Keeping up the imaginary civil war

Catalan MonitorArticles

Photo: President Companys, at the border at Hendaia, in August 1940.  Portrait by Pedro Urraca | National Archive of Catalonia

by Gemma Aguilera 14/10/2017

“The courts of the Army Audit and Occupation Army, later known jointly as the Audit of the Fourth Military Region, were found to be contrary to the law and to violate the most basic demands of the right to a fair trial. And, as a consequence, all judgments, resolutions and sentences of the cases heard within them are nullified retrospectively and at present, including those cases and those of the Councils of War, inspired by political motives in Catalonia by the Franco regime.” – Parliament of Catalonia, June 29, 2017.

This was a historic day for the victims of the Franco regime and also for democracy, on which, with a sovereign act by the Parliament of Catalonia, the dignity of 65,950 people processed in Catalonia by Spanish fascist courts was restored, via the approval of the Legal Reparation Law for victims of the Franco regime. Two months prior, the Constitutional commission of the Spanish Congress rejected a new proposal for a law by the ERC for the “recognition and just repair” of the figure of President Lluís Companys and the rest of the victims of Franco’s regime. No government of the Spanish State has ever asked for forgiveness for the crimes of the Franco regime, and all the presidents have refused to annul the summary judgments. In the eyes of Madrid and the constitutionalist parties, President Companys, shot in the morning of October 15, 1940 and accused of the crime of rebellion, is guilty. The only sign of progress, was a small gesture from the PSOE, that on the day after the massive ‘Diada’ of 2017, on which they proposed a new law which would nullify the rulings of the war councils, and the death sentence of President Companys.

How can it be that in a democratic member state of the EU, ruling party representatives threaten Carles Puigdemont with an end similar to Lluís Companys? The PP’s vice-secretary of communication, Pablo Casado, recently said to the media that “October 6, the anniversary of the declaration of independence by Lluis Companys, passed without fanfare, but we hope that history will not repeat itself tomorrow, and there will be no declaration, because those making declarations might end up like he who declared it 83 years ago.” It is certainly not the first time that constitutionalist politicians resort to the figure of Companys to undermine and threaten Catalanism with all the weight of the State for deviating from a script devised to shield the regime of 1978.

Photo: The Constitutional parties still use Companys as a symbol to deflect blame from the 1978 regime  | Image: Cuatro

Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Barcelona, Agustí Colomines, told El Mon, that this reference to Lluís Companys “exemplifies the great problem of the Transition, that it did not reconcile itself with the past, as well as shielding culpable participants who now have highly-placed roles as judges or members of the PP. What’s more, the regime of the 1978 did not process the civil war, they simply decided to not speak of it, that is until the Foundation for Analysis and Social Studies (a conservative think-tank with ties to the PP) began to disseminate its historic revisionism.” Colomines emphasizes that “in the imagined reality of the pro-constitution parties, the fault of the Civil War lies with the Catalanists and the PSOE, who rebelled on October 6, 1934, and today many people, including young politicians of the PP and the PSOE, parrot this thesis. It is perverse, because not only do they not condemn the dictatorship, but they deny its existence and speak of an ‘authoritarian regime’. ” The UB attributed this historical revisionism to the fact that “Spanish politics is dominated by the public sector oligarchy, which is very ignorant from all points of view.”

“The current image of President Companys is a flagrant symptom of the careful grooming of the Catalan national and historical narrative, undertaken by successive Spanish democratic governments. At Spanish universities, there are no symposia about Compayns, there are no squares named after him outside of Catalonia, and there is no statue of him at the Congress of Deputies where he held a seat in various legislatures. For the Spanish academic and political worlds, and in the media, Companys is no one”, adds Arnau Gonzàlez Vilalta, professor of Contemporary History at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). The executed President is, in his opinion, “a convenient symbol to use, but never as an object of homage or an example on which to base an apology by the State which followed on from Franco, for an attempted cultural genocide”. For the PP, Companys is the sum of everything negative and toxic in Catalan society: Catalanist, a Catalan-speaker, a republican, and a leftist.

Gonzàles Vilalta agrees with Colomines that the figure of Companys is used by Madrid to deflect culpability from the 1978 regime, presenting him as the cause of division between Catalans and Spaniards: “It is in the interest of the regime to maintain this false climate of Civil War. This is a false reality that the PSOE has accepted, despite the Law of the Historical Memory of 2007. Podemos has broken with this to some extent, but the PP maintains a firm hold on it. There is very little will to break completely with Franco’s past and start from scratch. There is no state-driven discourse that tries to build a complex, plural and neutral narrative of political violence”, he concludes.

Photo: Catalan parliament at the announcement of the pardon of sentences passed under Franco

Finally, the President of the Commission of Dignity – the driving force behind the Law for the Legal Reparation of the Parliament, Josep Cruanyes, emphasizes that for Catalonia, “the trial of President Companys isn’t valid because the Parliament of Catalonia nullified it, just like the 65,950 sentences which took place in our country,” however he renewed his call for the Spanish state to apologize. “In 2007, Germany and France were calling for apologies through their consuls in Barcelona – the head of state, Felipe VI – must ask for forgiveness, because the previous head of state was the responsible for Companys’s death, and his predecessor, Joan Carles, was appointed by Franco.” On the other hand, the Dignity Commission has repeatedly asked the Spanish military authorities in Catalonia to acknowledge their involvement in the War and Execution Council. “Again we appeal to the General Inspector of the Army, Lieutenant General Fernando Aznar Ladrón de Guevara, to pay tribute at the tomb of Companys, and keep in mind that silence makes him an accomplice,” warns Cruanyes. Finally, Cruanyes labelled “the disrespectful symbolic use of Companys, by the state, trivializes his execution, and is explained by the neo-Franquista drift of the Spanish State and the Popular Party.”

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