Spain’s ‘government of truth’

MONTPELIER–I’m back in Vermont for a little vacation but I think I’d much rather be in Spain. Why? Well, I’m afraid the socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is rapidly destroying that country’s culture and history. The way I figure it, this summer may be my last chance to see the statues, plaques and monuments that make up the historical record of 20th century Spain.

To be honest, I’ve been disenchanted with Spain ever since voters–cowed by the horrific Madrid train bombings of March 11, 2004–appeased terrorists three days later by voting José María Aznar’s center-right Partido Popular government out of office. An e-mail claiming responsibility for the attack later said Spain had been targeted for being “one of the pillars of the crusader alliance” led by the U.S.

Aznar’s replacement was the Joker-faced and virulently anti-Catholic Zapatero. Almost immediately upon assuming office, Zapatero–the grandson of a Republican army officer killed by Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39)–began turning the country inside out and upside down.

Driven by ideological fervor–he joined the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party) when he was but a gangly teen in 1979–Zapatero began his revolutionary premiership by withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq. But high on his agenda has been the bowdlerization of Spanish history and the white-washing of the country’s traditional values from public life. From the legalization of divorce, to the removal of equestrian statues of former dictator Francisco Franco, to the possible destruction of cultural icons like the Valley of the Fallen, Zapatero’s government is trying to leave no trace of Spain’s franquista past intact.

But this is “a vindictive folly,” writes Felipe Fernández-Armesto, professor of Spanish history at Tufts University, “an attempt to warp the historical record and suppress part of the evidence.”

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What’s really stuck in my craw right now is the announcement on Friday that Zapatero’s government has approved the final draft of the Orwellian-sounding “law of historical memory.” The law, one of Zapatero’s many electoral promises, will honor the communists and socialists persecuted by Franco’s regime during his 36-year dictatorship.

Specifically, the proposed law stipulates that the Spanish government will provide 60 million Euros–about $76,244,000–in “pensions, compensation and recognition schemes” to honor the estimated 285,000 (according to historian Hugh Thomas) Republican victims of the Civil War and the post-war dictatorship.

It says nothing, however, of the nearly 145,000 members of the Nationalist coalition who were killed in action by Republican forces and executed by their militias. In fact, the law will ban all images, symbols and references to Franco and his regime in all public places (though most statues around the country have already been removed).

Somehow–no doubt an innocent little oversight on the part of Spain’s ruling socialists–the proposed law also manages to completely ignore the more than 4,000 diocesan priests, 2,500 religious and 13 bishops who were brutally murdered–sometimes after being raped or tortured–by Republican militias during the war. (Anti-Catholic bigotry among the Republicans also led to the complete or partial destruction of countless religious icons and more than 7,200 Catholic churches during the war, according to Spanish documents.)

There is no denying that the Spanish Civil War was a tragic affair for both sides. Comparing losses on either side seems highly inappropriate–but so does singling out the Republicans for monetary reparations, as if the Republicans had any greater claim on moral goodness or virtue than the Nationalists.

Spain’s Republicans have been praised often for their struggle against fascism. But it might be useful to remember that the Republican government was infiltrated by Spanish communists as early as 1936, five years after the fall of the monarchy.

In fact, according to the authoritative Black Book of Communism, the Soviets, under Stalin, were closely involved in supporting the Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War. Documents indicate that Moscow helped the Republican cause by sending more than 2,000 military specialists. These “advisers” included officials of the NKVD (Communist Secret Police) charged with the planning and implementation of terrorist activities around Spain.

And yet, Spain’s proposed new law seeks to reward these kinds of people!

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Like Americans who joined the Lincoln Brigades, the British writer George Orwell fought against Spain’s Nationalists, alongside the POUM (Worker’s Party of Marxist Unification), as part of an anti-fascist contingent from Britain’s Independent Labour Party.

When Orwell later wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, inspired in part by his experiences, his aim was to provide a warning against totalitarian governments. Of course, the socialist Orwell presumably had Franco’s dictatorship in mind.

It is ironic, then, to consider the agenda of Zapatero’s socialist government, which involves the kind of censorship, historical revisionism and political repression warned about. In fact, Zapatero’s Spain brings to mind a passage in Orwell’s classic:

A kilometer away the Ministry of Truth . . . towered vast and white above the grimy landscape. …. [Winston] tried to squeeze out some childhood memory . . . . But it was no use, he could not remember: nothing remained of his childhood except a series of bright-lit tableaux occurring against no background and mostly unintelligible.

Zapatero’s Spain has more than just a Ministry of Truth; it has an entire Government of Truth, dedicated to rewarding religious hatred and erasing the country’s past. But this form of censorship is “as evil and ineffective as burning books or twisting the curriculum,” says Fernández-Armesto. “[E]very statue, plaque and arch of triumph is precious as a fragment of the diversity of which all political communities are composed.”

In the future, a Spaniard raised in Zapatero’s Spain might quote Orwell: “The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.”

Alvino-Mario Fantini is Europe correspondent for Brainwash. He is currently an Erasmus Mundus scholar through the European Union.