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Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives - vol06 (Page 7)

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Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives - vol06
THE VOLUNTEER, WINTER 1997-98 7
Myths and rhetoric mark
Spanish politics
by Gabriel Jackson
S
panish politics in the second half
of this past year has continued to
be dominated by the conservative
leadership of the Popular Party (PP)
of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar,
and its nationalist allies: the Catalan
party Convergencia i Unio, and the
Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). A
few examples will be more useful
than a label, especially because the
rhetoric of both the government and
the opposition can be pretty wild.
Spain (like the U.S.) has been
plagued by scandals concerning the
financing of all major political parties.
Those involving PP, Convergencia,
and the PNV, have all somehow been
removed from the courts on various
technical grounds, such as statutes of
limitations, lack of original copies of
documents, unavailability of key wit-
nesses, etc. However, several Socialist
party leaders have gone to jail for the
illegitimate financing of their party
through a dummy corporation which
billed for "technical studies" that
apparently were never made.
The government never tires of
lambasting "proven" Socialist "corrup-
tion" while guarding chaste silence
concerning its own and its allies'
known cases of very similar illegali-
ties. It also continues the rhetorical
offensive against the former Socialist
government in relation to the "GAL"
(underworld commandos of the 1983-
1985 "dirty war" against the Basque
terrorists). The fact is that just as
many police illegalities, including
assassinations, occurred during the
years 1976-1982. But the conservative
press, led by El Mundo, and the
courts, have concentrated exclusively
on the crimes of the Socialist era.
This combination of government-
press-judicial pressure has effectively
kept the Socialist Party on the defen-
sive. It has also effectively frightened
many people who lived under the
Franco dictatorship, and fear that the
present government shares too many
of the attitudes of that dictatorship.
There are, however, clear evi-
dences that Aznar and his colleagues
wish to establish their credentials as
civilian democrats, not neo-fascists.
There is a custom in Spain of "pre-
senting" important new books to the
public and Aznar took the opportunity
of one such presentation to express
his admiration for Manuel Azana, the
Left Republican Prime Minister and
later wartime President of the
Spanish Republic. Aznar also, of
course, wrote in the Spring of 1996
that he was looking forward to meet-
ing Bill Susman when the IBs were to
come to Spain for the 60th Anni-
versary,* and we all know how the
government boycotted the vets when
they actually came to Madrid.
Nevertheless, we should be
thankful for small things in present
circumstances, and I think it a "plus"
for the future atmosphere of Spanish
politics that the first conservative
post-Franco government wishes to
cultivate an image of tolerance.
Perhaps it is also worth recalling that
while the Aznar government boy-
cotted the vets in the capital, many
PP aldermen took part in the cere-
monies welcoming them in other
cities.
Two very recent events illustrate
the after-tastes of Franquism which
are troubling the Spanish public. The
principal prosecutor of the High Court
(Audiencia Nacional) included in a
technical opinion concerning the fate
of Spanish citizens under the
Argentine and Chilean dictatorships
of the 1970s a verbose but clear
defense of the Videla and Pinochet
dictatorships. He explained that they
"were not seeking anything except the
temporary substitution of the estab-
lished constitutional order through
institutional acts which had as their
objective precisely to rectify the insuf-
ficiencies from which that constitu-
tional order suffered in regard to the
maintenance of public order." This
statement shocked the overwhelming
majority of his fellow prosecutors, but
the government saw nothing objec-
tionable in his words.
The other incident was the publi-
cation of a decree concerning the con-
tent of humanities in the secondary
schools and universities. The govern-
ment apparently hoped for consensus
on a "unitary" version of Spanish his-
tory. Quite possibly they meant "uni-
fied" or "agreed upon" rather than
"unitary." But anyone with the
slightest democratic sensibility could
have predicted that "unitary" would
act like a red rag to a bull.
Unhappily for me as a historian,
there is little to choose between the
centralist imperialist reflexes coded
in the word "unitary" and the highly
prejudiced, mythologizing versions
offered by the various nationalist par-
ties. It would certainly be desirable if
a commission of Spain's best histori-
ans, of different political persuasions,
could produce an agreed upon version
of Spanish history since the formation
of the Spanish monarchy under
Ferdinand and Isabella in the late fif-
teenth century. But for the moment,
and perhaps for years to come, there
will be far more rhetorical exploita-
tion of sacred myths than consensus
as to the known facts.
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*See Aznar's letter in the Fall, 1996,
Volunteer. -- Editors
Historian Gabriel Jackson writes
from Barcelona. His last contribution to
The Volunteer was an essay in the Fall,
1997, issue on terrorism and national-
ism in the Basque country.
Spain (like the U.S.)
has been plagued by
scandals concerning
the financing of all
major parties.

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