Guest Post: Fraga’s Death and Spain’s Memory

Guest Post: Fraga’s Death and Spain’s Memory

By SONJA DECHIAN | Published: JANUARY 19, 2012

The following is a guest post kindly contributed by Dr.Vincent Druliolle of Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, in Spain.

Manuel Fraga Iribarne died at age 89 at his home in Madrid. Fraga was a controversialpolitical veteran who epitomizes the ambiguities of post-transition Spain. He started his political career in the early 1950s under Franco before serving as Minister of Information and Tourism and being appointed ambassador to London in 1973. After Franco died in 1975, he held various positions but never fulfilled his ambition to become Spain’s Prime Minister. However, he was one of the fathers of the Constitution and the founder of Alianza Popular, a conservative party that would be instrumental in integrating right-wing politicians to the democratic game. In the 1980s, Alianza Popular became Partido Popular, and Fraga appointed José María Aznar as his successor to lead the party. Manuel Fraga was also President of the Senate and the elected President of Galicia for 15 years in democracy.

The reaction of Spanish political parties and media was unanimous: they all celebrated the founding father of the Constitution, a major statesman of this century who helped to put Spain on the path to democracy. Spanish President Mariano Rajoy, of Partido Popularclaimed that ‘[Manuel Fraga] characterised the path of the nation as it turned itself into a country of liberty.’ The Socialist Party also paid tribute to the politician whose role in the transition to democracy was crucial. Only a few discordant voices, mainly the Left-wing Izquierda Unida and Basque nationalists, reminded that Fraga was a member of Franco’s dictatorship and was involved in the repression, that his commitment to democracy was somewhat belated, and strategic and limited at best. In Barcelona, a few members of the Communist Party, Republicans and Catalan nationalists celebrated Fraga’s death.

The Spanish press, too, remembers Fraga as a key actor of the transition to democracy. His dictatorial past and authoritarian character is referred to mainly in articles recounting international reactions to his death. Some Spanish conservative newspapers do not even mention that Fraga was a minister under Franco, or herald him as a great democrat. In fact, over the past decade, ‘revisionist’ history justifying Franco’s dictatorship has continued to grow. Hardly any media remind their readers that earlier this year an Argentine judge investigating Franco’s repression requested documents about Fraga’s role in the repression. Only a few articles and opinion pieces overtly question the partiality of tributes to Fraga, and they have already generated angry reactions.

This rather biased coverage is not surprising. The transition to democracy is regularly celebrated as the founding moment of Spanish democracy, and its actors are highly revered by the media and politicians, some of whom were themselves actors in this process. Because it is constantly repeated that it allowed the reconciliation of Spaniards and the instauration of democracy, those who criticise the transition and stress its institutional, political and cultural implications are more or less explicitly accused of threatening democracy. The reaction to Fraga’s death epitomises this (self-)censorship and (self-imposed) amnesia, but also the consequences of not dealing the past in Spain. It is often said that Spain’s violent past (the Civil War and the dictatorship) was forgotten in the name of reconciliation, and the Amnesty Law of 1977 was the institutional embodiment of this spirit that still prevents investigating the past. Yet it has been stressed that this kind of amnesia, has made it impossible to identify, and especially distinguish, perpetrators and victims, or even reversed these roles. The reactions to Fraga’s death are a perfect illustration: while he is presented as a great statesman and one of the co-founders of Spanish democracy, the demands of the victims of Franco’s repression and the movement to ‘recover historical memory’ are still not seen as legitimate in post-dictatorship Spain. Ironically, the consensual tribute to Fraga occurs after a commission recommended the exhumation of Franco’s remain from the controversial Valley of the Fallen, an exhumation which is unlikely to happen, and before Baltasar Garzón is judged for trying to investigate Franco’s repression (Garzón is being judged in three different cases that are likely to put an end to his career). If the temporal sequence of these events may be pure coincidence, what it reveals about the implications of (not) dealing with the past in the way Spain has, is not.

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