A useful Law of Memory for Spain

To speak of memory policies is to speak of the present. It is to speak of identity. Without memory there is no individual or collective identity. And without collective identity there is no society. A society is not only the sum of its members, but it is articulated from the common will to know what we were in order to understand what we are. To exchange experiences and knowledge in order to decide together what we will be in the future. This Government is convinced of the need to place memory policies in the context of the advance of human rights cultures and practices at a global level. The Spain of the 21st century needs a true State policy in favour of truth, justice, reparation and the duty to remember as a guarantee of non-repetition. Memory is a right. A right of citizenship.

Law 52/2007 on Historical Memory laid the foundations for the development of public policies aimed at the recognition and reparation of the victims of the Civil War and the Dictatorship. Fourteen years after its approval, it was necessary to review and update it in order to achieve its objectives.

The draft bill of the Law of Democratic Memory approved on 20 July in the Council of Ministers gives a boost to the recovery, safeguarding and dissemination of democratic memory. To the knowledge of the vindication and defence of democratic values and fundamental rights and freedoms throughout our contemporary history. It aims to recognize those who suffered persecution or violence between 1936 and 1978, in order to promote both the recovery of their personal, family and collective memory and their moral reparation. It is the first law that expressly condemns and repudiates the coup d’état of 18 July 1936 and the subsequent dictatorship. The text declares the unjust nature of the human rights violations, the illegitimacy of the exceptional courts and, as a novelty, the nullity of the sentences and resolutions issued by the organs of Franco’s repression for political, ideological, conscientious or religious reasons, or for reasons of sexual orientation and identity.

Relieving the pain still felt by thousands of compatriots who want to recover the remains of their loved ones, to know what happened to them and to restore their honour is a human obligation. In this sense, it is a healing law, which addresses the demands of the relatives, who we place at the center of the new law. Their tireless struggle and the firm commitment of the memorial associations deserve it.

Consolidating public memory policies in a legal framework is a necessity and a duty. The Government has been working for three years on a law that integrates the human, political, legal and social dimensions of democratic memory. It is a necessity, because it is required by the new social and political context, in which new elements have arisen, such as the recommendations of international human rights organisations, the laws and provisions on memory approved by the autonomous governments, the new contributions and demands of the memorial movement regarding the deficits in the effective fulfilment of the objectives of Law 52/2007, and the approval of parliamentary initiatives that coincide in the need to resolve the shortcomings through the approval of a new Law.

It is also a duty, because it preserves and keeps alive the memory of the victims of the Civil War and the Dictatorship through the four cornerstones of international humanitarian law. Firstly, their right to the truth, concretized in the assumption by the State of leadership in the search for disappeared persons, the creation of a national DNA bank, the protection of documents referring to that period and the right of access to funds and archives. Secondly, the principle of justice, with innovations such as the guarantee of the right to the investigation of human rights violations or the creation of a Public Prosecutor’s Office for Democratic Memory. Thirdly, the promotion of reparation through the carrying out of an audit and an inventory of seizures, spoliation and sanctions, and the promotion of investigations into forced labour. Finally, the establishment of a duty of memory of the public authorities to avoid the repetition of any form of political violence or persecution, with novelties such as the establishment of a sanctioning regime.

Because, above all, it is a humanizing Law, with a strong moral component. For decades, selective forgetting led us down the path of forgetfulness. We inherited an artificial memory, created from a partial and self-interested interpretation of historical events. The story of the victims was eliminated, and this denied memory has been an unjust and heavy burden for several generations. We need to fill in the gaps. We need to reclaim the suffering that has been silenced. To know our history fully.

That is why this law is not the end of the road, but the roadmap that Spain needs. It is a law for recognition. A law for reunion, which makes us better as a country.

The history that preceded us is the ground on which we tread. But it must be firm ground. The recovery of the memoria is a strong bulwark of modern democracies. For this reason, we propose a calm and conscious exercise: to rescue it, organize it, understand it and disseminate it. To learn from it, not to revive conflicts or create new ones, but to act in accordance with our human condition and citizenship. To lay the foundations for a future coexistence in peace and freedom.

Democratic memory also acts firmly against totalitarian and neo-fascist approaches, and promotes respect for human rights and social justice. For this reason, the draft bill also aims to intervene on those cultural or ideological constructions of the present that ignore the injustices of the past. On those associations or foundations that make apologies for Francoism, extol its leaders, with contempt and humiliation of the dignity of the victims, or incite hatred or violence against them.

The text submitted to the Cortes Generales has been the result of a process of broad public participation. Numerous contributions have been received from institutions, entities and civil society. We have worked with prudence and a vocation to listen, but also with determination. We hope that, during its parliamentary processing, the text will be enriched with new contributions and will achieve the maximum support from the political groups. The democratic forces should have no problem in joining a law that is comparable to those in force in the countries around us.

Finally, I would like to point out the profoundly pedagogical nature of the Law. It is essential to update the contents of democratic memory in compulsory education, in teacher training plans and in the selection processes of the civil service. Democratic learning is the keystone of a more open, diverse and plural society, whose citizens are capable of continuing to consolidate and expand rights and freedoms. Capable of thinking, united, of a fairer and freer future. Democratic learning so that new generations can shape their destiny with the clay of the memory of their parents and grandparents, on the noble lathe of civic and ethical values that make Spain a great country.

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