The Challenges for Historical Memory in Andalusia in 2019: Open Graves and Block the Far Right

The main challenge in 2019 for Historical Memory in Andalusia will be to navigate against the current; even more than usual in the country of forgetfulness. The presumed future Andalusian government, consisting of the People’s Party (PP) and Ciudadanos, needs Vox’s votes to form a majority, in the investiture and to rule. And it remains to be seen whether the two parties will accept another of the far right’s demands: the “immediate repeal of the Historical Memory Act.”

In terms of Historical Memory, the essence of the matter remains unfinished: the search for the disappeared. To open mass graves and ditches so that the relatives of victims of fascist terror can reach closure. The State’s duty of national memory, as required by the United Nations, is in the hands of a few deputies. Will the Regional Government of Andalusia continue to move ahead with this policy?

So far, none of the actors have expressed their views. It’s a subject that is avoided, unlike another cause of the far right: the battle against gender equality laws that, according to the candidates, is threatening the potential coalition.

The victims of Franco’s rule, and Historical Memory associations, expect that the new Andalusian government will switch from collaboration to obstruction; or at least to assume the position of “zero euros” [i.e. no funding] that former President Mariano Rajoy took. But it is also clear that nothing will stop the desire for truth, justice and reparation. “We are going to continue,” say the relatives. “The fear has passed.”

The Andalusian Historical and Democratic Memory Act was passed without a single opposing vote: The Socialists (PSOE), Podemos and United Left (IU) voted in favor, while the PP and Ciudadanos abstained. The 2 Dec 2018 regional election in Andalusia resulted in a new parliamentary balance of power in which the consensus of the prior legislature will not continue. The political agenda of the region will shift if the anti-Historical Memory position of the far right wins.

Opening Graves and Ditches

The Andalusian victims of Franco’s terrorism are going to continue searching for their disappeared relatives. The exhumation of mass graves forms the basis of the Historical Memory restitution. The right to reach closure for the families is linked to the duty of Historical Memory of each country. The question is whether the victims and their families can continue to count on the support of the regional government.

In terms of support, the prior legislature was the most productive. In round numbers, about 500 victims were exhumed in 35 operations, and the successes increased the financial resources destined for future operations. In the face of current political uncertainty, there are already provincial governments and municipalities that are making funds available for archaeological operations. The State, as well, will launch its own national plan for exhumations.

Will Andalusia continue to be the region that most actively searches for graves? Will the 27 new operations in many other Andalusian villages, approved by the regional government, move forward? Will there be a budget? Families are waiting for actions to begin in Grazalema and Rota (Cádiz); Carcabuey, La Carlota, Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo, Rute, Villanueva de Córdoba, La Victoria and San Sebastián de los Ballesteros (Córdoba); Alfacar, Galera and Salobreña (Granada); Santiago de Calatrava and Jaén (Jaén); Antequera, El Burgo, Montejaque, Pizarra and Guacín (Málaga); and in Cañada Rosal, Carmona, Lebrija, Mairena del Alcor, Osuna, Real de la Jara, El Viso del Alcor and Gines (Seville).

The Andalusian Memory Act

What if the Andalusian Historical and Democratic Memory Act actually serves to paralyze the exhumations? Andalusia has the legal authority to open graves and ditches because it assumes the duty of State. And this is correct, according to international organizations such as the UN.

It is described in Article 8 of the Act, on “Localization, exhumation and identification of victims.” It states, in the third point, that these “activities” must “be authorized by the regional ministry responsible for democratic memory.”

What if the responsible department forbids the search for new graves, or it does not authorize new operations, thus delaying the process? What if there is not even a regional minister that agrees with the current Historical Memory policy?

Or, even worse, what if the sanctions regime is applied as established by Andalusian law? “The realization of excavations without required authorization” or the “removal of earth” where there is “certainty of the existence of human remains of disappeared victims” are considered “very serious violations.”

And these violations entail the highest penalties: a fine of between 10,001 and 150,000 euros. It would turn the legal framework upside-down, using a protection as a threat. What will happen remains to be seen.

End Historical Memory

But the preferred ally of the PP and Ciudadanos wants more. Vox’s electoral platform calls for striking down the law: End Historical Memory. It is a “top ten” demand for the “reconquest” that Vox is calling for.

“No parliament is legitimized to define our past, let alone to exclude Spaniards who differ in their definitions,” Vox’s position states. And Vox concludes with a classic, false equivalence: “The past cannot be used to divide us; on the contrary, we must together pay tribute to all those who, from different historical perspectives, fought for Spain.”

If the far right does not ask for the implementation of that ideological head on a silver platter today, it will tomorrow. The PP and Ciudadanos, if they succeed in forming a new Andalusian government, will hold in their hands the observance — or not — of a legal framework that places Andalusia at the forefront in Spain regarding the fulfillment of the most basic rights for the victims of Francoism.

What is uncertain is whether the Andalusian government will continue to collaborate on opening graves and ditches, and, beyond that essential matter, to provide the budget resources for the First Andalusian Plan of Democratic Memory, which plans to double the funds destined for these archaeological works.

The latest budgets to excavate illegal graves containing victims of Franco’s terror amounted to 238,000 euros in 2017 and 413,000 euros in 2018. An additional five million euros is planned for the period 2019-2022; it is an unprecedented project.

The project shows the way forward for the Regional Government of Andalusia, with plans such as the investigation and recognition of the victims of Franco’s repression with a special focus on women, and the declaration of new Places of Memory, among other proposals and the activation of new grants, always with collaboration between the different public administrations, Andalusian universities, and human rights organizations.

The effective implementation of the project is associated with the recent Council of Historical and Democratic Memory of Andalusia, which also plans to organize a type of “Truth Commission.”

But it’s all up in the air for now, at the mercy of the spirit of abstention of the PP and Ciudadanos. Or in the hands of the far right and its calls for “repeal.” And with the announced collaboration of some municipalities and provincial governments that will assume the possible vacuum in the new Andalusian government. One thing remains clear: The victims of Francoism are not going to stop. Their fear has subsided over the generations, and there is only one way forward: truth, justice, and reparation.

Andalusia: The Region Most Battered by Franco

Andalusia is the Spanish region that suffered most under Franco’s repression. The region’s Map of Graves identifies 708 illegal graves where at least 45,566 victims were killed and dumped by Nationalists who were led in Andalusia by General Gonzalo Quiepo de Llano.

The victims of Francoism are not going to slow down. Their challenge is to continue opening graves and recovering the disappeared, and to put a stop to the revisionist doctrine of the far right. Families will continue to fight for their right to bury their dead with dignity.

They will also continue to remember, to learn, as a guarantee to not repeat the most tragic past. They will continue to forge ahead, as they have been doing, documented by books including Las huellas en la tierra (Footprints in the Soil) and Que fuera mi tierra (That Was My Land), published in coordination with the General Directorate of Democratic Memory of the Regional Government of Andalusia.

On the other side stands the wall of people, nostalgic for the Franco regime, who seek the “repeal” of Historical Memory in the spirit of denialism; to end Historical Memory as a sort of triumph against the “ideological dictatorship” of the left. Will Andalusia use its own legal framework to attack “from within”?