What is justice?
Here’s a narrative of a statue of Christ in Spain, Italy, Germany, England or sunny California in which the hands get lopped off, a bomb, a bullet or vandalism. St Teresa of Avila, who founded an order of Carmelites nuns in her native Spain, declared Christ has no hands but ours. That was the message.
Here’s another story. Sculptures by Francesco Cedenilla, human figure set high in the mountains of El Torno in Extremadura to represent the hundreds of thousands ‘disappeared’ under the Franco regime, statues shot up by right-wing supporters of neo-fascism. Cedenilla declared that the bullet holes completed his work.
History is written by the victors.
General Franco army and militias with the support of fellow fascist dictators Hitler and Mussolini seized control of Spain during the Civil War 1936-1939. 500 000 or more Spanish citizens fled across the border, mainly into France. The war didn’t end in Spain nor did it end in 1939, Franco unlike his fellow fascist dictators did not give up power, but held onto it until his death in 1975. Under his regime 187 concentration camps were still open for business and hundreds of thousands tortured and disappeared. Tens of thousands babies stolen from their mothers at birth and given up for adoption without consent.
The Pact of Forgetting was an attempt to put the past behind them and move on. It was ratified in the Spanish Parliament in 1977 and a general amnesty entailed. We see similar and more recent cases in, for example, South Africa, Northern Ireland and Rwanda.
Robert Harris’s Fatherland plays with this narrative. Hitler, like Franco has won the war and the Nazi leader is going to meet the American President John F Kennedy. This may seem farfetched but Franco, of course, did meet with Nixon, the Pope and most other right-wing world leaders. But in this narrative a lowly officer in the Kripo, the German criminal police, investigates the killing of Nazi officials who took part in the Wannsee Conference in 1942. That was where the Final Solution was ratified. Hitler did not attend. Six million Jews and millions of other nationalities were killed. The world knows nothing of this and by bumping off those that attended the conference and cleaning up the concentration camps Hitler’s crimes can be righted by the disappearance of the witnesses to history.
Franco’s victims had no voice and certainly no Nuremberg show trial. Maria Martin was a child during the Civil War. One of seven living in a little village in Castalia La Mancha. Her mother was taken from the fields, her head shaven and murdered by locals that accused her of being a ‘red’, ‘disappeared’, her body found naked. They killed 27 men and three women, including her mother. She recalled how afterwards older children threw stones at her. Later when she started leaving flowers at the side of the road where her mother’s nude body was found, villagers made signals that they’d slit her throat too. Official letters were returned telling her she’d be next if she didn’t stop pestering them with request to return her mum’s body for a proper funeral so she could be laid to rest.
Or the case of ‘Chato’, whose torturer, ‘Billy the Kid,’ lived a few streets from him. Chato tells us how his friend was shot in the head by the police in 1968. He was taken to prison and some days beatings took place for 13 hours, his legs, his genitals, his feet. ‘Billy the Kid’ retired on a state pension to run marathons in Spain and New York.
Carlos Slepoy (now deceased) over a six year period, documents how victims attempts to bring those that had tortured them, stole their babies or killed their father and mothers were stymied by the Spanish state at the highest levels. How elderly victims had to take out an international lawsuit and take their case to Argentina to be heard. The Silence of Others, with some success, dares to challenge the status quo using the case of the Chilean dictator, General Pinochet, as a precedent. For justice to prevail crimes against humanity must be heard. Bashar al-Assad, and other world leaders should be worried should such a legal precedent become universal. There’s a certain irony in Argentina were a military junta ruled for so many years is selling itself as the new Nuremberg. Truth is no stranger to justice unless, like St Teresa’s statue of Christ the Redeemer, our mouth stays shut, our voice goes unheard.