The late Tony Judt began one of the books he edited by rightly pointing out that all countries have their Vichy syndrome. Judt referred to the problems of insertion of collaborationism with the German occupiers and their occupation policies in the French national narrative. But that same syndrome, that of digesting past violence, deportations, genocide, civil or transnational wars, is present in all the countries of the continent. And in all of them it generates conflicts of a symbolic nature that are sometimes transferred to the legal sphere, as in the cases of the genocide of the Armenian population in Turkey or the Holodomor, the great famine in Ukraine, not to mention the lack of free interpretation in the Poland of Law and Justice on the system of extermination camps or the collaboration of Poles in the Holocaust.
Each European country has its own history of violence, and in all of them conflicts are generated around their public histories, which make it impossible for shared stories to exist. There are none in France, Denmark or Belgium about collaborationism, nor in Italy, Greece or the countries that one day were the Kingdom of Yugoslavia about their civil wars in the forties. There is no common story in Portugal about Salazarism and, despite the notable advances in historiography, in none of these countries is there a shared, contingent, and critical story about colonial violence.
Nor in Spain about the Civil War, as we have been seeing for so many years. Possibly, this is a first conclusion about the more than four decades that we have been since the first mass grave of the current cycle of exhumations of victims of the coup of 1936 was opened in 2000 and an alternative narrative to that of the end of Francoism and the Democratic Transition: that of “historical memory” is a conceptual framework that has generated two national laws and a handful of regional and municipal regulations, which has made it possible to finance investigations, exhumations, tributes and symbolic reparations, but which has not achieved establish a shared story, not even when the adjective “democratic” has been added, first in Catalonia and later in the state norm.
There is never a shared memory of violent pasts. The latest example, in the Government of Aragon, is a clear demonstration. The first thing that the conjunction of the Partido Popular and Vox government has done has been to destroy (as “ideological”) the autonomous law of democratic memory, a rule of impeccable historiographical and constitutional neatness, as well as humanitarian, reviled by the entire world. conservative political arc. However, in this matter it has not been the PP that has bought the arguments of the radical right. They had agreed for a long time to destroy the rule on democratic memory, because they share the same historical account, the same narrative and the same interpretation of the past.
This story is none other than that of historical “revisionism”, which came to oppose the birth of “historical memory” and to modernize the regime’s interpretations of its own history, adapting them to the context of the beginning of the century. That is why the explanations of the radical right against the approval of the current Democratic Memory Law sounded so old: because they were. According to Vox, the war began in 1934 —the PSOE started it, of course—, nobody remembers Paracuellos, the Valley of the Fallen is a monument of reconciliation and the 25 Years of Peace, a celebration of concord. In fact, nothing new. The content has not varied practically from the historiography of the regime to the story of the radical right, going through revisionism. To this argument typical of a revived Ricardo de la Cierva (the great historian of the regime, whose father was assassinated in Paracuellos and whose son, communicating vessels, was the one who spread the infamous slogan about Txapote), Vox only added that the norm came to impose in a “Stalinist” way the single thought and to censor the free interpretation of the “official” past. That is to say, it only added unprejudiced populism and fake catastrophism to the revisionism story, serving it later in pills launched on social networks.
What it has always been about has been to build memory at the expense of history. But neither did the war begin in 1934 nor has revolutionary violence ever been better studied, even better than in the days of the General Cause. Thanks to the research and interdisciplinarity typical of the last two decades, we know more and better about this violent past: the responsibilities, chains of command, times and modus operandi of the coup and revolutionary violence, the profiles of the perpetrators, the specificities of gender, its extension in the form of irregular warfare until 1952. Perhaps none of these examples stands out more as profoundly false than that of the Valley of the Fallen (now Cuelgamuros). How is it going to be a monument of reconciliation that one whose inaugural decree of April 2, 1940 projected for “the heroes and martyrs of the Crusade” and to which hundreds of corpses were forcibly transferred without informing their families, who had the same rights to mourn their loved ones as those of the dead of revolutionary violence? How will the basilica be in which the Generalissimo himself wanted to be buried, as he told Diego Méndez in 1959, pointing to the hole of his future tomb: “And here, then, me”? How is the place that the dictator devised as a great reliquary of Spanish saints going to be, while hundreds of unidentified bodies were buried, neither in terms of name nor religious creed?
The terrible thing about all this is not just the oceanic ignorance about the past: it is the unprejudiced lack of empathy that follows. As a consequence of its assessment as “ideological” under those premises founded on false historical records and memories without a history, one of the immediate effects of the repeal of the Aragonese regional law may be the paralysis of the search for the disappeared in what is, in fact, , the largest war cemetery in Spain. That when speaking of “historical memory” the emphasis is not placed on the recovery for their relatives of 10,000 people in the last 20 years or of those who could continue to recover (with all that previous work entails: investigation, exhumation, identification ) but in presentist political dimensions, he speaks of the impossibility of a common story, as in all of Europe. But he also talks about how the argumentation of the new right mirrors that of the old right, because in historical matters they do not differ at all.
Aragon is the latest example of how the rejection of the “democratic memory” is, together with the Unity (with a capital letter) of Spain, the strongest glue for the right, whether they are national-Catholic, liberal or post-fascist. How the symbolic is always a matter of conflict. But behind the symbolic there is also the humanitarian and the scientific. And that is where the academy must urgently focus its attention, if we do not want our particular Vichy syndrome to become, in the near future, a pandemic of memory without history, by force of trivialization and unprejudiced macarrismo.
Javier Rodrigo is a professor in the area of Contemporary History at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. His last book is Generalissimo. The lives of Francisco Franco, 1892-2020 (Galaxy Gutenberg).
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