Showing posts with label Franco. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Franco. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Skeletons in the Closet

“If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance.”
- Shakespeare, Richard II


We all have one. Some deep, dark secret locked away out of view where no one will see it. Nations have dirty laundry hidden in a dark corner too, and like people, each has a different way of dealing with their past. Internationally, the need to seek justice, even retribution, for extreme acts of injustice has resulted in the Nuremberg Trials and other international war crime tribunals. On Friday, Poland's last communist leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, and seven other Soviet-era officials went on trial in Warsaw over the declaration of martial law more than a quarter of a century ago. The trial re-opens old wounds and will surely once again demonstrate how difficult it is to judge the wrongdoings committed under far different circumstances than we can understand today.

In the 90's, the Bulgarian Communist leader, Todor Zhivkov, was put on trial for embezzlement rather than political acts such as the imprisonment of thousands of his fellow citizens in camps where several perished and were allegedly tortured. Ramiz Alia, the former Communist leader of Albania, was tried and convicted of abuse of power. In Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were tried in just a few hours by the leaders of an uprising against them in December 1989. The couple was convicted of crimes against the people and summarily shot.

In Chile, a legal battle raged years as the government tried to bring former dictator Augusto Pinochet to justice for crimes his regime committed. Long after he stepped down from power he was shielded from prosecution for thousands of killings and "disappearances" by parliamentary immunity and an amnesty that the military had granted itself. It took a warrant issued by a Spanish judge for him to be arrested on Oct. 16,1998 in London. Pinochet died in prison awaiting trial but his case may have changed the world's perception about the worth of such a fight. He spent 17 months in detention in Britain as he fought extradition back to Chile on health grounds while the criminal cases against him jumped to hundreds. By the time Britain sent Pinochet back to Chile, the myth of his immunity had been shattered. For the last years of his life, Pinochet was dogged by his past. His immunity was stripped in six major cases, ranging from death squads and abductions to the hiding of millions of dollars abroad, and at the time of his death, he was under house arrest. One hundred and nine other agents of his regime have now been convicted of human rights crimes.

While a Spanish judge helped bring justice to the Chilean people, Spain has taken another course in dealing with their own dark past. After nearly 40 years of Franco and fascism during which time 200,000 people were killed in concentration camps, they simply changed the name of the fascist party to the Partido Popular (PP) and continued like nothing happened. Yes, Fraga Iribarne, Minister of the Interior in Franco's fascist regime (in charge of Spain's political police), founded the PP. The party, which has governed Spain for much of the time since Franco's death and led the nation into the 'coalition of the willing' in Iraq, believes that the Franco regime was good for Spain. The last Spanish president, Jose Maria Aznar was himself a member of Franco's fascist party and disobeyed the instructions of the U.N. Human Rights Agency to find the bodies of those who disappeared during the Franco regime (more than 30,000 people).

Over in Italy, we know that things aren't any better. The past isn't only being ignored, it's being repeated, as Berlusconi has formed coalition governments with fascist parties for much of the time since 1994. Mussolini era laws are even being dusted off for the first time in almost 80 years as Berlusconi tries to court the Catholic vote by prosecuting comedians. Here's the catch, maybe Mussolini wasn't so bad, as with all these 'bad' guys, history books are written by the victors: How can something that was praiseworthy at the time they did it, 10, 25, 50 years ago, suddenly become reprehensible now? With Mussolini, he went from hero:
If I had been an Italian I am sure I should have been whole-heartedly with you in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism... (Italy) has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism. -Winston Churchill (1927)
... to zero, as he was guilty of the only crime that matters, he lost.

So, what of General Jaruzelski? In Poland, officials and police officers from Jaruzelski on down have been put on trial in connection with some 150 deaths -- from the shooting of 44 Gdansk shipyard workers in 1970 to the martial law crackdown against Solidarity. Not one has been convicted as General Jaruzelski has continuously proclaimed his innocence in the deaths. In 1996, a special parliamentary committee absolved him of responsibility for the 1981 killings. This time, prosecutors from the Institute of National Remembrance, a state body that investigates communist-era crimes have charged him and his fellow defendants with "communist crimes," violating the constitution and leading "an organized criminal group of a military nature having as its goal the carrying out of crimes that consisted of the deprivation of freedom through internment." His defence for declaring martial law is that he wanted to avoid a Soviet invasion in reprisal for the Solidarity uprising, as was witnessed in Prague and Budapest in response to similar anti-Soviet uprisings.

How will future generations deal with the wrongs they deem are being committed today? Will there be a witch hunt of those responsible for the illegal war in Iraq and violations of the Geneva Convention similar to the Nazi hunt following World War II? Preparations are already being made, making it possible that one day Cheney, Bush et al. will face a fate similar to that of Saddam Hussein. Who knows how future generations will look back at such human rights violations as Guantanamo Bay. People clearly feel the need for justice, but as Orwell stated, it's best "When tyrants are put to death, it should be by their own subjects; those who are punished by a foreign authority, like Napoleon, are simply made into martyrs and legends."