The Historical Memory Law was passed in 2007 (in Spain) under the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (PSOE) and repealed under the government of Mariano Rajoy (PP) for not receiving funding. According to the first article of the law: “The object of this law is to recognize and broaden the rights favoring those who suffered persecution or violence- for political, ideological, or religious reasons- during the Civil War and the Dictatorship, promote moral reparation and the recovery of personal and family memory, and establish complementary measures destined to eliminate divisive elements between citizens, all with the purpose of promoting cohesion and solidarity between different generations of Spaniards in relation to constitutional principles, values, and freedoms.”
The law was motivated by the political, social, and cultural work of organizations like the Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica (ARMH), a non-governmental organization established in 2000 that seeks to discover the remains of victims of the Spanish Civil War and Francoism. A majority of these victims were Republicans who were forced to take “a walk” (“el paseo”) often by members of the Falangist movement or who were assassinated en masse and usually buried in unidentified mass graves. The association organizes exhumations of these mass graves and is in large part made up of volunteers, many of whom are relatives of victims or professional from fields such as Archeology, Sociology, History, and Anthropology, among others. One of the many proposals of the historical memory law is to eliminate the symbols of francoism and facism from buildings and public spaces, and it gave Spanish citizenship to veterans of the International Brigades and to the children and grandchildren of all of those who were exiled. Nevertheless, the law was widely criticized as insufficient by political parties like Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) and as polemic by the Spanish right, in particular the Partido Popular, which argued that it re-opened old wounds and that it would be best to forget the past in order to construct the “future.”
However, Spanish society teaches us that although the law was polemic and insufficient, historical memory and its debates continue to be valid because the future can’t be separated from the past. The radicalization of the right in parties like VOX shows that the symbolism contained in the Valle de los Caídos and the inscription “José Antonio Presente” found in so many Catholic churches in Spain are not part of a buried past. José Yusty Bastarreche, son and grandson of Francoist admirals, recently prohibited the exhumation of the dictator Francisco Franco. The legacy of Francoism is still palpable in Spain today, which although disguised as “justice” continues to reveal its unjust, authoritarian face. Nevertheless, the debates generated by Historical Memory show us that the legacy of the Republicans also has a voice today. The politics of memory have given rise to a collective process of recovering lost oral and written testimony, of recognizing the violence against victims generated by the war and Franco’s dictatorship, and of teaching us about this past through countless movies, documentaries, novels, histories, theatrical projects, art exhibitions, and photography in museums and cultural centers. Memory, the act of remembering history, doesn’t claim to be an objective science with which we discover a singular “truth” about reality. It generates debate, it’s definitively a political act that intends to fight against amnesia, indifference, and the manipulation of the historic past to denigrate and demonize the political “other.” Historical memory intends to fight against those who wish to absolve and re-bury in the forgetting of the victims of State violence. The historical memory of the war and Francoism cannot be contained within national borders, because we are many, the children and grandchildren who do not live in Spain but who contribute with our work to reconstruct and redefine historical memory, precisely so that the future will not be determined by the past.