between history, memory, myth: we have to know what we are talking about. I start with the self-image built up by the Spaniards at the beginning of the 20th century and the transformations Spain has undergone: the modernisation and how two Spains came into being and competed against each other in the civil war: urban Spain, modern and highly secularised and the rural, very conservative Spain in villages and small provincial towns that were still in the hands of ‘caciques’ and priests.”
Ten death sentences a day
Regarding the repression that dictator Franco applied once he was head of state, the writer has calculated that “Franco shot some 40,000 people during peacetime”. “Franco signed more than 10 death sentences a day during the first 10 years of his dictatorship,” said Álvarez Junco, who describes this as the basis of the trauma, the “dirty past” of Spain.
What’s left to do?
According to the historian, the Spanish authorities need to make more progress in finding and excavating those who were shot or disappeared during the war and the ensuing dictatorship. That, he says, is an “elementary requirement”.
In his view, the state should further promote and support the location and identification of the remains of the victims. However, the decision whether or not to move remains should be made at the discretion of the families.
No conclusive count of the number of executed and missing
Álvarez Junco also denounces the fact that there is no conclusive count of the number of people who have disappeared. In this regard, he points out in his book that even judges, historians, and commemorative experts disagree on this. The existing counts vary quite a bit from 143,350 to 40,000 victims.
PP governments are not cooperating
The researcher is also very critical of the paralysis by the PP governments of the application of Law 52/207 on the creation of a national map of mass graves. In his view, the governments led by the PP have suppressed necessary items for this task. His criticism in this regard is particularly true of the current government of Andalusia, which is reluctant to open graves.
Alvarez Junco, from Vielha (Lérida), is a professor of history of thought and political and social movements at the Faculty of Political Science and Sociology of the Complutense University of Madrid. In addition, he worked at several foreign universities such as Padua, Oxford, the Sorbonne, and Harvard
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