The move from dictatorship to democracy was accomplished fluently and in a short space of time. The death of the old dictator toward the end of 1975 allowed Spain to blossom into a creative, modern country with a desire for full integration within Europe. Today Spanish people under 25 know nothing about General Franco, or that their country was deprived of the basic freedoms during more than forty years, and this lack of memory can be seen as a democratic moving on (a turning of the page in the history book) or as a failure of the education system (the difficulty in addressing a still painful past). But the country’s political, economic and social achievements have not managed to heal once and for all the wounds of the memory. There is still a problem with any attempt to touch, or touch on, the past. Even today fascist monuments still stand in some cities, and there are streets named in honour of those who in 1936 took up arms against the constitutional government. Attempts to exhume and identify the remains of the bodies buried in the common graves of the Civil War are blocked by the authorities, on the Left as much as on the Right. But the most telling example of the unease with which power manages the memory is provided by the so-called ‘Salamanca Papers’.
At the end of the Civil War in 1939 Franco’s army impounded enormous quantities of documents that belonged to Republicans and to Republican institutions. This pillage, justified by the ‘right of conquest’, had an immediate repressive purpose (to gather information that would compromise individuals and groups), but the haste and the crudeness with which the enterprise was carried out were not conducive to fine discrimination, and the rapine accumulated materials of all kinds.
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Published in Photoworks Issue 4, 2005
Commissioned by Photoworks