David Bassa

Stifled by the Franco regime

Spain’s problem is that while in broad daylight Francoism stifles us, in the darkness of the sewers Francoism is rock-hard

We don’t want to acknowledge it, but every day we getup to find ourselves in the midst of a Francoist atmosphere. It haunts us at breakfast, at lunch and at dinner; we hear it, we see it, we breathe it in. We have done this so much and for so long that we stopped noticing it. We have got used to the stifling effect of the Franco regime the same way one gets used to a congenital ailment: as one knows it just won’t go away, one does one’s best to ignore it. This is an instinctive and natural reaction. The problem is that the Franco regime should not be a congenital and inevitable ill. Yet we have regarded it as such, we have ignored it and even rendered it invisible. And that is the source of all our political problems.

When a foreigner asks you about the Catalan issue or the Independence Process, you always end up crashinginto the Spanish brick wall. This Spanish wall, along with the paralysis and the deafness of Castile, can be explained in various ways, but they all originate in the same factor: the lack of a cleanbreak with the Franco regime. When you tell a foreigner that, even today, there exists a Francisco Franco National Foundation that is subsidised with public money, that even today there are avenues, squares, statues and monuments that honour the name of the Fascist dictator, or that even today there is a “Valley of the Fallen” (henceforth Valle de los Caídos) in honour of Franco’s dead, that even today there are tens of thousands of Republicans buried in roadside mass graves, that the case of president Companys’ execution has yet to be closed, that even today Falangists can hold demonstrations quite freely, that even today the party that until recently governed Spainrefuses to condemn the Franco regime, that even today some Ministers of the Franco regime are protected by the central government, that even today there are leaders of the People's Party (henceforth PP) Youth section that sport photos of themselves making the Fascist salute... When you explain all of this to them, astonished foreigners understand everything. Well, not exactly everything. They understand the wall, the paralysis and the deafness. But then comes the question, which always repeats itself: “How can all of this be allowed?” The degree of incomprehension and disbelief tends to overwhelm your foreigner,who starts to observe you as if you were an alien. Indeed, if this foreigner happens to be German, the failure to understand will come as so much of a shock that, finally, you’ll have to make an extra effort to try to explain how we reached this point. And that isn’t so straightforward.

It isn’t straightforward because there are no reference points that we can cling onto to put things into context. The survival of the Franco regime has been and is so deep, so widespread, so transversal that you can't give a quick explanation forthe error that allowed the absurdity that is stifling us. Many mistakes have been made. Indeed, they are still being made all the time. Whenever the Ramon Barnils Group of Journalists sees a mistake, we always report it. We did so when Manuel Fraga died and the vast majority of media turned a blind eye instead of saying he had been a whole-hearted Fascist. We did so when Juan Antonio Samaranch died and the vast majority of the media again turned a blind eye to hide his dark, murky Fascist past. We did so when the Spanish Governmentgave an award to Carlos Sentís, a journalist who had spied for the Franco regime. And we have done so whenever our profession has been coerced, threatened or even attacked by right-wing extremist Fascist groups.

And, though this unfortunately happens all too often, the Barnils Group has never bowed to being stifled by Francoism, nor will it ever do so. On the contrary, we do all we can to break taboos and enforced silence. But there is still a lot of work to be done, because the Franco regime still rules, it still controls most of the puppeteer’s strings. Some of these strings have begun to come into view in all their nakedness, but there are still many hidden strings, strings that move and manoeuvre quite invisibly. And not only that: they do so with the absolute conviction that it is the right thing to do, as was publicly acknowledged in 1988 by the Spanish Prime Minister at that time, Felipe González, when he stated publicly, before the cameras: "the State will defend itself through the Parliaments, but also through the sewers". To put it bluntly! It might seem obvious, for every State has its sewers. Spain’sproblem, though, is that while in broad daylight Francoism stifles us, in the darkness of the sewers Francoism is rock-hard.

The evidence of political, judicial, police and military collusion with Fascism reaches unbelievable levels, such as the acquittal -in 2014!- of all the detainees in an affair known as ʻOperation Panzerʼ.This involved a score of neo-Nazis, who had been found in possession of an arsenal of weapons, hordes of Fascist documents and evidence to accuse them of dozens of violent crimes. However – oh crying shame! – the civil guards destroyed all these weapons just before the trial. And they did so with the permission of the courts, so that when the trial was held, the conclusion was that there was no evidence. These are the things that happen when a State decides not to do away with the structural Fascism forged undera 40-year dictatorship. They happen and no-one resigns, no-one gets sacked, there is no rumpus. Nothing. The fact that two of the detainees were soldiers doesn't mean a thing. The fact that one of the detainees was the self-confessed murderer of young Valencian activist, Guillem Agulló, doesn't mean a thing. No holds barred.

So the question varies not: "Why?” And that is precisely the aim of this book: to answer this question. For scandalous Operation Panzer is only a small leak from the sewers. However, as journalist Xavier Vinader used to say, "there are still many sewer covers of the Spanish State to be opened”. There are covers all over the place. We pass over them without even noticing: but there they are. They are like the strings of the Francoist puppeteers that are hidden from view, but sidle between us under cover of the darkness affordedby the great families of the regime, who are always there without being there: they are in the glamour and business media, but they never appear in their true nature as the Francoists they are. Instead, they appear the way they pretend to be. Things have always been this way, until now: until this book.

In Franco Lives On, Lluc Salellas casts light where up till now darkness has reigned. Here are to be found the names and surnames of the capos and the great Francoist families who still pull the strings. Stacksof names. Piles of numbers, chronologies, and information that, once correctly studied, analysed and drafted, paint a well-lit picture of why we have got thus far. From now on, then, whenever strangers ask us: "Why?” we will just have to get them to read this book. It is a great feat of journalism by Salellas, who has managed to prise open many covers and expose plenty of strings, proving the wisdom of Xavier Vinader’s famous statement: "a ballpoint pen can be as powerful as a weapon”. Unfortunately, there are many journalists who are scared to fire their pen, but Salellas is one of those who won’t give up, and this time he has not only fired: he has done so with a pen fully loaded.

Franco Lives On

Franco Lives On

Lluc Salellas i Vilar