Though the last shot in the Spanish Civil War was fired nearly 70 years ago, the mark that the war left on Spanish society remains close to the surface—and resulted this week in open conflict.
Last Sunday in Vatican City’s St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict XVI performed a beatification ceremony for 498 martyrs of the war, the largest such ceremony ever conducted. The honourees were mostly clergymen and members of religious orders, killed by the Republican faction during the conflict after the Catholic Church sided with the right-wing Nationalists. Some 60,000 of the faithful thronged the square. Nearby, though, a group of protesters demonstrated with an image of Picasso’s Guernica—a painting that depicts the bombing of a Spanish village by the German Luftwaffe in support of the Nationalist forces—and raised banners that criticized the honouring of “those who tortured, exploited and killed.” Fighting broke out, and police were forced to intervene, arresting six.
Because of its timing, the ceremony was seen by some as a provocation. It came during the run-up to Spain’s passage of the socalled Law of Historical Memory. Sponsored by the governing socialist party, it formally condemns for the first time the 36-year fascist rule of Gen. Francisco Franco, mandates the removal of all fascist symbols, dismisses the verdicts of the summary trials staged by the Nationalists during the civil war, and forces local governments to fund the excavation of mass graves. Francisco Perez, the Catholic archbishop of Pamplona, has spoken out against the law, urging victims of the war “to look for ways to forget.” The Church, however, which has been frustrated by the government’s position on issues like divorce and same-sex marriage, denies any political motivation for conducting its ceremony. M
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