Baltasar Under Fire

Controversial Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon has been suspended from his position at the General Council of the Judiciary, pending his trial before the country’s Supreme Court. Garzon has been accused of breaching his power in 2008 by opening an inquiry into the crimes committed by Spanish nationalists under Franco during the country’s 1936-39 civil war. Previously, Garzon had unsuccessfully brought cases against Augusto Pinochet, Osama bin Laden, and Silvio Berlusconi.

Franco’s legacy remains a highly contentious subject in Spain, 34 years after his death. A 1977 Amnesty Law officially pardoned the mutual crimes committed during the war, thereby encouraging and reinforcing a culture of silence that began shortly after Franco taking power. During and immediately after the war, Franco’s nationalists killed 150,000 people, while the Communists killed around 60,000. For decades, Spanish citizens seeking to find out what happened to their missing loved ones were either ignored or urged to keep looking forward and forget about the past. By pushing for an investigation, Garzon made himself enemies among the radical right that  defends Franco’s legacy to this day, as well as more center-right conservatives seeking to maintain the status quo and score political points against their Socialist opponents in the parliament. In November 2008, Garzon announced that he would no longer proceed with the case.

This is all unfortunate because, unlike the conservative argument that historical inquiries upset social cohesion, a reconciliation with one’s past can have a positive effect on national politics. The precept of “social cohesion” always already contains within itself unequal structures of power – including the ability to create and propagate a one-sided historical narrative. Considering the close phenomenological link between democratic politics and dialog, a  judicial investigation into Spain’s past would bolster democracy by creating the necessary space for a national conversation on Spain’s past. It is precisely this form of agonistic politics which empowers those who previously had no voice to play a greater role in the creation of a new national and historical discourse. For this, Baltasar Garzon is a figure that deserves accolades and not criticism.

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