#319      35 min 57 sec
Contested memories: Unearthing tensions from the Spanish Civil War

Cultural historian Prof Jo Labanyi discusses accounts of atrocities and persecution that took place during and after the Spanish Civil War, and explains why 75 years after war’s end the memories of the period are so highly contested. Presented by Elisabeth Lopez.

“I find that very sad because I thought that the airing of memory was going to produce some kind of healing and it actually seems to have done the opposite.” — Prof Jo Labanyi




Prof Jo Labanyi
Prof Jo Labanyi

Jo Labanyi is a Professor of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University. She joined NYU's Department of Spanish and Portuguese in 2006, after a career in the UK where, among other things, she directed the Institute of Romance Studies, University of London. A founding editor of the Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies and Fellow of the British Academy, she also until recently held the position of Director of the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Centre at NYU. Her widely published research focuses on 19th- and 20th-century Spanish literature, painting, film, and photography, and has particular research interests in gender studies, popular culture, and memory. Her recent authored books include Spanish Literature: A Very Short IntroductionA Companion to Spanish CinemaMyth and History in the Contemporary Spanish Novel, and Constructing Identity in Twentieth-Century Spain: Theoretical Debates and Cultural Practice.

Credits

Host: Elisabeth Lopez
Producers: Eric van Bemmel, Kelvin Param
Audio Engineer: Gavin Nebauer
Voiceover: Nerissa Hannink
Series Creators: Kelvin Param & Eric van Bemmel

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VOICEOVER

This is Up Close, the research talk show from the University of Melbourne, Australia.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

I'm Elisabeth Lopez, thanks for joining us. When nations emerge from trauma they make collective decisions about what to remember and what to forget. Sometimes the past is considered too painful or explosive to examine at all. Yet when one generation decides the pain stops here sometimes future generations don't quite see it that way.

In 1936 Spain erupted in a brutal Civil War. The war itself lasted three years but the ensuing dictatorship led by right wing Nationalist, General Francisco Franco lasted decades. When Franco died in 1975 the country's transition to democracy under King Juan Carlos was hailed as masterful and peaceful. Opposing political parties agreed on a Pact of Silence or forgetting. There was a shared sense that peace was too fragile to jeopardise by reopening old wounds.

While nations such as Argentina, Chile and South Africa have had truth and reconciliation commissions, Spain has stopped short of officially cataloguing or reckoning with its past. Yet in the past 10 years Spain has been gripped by the urge to remember. There has been an explosion in biographies, historical accounts and oral histories. Mass graves have been exhumed and the stories of generations of stolen children have come to light. And it's not just historians who have been in the trenches, the debate has deeply politicised the judiciary.

Here on Up Close to explain why these memories are so contested is Jo Labanyi, professor of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University, where she was director of the King Juan Carlos I Center.

Jo's research focuses on 19th and 20th century Spanish literature, painting, film and photography. More recently she's been exploring Spain's history wars and the role of memory in coming to terms with the past. She's visiting the University of Melbourne to deliver the Miegunyah Public Lecture for the School of Languages and Linguistics. Welcome Jo.


JO LABANYI:

Thank you very much for having me here.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

Jo, can we briefly go into the chronology given that these events span 75 years. I understand these debates are not just about wartime atrocities but also crimes that took place in subsequent decades, even into the 1990s. What was happening back in the 1930s?


JO LABANYI

Violent confrontation in fact had already become quite a problem under the Republic before the Civil War started in July 1936. But the real problem happens with the military coup, which fails in July 1936 and because it fails military conflict lasts for another three years.

There was repression in the Republican zone. The Republic was a democratically elected government that the military rebelled against, but it was not supported by the Republican Government, it was done by left wing groups who are not under control and that was brought under control in the first six months. Nevertheless, about 50,000 people were killed in reprisals in the Republican zone. A lot of them were members of the religious.

The much larger atrocities, 150,000, so three times more than that, took place when the Nationalists - that is the forces led by General Franco moved into Republican territory as they gradually took over the peninsula and would set about usually with a lot of local connivance. A lot of connivance from the church, eliminating systematically anyone who was seen as defending the Republic. Any Republican mayor would be absolutely systematically murdered. Anyone who'd been a member of a trade union would be systematically murdered. Any workers who has defended their rights under the Republic would be pointed out to the authorities by landowners and would be systematically murdered. And then at the end of the war, 1 April 1939, when General Franco's dictatorship is established they then have a free hand to systematically set about eliminating anyone who they see as not supporting them.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

It's been said quite a bit that the Spanish Civil War was, in a way, a dress rehearsal for World War II and there was a big clash of ideologies, communism versus fascism. What was the wider context?


JO LABANYI

I think that's true but it's not just communism and fascism. If you had to simplify it that would probably be the best way to do it. The British historian, Helen Graham, who has written a wonderful, very short introduction in Oxford's Very Short Introductions series on the Civil War, which I recommend to anyone who would like a very quick read to know more about the Civil War. She argues that the Spanish Civil War should be seen as part of what she calls the European Civil Wars of the mid-20th century. I think that's true because the forces that were in opposition were forces that were in opposition in many other countries in Europe but what happened in Spain was a military coup that failed and then turned into a prolonged military conflict.

The Republic was a very complicated mix of centre left liberals, of democratic socialists, Christian democrats, of Communists and anarchists. The anarchists didn't support the government, because anarchists don't support the state in any form, but once war broke out they did support the Republic to fight against the military coup.

I mean it's kind of a class war but with the middle classes split ideologically. On the right you have not only fascism - in fact the Spanish fascist party was a very small party…


ELISABETH LOPEZ

The Falange.


JO LABANYI   

The Falange, exactly - at the beginning of the war. But is acquired dominance in the course of the war. A lot of people joining up opportunistically because it meant they weren't going to be in risk of suffering reprisals if they had a card saying they were a member of the fascist party.

The same was actually true of the Communists. The Communists were not a big force - the socialists were much bigger at the start of the war, but the war brought a massive polarisation.

The complicated thing on the rights is that it included people who weren't member of parties, it includes industrialists, it includes landowners and it includes the church. It actually became quite difficult for anyone to be a sincere Catholic and support the Republic because of the polarisation.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

So we get to 1939, the end of the war, and Spain drops off the international radar as the storm clouds gather over the rest of Europe and Spain stays out of that war. What is happening in Spain? The war is over but certainly not much healing or reconciliation really is taking place.


JO LABANYI

No, in fact a lot of people would say that the real problem for the left started with Nationalist victory, because there was no longer any kind of check or any force in the country to defend anyone who was associated with the Republic. So the reprisals were absolutely massive in the years after the war. That was actually the worst period - particularly for those regions that fell to the right quite late on in the war and had not had their purges already.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

What sort of things were happening? What form did the reprisals take?


JO LABANYI

The reprisals took the form in their most lenient form of purging from their jobs - practically all school teachers. The Republic had done a huge amount for education and so a vast majority of teachers supported the Republic. That did lasting damage to Spain's education system. I'm afraid I'd say it's not even yet today recovered from that in terms of mindsets. But in the most cases it would be imprisonment in concentration camps. Spain's prisons and prison camps were overflowing in the mid-1940s and it would be summary, i.e. extrajudicial, executions.

After there was some exposure in the international press about half way through the war of the mass murders by Nationalist troops entering Republican territory…


ELISABETH LOPEZ

And obviously the most famous of those was the assassination of Federico Garca Lorca, the poet.


JO LABANYI

Yes. It was the bullring in Badajoz where Republicans were rounded up in the bullring and massacred. That's what hit the international headlines through a Portuguese reporter who happened to be there at the time and got some photographs out.

After that General Franco was more careful, erected a fake judicial apparatus which was summary trials where the defendants were not allowed to speak, where they had no defence lawyers and where the death certificate would say died of acute haemorrhage, which means you've been shot by firing squad.


ELISABETH LOPEZ   

So we start seeing the climate thawing a little bit in the '60s as Spain by economic necessity has to open up to tourism - what effect did that have on this culture of vengeance?


JO LABANYI

Yes, I mean the reprisals really continued to the end of the '40s. There were guerrilla fighters still in the countryside who held out until 1951, supported by the Communist Party in exile. That is over by the 1950s. There was still a lot of practices of systematic humiliation of anyone associated with the Republic. Very hard to get a job. You will be denied papers allowing you to work. Very submerged economy as a result of that.

The country is still very poor - it didn't recover its economic level of the 1930s until the end of the 1950s.

What happens at the end of the 1950s is a realisation that Spain has to open up economically. It's been accepted into the United Nations, thanks to the vote of the Arab countries interestingly, who Franco courted at the beginning of the 1950s. But at the end of the 1950s - 1959 - there is a change of government which brings in a lot of Opus Dei technocrats who want to modernise Spain industrially.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

Opus Dei being?


JO LABANYI

Yes, Opus Dei is a very strange secret Catholic organisation - secret but an open secret. I mean people kind of know who's a member but whose members pledge a percentage of their earnings to the organisation. It's a kind of right wing version of the masons if you want to put it kind of crudely. But they've always been very much interested in industrialisation, modernisation of the economy. So from 1959 you have Opus Dei technocrats in the most sensitive positions in the Franco Government and the country undergoes actually a spectacular developments process where its rate of growth became even higher than that of Japan at one point in the 1960s.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

US bases start appearing on Spanish soil and so there's a bit more of an orientation towards capitalism if not necessarily democratic values.


JO LABANYI   

Absolutely. In fact it's - the beginning of the 1950s there's a treaty with the United States which gave the United States two bases in Spain in return for aid to help with the economic reconstruction of Spain.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

So throughout all this how are people talking or not talking about the past?


JO LABANYI

That's a real problem. People who had suffered or witnessed that repression, especially in small villages where you would be living in the same street as the murders of your relatives and you have to go on living in that street, not being able to say anything. The documentaries that have been done in recent years show that that fear is still there. I mean people interviewed in those villages look around them before they start and say is anything going to happen to me if I talk to you? It's quite extraordinary, and that's now.

A lot of people migrated from the countryside to the cities because of the anonymity, to get away from that painfulness of having to live with the people you know are responsible for killing your relatives.

For many people I think just the grind of surviving economically was all that occupied their minds.

A key factor in the '50s and '60s is the mass migration to cities that's been pointed out by a historian, Michael Richards, in Britain that that migration perhaps was very significant in producing - not wanting to know about the past. Because migrants from literally starvation in the countryside want to forget about the past. They're going to start a new life. They're sacrificing everything for the next generation of their children who they want to get on. And I think that's a very interesting point, that it wasn't just the repression that meant, of course, strict censorship - you couldn't talk about it publically.

A lot of people found it too painful to talk about even in the families unless they were very politically committed, in which case they did transmit things in the family but only in private. But I think it's a very interesting point that that mass migration meant there were large sectors of the population who just want to think about the future.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

This is Up Close. I'm Elisabeth Lopez and in this episode we're talking to Professor Jo Labanyi, cultural historian of New York University, about the contested memory of the Spanish Civil War and post war period.

Jo, one of the most prolific and respected historians of this period is the English historian, Paul Preston. In 2012 he wrote a book called The Spanish Holocaust. What does it mean to use that term when it's synonymous with the genocide of European Jews?


JO LABANYI

I personally find it problematic I have to admit. In fact there was a series of reviews of Paul's book and a dossier in the Journal of Genocide Research. I must admit, I criticised him for that. I think it's not helpful to homogenise different kinds of victims because the political scenarios are very different. I mean I think what Paul wanted to do is simply attract attention to the sheer scale - I mean 150,000 people murdered by the right in and after the Civil War. 150,000 is an awful lot. So it's the scale he wanted to bring people's attention to.

He's not alone in having talked about a Spanish holocaust. The term had started to be used by television documentary filmmakers in Catalonia in particular who made some extremely good documentaries in the early 2000s. And their reason was quite explicit. I'm quite surprised Paul Preston doesn't mention that, and that is if you can argue the Francoist repression was a crime against humanity then there is no statute of limitation. That means that those who are responsible can be brought to trial. Most of them are dead, of course, which complicates the issue, because of the huge time lag with the Franco dictatorship lasting for nearly 40 years.

But that, for me, is the one thing that does justify talking about a Spanish holocaust. If you can call it legally, or have it accepted legally that it's a crime against humanity then you can bring those responsible to trial. But no one has attempted to do that in Spain. And, interestingly, in the many documentaries that interview victims none of the victims are asking for revenge on the killers.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

You have emphasised that it's incredibly important to look at what happened in Spain alongside, I guess, conflicts that were much more talked about at the time, such as the Dirty War in Argentina and Chile's Pinochet dictatorship and, certainly, the respective death tolls are quite an interesting point of comparison. What sort of things does a comparison of these events tell us?


JO LABANYI   

Yes, the figures are very striking and I don't want to minimise at all the horrors of what happened in Argentina and Chile. The figures accepted by the national truth commissions in both countries, which as you said at the beginning of the program, there has been no national truth commission in Spain, that's the major difference. But the official figures for Chile are just over 2000, the official figures for Argentina are just under 9000.

There are no official figures but there are memory organisations who help relatives exhume the mass graves and give their relatives proper burial. They have come up with 130,000 documented cases. Historians are pretty well settled on a likely 150,000. It would be impossible to ever establish the exact numbers.

But the main thing in Spain is that no government has been willing to institute national enquiry - not even a national report, it's been private initiatives that have done all the work.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

So around 2007 I think it was there was a Law of Historical Memory, but that didn't quite come to fruition. What happened there?


JO LABANYI   

The law happened but it got very watered down. It was one of the priorities of the socialist government of Zapatero who came in, in 2004, set up a commission to draft the law. It didn't finally get through Parliament until the very end of 2007. It produced a hysterical reaction in the press and in the media generally on the part of the right and the government commission drafting the law were so anxious about offending the right, which actually I think was not the right position to take because the right was going to oppose it whatever they did. So the government commission watered it down more and more, which meant that it didn't satisfy the left either.

There is no mention of education, for example, which is a shocking omission.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

So children still don't get taught about what happened?


JO LABANYI

No, most people who I know with children at school age in Spain tell exactly the same story - it's in the history books but the teacher somehow always manages never to get to the Civil War by the end of the academic year. It's still something that's avoided.

One of the other major problems in the historical memory law, it also insists that the government cannot legislate for memory, memory is a private matter - hence no reference to education. That is a real problem because memory is not a private matter.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

In the lead up to this, towards the end of the 1990s, we have the first exhumations of mass graves taking place under the auspices of a group called the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory. And you have written up an interview that you did with its founder, a journalist called Emilio Silva. What sort of stories were emerging when these things started to happen?


JO LABANYI

That actually is one of the most interesting and, I think, moving phenomena that have happened. There were actually some unofficial exhumations organised by families without press coverage immediately after General Franco's death in 1975. There was an attempted coup by the military in 1981 which didn't get anywhere but it made people worried and that stops the unofficial exhumations.

So the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, which Emilio Silva founded in the year 2000 actually when he located and exhumed the grave of his own Republican grandfather. As a journalist he brought in the media. That was new. Now there was media involvement. Interesting the foreign media accepted his invitation much more than the local Spanish media.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

This has been a very consistent pattern in Spain's history. So Paul Preston was one of the first historians to write about Spain - this troubled period of Spain simply because Spain was still in a dictatorship and it was a taboo subject. But then, yes, you see this happening again in the 1990s.


JO LABANYI   

Yes. I think it is still such a sensitive subject in Spain. And what I think has happened in Spain, which I personally find very disappointing, is rather than allowing right and left to start talking about it together it is actually taking people back to defensive, polarised positions which they occupied earlier. I find that very sad because I thought that the airing of memory was going to produce some kind of healing and it actually seems to have done the opposite.

The stories that have come out have been quite extraordinary because the relatives come back to the village - most of them moved away because it was too painful to go on living there. They come back to witness the exhumation. The Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory only undertakes exhumations that are requested by victims' families. There has to be the consent of the victims' families for them to go ahead, which seems to me quite right and proper. They don't impose it on anybody. But the relatives, of course, are able to talk freely in public, the media there. There are also anthropologists present who record their stories - if they would like to have their stories recorded. There is no obligation to do that, but many of them do volunteer. So the stories suddenly come pouring out. Often stories that no one in the family had ever talked about before.

There was one story that Emilio Silva told me which I found incredibly moving. If I could just tell that one, which was of a woman who came back to the exhumation having moved away from the village who had been told by her mother than her father had abandoned the family. She'd grown up to hate her father. She had now discovered that her father was one of the victims in that mass grave. What that meant was that her mother had faced the most terrible choice, finding it better to tell her daughter that her father had abandoned them and have her daughter hate her father than to tell her daughter that she was the daughter of a red, which would mean that she was going to be publically humiliated and have to internalise that political humiliation.

So the daughter was now totally distraught. Feeling immense guilt at having hated her father wrongly all her life. And the mother who was still alive, who was not present at the exhumation, had to completely reconstruct her biography, because she'd lived under a false biography all her life. So that's the kind of personal story that really brings it home for me what this meant in people's daily lives.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

This is Up Close. I'm Elisabeth Lopez and in this episode we're talking about the contested memory of the Spanish Civil War and post war period. Our guest is Jo Labanyi, professor of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University.

One of the intriguing aspects of this historical debate is the extent to which it has polarised an already politicised judiciary. One of the central characters is Baltasar Garzón who many of our listeners might know as the judge who managed to secure the arrest in 1998 of the late Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet. Garzón is also a member of the legal team representing WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

Jo, what has Garzón been up to in Spain's history wars?


JO LABANYI

This is a very interesting question because Garzón for many years refused to get involved. I've actually been at a dinner where he was provoked about that and he changed the conversation immediately. He did not want to know. This was after his international warrant for the arrest of Pinochet, which it's worth mentioning was done the same year that the International Criminal Court was set up at The Hague and that's what made that international warrant possible. So there's been a whole change in international law, a whole legal framework of transitional justice which allows someone like Garzón to acquire that international profile.

Garzón is a controversial figure. He likes the limelight. He is hated by the right. The judiciary has always been polarised in Spain. Of course, the judiciary usually are political appointments in most countries but in Spain that means that still a majority of high court judges in Spain swore allegiance to General Franco. They're getting on a bit.

Garzón is one of the younger members of the Supreme Court. He did, finally, agree to take on investigation of the involuntary disappearances. He was actually legally obliged to do so by the Law of Historical Memory which was passed late 2007 and it was in 2008 that citizens' movements brought him a list of 130,000 documented enforced disappearances. The Law of Historical Memory did require judges to take up any case that was brought to them.

They chose Garzón because they knew he was the only member of the Supreme Court who was likely to take it up. So he did take it up. It produced an outcry in the media.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

And it has major repercussions for his own legal career.


JO LABANYI

Indeed. It led first of all to him being required to pass it to local judges, which he complied with - he had to - and they did nothing about it. That led to three court cases, one accusing him of prevarication having exceeded the limits of what he could do as a judge in taking on this case. He was actually let off that one. There were two other cases. They were all brought by minor extreme right groups - one of them the successor of the Spanish Fascist Party.

The case where he was convicted of prevarication was actually a corruption case against some high-ranking members of current Popular Party Government in Spain. That is the Popular Party, although it doesn't sound like it is - the conservative party in Spain. That corruption case has gone to nothing. And they got Garzón by arguing he'd exceeded his legal limits by taping the conversation of the defendants with their lawyers in prison.

The sentence in that case where he was convicted of prevarication was to eliminate him from legal practice in Spain for 18 years - that will be the end of his career. So, as you said, he has taken up left wing causes, particularly in Latin America. He's actually involved with legal proceedings against Spain coming from Argentina. But also, as you said, he's part of the team defending Assange in WikiLeaks.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

What was behind his initial reluctance to investigate what happened in Spain?


JO LABANYI

I honestly don't know. I mean, maybe he did sense that this was going to be the end for him. It was going to be totally unacceptable. Having seen that reluctance I was actually surprised when he did take up the case but he had to because the Law of Historical Memory required any judge who was requested to take up a case by families to do so.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

One of the other very prominent figures in this period obviously is King Juan Carlos who recent abdicated. He's been revered for his role in presiding over a smooth transition to democracy and for resisting the attempted military coup in 1981. And it's often suggested that without him the transition just would have fallen apart. But is his role coming under increasing scrutiny?


JO LABANYI

Yes. I think it's really his role in telling the military to go back to their barracks at the time of the attempted coup in 1981; there he does deserve full credit. It took him six hours to get on television after the Parliament was taken hostage. So there's a lot of speculation about what actually was going on, but he took the right decision and it was a brave decision. Because he is the leader of the armed forces. He had been educated by the military. Taken away from his father who was the legal pretender to the throne, and Franco established what was a monarchy postponed. In other words until after his death there was no monarchy.

So he took Juan Carlos away at a fairly young age from his father to turn him into the next king of Spain. It was a surprise, I think, to many people that Juan Carlos did the right thing and respected democracy.

An interesting factor there is that Juan Carlos' wife, Queen Sofia was the sister of the king of Greece who lost his throne because he supported the colonels in Greece. So I have no evidence but I will guess that Queen Sofia gave him some pretty good advice there too.


ELISABETH LOPEZ   

The repercussions of siding with the military in this day in age.


JO LABANYI   

Exactly.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

Yeah. Jo, how has the church's role evolved throughout these decades?


JO LABANYI   

That's a very important question. The church hierarchy endorsed Franco's military uprising against the Republic. The Republic had been trying to build a secular society, which Spain was not. The Republic named the Francoist cause and the Civil War a crusade. That name was used for most of the Franco dictatorship to describe the Civil War.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

Incredible historic resonances of a common enemy.


JO LABANYI   

Precisely. It produces irrationalism as well. The ground shifts from political argument to an absolute infidel-believer scenario. There were, in the Basque country, many priests who supported the Republic because they favoured Basque Nationalism. The Republic had granted autonomy to Catalonia. That produced hysteria in the right and the military, they were about to grant autonomy to the Basque country. They did in fact after the war had started but they couldn't do very much. They were also about to grant autonomy to Galicia. Those are still festering wounds today as many people will know.

So, in fact, the Nationalists shot a large number of Basque priests who supported the Republic. That is something that the church doesn't like to admit too much but it is a fact.

There were a lot of members of the church, i.e. priests, monks, nuns or just believers who were shot in the first six months of the war, as I mentioned at the beginning of this discussion. An interesting phenomena is in the course of the '50s and '60s the rise of a worker-priest movement in Spain, opposing the Franco regime…


ELISABETH LOPEZ

Was that a Jesuit thing?


JO LABANYI

No, it wasn't. It was very much a grass roots thing. Many of them were imprisoned. There was a special incarceration centre for priests set up in Spain, i.e. they weren't out in common jails. The prison was run by the church. That was an important contribution towards the pressures against the Franco regime to liberalise in its last days. It should be said that there were very important citizens movements, workers movements, student movements pressurising for change at the end of the Franco regime, which means the right knew they could not continue the dictatorship. They had to opt for some kind of democracy.

What has been interesting is the churches entrenchment in recent years as the memory wars in Spain have got underway. And itt was in 2007 which was the year that the Historical Memory Law was being debated in its last stages in Parliament and finally went through in December when the Pope beatified nearly 500 Catholics who had been murdered in the Republican zone during the Civil War. So there are provocations like that. I mean that is the Pope - that is not the church in Spain, but, of course, it's the church hierarchy in Spain very much pushing for that kind of move. So the church - I would point the finger very much at them for being divisive in the current memory wars.

The military, interestingly, has become democratised in Spain - that has been a success story.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

I wanted to ask you also about the stolen children in the post war period - the children of Republicans who are prevented from growing up with their families. What happened?


JO LABANYI

Yes, that's a very interesting story and, of course, great resonance with Australia with the stolen children. This was first exposed by a historian and then a television documentary in Catalonia in the year 2002. It's not that it wasn't known before but it was then systematically researched and an attempt to quantify the extent of the problem was made.

Republican mothers in Francoist gaols, their children under the age of three would be with their mothers in prison. Either after they reach the age of three and then had to leave the prison they would be taken away. But if a pregnant female Republican prisoner in gaol gave birth in prison they were told the child had died. The child was taken away and sold for illegal adoption to right wing families who were childless and were desperate to have a child. That is shocking. But the really shocking revelation came in 2009 when it was discovered that that practice had continued right through to the 1990s in certain religious hospitals in Spain for financial gain. So there has been a big movement in Spain for people who started to become aware or suspect that they were stolen children to start investigating the case and find their biological parents. So there have been some very moving stories there.

It was a big shock for Spain because everyone knew about that in Argentina and people didn't know that that had happened in Spain and that it went right through to the 1990s.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

How incredibly painful. I guess it's going to be a long time before Spain is able to come to some sort of peace with its own past.


JO LABANYI

I don't know what to say about that. I used to be optimistic about reconciliation - I'm not. What has happened now with the financial crisis, 25 per cent unemployment, 50 per cent unemployment for people under 25, it's that that is occupying all the headlines and that's what people have to deal with now.

The government funding - there was limited government funding brought in by the historical memory law to help the exhumations that has predictably been taken away by the conservative government at present. Families are still getting together to try and fund exhumations but they're happening at a much lower rate. So it's not something you will see in the media in Spain today. That doesn't mean that the pain has gone away.

I think the media debates have been valuable, although they've produced an unhelpful polarisation, because nobody in Spain today can pretend the mass graves didn't exist. They've all been forced to see on television the pain of the relatives talking about what happened. So although the reaction has not been as positive as one would like, it hasn't brought reconciliation, the information's out there now.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

Professor Jo Labanyi, thanks very much for joining us on Up Close.


JO LABANYI

Thank you very much.


ELISABETH LOPEZ

Jo Labanyi is professor of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University. If you'd like more information or a transcript of this episode head to the Up Close website. Up Close is a production of the University of Melbourne, Australia. Crated by Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param. This episode was recoded on 18 September 2014. Producers were Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param. Audio engineering was by Gavin Nebauer. Until next time, goodbye.


VOICE OVER

You've been listening to Up Close. We're also on Twitter and Facebook. For more information visit upclose.unimelb.edu.au. Copyright 2014 the University of Melbourne.


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