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Debates
Tuesday, 4 July 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

4. 70 years after General Franco's coup d'état in Spain (Statements by the President and the political groups)
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  President. The first item on the agenda will be a statement by myself; 70 years after General Franco's coup d'état in Spain, on 18 July 1936.

As you know, a group of 200 Members signed a request for an oral question to the Commission and the Council explicitly calling for a debate on condemning the Franco regime on the 70th anniversary of General Franco’s coup d’état.

The Conference of Presidents did not accept that request and thought it more appropriate for the President to make a statement and for the various political groups then to express their opinions about the significance of this date. That is what we are doing now.

We are talking about a date that is now way back in history: 70 years have passed since 18 July 1936. That is almost the life expectancy of the generation of Spaniards who took part in the transition to democracy, a transition that is seen as a model, but whose success required selective forgetfulness and suspension of memory, which is now emerging in a process of recovery which is filling the book shops and even being enshrined in laws.

As I told you two years ago, I belong to that generation – like many of the Spanish Members here – and my personal relationship with the past inevitably determines my memory. This is an institutional statement, however, that I am making as President of the House, and what I say today must be a political act that goes beyond the personal. To bring our past to bear upon the present is an act of will which relates, above all, to the future that we want to build, and we want to build it not just upon the fragile and perishable memory of each of us, but upon History, which is not remembered, but rather learnt, and for that very reason can be shared.

History tells us that on that day part of the Spanish army – just a part of it – rose up against the Government of the Second Republic, democratically elected by the Spanish people in 1931. That put an end to a great hope, because that republic had come with the intention of promoting democracy and carrying out necessary wide-ranging reforms: agricultural reforms, military reforms, the separation of Church and State, the establishment of social security, Statutes of Autonomy for the regions, rights such as votes for women and divorce, within a profoundly patriarchal society.

Those reforms became a reference point for many European countries. They were a reference for democracy in Europe, the new frontier of democracy in Europe, a democracy that was facing difficult times at that point, having fallen in Italy, in Greece, in Poland, in Hungary and in Germany. That coup d’état did not just lead to a long and cruel civil war in Spain, therefore, but it also put an end to that hope for Europe that André Malraux had spoken of.

The war in Spain was not just a war and it was not just Spanish. It was a confrontation between two great views of the world. Yes, the two Spains of Larra and Machado were returning, and one of the two Spains froze the heart of each Spaniard. A war between Spaniards would not have lasted so long, however, simply because our own forces would not have allowed it.

The war was a decisive moment in the history of the world. It was of immense significance internationally. From 1936, Europe’s future participants in the Second World War came into direct or indirect conflict with each other during the Spanish civil war. Spain was the first great battle of the Second World War, the test bench for a war to come that would devastate Europe. For the first time in history civil populations were bombed. We all remember Guernica, but there were many Guernicas in Spain.

Europeans lost their lives on both sides and their names populate the cemeteries of Madrid, of Jarama, of Belchite, of Teruel, of Guadalajara, of the Ebro …, mythical names, where so many Europeans lie. Their fellow Europeans then went on to fight across the whole of Europe in order to liberate it For some people that war was the last great cause, for others it was a crusade.

I remember the crusade, the bishops saluting in the fascist style, surrounding generals at the entrances to the churches. I also remember the cemeteries full of people shot by one side or the other. It was the most passionate war, in which the ideologies of the 20th century confronted each other for the first time: democracy, fascism and communism. It was a religious war, but at the same time a class war, a revolution faced with a reaction.

It was a conflict that would continue in Europe and which also continued in Spain after the war had finished, because it was not just a war. There was also a long and hard post-war period, during which it was no longer a question of beating the enemy, since the war had been won, but rather of eradicating it, in order to maintain a system that lasted for a long time and kept Spain out of the process of democratisation and also the process of reconstruction experienced by Europe as a result of the Marshall Plan.

Many of our colleagues from the countries of the East remember the isolation they suffered as a result of Yalta and the iron curtain that separated them from the free, democratic and prosperous Europe, and that is what it was like. What people remember less, however, is that there were countries in the South of Europe – Spain and Portugal – that were also isolated from this movement and which remained under military dictatorships for a long time.

I remember that a US congressman once complained to me that the Europeans were not grateful for the efforts the United States had made to liberate Europe. I had to remind him that, as far as Spain was concerned, that effort was conspicuous by its absence, since they forgot to liberate us, because the military regime was useful to them during the Cold War.

Today I would like to use the words of Salvador de Madariaga, whose name appears on one of our buildings. ‘Before 1936’, he said, ‘all of the Spaniards lived in Spain and in freedom. ‘Today’, he said in 1954, ‘hundreds of thousands live in freedom exiled from Spain and the rest live in Spain exiled from freedom’.

Freedom returned in 1975. We began to build the foundations of a community based on democracy, freedom and the prospect of joining Europe. New generations have brought new political demands regarding the future and regarding the past. They have been faced with a war and a dictatorship that have been placed at one remove from them and, when we talk in Spain today about moral reparation for the victims, what we want to do is to discuss the active memory of our country, of our society, in order to accept our past fully, in order to honour all of the dead and in order to face the obvious truths, not to forget those events that are uncomfortable for us and not to allow ourselves to be consoled by untruths. These are painful wounds that have begun to heal in Europe, but which remain in many people’s memories, because at the time it was not possible to exorcise them.

That is the purpose of the event we are holding today here in the European Parliament: to face a past that lives on in part of our continent’s memory in order not to repeat yesterday’s mistakes, in order clear-sightedly to condemn those responsible for them, in order to pay tribute to those people’s victims and in order to acknowledge all those who fought for democracy, suffered persecution and promoted Spain’s return to Europe, as our common heritage.

(Sustained applause)

 
  
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  Jaime Mayor Oreja, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (ES) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am speaking on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats following this statement on the recent history of Spain. I would like to stress that our position is essentially based on full support for the values of reconciliation and of overcoming a past tragedy, which were the values that inspired the transition to democracy and which led to the 1978 Constitution.

On a day like tomorrow, a 5th of July 30 years ago, the President of the Spanish Government, Adolfo Suárez, took on his job of taking our democratic transition forward.

For those of us who had the honour and opportunity to assist in that project and to belong to the Union of the Democratic Centre - that party which, in government, was responsible for the material execution of the transition, aided by other political formations and supported unequivocally by Spanish society and His Majesty the King - our values of freedom and reconciliation enshrined in the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and our call for an end to the two irreconcilable Spains arose from our very deepest convictions. The mistake, the stupidity, the tragedy of the last century of Spanish history, was the ease with which the two opposing Spains have been able to re-emerge – an excessive phenomenon that has always existed in our country – the ease with which those two Spains were able to convince themselves that they could not live together democratically.

We are all aware of the origin and the raison d’être of the European Union, which is founded upon the same moral strength as that Spanish Constitution, the moral strength of people joining together, the moral strength of unity, so that our recent past will not repeat itself, so that no more world wars will emerge on European soil, no more wars, no more dictatorships, no more communist regimes and no more civil wars like the one we suffered in Spain.

The new nations of Europe may make mistakes when dealing with our present and future problems, but there is one mistake that we cannot make, that we do not have the right to make: to repeat historical mistakes, not to learn from the mistakes of our history.

For all of these reasons, we must not become tired of reconciliation and harmony. We must not change our attitude, and many Spaniards believe it to be an historical mistake to try to promote a second transition today, as if the first one had grown old and obsolete; it is an historical mistake to unilaterally destroy the essence of our Constitution of harmony; it is historically foolish to introduce the debate on the right to self-determination in Spain, the creation within Spain of new nations that have never existed; it is an historical mistake because it moves us away from the harmony we have created.

On this thirtieth anniversary of the Spanish democratic transition, therefore, Mr President, which began on 5 July 1976, and on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, please allow me to end with a 'viva' for reconciliation, a ‘viva’. for freedom and a ‘viva’ for the Spanish Constitution of 1978.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Martin Schulz, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (DE) Mr President, having listened to your speech, I would like to ask what was the spirit behind Franco and his regime? We all know that spirit. It is the spirit of intolerance, of contempt for mankind, it is the spirit that smashes democratic institutions, the spirit that hates everything that is not how it would like it to be. Behind Franco and his regime was contempt for mankind and deadly propensity for violence. Unconditional subjection to its own ideology or death — that was the message of the Franco regime. It was not a Spanish message, however, because when Franco seized power 70 years ago my country had already been suffering under the Hitler dictatorship for three years and Mussolini had already been ruling for 14 years in Italy. At that time, the fascist movement of which Franco was a — primarily militaristic – part already existed all over Europe.

The civil war was not just a Spanish civil war. Spain was its main territory and the Spanish people its main victims, but the Spanish people were also its hostages in a trial run for a greater war. Guernica and the Condor Legion are and remain a blot on my country’s history.

The youth of the 1930s were a glorious page in European and world history, travelling to Spain to defend democracy of their own accord. Ernest Hemingway created an unforgettable literary monument to that generation. The famous American writer Arthur Miller once said that in the 30s the word Spain was an explosion. It was about overcoming clerical feudalism and setting the spirit of freedom and tolerance against the demon of intolerance.

If we think of Spain today, we on Europe’s left think of the countless victims that civil war claimed from among our ranks — but not only from ours. There were also Christian Democrats, Liberals and Republicans who stood against that intolerance. Franco was opposed worldwide by the whole community of thinkers and nations, who opposed that totalitarian desire for subjugation that was associated with Franco. Franco lost.

If we can take stock of the situation here in this House 70 years later, then I would draw your attention to the fact that since direct elections were introduced three Presidents of the European Parliament have been Spaniards: one conservative Christian Democrat and two Social Democrats. If today, 70 years later, a Spanish President of Catalan origin is able to say, on behalf of the elected representatives of 25 nations of Europe, that European integration is a victory over intolerance and bondage, then, 70 years on, we can say that freedom has won and Franco has lost. Nothing better could happen to Europe!

(Applause)

 
  
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  Bronisław Geremek, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (FR) Mr President, Europe is rich in history and, even if the European Parliament must not seek to play the role of the sole keeper of the truth about the past, it is nevertheless important for the future of European integration that Parliament should feel responsible for Europe’s collective memory, which is the principal factor constituting European unity.

We are now in 2006. This is the anniversary of the workers’ uprising in Poznan in June 1956 and of the Hungarian revolution in October 1956: dramatic events in the struggle for bread and freedom. This is 2006: seventy years ago, General Franco imposed a dictatorial regime opposed to freedom, democracy and the rule of law. Spain, which should have been one of the founder nations of the European Union, found itself against the will of its people separated from the rest of Europe for half a century.

In contemplating these events, it would not be proper to tot up all the instances of injustice, hatred, conflict and human suffering from the periods of the Civil War and the dictatorship. So that such events might never happen again, we shall need, rather, to recall that Spain’s experience is also Europe’s, and one that led to the foundation and construction of the European Union.

Europe should make a point of remembering that, if Spain has been able to close this dramatic chapter in its history by consensus, then it is through reconciliation and peaceful dialogue. Let us pay homage to the courage and wisdom of the Spanish people.

In this anniversary year this Parliament and Europe as a whole should rejoice in knowing the freedom upon which they are based. Beyond all political divisions, Europe should feel united and wake up to the fact that now we know why Europe exists. In doing so, we also honour the dramatic experience that we commemorate with sadness today. Thank you very much.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Daniel Marc Cohn-Bendit, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Spain in 1936 is above all a lesson for us Europeans or, rather, four lessons. The first lesson has to do with the courage, self-sacrifice and extraordinary imagination of a people, the Spanish people, in striving towards freedom and democracy. Who could forget the extraordinary social inventions of free Catalonia? Who could forget everything that the Spanish people attempted during this amazing period?

The second lesson concerns the barbarity of fascism, and, as we have just heard, one of its symbols is Guernica: the symbol of murder, assassination, incarceration; the symbol too of an international Fascist project, since it is clear that Spanish Fascism would never have been able to triumph without the help of National Socialism. In 1936, the Fascist project of European domination was already evident.

The third lesson is harder to take on board because it is the lesson of cowardice: the cowardice of Europeans, the cowardice of the French – even if it was difficult for Léon Blum – the cowardice of the British, the cowardice of all those who thought that if the Spanish people paid the price, then they would not have to. As in Munich in 1938, this attitude turned out to be one of the great errors of that period, affording one of the great lessons that we need to learn from it. As history has shown, anyone who thinks that they can keep a low profile while the storm passes by on the other side is often mistaken. This is an important lesson which, for a very long time, has been very difficult for many Europeans to accept. Sometimes, pacifism paves the way for horror. Sometimes, it is a sign of courage. It is always very difficult to know whether pacifism or its alternative is the right course of action. If, however, it is necessary to speak of cowardice, then the courage shown should also be emphasised: that, for example, of Pierre Cot, a minister under Léon Blum who, as a minister, had arms sent to Spain. Let us recall that Pierre Cot, whose actions in this difficult period were heroic, is the father of one of our fellow Members, Jean-Pierre Cot, whom I thank for having reminded me of his father’s actions.

The fourth lesson, finally, concerns the horrible intolerance of Communist totalitarianism, because we must not forget that there are two great images from the Spanish Civil War. The first is that of the international brigades who wanted to save the Spanish people, but at the same time there is that of the intolerant Communist brigades which murdered Trotskyist members of POUM, as well as anarchists, because they did not have the same political orientation. That, too, is a lesson of the Spanish Civil War. It shows us that liberation does not mean dismissing everybody else’s opinion; rather, it means accepting diversity and democracy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the European Union must profit fully from all of these four lessons. We must recall them when there is barbarity in Bosnia or when there is a duty to show solidarity with oppressed peoples. If these lessons are learned well, then I believe that the future could be a little brighter.

 
  
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  Francis Wurtz, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (FR) Mr President, Parliament is acting as it should by organising this political act to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of Franco’s unleashing of the Spanish Civil War.

Indeed, the destruction of that young Republic is, in more than one respect, relevant to the whole of Europe. First of all, the forces of the 1936 Putsch only managed to overcome the Popular Front with the decisive assistance of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. It was, too, in Spain that the latter experimented with a view to its future blitzkrieg against France, and Guernica was the first example in world history of the massacre of a civilian population by massive aerial bombardments which was to become a terrifying model for what took place throughout the Second World War.

Those dark years, 1936 - 1939, demand the attention of Europe for yet another reason: the way in which the republicans were betrayed by neighbouring democracies. The non-intervention of 1936 paved the way for Munich in 1938, which led to continent-wide disaster from 1939. What, moreover, is to be said about the smug indifference of Western and European leaders in general to the Francoist regime after the war, as soon as its leader had joined the forces for good against the evil empire.

In conclusion, there is one final reason why the Spanish tragedy has a European dimension: this is the unparalleled surge of international solidarity to which it gave rise among the workers and the common people, as well as among the most eminent European intellectuals; a solidarity strikingly illustrated by the International Brigades, composed of 40 000 volunteers from around fifty countries.

Conversely, a number of Spanish republicans went on to be members of the French Resistance. Some of them would take part in the Paris insurrection of August 1944 under the leadership of my late lamented comrade Henri Rol-Tanguy. Others took part in the liberation of Strasbourg in November of the same year in the army of General Leclerc.

Without doubt, the European consciousness would not be the same without the unspeakable suffering of the victims of Francoism, without the intrepid courage of those Spaniards who offered resistance and without the tide of solidarity on which the young Republic was borne. May today’s commemorative act on our part pay to all the women and men concerned the tribute that they deserve.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Brian Crowley, on behalf of the UEN Group. Mr President, in many ways I find it very difficult to know what to say today, because I, unlike many of my colleagues, am from a generation that does not have a living memory of the tragedy that was the very foundation of the European Union.

However, I read history and I have some knowledge and understanding of it. We are speaking today about the 70th anniversary of Franco’s coup. An atrocity or a tragedy on the European continent is commemorated in the history books for every single day going back over 227 years.

I suppose, then, what we really should be focusing on is that fascism, communism, imperialism and the totalitarian regimes we have experienced on our continent have a common thread: a lack of respect for human difference and different ideas and an intolerance towards those who want to chart a different path. Whether we are talking about Potsdam, Hungary, Gdańsk, Siberia, Spain, Portugal or Ireland, those who have tried to impose their will on others have always failed, because the very essence of our humanity is the desire to be free to ensure that we can live and interact with others.

That is why it is most important that we not only learn from the mistakes of the past but also ensure that we never repeat them. Rather than criticising or pointing the finger and saying that this tragedy was more dramatic, more damaging or more influential in European politics than others, let us agree that it happened and use it as an example. In Europe today, we have been able to overcome those differences; we have found a forum and a way forward in which people from different countries, with different ideologies, different histories and different interpretations of the same history can come together and find common ground and a common cause.

The best thing that we can do today in the European Parliament is to encourage Prime Minister Zapatero in his efforts to bring together what were previously irreconcilable peoples to find a common way forward in the Basque region. That is not to forgive the atrocities that were committed or to say that the wrongs did not take place; it is to say that you cannot go on living in the past, you cannot remain bitter. When the opportunity for peace arises, we must seize it as it passes.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Jens-Peter Bonde, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (DA) Mr President, ‘They must be stopped!’ So exclaimed the great young poet of my youth, Gustaf Munch-Petersen, when, as a volunteer soldier in the Spanish Civil War, he stood alone at the front while his comrades withdrew, confronted as they were by superior forces. Gustaf left his wife, child and family at home in Denmark. His action was neither defensible nor responsible and was unable to keep the plague of Fascism away from Europe. His lonely protest had no rationale behind it, but imagine if everyone had acted with the same courage. To die fearlessly was the last poetic offering of his life.

Most people remained passive when democracy was threatened and, in many places, displaced, until other courageous people put a stop to Nazism and Fascism.

For many here in this House, the liberation became a new occupation, involving the Iron Curtain and the Gulag. Today, let us remember the many people – courageous and otherwise - who died. Let us pay homage to those who, as volunteer soldiers in the Spanish Civil War, offered resistance, took part in the defence of democracy and displayed both courage and foolhardiness in underground armies established to oppose governments’ policy of appeasing the enemies of democracy. Many people active in resistance movements found their way into the political parties and also the movements that I have represented in this House for 27 years. They are almost all dead. As he was dying, my courageous neighbour, Hans – a blacksmith by trade – talked wildly about British bombs raining down on a French school instead of on the Gestapo’s headquarters. As an agent working for the British, Hans had supplied the illegal drawings. The mistake was not his, but the thought of the dead schoolchildren haunted him until the end.

I also wish to remember a young academic who travelled all around the country in order to create the first Danish resistance movement, while the government cooperated with the German occupying power. Frode Jakobsen subsequently became leader of the successful underground government, the Danish Freedom Association. After the war he became a government minister and took part in the European Movement’s great congress in The Hague in 1948, when the Council of Europe and European integration were got under way. For many years he was President of the European Movement and a Social Democratic member of the Danish Parliament. That being said, he voted ‘no’ in all the votes on EC and EU Treaties and initiated criticism of the EU on democratic grounds back in 1972.

We have named a prize after him. It is awarded each year to those who have shown unusual political courage and done something for people other than themselves at a time when to do so was not expedient or profitable or likely to further their careers. We have never had difficulty finding candidates. There are always people who show unusual political courage, and some of them have sought inspiration in the half a million volunteers and citizens of the world who travelled to Spain to say ‘No pasarán’. I would say thank you to those who displayed personal courage and died for our freedom. ‘El pueblo unido jamás será vencido’.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Maciej Marian Giertych (NI). – (PL) Mr President, the fact that today, throughout Central and Western Europe, we have democracy, civil liberties, private ownership and tolerance is due to the fact that Communism did not take hold on our continent, although it could have. In Eastern Europe, a dam against Communism was created by the victorious battle of the Poles against the Bolsheviks in 1920 and the decisive resistance of Catholic Poland against enforced Soviet dominance.

The fact that Communism did not take root in the West is largely thanks to the victorious civil war fought by traditional Spain against Communist governments. Although it came to power democratically, the Spanish left behaved in a similar manner to the left in Bolshevik Russia, where the main target of attacks was the Church. Almost 7 000 priests were murdered. Churches were desecrated, roadside crosses and holy statues were shot at. Traditional forces immediately responded to this attack on Catholic Spain.

The International Brigades, organised by Bolshevik Russia, came to the aid of Communist Spain. In accordance with Communist custom, these brigades were entirely controlled by Communist party cells and their secret services, as was the whole republican regime. Thanks to the Spanish right, the Spanish army, its leaders and thanks to General Francisco Franco in particular, the Communist attack on Catholic Spain was thwarted. By the same token, attempts to spread the Communist plague to other countries were also halted.

The presence of figures such as Franco, Salazar or De Valera in European politics ensured that Europe maintained its traditional values. We lack such statesmen today. It is with some regret that we observe today the phenomenon of historical revisionism, which portrays all that is traditional and Catholic in an unfavourable light and everything that is secular and socialist in a favourable light. Let us remember that Nazism in Germany and fascism in Italy also had socialist and atheist roots.

The power wielded by the socialist and anti-Catholic bloc in this House is cause for great concern. We saw clear examples of this power during the voting last month on the texts on tolerance and the Seventh Framework Programme. Christian Europe is losing the battle against a socialist and atheist Europe. This has to change!

(Protests)

 
  
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  Martin Schulz (PSE). – (DE) Mr President, I would like to avail myself of the option of making personal statements at the end of debates. I cannot now remember which precise Rule of the Rules of Procedure it is, but I would ask you to allow me this personal statement. I have listened carefully to everything the previous speaker said. I will not go into it in detail, but I want to say one thing on behalf of myself and my group: what we have just heard is the spirit of Mr Franco. It was a fascist speech and it has no place in the European Parliament!

(Loud applause)

 
  
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  Zbigniew Zaleski (PPE-DE). – (PL) Mr President, I would like to take advantage, as Mr Schulz has done, of my right as a Member of Parliament and to take the floor briefly.

I regret that you and the Conference of Presidents decided to dedicate so much time to the debate on Francisco Franco but did not permit even a minute to be spent discussing another terrible massacre which took place in Katyń. It was something I asked for on behalf of Poles and all those who died there. I very much regret the decision not to grant my request.

 
  
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  Hans-Gert Poettering (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, as a Catholic I would like to say that we stand for human dignity, human rights, the rule of law, democracy and freedom. We do not consider dictators and supporters of totalitarian regimes – be it fascism, national socialism or communism – the right people to defend our ideals. We defend our ideals with our own convictions.

(Applause)

 
  
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  President. I would like to thank everybody who has taken part in this debate and I would like to thank the Members who have attended it, in particular those who are not Spanish, for the interest they have shown in this historic event, which was undoubtedly a tragedy. I would also like to point out that we have been accompanied in the public gallery by people whose historical memory has brought them here.

(Applause)

 
Last updated: 1 September 2006Legal notice