How to deal with a civil war past?

As Spain is struggling with austerity, unemployment and social unrests, a different debate has emerged in Spanish society. One that involves its past rather than its present.

Since 2000, several civil society groups have organised the exhumation of mass graves dating back to the civil war. During and after this war from 1936 to 1939, many opponents of general Francisco Franco were executed and buried in anonymous mass graves.

Now, the groups exhumating these victims are pushing to bring the issue out in the open. They hope to give families of the victims the possibility to deal with their traumatic past.

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I did a radio package for this week’s edition of Deutsche Welle’s programme Inside Europe. The lead is the experimental film The Wave by Belgian directors Sarah Vanagt  and Katrien Vermeire, which is now touring at various documentary festivals throughout Europe.

Have a listen!

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The struggle to bring long-awaited justice to these victims rings a bell: in South Africa, the truth and reconciliation committee fought a similar battle, just as has happened in Argentina and other countries.

At the forefront of the Spanish movement is the Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica (ARMH), who was the first association to start exhumations back in 2000.

Head of the association Emilio Silva feels that the country needs to embark on this debate surrounding its history. “We have to talk normally about our history again,” he says.

“I express in Spanish is ‘yo expreso’. ‘Preso’ is a prisoner. It’s important to express the past; it’s the way to be ex-prisoners of the past” (Emilio Silva)

And yet, it’s not all about history…

Other groups organising these exhumations are linked to the left-wing political campaigners that opposes the government’s austerity plans. Republic symbols – referring to the movement that fought Franco during the civil war – have popped up in street protests.

And on the right-wing side, prime minister Mariano Rajoy and several party members have tried to hush the debate altogether.

The question on what to do with Spain’s civil war past divides the country. At stake: justice for civil war victims and their families. But as the social tensions rise in Spain, politicians and activist are keen to get history on their side as well.

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Thanks for reading / thanks for listening! As usual, any comments are very welcome: below in the comment box, on twitter (@laurenscerulus) or via email (see the About-section)!

About laurenscerulus

AKA reporter for Deutsche Welle, The Independent, Monocle24... AKA editor @ FKA trainee journalist @ BBC World Service, Monocle, De Morgen, MO* FKA foreign editor @ Veto student newspaper, Belgium. FKA student of modern history @ KULeuven | international relations @ UCLouvain.

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