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Law Giving Redress to Franco Regime Victims Divides Spain

MADRID – From the outside, it seems like any other block of flats in Madrid.

Inside, however, is th..

MADRID – From the outside, it seems like any other block of flats in Madrid.

Inside, however, is the Fundación National Francisco Franco, or Francisco Franco National Foundation, an institution that preserves the memory of the man who ruled Spain for nearly four decades until his death in 1975.

To some, it is a shrine to a fascist dictator, which should not exist in democratic Spain in the 21st century.

To others, it guards the flame of a man who spared the country from communism, presided over its reconstruction after its devastating civil war, and saved it from being drawn into the Second World War.

Almost every centimeter of the walls are filled with paintings or photographs of Franco while the offices contain important papers of state signed by El Caudillo (The Leader) which are consulted by historians.

The foundation is now under threat after the Socialist government passed a law on Tuesday which will ban the organization for “glorifying the dictatorship.”

Lessons about the repression of political opponents under Franco will become part of the national school curriculum.

Unhealed wounds

However, the bill is hugely divisive in a country which is still struggling to deal with this part of its past.

Unlike Germany or Portugal, Spain is the only European country which has never addressed events of its wartime past, and of the long dictatorship that followed.

An amnesty law passed in 1977 prohibited retrospective trials relating to events during the Franco years.

More than half a million people died during Spains 1936-1939 civil war that pitted leftist Republicans supported by the Soviet Union against rightist Nationalist forces led by Franco backed by Nazi Germany. An estimated 120,000 people were killed during General Franco’s time in power while 450,000 were forced into exile, historians estimate.

After Burundi and Cambodia, Spain has the highest number of mass graves in the world, according to the United Nations.

Leftist political parties believe Spain must deal with this aspect of its past in order for future generations to come to terms with events under Francos rule.

However, conservatives see the legislation as only reviving the wounds of a conflict which happened eight decades ago.

Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish prime minister, tweeted: “Today we take another step in recognizing the victims of the civil war and the dictatorship with the Democratic Memory Law. Today we close the wounds a little more; we can look at the past with greater dignity.”

Enrique Santiago, a member of parliament for the far-left Unidas Podemos alliance, the junior partner in the coalition government, said the legislation was an improvement on a law passed in 2007 which offered reparations for victims of Franco but it stalled after a conservative government came to power in 2011 and froze funding.

Santiago said the new legislation provided state funds to search for missing victims, recognized those pressed into forced labor for the dictatorship, and will impose fines of up to $178,000 for glorifying Franco.

“This bill does not go as far as Germany which prohibited Nazism. Unfortunately, there are sectors which still revere the dictator,” he told VOA.

“We hope this (law) doesn’t produce a division. We hope that this establishes the international rights which should not bother anyone,” Santiago said.

Spain divided

The sensitivity of the issue, however, was demonstrated by the swift response from the political right.

The Peoples Party, the largest opposition party, said the leftist government used Franco as an excuse not to address other problems.

“Whenever Sánchez has a problem, he gets Franco out of the Valley of the Fallen,” said Javier Maroto, a party spokesman.

General Juan Chicharro Ortega, president of the Franco foundation, said the organization would challenge the law in the courts.

“This law is anti-democratic. It contravenes the Spanish constitution which guarantees the liberty of expression. It says you can only think one way and negates what half of Spaniards are thinking,” he told VOA.

Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right Vox party, the third largest in the Spanish parliament with 52 MPs, called the law “totalitarian.”

Ciudadanos, or Citizens, a small center-right party, believes the government should address a health crisis which has seen the number of COVID-19 cases rise to over 600,000, the highest number if western Europe.

“Of course we condemn the dictatorship but I think most Spaniards right now think the government should concentrate on trying to solve the problems of the pandemic, ” Melisa Rodriguez, a Ciudadanos parliamentary spokesman, told VOA.

For the relatives of Franco’s victims, the new law will bring solace.

When archaeologists were searching a mass grave last weekend, they chanced upon Eugenio Ursúa’s wedding ring, ending his daughter’s 84-year hunt for the father she never knew.

“It was a lovely moment. I wanted to cry. We knew my father was buried here and it was a long wait to find him and now we have,” Rosa María told VOA.

Ursúa, a 29-year-old father of two, was killed just days after the start of the civil war in 1936.

He answered a call to defend the Republican government after Franco led an armed uprising but his unit was ambushed in El Espinar, 62 kilometers north of Madrid.

Pending a DNA test, his remains will be buried next to those of his late wife.

Rosa María, who was six months old when her father died, said,“For us the search is over. This law might give other families some help to find their relatives.”

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Covid: Thousands protest in France against proposed new vaccine pass

A new draft law would in effect ban unvaccinated people from public life.

Demonstrators in the capital, Paris, held placards emblazoned with phrases like “no to vaccine passes”.

Interior Ministry officials said 34 people were arrested and some 10 police officers were injured after the protests turned violent in some places.

The bill, which passed its first reading in the lower house of France’s parliament on Thursday, would remove the option of showing a negative Covid-19 test to gain access to a host of public venues.

Instead, people would have to be fully vaccinated to visit a range of spaces, including bars and restaurants.

The government says it expects the new rules to come into force on 15 January, although the opposition-dominated Senate could delay the process.

But demonstrators on Saturday accused the government of trampling on their freedoms and treating citizens unequally.

Others targeted their anger at the president, Emmanuel Macron, over comments he made earlier this week in relation to unvaccinated citizens, telling Le Parisian newspaper that he wanted to “piss them off”.

One protester, hospital administrator Virginie Houget, told the Reuters news agency that Mr Macron’s remarks were “the last straw”.

And in Paris, where some 18,000 people marched against the new law, demonstrators responded to his coarse language by chanting: “We’ll piss you off”.

TV images showed altercations between protesters and police turning violent in some places. In Montpellier officers used teargas during clashes with the demonstrators.

Turnout for the protests was estimated to be about four times higher than the last major demonstrations on 18 December, when some 25,500 people marched across the country.

But despite the vocal protests, opposition to the new measures is not widespread and recent polling suggests the vast majority of people back the vaccine pass.

France is one of the most highly vaccinated countries in Europe, with more than 90% of over-12s eligible for the shot fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, new coronavirus infections are rising rapidly across France as the new Omicron variant takes hold.

The country recorded more than 300,000 new cases for the second time in a week on Friday and admissions to intensive care wards are rising steadily, putting healthcare systems under strain.

Some hospitals have reported that some 85% of ICU patients are not vaccinated against Covid-19.

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Covid-19: ‘There is no choice between lives and livelihoods,’ OECD chief Gurría says

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of t..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:26

As European countries move into their second Covid-19 lockdowns of the year, the head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development backs measures seen by many as tough. Ángel Gurría tells FRANCE 24: "If you win the battle against the virus first, you will have less economic consequences." He adds that "there is no choice between lives and livelihoods; it's a false dilemma".

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Mexican economist Ángel Gurría has been Secretary-General of the OECD since 2006 – throughout the global financial crash and subsequent recovery.

With hopes now high for viable vaccines against Covid-19, he's telling world leaders that the solutions to health and economic crises must carry the elements of our solutions to the environmental crisis too: "The single most important inter-generational responsibility is with the planet. That means the recovery, where we are going to make investments that have an impact for the next 30, 40 years, must absolutely have the sustainability of the planet in mind".

On the recently announced Pfizer vaccine, Gurría says: "It is a game changer […] The possibility of a vaccine being close is of enormous consequence. We still have to wait for it to be finalised, approved and distributed in sufficient amounts that it can get everywhere, so we are calculating that we are going to spend most of 2021 still living with the virus. But it changes expectations; the whole mood has improved considerably since the announcement."

On the refusal of Donald Trump, leader of the OECD's biggest single funder, to concede defeat in the US presidential election, Gurría sounds an upbeat note: "I believe that we will have an orderly transition of power in the United States come 20th January 2021. I believe in the institutions in the United States, I believe that the political forces in the United States will eventually align."

Finally, as talks drag on over a new Brexit deal on the future relationship between the EU and the United Kingdom, Gurría says he still expects a deal to be struck: "I believe that the common interest will lead to a deal […] The impact in Europe is going to be limited to the trade with the UK. The impact in the UK is going to be very serious, not only because of the flows of trade and flows of investment, but also because the overall business mood will be affected. So I am still counting on a deal."

Produced by Mathilde Bénézet

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Attacks in France and Austria: Europe’s response to extremism

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24
This Friday..

Issued on: 13/11/2020 – 17:40Modified: 13/11/2020 – 17:42

TALKING EUROPE
TALKING EUROPE © FRANCE 24

This Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris terror attacks, in which 130 people were killed. The last few weeks have seen more bloodshed, with attacks in the Paris region, in Nice and in the Austrian capital Vienna. European leaders are looking for solutions: ways to stop hate being preached, broadcast and acted upon, while defending individual freedoms of speech and of conscience. In our debate we ask two leading members of the European Parliament, from France and from Austria, what they believe should be done.

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Produced by Yi Song and Perrine Desplats

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Our guests

  • Andreas SCHIEDER, Austrian MEP, Socialists & Democrats
  • Nathalie LOISEAU, French MEP, Renew Europe

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