MADRID – Spain’s Justice Minister Dolores Delgado apologized on Tuesday on behalf of the government to those who were exiled after the Republican defeat in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) that led to four decades of military dictatorship and repression.
Delgado, who belongs to the Socialist Party, hosted a memorial event at the Senate paying tribute to the more than 500,000 Spaniards who were forced to flee the country 80 years ago when right-wing Gen. Francisco Franco grabbed power following a failed coup d’etat that devolved into the fratricidal conflict that gripped Europe in the buildup to World War II.
“We are sorry for so many years of silence, of looking the other way, of criminalizing the victims of Francoism,” Delgado said while addressing surviving exiles, deportees and their descendants.
“Exile isn’t the past, it isn’t memory, but rather the dignity of the future, the preservation of values to this day,” she added.
Delgado highlighted the Socialist government’s efforts regarding historical memory, such as the 15 million euros ($17 million) contained in the cabinet’s budget proposal destined to that end, which she said contrasted with the “zero resources” allocated by the previous conservative government of the Popular Party (which was founded by seven former high-ranking officials in the Franco regime).
“This is not an expenditure, but an investment in values, in principles,” the minister said.
Those who fought on the Republican side against Franco’s victorious Nationalist troops faced two choices in early 1939: flee the country or be subjected to a brutal state-sponsored persecution campaign that almost always ended in torture and summary execution.
Those who were unable or unwilling to escape had to either face an almost-certain arrest by the security apparatus or go into hiding in the more remote rural areas, where small guerrilla groups known as the “Maquis” resisted well into the 1960s.
According to leading historians specialized in the subject, Spain is the country with the second-highest number of mass graves, surpassed only by Cambodia.