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Essay: Exploring the Francoist Repression: History of Genocide in Spain During Civil War and Dictatorship

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The Francoist repression occurred during the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, and continued afterwards during the Franco dictatorship, 1939-1975, and resulted in roughly 200,000 deaths (Preston, 2012). The repression included many genocidal acts, such as extermination, mass rape, and the transfer of children. The purpose of this essay is to examine the context in which the repression took place, the acts which were carried out by the Francoist soldiers, and the impact that the Franco regime had, and still has on Spain today. It will also discuss why the Francoist repression should be considered an act of genocide.

‘Franco added a determination to annihilate as many Republicans as possible’ (Preston, 2016, p. 308)

The number of deaths that occurred during the Francoist repression is still debated by historians (Payne, 1973), and it is probable that the true number will never be known. It was estimated by Preston (2012) that 200,000 people died at the hands of the Francoists, while Payne (1973) has estimated that 100,000 people suffered political executions.

During the Civil War, executions were carried out behind both Nationalist and Republican lines. They differed however, as in the Republican zones killings were carried out by civilians, sparked out of fear, and the authorities attempted to stop this (Preston, 2016). Meanwhile in the Nationalist zones, violence was often authorised or even carried out by the government, and murder by vigilante groups was actively encouraged by the military forces. (Preston, 2016).

Atrocities carried out by the Republicans were often exaggerated by the Catholic church and the media, creating fear of red barbarianism (Preston, 2012). This fear helped fulfil the Francoist plans of extermination, as it justified the purging of all social, political, and moral aspects of the Republicans. This is genocidal in nature, as according to Lemkin (1994, cited in Fein, 2009) the goal of genocide is the physical destruction and the social breakdown of a group.

After the Civil War had ended, a new war began under the reign of Franco, which aimed to extract revenge. The crimes committed by the Republicans were denounced, and those seen to be guilty were punished. This was used as a tool for terror and intimidation, to prevent any possible resistance to the Franco regime being established (Arnabat Mata, 2013).

The African Army had previously fought against African Muslims in Morocco, whom they viewed as subhuman (Preston, 2012). During the Civil War, they fought on the side of the Nationalists, where there was a transfer of racial prejudice onto the Spanish left, which allowed the use of unrestrained brutality. This so called ‘column of death’ left a trail of death and destruction on their march from Seville to Madrid, conquering towns and villages along the way, slaughtering the inhabitants and raping the women (Preston 2016).

There were often references to a Judeo-Masonic-Communist conspiracy in Franco’s speeches (Preston, 2016), and he viewed the Civil War as a victory over the scum.

The Franco Regime created the Law for the Repression of Masonry and Communism in 1940, making it illegal for anyone to practice or act in support of either movement. Following this in 1941, the death penalty could be used, with the executions often occuring without a trial. (Preston, 2012). With the paranoia of Franco and his men, there was an exaggeration of the number of members of the masonic lodges, as can be seen in Huesca, where before the Civil War, there were 5 known members, whereas during the Franco Regime, 100 men were executed after being accused of being members. 

Psychiatrist Antionio Vallejo-Nágera carried out experiments on Republican men, women, and members of the International Brigade, in Francoist prisons and concentration camps, in an attempt to ‘establish the bio-psychic roots of Marxism’ and in search of the ‘red gene’ (Preston, 2016). In order to cleanse Spain of this inferiority. His theories were based on German eugenics theory and the Catholic Church doctrine. (Pearlstein, 2015) Through the developments of his ‘scientific’ research, the Republic enemy was demonised and seen as subhuman.

Research in recent years has revealed that several thousand children who’s education was being put at risk were removed from their ‘red’ parents under the Franco regime, in order to avoid contamination and correct their racial inferiority (Amir, 2016). These children would then be put up for adoption to families who fit the religious and morals standards of the regime (Amir, 2016). Genocide, as defined by the Rome Stature, is the act by a perpetrator to intentionally destroy a whole or part of a group, based on identifying characteristics, through direct or indirect means (Fein, 2009). One act that is classed as genocidal is the forcible removal of children from the victim group to another, in an attempt to destroy and erase the victim group’s culture (Cryer et al., 2014). Therefore, this transference of children from Republican families to those that the dictator would deem fit, to destroy the ‘red’ in them, should be classed as an act of genocide.

During the civil war, roughly 32,000 children were evacuated from Spain to other countries, including France, Russia and Britain (Amir, 2016). Franco accused the Republicans of deporting the children in an effort to convert them to communism, in a plot to destroy Spain.

The reparation of children was ordered by Franco, and those that were sent back to Spain were transferred to the state and subjected to reforms in religious institutions, and were forced to convert to Catholicism (Hassiotis, 2009). They were re-educated to believe in the Francoist ideals and values, and to have disdain for the principles of their ‘red’ parents (Amir, 2016).

The Genocide Convention does not explicitly address sexual violence, although it is argued by Sharlach (2009) that it could constitute as genocide, as it can lead to death, serious bodily or mental harm or prevent births, through forced impregnated of women by men not within their group. Under the ICTR statute, Jean-Paul Akayesu was found guilty of acts of genocide, including rape, during the Rwandan genocide (Sharlach, 2009). Rape should be seen as an act of genocide as it represents the dominant group’s desire to destroy the victim group.

John T. Whitaker, an American journalist reported on the Civil War and atrocities that he witnessed under the orders of Franco (Preston, 2012). He noted that systematic rape was used as a tool of repression during the war. Terror was instilled into the civilians, as warnings were issued that any woman associated with Republicans that was captured, would be given to the soldiers of the African Army to be raped (Preston, 2012). Whitaker also reported that gang rapes occurred regularly during the repression, and encouraged by the military officials, often resulting in the deaths of the young women.

For survivors or rape, it did not mean that the worst was over, as many women would be forced to live in poverty, with possessions and even farms being stolen by the conquerors (Preston, 2016). This led many women to resort to prostitution to survive, which benefited the Francoisits, as there were more ‘red’ women from which they could achieve sexual gratification (Preston, 2016).

The Historical Memory Law was passed by the Spanish government in 2007 (Preston, 2016). It is a bill which acknowledges the victims of the Spanish Civil War, on both the Nationalist and Republican sides, and pays reparations to the victims and decedents of Franco’s dictatorship (Miguez Macho, 2013).

This was seen by the UN Commission on Human Rights as a positive thing, as it was the first attempt by Spain to recognise its bloody past under authoritarian leadership. This contrasts with the Amnesty Act of 1997, preventing any prosecutions to be made, and denying the victims and their families justice (Miguez Macho, 2013).

The Amnesty Act of 1977 grants impunity to those responsible for committing acts of abuse and violations of human rights under the Franco regime (Preston, 2016).

This political decision was made so to not bring up the past, and to ensure an easy and peaceful transition from Franco’s dictatorship into democracy. The nation of Spain elected to forget the horrors of the repression and move on. (Preston, 2016).

While it can be argued that the Amnesty Act did have a purpose when it was first created, there is controversy over whether it should still be enforced, or be repealed. The UN, in 2008, were concerned that the Amnesty Law of 1977 was still in place (Miguez Macho, 2013), and have urged Spain to repeal it. According to Baltasar Garzón, a Spanish judge, the Franco regime carried out systematic attacks against a civilian population, including mass killings and the hiding of bodies, (Miguez Macho, 2013), which could legally be considered crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute. There are no statutory limitations on crimes against humanity, and would not be covered under the Amnesty Act (Tremlett, 2012). By opening the investigation, Garzón was indicted by the Supreme Court, although eventually aqcuited, which lead to anger by human rights groups, as justice for the families of the victims of Franco’s dictatorship is still not being served (Tremlett, 2012).

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