Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Ghosts of Spain

I just finished reading "Ghost of Spain" by Giles Tremlett, a British journalist who has spent some 20 years in Spain (thanks for the lend Pete). Its title, and the opening chapters, were inspired by the relatively recent phenomenon of the exhumation of Civil War mass graves, almost exclusively (thus far) containing those executed by Franco's supporters.

For the most part it made for an excellent and fascinating read, excepting the last few chapters which seemed as if they'd been tacked-on as an afterthought and dealing with Spain's indigenous ethnic minorities (Basques, Catalans and Galicians). While probably very interesting for those who know little about Spain (we had heard all the stories here - and more - before) the final chapters seemed to have little relevance to the starting premise of the book; Spain's silence about its recent past.

The silence is striking. During both our travels around the country and our residence in Madrid, it is notable just how absent any mention or memory of Spain's quasi-fascist past is. Franco only died in 1975 but compared to say, Germany or Hungary, reminders of his dictatorship are negligible. If you want to know why, well I suggest you read the book, although I will add one more conclusion, which Tremlett hints at but never explicitly makes.

Unlike Germany or Hungary, and other countries, Spain had been passing in an opposite trajectory in the 19th century. Instead of following the vogue for powerful, central, unifying governments found elsewhere in Western Europe at the time, Tremlett suggests that Spain was disintegrating, losing colonies instead of competing for them and racked internally by coups, revolutions and insurrections, ironically putting it on a par with its ancient rival, the Ottoman Empire. After such internal unrest, which continued right up to the outbreak of the civil war in 1936, Franco, for all his innumerable faults and harsh procesution of his opponents, at least provided stability and continuity for 35 years. So perhaps, while pleased to be well rid of him and his ilk, the reason why Spain is so silent about its recent past is because if the country admits to the terrible things committed during Franco's reign, it might be forced to admit to the one good thing as well. Given the current popularity of separist leaning parties in the Euskal Herria and Catalunya, it's one conclusion guaranteed to go down like a lead ballon.

1 comment:

  1. Kate would like to point out that the views contained herein represent the views of the individual authors and not the hive mind that is KateandTheo Inc.