Historical memory on the Spanish political agenda

Post date: 11/01/2016

By Justin Byrne


In the wake of the Spanish general election on 20 December, Justin Byrne writes from Madrid about the prospects for progress on moves to recover Spanish Republican historical memory.


Corruption, the ongoing economic crisis, austerity, rising inequality and moves towards independence in Catalonia were the big issues in the campaign running up to the general election in Spain on 20 December. However, the IBMT’s sister organisation in Spain, the Asociación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales (AABI), was one of dozens of organisations from all over the country and beyond that put the issue of historical memory onto the political agenda as well.


At a national meeting held in Madrid in October, representatives of over 70 organisations approved a manifesto denouncing – 40 years after the death of Franco and eight years after the previous socialist government’s Law of Historical Memory – the fact that the Spanish state had failed to put in place effective policies of truth and justice for the victims of Francoism.

They drew up a wide-ranging list of measures for implementation in the life of the next parliament. These include official condemnation of the Francoist regime and legal recognition of and reparation for all victims of Francoism. Also demanded was the identification and exhumation of the remains of over 100,000 people, the victims of summary executions committed during or after the civil war and still lying in hundreds of mass graves around the country.


In addition, the manifesto called for the opening up of all Francoist archives, the repeal of the 1977 Amnesty Law and the investigation and prosecution of the crimes of the Franco regime, particularly the widespread abduction of babies at birth to be given away for adoption.


Other proposed measures are intended to help avert any possible repeat of the civil war and dictatorship. These include curricular reforms to ensure children learn about Spain’s recent history from a democratic perspective and the introduction of an annual official day commemorating the victims of Francoism.


On 22 November, two days after the 40th anniversary of Franco’s death, hundreds of people took to the streets of Madrid in support of these demands, marching behind a banner calling for “Truth, justice and reparation for the victims of Franco” and under a sea of Republican flags.

The response of the political parties was predictably varied. Support was strongest from the “old” left, and above all Izquierda Unida (United Left), whose leader, Cayo Largo, told the demonstrators that the leftist coalition would present their demands in Congress the very next day.


While no other party has espoused the manifesto in its entirety, Podemos, the new anti-corruption and anti-austerity movement of the left, is broadly sympathetic, and other parties have expressed their support for at least some of its demands. The PSOE socialists said they would set up a truth commission to investigate the crimes of the civil war and Francoism, ensure public funding to exhume the mass graves and identify the victims and more generally “revitalise” the 2007 Law of Historical Memory.


More surprisingly, Ciudadanos, the anti-corruption challenger on the centre-right, has announced that it too supports, and would fund, systematic exhumation of civil war mass graves. Among the major national parties, only the conservative Partido Popular (PP) has ruled out any new legislation, insisting that “90 per cent of the issues [of historical memory] have already been resolved”.


Justin Byrne is a historian and teacher in Madrid. He is active in the AABI Spanish Friends of the International Brigades ( This article is taken from the ‘Letter from Spain’ column of the 1-2016 issue of the IBMT Newsletter.

IBMT logo

Support our work

You can support the IBMT by joining us or affiliating your union branch – see details and membership forms here:
menuchevron-up linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram