When Spanish dictator Francisco Franco died in 1975, ending almost 40 years in power stretching back to the civil war of 1936 to 1939, Spaniards from both the right and the left adopted an unofficial pacto del olvido, meaning an agreement to forget. The conflict and Franco’s rule had left deep wounds that many felt would be too dangerous to open.
Three decades on, those wounds remain. The war and Franco’s subsequent dictatorship are subjects few Spaniards can or want to forget. Last year, Baltasar Garzón, Spain’s most famous judge, launched an inquiry to investigate what he called “crimes against humanity” committed during the Franco era. He ordered mass graves opened in an effort to determine the fates of tens of thousands of Franco opponents who disappeared during and after the war.
Now Garzón himself is in the dock, facing questions from a Supreme Court justice over charges brought against him by a right wing group that says he knowingly twisted the law to pursue his case against Franco, and 44 of his senior officers and government ministers. The process could, in theory, end with Garzón’s suspension. Already, it has inflamed public opinion. To his detractors, Garzón is an ideological self-promoter. Last year, Manuel Fraga, founder of the opposition right wing People’s Party, said Garzón’s investigation of Franco was as outlandish as trying to put Napoleon on trial. Garzón’s supporters include elderly veterans of the war who fought Franco’s military uprising and were jailed as a result. “It is an injustice to try a person who wants to defend those of us who suffered under Franco,” Gervasio Puerta, 88, told reporters as he stood outside the court last week to show his support for Garzón.
It might seem strange to learn that those Garzón named as suspects in the civil-war-era killings are all dead and therefore can’t be held accountable for their alleged crimes. It doesn’t matter. In Spain, ghosts of the civil war still shape the country.