Pact of Forgetting

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The Pact of Forgetting (Spanish: Pacto del olvido) is the Spanish political decision (by both the leftist and rightist parties)[1] to avoid dealing with the legacy of Francoism after the 1975 death of Francisco Franco, who had remained in power since the Spanish Civil War in 1936–1939. The Pact of Forgetting was an attempt to put the past behind them and concentrate on the future of Spain.[2]

In making a smooth transition from autocracy to democracy, the pact ensured that there were no prosecutions for persons responsible for human rights violations or other atrocities and crimes. On the other hand, Francoist public memorials, such as the mausoleum of the Valley of the Fallen, fell into disuse for official occasions.[3] Also, the celebration of "Day of Victory" during the Franco era was changed to "Armed Forces Day" so respect was paid to both Nationalist and Republican parties of the Civil War.

The pact underpinned the transition to democracy of the 1970s and ensured that difficult questions about the recent past were suppressed for fear of endangering 'national reconciliation' and the restoration of liberal-democratic freedoms. Responsibility for the Spanish Civil War, and for the repression that followed, was not to be placed upon any particular social or political group. "In practice, this presupposed suppressing painful memories derived from the post civil war division of the population into 'victors' and 'vanquished'.[4] While many historians accept that the pact served a purpose at the time of transition,[5] there is more controversy as to whether it should still be adhered to. Paul Preston takes the view that Franco had time to impose his own version of history, which still prevents contemporary Spain from "looking upon its recent violent past in an open and honest way".[6]

Historical background[edit]

"It is estimated that 400,000 people spent time in prisons, camps, or forced labor battalions".[7] Some historians believe that the repression committed by the Francoist State was most severe and prevalent in the immediate years after the Spanish Civil War and through the 1940s. During this time of the repression, there was an escalation of torture, illegal detention, and execution. This style of repression remained frequent until the end of the Spanish State. Especially during 1936–1939, Nationalist Forces seized control of cities and towns in the Franco-led military coup and would hunt down any protesters or those who were labeled as a threat to the government and believed to sympathize with the Republican cause.[8] "Waves of these individuals were condemned on mere hearsay without trial, loaded onto trucks, taken to deserted areas outside city boundaries, summarily shot, and buried in mass, shallow graves that began dotting the Spanish countryside in the wake of the advancing Nationalist." [9]

Advances in DNA technology gave scope for the identification of the remains of Republicans executed by Franco supporters. The year 2000 saw the foundation of the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory which grew out of the quest by a sociologist, Emilio Silva-Barrera, to locate and identify the remains of his grandfather, who was shot by Franco's forces in 1936. There have also been some notable references to the Civil War in the arts in recent years (for example, Javier Cercas' novel Soldiers of Salamis). In 2006, two-thirds of Spaniards favored a "fresh investigation into the war."[10]

Legal basis[edit]

The pact was given a legal basis in the Spanish 1977 Amnesty Law.

The pact was challenged by the socialist government elected in 2004, which under prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero passed the Historical Memory Law. Among other measures, the Historical Memory Law rejected the legitimacy of laws passed and trials conducted by the Francoist regime. The Law repealed some Francoist laws and ordered the removal of remaining symbols of Francoism from public buildings.

The Historical Memory Law has been criticised by some on the left (for not going far enough) and also by some on the right (for example, as a form of "vengeance").[11] After the Partido Popular took power in 2011 it did not repeal the Historical Memory Law, but it closed the government office dedicated to the exhumation of victims of Francoist repression.[12] The Rajoy government was not willing to spend public money on exhumations in Spain,[13] although the Partido Popular supported the repatriation of the remains of Spanish soldiers who fought in the Blue Division for Hitler.

In 2010 there was a judicial controversy pertaining to the 1977 Spanish Amnesty Law. Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón challenged the Pact of Forgetting by saying that those who committed crimes against humanity during the Spanish State are not subject to the amnesty law or statutes of limitation. Relatives of those who were executed or went missing during the Franco regime demanded justice for their loved ones. Some of those who were targeted and buried in mass graves during the Franco regime were teachers, farmers, shop owners, women who did not marry in church and those on the losing side of war.[14] However, the Spanish Supreme Court challenged the investigations by Garzón. They investigated the judge for alleged abuse of power, knowingly violating the amnesty law, following a complaint from Miguel Bernard, the secretary general of a far-right group in Spain called "Manos Limpias". Bernard had criticized Garzón by saying:[15]

[Garzón] cannot prosecute Francoism. It's already history, and only historians can judge that period. He uses justice for his own ego. He thought that, by prosecuting Francoism, he could become the head of the International Criminal Court and even win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Although Garzón was eventually cleared of abuse of power in this instance, the Spanish judiciary upheld the Amnesty Law, discontinuing his investigations into Francoist crimes.[6]

International implications[edit]

The United Nations has repeatedly urged Spain to repeal the amnesty law, for example in 2012,[16] and most recently in 2013.[17] This is on the basis that under international law amnesties do not apply to crimes against humanity. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 7, "no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".[18] Furthermore, Judge Garzon had drawn attention to Article 15, which does not admit political exceptions to punishing individuals for criminal acts. However, this is not a uniform practice, there have been cases where the U.N. said that an amnesty is important in order to restore peace and help make the government stronger.[citation needed] It has also been argued that crimes during the Franco era, or at least those of the Civil War period, were not yet illegal. This is because international law regarding crimes of humanity developed in the aftermath of the Second World War and for crimes prior to that period the principle of nullum crimen sine lege, or "no crime without a law", could be said to apply.[18]

An Argentinian judge is investigating Franco-era crimes under the international legal principle of universal justice.[17][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Encarnación, Omar G. (2014-01-22). "Forgetting, in Order to Move On". New York Times. Retrieved 2017-10-07.
  2. ^ Poggiloi, Sylvia (2010-08-04). "In Spain, A Crusading Judge Opens Old Wounds". NPR. Retrieved 2017-10-07.
  3. ^ Rigby, Andrew (2000). Peace Review. 12 (1): 73–79. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Alberto Reig Tapia, Memoria de la guerra civil, Madrid 1999, quoted in The Splintering of Spain, p.9, Cambridge University Press, 2005
  5. ^ Labanyi, Jo. "Memory and Modernity in Democratic Spain: The Difficulty of Coming to Terms with the Spanish Civil War". Poetics Today. 28 (1).
  6. ^ a b Tremlett, Giles (March 2012). "The Spanish Holocaust by Paul Preston – review". The Guardian. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  7. ^ Davis, Madeline (2005). "Is Spain Recovering its Memory? Breaking the Pacto del Olvido". Human Rights Quarterly. 27 (3): 858–880. doi:10.1353/hrq.2005.0034.
  8. ^ Guarino, Angela M. (January 2010). "Chasing Ghosts: Pursuing Retroactive Justice for Franco-Era Crimes Against Humanity". Boston College International and Comparative Law Review. 33 (1): 64.
  9. ^ Guarino, Angela M. (January 2010). Boston International and Comparative Law Review. 33 (1): 64–65. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ Stuart, Paul (2006). "Spain: "Law of historical memory" continues cover-up of Franco's crimes". World Socialist Web Site.
  11. ^ Abend, Lisa (17 October 2008). "At Last, Spain Faces Up to Franco's Guilt". Time. Retrieved 22 September 2020.
  12. ^ "Rajoy cierra la Oficina de Víctimas". Archived from the original on March 4, 2012. Retrieved August 29, 2012.
  13. ^ "El gobierno elimina en 2013". Público. Europa Press. Retrieved September 29, 2012.
  14. ^ Poggioli, Sylvia. "In Spain, A Crusading Judge Opens Old Wounds". NPR.
  15. ^ Poggiloli, Sylvia. "In Spain, A Crusading Judge Opens Old Wounds". NPR.
  16. ^ "Spain must lift amnesty". AlertNet, Reuters. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
  17. ^ a b "UN presses Spain". 2013. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
  18. ^ a b Guarino, Angela M.; q (January 2010). "Chasing Ghosts: Pursuing Retroactive Justice under Franco-Era Crimes Against Humanity". Boston College International and Comparative Law Review. 33 (1): 71–72.
  19. ^ Judge confiscates passports of two Franco-era security officers wanted in Argentina El País (English edition).