Friday, October 25, 2019

Caudillo Reburied

In the run-up to Spain's forthcoming election, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez scored a win - of sorts - when, after lengthy legal battles and delays. his government finally succeeded in removing the remains of the late Spanish Caudillo Francisco Franco from the monumental underground Basilica (photo) in "the Valley of the Fallen" (el Valle de los Caidos) not far from Madrid.

In grad school in the 1970s as the Dictatorship was limping to its end in Spain, I remember several conversations about what it would take modern Spain to overcome the traumatic, divisive legacy of the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War and move forward toward some semblance of national unity as a renewed, democratic, constitutional monarchy. The consensus at the time (at least among us academics-in-training) seemed to be that the painful memories of that bitter and brutal conflict would likely lead Spain to try to avoid confronting its still disputed past in order to focus on making the necessary transition to Western-style democratic constitutional governance as smoothly as possible. That was more or less what happened - Spain's so-called pacto de olvido (pact of forgetting). 

The Spanish Civil War, which pitted Francisco Franco's Catholic nationalist movement (with military support from Hitler and Mussolini) against the violently anti-Catholic Republic (with support from Stalin) had been a veritable horror for Spain. So the attempt to forget - or at least to pretend to forget - seemed to be the most secure route to navigate the transition back to some sort of normal politics in a more modern, pluralistic Europe, itself then still stuck in the divisions of the Cold War.

As everyone seems to be acknowledging nowadays, that stable post-war order is now under multiple challenges. While the old grand narratives of communism and socialism no longer inspire or frighten the way they once did, all sorts of old familiar fault lines are reappearing in the European landscape (as they are here in America as well). So perhaps it is no surprise that the unresolved questions about the Cvivl War and what followed - which are in some sense still the unresolved questions about Spain's history and its national identity and unity - are being resurfaced there by different political factions. 

I visited el Valle de los Caidos during my first visit to Spain in the 1990s. I found it interesting historically (though less so than Philip II's Escorial not that far away). But I found it somewhat uninspiring as a church. As such it serves as a suitable symbol (with or without the Caudillo's body buried there) of a failed attempt to recreate a kind of integralist Catholic kingdom that (for better or for worse or perhaps for some combination of both) can now exist only in memory or fantasy.

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