Spain's orphaned children of the revolution

Reply Wed 21 Jan, 2009 10:39 am
Opening and some quotes from a rather lengthy blog post I wrote yesterday ... click on the headline for more info if you're interested.

Spain's orphaned children of the revolution

A heartbreaking story in The Times this month underlines the sheer, unprecedentedly ideological cruelty of the 20th century - and the lasting traumas it left behind, like so many time bombs:

Find General Francisco Franco's stolen children of the Spanish Civil War, says court

She was 54 when she first got to know her mother, but Antonia Radas was one of the luckier ones. Taken away when her mother, Carmen, was imprisoned after the Spanish Civil War for her father’s Republican links, Mrs Radas’s adoptive parents lied to her, telling her that she had been abandoned, and changed her name to stop relatives tracing her. Mother and child were finally reunited in 1993, 18 months before Carmen died.

Now 71, Mrs Radas is among an estimated 30,000 children who were separated from their parents on the orders of General Francisco Franco. Many of them never knew who their real parents were.

The stories are all the more tragic because it's too late now, for all but a few victims. The children who were robbed from (and of) their parents are in their old age. Their parents will almost certainly be dead, so there is no prospect of a cathartic reunion.

Moreover, Garzón last November had to relinquish "what had promised to be the first criminal investigation of wrongs committed by Franco and his allies". He was forced by state prosecutors to concede jurisdiction to regional courts, "who now have the authority to decide whether or not to take up these controversial cases". He also had pass the responsibility "for opening 19 mass graves believed to hold the remains of hundreds of victims" to regional courts.

Xenu Ablana, 80, holds little faith in the proceedings. “The courts are still run by Francoists. These people have a lot of influence,” he said. His story is one of the heartbreaking ones:

Only since the socialists returned to government in 2004 has the pace of 'Vergangenheitsbewältigung' picked up officially as well - not least because the socialists needed to secure the support of the far left and the Basque and Catalan parties to govern. Even then, while an "Interministerial Commission for the Study of the Situation of the Victims of the Civil War and Francoism" was established in October that year, it took almost two years before the government first approved a "Law of Historical Memory". Political parties responded with 377 amendments, and it was a full three years after the Commission had been established, in October 2007, that the parliament approved it - over strident objections from the conservative opposition.


The law imposes a variety of tasks on the government, including, for example, producing a map of all of the mass graves from the civil war and the Franco dictatorship, and drawing up work plans to ensure that they are opened. The final text also declares any sentence handed out by Francos courts for political, ideological or religious reasons “illegitimate”.

In theory this opens the way for individuals or groups to at long last have the prison or death sentences of their (grand)parents annulled. But in practice Xenu Ablana's fears are justified.

the Germans had the time. Parents and contemporary authorities were still alive in the sixties, they could be questioned, confronted. But a twenty-year-old combatant of the Spanish Civil War would be over 90 now; anyone in a higher position is long gone. In an odd kind of mirroring, with the ideological roles reversed, the same is true for the efforts that were kickstarted in the 1990s and continue even now in Eastern Europe to deal with the communist past. While there was a torrent of research and debate, the actual secret service archives were often only opened partially, or merely leaked from strategically to discredit political opponents. In some states of the former Soviet Union, the whole process of uncovering the regime's crimes was buried again before it even got properly started. This was even as survivors of the Stalinist terror were dying off, and now, another ten to twenty years on, we are rapidly losing even veterans of the 1956 and 1968 uprisings.
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