On April 26, 1940, a decree was published, signed by General Franco and his Minister of Justice, giving broad powers to the Supreme Court prosecutor to instruct a gigantic judicial process that would be known as “General Cause” and whose objective was the repression of the “criminal acts” carried out during the “Marxist domination” in Spain, a period that the decree placed between the victory of the Popular Front in February 1936 and the Franco victory of April 1939. The main objective of this Cause The general objective was to organize the repression of the enemies of the so-called “Glorious National Movement”: in an exercise that Ramón Serrano Suñer himself, then Minister of the Interior, would describe many years later as “reverse justice”, they were considered as “rebels” those who had remained faithful to republican legality and had opposed, actively or passively, the coup d’état of July 18, 1936. But the decree, like other instruments Legislative provisions of the dictatorship such as the Political Responsibilities Law of February 1939, also had retroactive effects, violating one of the constitutive principles of all legal norms: thus, holding a political or union position, or simply having supported the republican institutions from February 1936, it became a crime.
Under the protection of this process, and other similar ones that began in the provinces occupied by the rebels during the war, there were more than 41,000 executions (the figure corresponds to the cases documented so far, since the final number of reprisals continues to be subject to investigation), the result of death sentences handed down in trials that did not have the minimum procedural guarantees. The General Cause was active for more than 30 years, since it did not end until 1969: the last one executed for causes directly attributable to his actions during the Civil War was, in 1963, the communist Julián Grimau.
Although the main objective of the General Cause was to organize the repression, it also fulfilled other objectives of great importance to establish the legitimacy of the dictatorship and its control over the population, in particular a function of propaganda and the establishment of an official memory of what was occurred during the war (and during the last republican period). The decree of 1940 itself stipulated that “it is in the interest of History and the Government of the State to possess a complete and complete information on the criminality under Marxist rule”; it was, explicitly, not only to impart justice, but to write history. The General Cause thus represents an impressive collection of documentation, the result of a systematic campaign to collect information supported in an important way in the denunciation, on the violent events that occurred in the areas that remained under Republican control during the war and on the victims of the Republican violence, with special mention to the thousands of victims of anti-clerical violence. As the historian José Luis Ledesma points out, the General Cause also became a “great propaganda campaign aimed at internal consumption”: between 1941 and 1963 several volumes were published that gave an account of the progress of the investigation, illustrated with abundant photographs (some of them, as has been shown, manipulated or taken out of context), which were sent to all public libraries in the country. The General Cause was, in this way, a powerful instrument for the construction of public memory of the war and its origins, a unilateral memory that dealt only with a category of victims, who were honored and whose names adorned the pediments of the churches .
Thus a monolithic vision of the actions of the republican side was consolidated which, under the heading of “red barbarism”, fed the collective imaginary of the Spanish for decades. And incidentally, the other violence, that suffered by the victims of the coup d’état and the Franco dictatorship, many of whom had the sole crime of supporting legal institutions, having leftist sympathies or simply being in the wrong place and time, it was legitimized under the guise of a justice administration operation.
On the other hand, the dictatorship did not always use a legal umbrella to justify its repressive actions. The map of Spain is dotted with graves where victims of extrajudicial executions lie, some of which occurred long after the civil war ended. To give just one example, in September 1947, in the province of Teruel, 24 peasants were tortured, executed and buried in two mass graves in retaliation for the murder of a family, including two children, in the town of Gúdar by a guerrilla group. The order was given by General Manuel Pizarro, at that time the civil governor of Teruel and head of the V Region of the Civil Guard. One of the mass graves, which contained the remains of 12 people, was not discovered until 2012 in the municipality of Aliaga; the other has not yet been located. The execution of civilians in retaliation is a wartime practice: during the Second World War there were some especially monstrous ones, such as the massacre in March 1944 of more than 300 civilians in the Ardeatine Fossae, in Rome, by the German occupiers . Those responsible ended up before the Italian courts, although in one of the cases, that of the SS captain, Erich Priebke, who had managed to flee to Argentina, had to wait until 1995. In Spain, the state of war was not lifted until 1948 and justice for the murdered never came.
Most European societies are heirs to a traumatic and violent past. The so-called “memory laws”, which began to be approved in several countries (in particular France and Germany) from the 90s, are not intended to reopen old wounds (which in some cases, such as Spain, have never been closed completely), but to provide societies with instruments for understanding and overcoming said past that facilitate coexistence and the identification of the national community with a common history. In view of the ideological use that certain sectors are making of said past, of a manipulation of history sometimes the result of ignorance and more frequently interested, and above all of the deficiencies in terms of justice and reparation that the rapporteur of the UN Pablo de Greiff revealed in 2014 in the Spanish case, the Democratic Memory Law approved this July in the Council of Ministers is a necessity.
A part of Spanish society, and of its political class, still remains anchored in the version of the past built since the Franco regime through multiple instruments: the General Cause, but also education, institutions, the writing of History itself. Those of us who grew up during the Transition still hear the dictatorship mentioned in school as “the previous regime”, without any allusion to its dictatorial character. Since the Transition, a lot of progress has been made, and in particular since the adoption of the Law called “recovery of historical memory” in 2007, but 43 years after the promulgation of the democratic Constitution, it is time for the Spanish State to exceed once and for all the consequences of Franco’s repressive legislation (that “law without democracy” to which Pablo Casado recently alluded, and that on occasions he did not even bother to respect his own legality) and assume his responsibility towards the victims.
The annulment of the sentences issued in the judicial framework of Franco’s repression, the right to the truth and reparation of the victims, the annulment of the plunder organized by the dictatorship through a law, the Law of Political Responsibilities, which decreed the The legal expropriation of the assets of their political opponents, the recognition of the contribution to democracy of certain groups such as Republican exiles or the particular violence suffered by many women, should not be considered as luxuries or whims of a revanchist left, but as necessary conditions for a healthy and mature democratic coexistence. It is not about rewriting history, which is the work of historians, or establishing an official memory, since each individual or community has the right to their own. It is about overcoming, once and for all, the remnants of the official memory of a dictatorship that wanted to leave everything “tied and well tied”, and to restore dignity and the right to truth, justice and reparation of their victims and their heirs.