Spain's left passed its whitewashing of Republic atrocities and free speech suppression law yesterday. Spaniards who, like one of my high school's exchange students, were glad that their grandparents fought for their faith and nation are now in legal danger for expressing that.
Exaggeration? Not in the slightest, as Stanley Payne, America's foremost historian on Spain, carefully explains.
The proposed law is highly punitive. Symbols, meetings, or statements judged to approve of the Franco regime and the victors in the civil war are deemed infractions against “historical and democratic memory.” Proposed penalties include an elaborate schedule of fines ranging from two hundred to a hundred thousand euros, the closing for a period of six months to two years of any entity found in violation, and the confiscation of the means or goods involved in any such activities. That this law will dramatically restrict freedom of expression and thus violate the Spanish Constitution is apparently irrelevant to the Sánchez government.
The Law of Historical and Democratic Memory is the most dramatic, arbitrary, and punitive proposal concerning discussions of history anywhere in the Western world. Yet the attitude it reflects is fairly common on the left, which increasingly uses governmental or nongovernmental means to restrict and punish speech that defends rightwing views, movements, and figures past or present. Politicized interpretations of history are, of course, not new. But Spain’s proposed law is a stark sign of the way the contemporary left seeks to weaponize history to achieve its goals and silence all dissent.
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The very opposite characterized the Democratic Transition of the late 1970s, which had been grounded in a keen awareness of the failures and crimes of the past and a determination that they not be repeated. As Paloma Aguilar, the leading researcher on the role of collective memory in these years, has written, “Few processes of political change have drawn such inspiration from the memory of the past, and from the lessons associated with it, as the Spanish case.” It would be difficult to find another instance in which awareness was greater. What was agreed upon was not “silence,” but an understanding that historical conflicts should be left to historians, and that politicians should not revive old grievances in their jostling for power.
Far from being “silent,” during the Democratic Transition historians and journalists were active in the extreme in all media, flooding the country with studies and accounts of the civil war and the Franco years that did not disguise the most atrocious aspects. The formerly defeated Republican army veterans were granted full recognition and pensions, with attendant honors. The Spanish state-sponsored official ceremonies of homage to fallen Republicans and former revolutionary leaders who were responsible for many atrocities returned to Spain amid public applause. Later, detailed and objective scholarly studies appeared which, though incomplete, for the first time placed accounts of the repressions by both sides on a more precise footing. All this was the opposite of “forgetting,” and it was much more careful and exact than the current agitation about historical memory, which is allergic to fact or serious research.
Communism is to historical study what strokes are to neurological function. Spain's opposition party has promised to repeal the law when they return to power.
May it be soon.
[Host's note: Comments which do not discuss the provisions of the new Spanish law will not be published.]