Monday, March 22, 2010

Spain / Genocide and Memory

Burying Myths, Uncovering Truth
The Economist, March 11, 2010
"The 15 boxes of bones were wrapped in the red, yellow and purple flag of the Second Republic. Each held the remains of a man whose support for a brief political experiment in the 1930s had proved fatal. At a ceremony in Madrid on March 6th the bones were given to descendants: mostly middle-aged grandchildren, but sometimes already aged sons or daughters. ... This story is just one of hundreds of tales of Francoist repression that have emerged as the result of a citizens' movement to disinter and identify victims. It started when a journalist, Emilio Silva, penned an article about his grandfather's death at the hands of a Francoist death squad. He went to his grandfather’s home region of El Bierzo, in north-western Spain, in 2000. People pointed him to the spot where the body was buried. Mr. Silva dug up a mass grave containing not just his grandfather but a dozen other victims. News of the exhumations spread and imitators appeared. Suddenly Spaniards found that thousands, or tens of thousands, of Francoist victims lay in unmarked graves scattered around the countryside. Years of official silence, in Franco's time, were followed by an unofficial pact of forgetting as Spain's young democracy agreed to look forward, not back. The grave-diggers broke the silence. Their effort to find the truth has snowballed; now Mr. Silva heads a group called the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, with branches all over Spain. Some 5,000 sets of remains have been recovered so far from 170 grave sites. The association has a list of 12,000 families who are now searching for the remains of lost relatives. In places across the world whose recent past has been scarred by repression, war or both, attempts have been made by the authorities (from governments to warlords) to lay down rules about what must be remembered and what must be forgotten. Often, it seems too risky to give free rein to the investigation and commemoration of the past. But people's patience has limits; sooner or later ordinary citizens will challenge the prevailing wisdom and demand a fuller account. And unearthing the past often means literally that: digging [up] graves and studying the evidence. [...]"

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