Today in history

20 November 2008

On this day in 1975, Francisco Franco, dictator in Spain for 36 years, died. He died on the same day as had José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange, who had been captured during the Civil War & executed in prison & was subsequently turned into a martyr of the regime.

[See Sandy Holguien’s guest post on the Spanish Civil War at The Edge of the American West, linked above, from which I’ve stolen the “On this day in . . . ” format].

Franco was toasted near the end of his life by President Richard Nixon, who said on his death, “General Franco was a loyal friend and alley of the United States. He earned worldwide respect for Spain through firmness and fairness.”

Symbols of Franco’s government, such as the national flag he inaugurated with the Imperial Eagle, are banned by law as of last year. Newspapers over the last few months here have been covering attempts by the judge who indicted Augusto Pinochet, Balthazar Garzón, to open an enormous case trying Franco & 44 of his top aides for disappearances & mass executions during the civil war. This includes finding the unmarked mass grave of the poet García Lorca, shot by fascists. [It looks as though the case won’t go national, & will be parceled out by local courts.]

Meanwhile, a new sketch-comedy show on la Sexta, Generación D.F. (después de Franco)– that is, the dissolute youth born after 1975 – is advertised alongside a new biopic about the general’s last days, & his death. Yesterday night on “Sé Lo Que Hicisteis,” which is a kind of news-comedy program, a video sketch featured a disheveled, delusional Francoiststanding vigil outside the monument to his tomb & carrying on a conversation that went something like, General? General! You can come out now! Whenever you’re ready. Ok. Ok, I’ll just be waiting right here.

So, what do I say on a day like today? At the least: When you see graffiti on those whitewashed stucco walls like Fascism is a disease whose cure is a bullet in the head, on a day like today you begin to realize that “fascist” is more immediate & specific invective here than in the States.

I’m trying to think of comparisons – a television program in Russia that routinely redubbed televised speeches of Stalin, for example, to comedic effect – but I can’t. Most of the really horrifying stuff that the regime did – using the FalangeForeign Service to kidnap children from Republican parents abroad, for instance, or presiding over a decade of famine & irrational economic medievalism – happened during the 30s and 40s, and because Franco was in power so long, he had an opportunity to mellow & become familiar in a way that I can’t really find a precedent for.

Most vividly, I remember watching a Spanish film from the 60s in my third year high school class called . . . something about peppermint, I think, and learning that because of censorship, the cinema had resorted to elaborate allegory – in this case, a man had fallen asleep downstairs & had a dream about a little girl jumping on a pogo stick, the sound of which was dubbed over by the sound of jouncing bedsprings, because his wife or novia or whatever was upstairs with a different man, and this dream was meant to symbolize what in a more direct film culture would have been a simple storm-into-the-bedroom discovery scene.

I still get the feeling that every time someone swears on Spanish television or talks openly about sex there’s a little charge, a kind of feeling of triumphant reversal.

I’m not really equipped to quantify the impact of a four-decade fascist dictatorship in guise of monarchic regency, and the years of civil war that preceded on Spain – I feel like I can barely talk about it. It’s too big. Something is there for a half century, a fact of life, immovable, and then it disappears, & thirty years later, more, you can feel the effects even if you don’t really know how to say what’s happened.

One Response to “Today in history”

  1. Amanda Seamus Says:

    Random fact: Jay-Z, Francisco Franco, and I share the same birthday, December 4th… take that as you will 🙂

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